This week, we were able to speak with Gregory Alexander Sharp, author of the chilling, page-turning Il Lupo, a novel that delves as much into the complexities of mental illness as it does the mythology of its titular lycanthrope. We spoke about literary inspirations, tackling the broad subject of mental health, self-marketing, and how he has tapped into lycanthropy and werewolves as a metaphor in this stunning debut novel.
You can find “Il Lupo” on our website Here
1). With “Il Lupo”, you have drawn from numerous literary inspirations, including Glyn Illife’s books about Greek mythology, as well as classics of science-fiction and horror such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein”. Are there any contemporary authors that you have derived inspiration from?
That’s a great question! In response I found myself reflecting on the definition of the word inspiration. It’s an easy conclusion to jump to, ‘oh, well, I wanted to write something like Dracula, or I wanted to write in the style of…’ and those are genuine interpretations of the question, but there are other nuances.
For sure, I wanted to inspire some spine-tingles like Stoker and Shelley, and some thrills, and adventure and excitement like Illife, but what inspired me to physically sit down, do the work, and write the book? Actually, I’d started writing Il Lupo a decade or so before I finished it, and I only completed the first few dozen pages or so before I became so busy with work that I just dropped it. Many years later, when the pandemic came along, I listened to the Harry Potter books on Audible, and I was truly inspired! I didn’t want to write a Harry Potter fan-fiction book, not even one with grown-up characters, but I did want to write. So, it is true to say that the work of J.K Rowling inspired me, even if that isn’t particularly evident in the work itself. That said, it’s been mentioned to me that both Nick Frobisher and especially Ernest Wainwright might fit in nicely with the other characters in the Wizarding World, being as they are somewhat larger than life, but they came into existence long before I’d connected with Harry Potter, and they were not inspired by that work.
In terms of other modern authors who have lit me up, I was a big fan of the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. I started at the beginning, with Interview with The Vampire, and read that series in its entirety, enjoying the depth of the characters and the rich and evocative descriptions of places like New Orleans and old Paris. You could definitely say I found inspiration there too.
2). Speaking of literary inspiration, what are you reading at the moment?
I’m a notoriously slow reader, it has to be said, so I’m reading now what I’ve been reading for a while. However, I am currently about halfway through the series of books on Ancient Greece by Stephen Fry. I’ve finished Mythos, and I’m on Heroes now, and very much looking forward to Troy (which I suspect will be my favourite). I love his writing style, so easy and flowing, so witty. Additionally, I’m reading some of the work I’m discovering from other new authors I’ve encountered since the launch of Il Lupo, and I’ve recently read The Werewolf’s Story by Fenrir Thorvaldsen (not his real name). This is essentially a transcript from his podcast (Werewolf the Podcast), and it’s not for the faint-hearted, but great fun if you can handle it. I’ve been able to connect with the author through my work (he’s a reader and fan of Il Lupo), and our shared love of the werewolf genre, which has been unexpected and really rewarding.
3). In horror, the theme of lycanthropy and werewolves has long been used as a metaphor for various aspects of human life, such as the changing of one’s body through adolescence, a struggle with a sense of self, addiction and much more. What would you say lycanthropy represents in “Il Lupo”?
For me, the idea represents a number of things, all of which are struggles and challenges many of us are faced with at times. I connect with the onset of unwanted change when I think of what happens to Charlie. That might be through adolescence, or menopause, or disease, or even just the aging process, but it’s something that is uninvited and yet imposes itself on us, irrespective of our wishes. We can find ourselves feeling exposed and helpless in the face of such an irresistible force, and what could be harder to resist than the curse of the lycanthrope?
You mention addiction in the question, and there is certainly a clear parallel for me in this representation of the curse. It’s explained to us that the curse itself will endeavour to trick us into believing it is our friend, or a positive influence we should feel some gratitude towards, or that we should somehow defend it. Those suffering with addiction are often torn by the idea that whatever they are addicted to is somehow something they should fight for, or that it’s actually their only refuge in an unsafe world. It’s a sensitive subject which I felt the need to treat with care and respect as I wrote the parts where Charlie wakes up to the reality of his situation.
And then there is the simple dark side of our nature, the Hulk, as I view it. I sometimes think it would be a healthy thing if we could all find a way to set that part of ourselves free, but there is always the risk it would be destructive. In the case of the lycanthrope, their dark side is a literal monster, and it is the most destructive and murderous form imaginable.
4). In the novel, you tackle the theme of mental health in a very direct and raw manner. When you set out to write “Il Lupo”, were you always seeking to write a story that examined the subject of mental health?
