Scary under any name

Giller-nominated author Craig Davidson cuts to the bone writing as horror scribe Nick Cutter


Craig Davidson always loved horror fiction, but when he entered the University of New Brunswick’s master’s program in creative writing, he knew he couldn’t write about “some slime monster from the black lagoon.”

Instead he had to come up with something with more literary merit “by their estimation,” he says. That’s how Rust And Bone came out. The title story inspired the Jacques Audiard film of the same name. Davidson followed that up with several more literary books, including the Giller-nominated Cataract City.

But now he’s returned to his first love, horror, writing under the name Nick Cutter. The pseudonym was partly his idea, partly his agent’s.

“There’s this idea in publishing that readers would have their minds completely blown to find out that a person who writes one type of book also writes another,” he says, getting set to talk with Andrew Pyper about what’s scary, Thursday (April 2) at the Lillian H. Smith Library.

Having grown up reading writers who took on pen names (Stephen King, his favourite author, wrote as Richard Bachman), Davidson never found the concept too difficult to grasp.

“It was a business decision, and it seems to have worked out fine,” he says. “For genre, if you don’t know an author, it’s more about whether the concept of a book grips you. Are you interested in a bunch of Boy Scouts encountering something terrifying [as in The Troop], or a trip to the bottom of the ocean [in his new book, The Deep]? It’s that, rather than ‘I’ve got to read the next Nick Cutter.'”

In fact, his pen name is getting major recognition. Two more Cutter books, The Acolyte and Little Heaven, are due to drop in the next year.

It’s easy enough to find out Cutter’s real-life alias on the books’ copyright pages or a Google search. Has there been any readership crossover?

“I make a habit of not checking sales numbers or asking publishers whether there’s been a spike of Craig Davidson books after a Nick Cutter book comes out,” he says, chuckling. “I imagine there’d be some cross-pollination, but whether people are going to like both sides of my split persona I’m not sure. Then again, they’re not that different. The literary books are pretty intense. But the topics are different, and there’s probably a slower pace.”

And has writing genre affected his more literary writing?

“Since writing The Troop I haven’t written another literary book,” he says. “That’s something that will reveal itself once I sit down and get an idea.”

One thing’s clear, however. He takes his genre writing as seriously as he does the stuff that gets nominated for prizes.

“Good writing is good writing,” he says. “It’s not necessarily one beautiful sentence after another it’s about building a world that resonates for your characters. In that way genre trumps literary fiction. And they’re concerned about entertaining a reader.”

Davidson says there’s a reason why authors who write under pen names are often comfortable having their aliases known. He himself has a second pen name, Patrick Lestewka.

“We’re proud of these books. We worked hard on them and want people to know we wrote them.”

Read our review of The Deep here.

glenns@nowtoronto.com | @glennsumi

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