Meghan: Hey Ramsey!! Welcome back to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. It’s always a pleasure to have you here, and I thank you for taking time on this busy book-release day to join us here.
Sorry about that. What were we talking about? Oh yeah… What is your favorite part of Halloween?
Ramsey: I have to say it has no great significance as a festival in Britain. There were attempts a few years back to situate it as an alternative Autumn event to Guy Fawkes Night, since it was felt there were too many accidents at private firework displays on 5 November. When I was a child it wasn’t celebrated locally at all, and so my only sense of it was through fiction—specifically, some of the great tales of Ray Bradbury. Ray made October uniquely his, both capturing its flavours and adding individual ones of his own. While you can read them at any time, they have a particular relevance to Halloween, and so I’ll name them as my favourite aspect thereof.
Meghan: Do you get scared easily?
Ramsey: No longer, but as a child I was—by films, by books, by my domestic life. I must have been three, maybe a little older, when I saw my first film, Disney’s Snow White. Elements in it terrified me—the unstable face in the magic mirror that doesn’t reflect the person in front of it, and even the sight of darkness beyond a window in the dwarfs’ cottage while they perform their song and dance, because I was sure something would appear out of the dark. M.R. James gave me many uneasy nights jut a few years later. As for my everyday experience, my parents were estranged when I was three but continued to live in the same house, which meant I hardly ever saw my father face to face—he became the footsteps on the stairs at night, the presence beyond a door that I dreaded might open. All this was exacerbated by my mother’s schizophrenic fantasies: for example, that he would poison us or creep into the bedroom to commit some terrible act. The neighbours were conspiring against her and writing a nightly radio soap opera that contained references to her and secret messages addressed to her, and so on. I had an interesting childhood, which has subsequently produced much literary material.
Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?
Ramsey: Apart from Not I, that terrifying Beckettian tour de force performed by Billie Whitelaw (and enacted less intensely by Julianne Moore), all my candidates are the work of David Lynch. Some scenes in Fire Walk With Me affected me so profoundly I was close to leaving the first time I saw it, but I’ll go with Lost Highway, the first extended section of which in particular frightens me afresh on every viewing. I’ve concluded Lynch uses every element of film—lighting, camera placement and movement, staging, especially sound—as skillfully (if possibly instinctively) as Hitchcock, to convey the uncanny at its most indefinable and disturbing.
Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?
Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?
Ramsey: The trailer, do you mean? No, never. As for the other kind of commercials, I’d do my best to avoid any film interrupted by them and see it uninterrupted elsewhere.
Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?
Ramsey: Night of the Demon, my all-time favourite, since you can avoid falling victim to the demon if you know how.
Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?
Ramsey: The same, for the same reason.
Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?
Ramsey: The original King Kong, the greatest of all monsters in the greatest monster film.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?
Ramsey: Alas, for reasons outlined above, I have none. Oddly enough, I’ve often been at World Fantasy Conventions in America over the season, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen signs of the celebrations. Ah, hang on—in Baltimore in 1980 all the check-in staff at the Park Plaza were dressed as witches and pumpkins and the like. I think it was a pumpkin who proved loath to let Steve King have his room because he presented not a credit card (he had none in those days) but cash.
Meghan: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?
Ramsey: Horror uncanny enough for Halloween—Schubert’s Opus 1.
Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?
Ramsey: Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable—one of the books I celebrated in an essay in The Book of Lists: Horror. It may be a protracted cry from the afterlife, or a narration by a limbless body displayed in a jar on a street, or by something even more featureless. I read it in a sitting one afternoon and have been haunted by it ever since. If it isn’t horror, I don’t know what is.
Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?
Ramsey: The room next to my workroom (where I’m writing this) has seen various uncanny manifestations over the decades we’ve lived in this house, and here’s the most extreme. Jenny and I had discussed befriending the room by spending the night up there together. During one of my attempts to let her sleep without my snoring I wakened at about two in the morning to discover that she’d decided to try the experiment. It was only when I opened my eyes and reached for her that I realised the silhouette next to me, its head on the other pillow, wasn’t Jenny. I tried for a very long time to move and cry out. Apparently I achieved the latter. In our bedroom on the floor below Jenny heard me make some kind of protest, but I’ve often exhorted her not to wake me if I’m having a nightmare, because I believe these dreams contain their own release mechanism, and I resent being taken out of them before the end. Jenny headed for the toilet on the middle floor, and when she returned I was still making the noise. Perhaps I was dreaming, in which case it had to be the longest nightmare, measured in objective time, that I’ve ever experienced. It consisted purely of lying in the bed I was actually in and trying to retreat from my companion. I admit to never having been so intensely terrified in my life. After minutes I found myself alone in the bed. I made myself turn over and close my eyes, but had a strong impression that a face was hovering very close to mine and waiting for me to look. Meanwhile, downstairs, Jenny felt an intruder sit beside her on our bed.
Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?
Ramsey: I believe the Marie Celeste.
Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?
Ramsey: I heard Graham Watkins tell this tale onstage at an American convention. He investigated haunted places, and had arranged to spend a night at a deserted mansion notorious for manifestations. He chose an upstairs room as his base of operations, and for several hours he heard ordinary domestic noises from downstairs—people talking, kitchen sounds and the like. After some hours he lost patience with them, as I recall, and declared as much aloud. At once there was silence, and he realised he’d alerted whatever was there to his presence. And then all the noises recommenced—directly outside the room he was in…
Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?
Ramsey: My brain.
Meghan: Okay, let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?
Ramsey: A vampire, since it might give me a chance to experience immortality until I tired of it. A trip to Vasilema should do the job.
Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?
Ramsey: Aliens—the less boring option, I’d hope.
Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?
Ramsey: Neither. I find disgust nothing except tedious.
Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?
Ramsey: Amityville if I wanted a quiet time, since the entire thing was a cynical hoax (which I said in a review as soon as I’d read the original book).
Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?
Ramsey: I’ll take the melon.
Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs?
Ramsey: If the cauldron conferred magical powers I’d take the risk.
Boo-graphy: Ramsey Campbell was born in Liverpool in 1946 and now lives in Wallasey. The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes him as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”, and the Washington Post sums up his work as “one of the monumental accomplishments of modern popular fiction”. He has received the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for outstanding services to literature. PS Publishing have brought out two volumes of Phantasmagorical Stories, a sixty-year retrospective of his short fiction, and a companion collection, The Village Killings and Other Novellas, while their Electric Dreamhouse imprint has his collected film reviews, Ramsey’s Rambles. His latest novel is Fellstones from Flame Tree Press, who have also recently published his Brichester Mythos trilogy.
Fellstones takes its name from seven objects on the village green. It’s where Paul Dunstan was adopted by the Staveleys after his parents died in an accident for which he blames himself. The way the Staveleys tried to control him made him move away and change his name. Why were they obsessed with a strange song he seemed to have made up as a child?
Now their daughter Adele has found him. By the time he discovers the cosmic truth about the stones, he may be trapped. There are other dark secrets he’ll discover, and memories to confront. The Fellstones dream, but they’re about to waken.