Absolutely! I made a promise to myself a long time ago, that any book I ever write will have anchors in reality and the human experience, and I chose to put some of my own first. The grief that Frobisher suffers, and the anxiety and panic attacks Charlie endures, those are so heavily based on my own very real life experiences as to be almost autobiographical.
We witness Frobisher endeavouring to manage his grief at the loss of his father with a combination of stiff upper lip and even stiffer drinks. Self-medicating and ignoring his feelings wherever he can serves only to destabilise him all the more. The loss of his father ten years after the loss of his mother, the attempts to just get on with it that are futile in the face of his grief, those were my own experiences after the deaths of, firstly my brother, and then my mother and ultimately my father too. Those scenes where Frobisher stares into the mirror, gripping the porcelain of the basin with knuckles whitened under the strain, tears cascading down his cheeks, that was mid-1990s me, many times over.
Eventually, I started to suffer with panic attacks that were so debilitating I lost the ability to work for a time. I became so agoraphobic I could not use public transport, and eventually, I retreated to my room at home and barricaded myself in. The scene where Charlie is blindsided by his first panic attack, the gasping symptoms he suffers, the catastrophic belief that he is about to die right there and then, on that very spot, again this is essentially a first hand account of my own experience.
The journey back took some time, but I knew even then, that I would one day put pen to paper and write a story in which I had the opportunity to share a little of what I endured. I found that, in the 1990s, nobody really knew what to do, nobody wanted to get involved in helping, and it was truly isolating. I’m sure some of that is just as true today as it was then for a great many people, and I hope that in reading Il Lupo they are able to recognise that, no matter how lonely they may feel, they are not alone.
It’s also true to say that when people are suffering with mental health conditions, and either not recognising them or not managing them well, they are not usually in a position to make the best decisions in life. I feel that the visceral reality of Charlie’s panic attacks, and Frobisher’s spirit crushing grief are the most important pieces of the book, and they are not just there for effect, they are part of the whole premise and inform the reasons why the characters take some of those wrong turns.
That said, I do want to be clear, I also view Il Lupo as a story about friendship, of the power that can be generated in a collective environment and through a sense of unity. It is a story about facing up to our challenges and how setting a goal can often bring out the best in us. It is a story in which, no matter how unbearable the strain the characters feel, there is warmth and even humour that just can’t be denied. Above all else, it is a story of hope.
5). You’ve amassed some seriously great reviews for “Il Lupo” so far across various platforms such as Amazon and Goodreads, and you’re also very active on social media. What advice would you offer to other writers who are looking to get their work to a wider audience?
I must admit I’ve been blown away by some of the feedback, and I’m very, very grateful for the kind words I’ve received. You never quite know if the story in your head will translate to a story anyone else will enjoy until it’s tested in the big wide world, and to have so many people tell me (in a variety of ways) how much fun they had reading Il Lupo, it’s been incredibly rewarding.
That said, without an established public image or celebrity status, it’s not easy gaining traction in the writing community, and there is an onus on new writers put in the effort on social media. I’ve tinkered with content on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
I’ve found the #writerslift phenomenon on Twitter has been a tremendous way to attract new followers, establish a network, and ultimately generate interest in my book. Producing a lot of memes and promotional material myself in PowerPoint has been rewarding and time consuming in equal measure. The quality of what I put out has increased significantly with practice, and also by taking careful note of others’ materials and determining what I believe works or doesn’t work, and learning from that. It’s also important to figure out what kind of content works best on which platforms. Consider Twitter versus TikTok versus Instagram, they are all so different, you need to do some level of tailoring of your content.
Perhaps the two most important things on social media are to be consistently visible, and to engage with people. People need to see you in the first instance, but they will be turned off if all they ever see of you is the hard sell. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my business career, it’s that people buy from people, and that’s as true in the literary community as it is in the corporate world I’m more used to. So, show everyone what you’re selling, but also show them who you are too, they want to know.
The most obvious advice for anyone wanting their work to reach that wider audience, is to write the darned book! With hindsight I put it off for way too long. I knew the story I wanted to write, but it had no chance of being read by anyone at all while it only existed in my head. So write it. Put in the effort. The fulfilment of our dreams is what happens when opportunity collides with preparedness, and if you haven’t written the book, you are not prepared, and the opportunity will continue to pass you by.
You also need to put in a significant amount of effort in finding the right publisher, and I’ve really enjoyed working with Olympia on Il Lupo. Being published has given me the opportunity to engage with many readers in very diverse places, and that’s always such fun. I’ve connected with readers from the UK, United States, Canada, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, and Australia, which still strikes me as extraordinary. Many of those readers have asked me about the possibility of there being a sequel, and the good news for them is that I have completed a first full draft or what I’m currently calling Il Lupo 2.0. Watch this space!