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.

Yes, you read that right, everybody. Fellstones is out today.
You can pick it up by following the link below:
Flame Tree Publishing

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?

Ramsey: The protracted finale of Megan is Missing, a film I analyse and defend at length in Ramsey’s Rambles. The scene is appallingly convincing, not least in its banality.

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.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Ramsey Campbell

Meghan: Hi, Ramsey! It’s great to have you here today. Thank you for agreeing to take part in my sixth annual Halloween extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ramsey Campbell: I write horror, and have for more than half a century. For me writing is a compulsion, driven by the pressure of untold tales and unwritten prose. Jenny is my first reader, partly because she’s among the few who can read my handwriting. She’s also the best part of me, and we’ve been together for nearly fifty years.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Ramsey Campbell: If you ask me my favourite composer I’ll immediately say Beethoven, only to feel that Johann Sebastian Bach is equally essential. My favourite film is probably Letter from an Unknown Woman. Over the years I’ve often listed ten favourites, but while the list changes, it has never included a horror film – they’re crowded out by other titles. (For the record, I’ve loved Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon ever since I saw it most of sixty years ago.) Jenny and I watch a film almost every day, once I’ve finished work about mid-afternoon. I very much enjoy dreams – free surrealist films, they are.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Ramsey Campbell: When I was two years old and apparently horribly precocious, reading a tale of Rupert Bear gave me my first taste of terror in fiction. One of the many presents I found in a bulging pillowcase at the end of my bed at Christmas 1947 was a copy of More Adventures of Rupert. The tale that haunted my nights was “Rupert’s Christmas Tree”, in which Rupert acquires a magical tree that decamps after the festivities and returns to its home in the woods. Perhaps this is meant as a charming fantasy for children, but the details—the small high voice from the tree, the creaking that Rupert hears in the night, the trail of earth he follows from the tub in his house, above all the prancing silhouette that inclines towards him, the star it has in place of a head—are surely the stuff of adult supernatural fiction. I think I got my start in the field right there, and many of my preoccupations must derive from my early childhood.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Ramsey Campbell: A study of The Three Stooges for production information as I work on a monograph about all six or more of them, and I’m revisiting Agatha Christie from my childhood, The Murder at the Vicarage, just now.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Ramsey Campbell: That would depend what image they have of me, and how would I know? On the assumption that their view of me is severely limited, perhaps W. E Bowman’s hilarious comic novel The Ascent of Rum Doodle, which parodies mountaineering books.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Ramsey Campbell: I never really decided to be a writer – I was at it by the age of five, writing doggerel that appeared in the children’s corner of the local Liverpool Echo (perhaps because my mother, prolific but almost entirely unpublished, encouraged me to make the effort). At eleven years old I was already writing my first completed book, Ghostly Tales. The stories in it were patched together like Frankenstein’s monster from fragments of fiction I’d read. My writing had yet to catch up with my appreciation of the genre. Let me quote a single representative sentence from Ghostly Tales: “The door banged open, and the afore-mentioned skeleton rushed in.” It must have been out of a mixture of desperation and maternal pride that my mother encouraged me to submit the completed book – the only copy, handwritten and illustrated in crayon – to publishers. Sometimes it ended up with a children’s book editor, one of whom told me it made her feel quite spooky sitting at her desk. (Childish the book may have been, but it wouldn’t be for children even now.) By far the most positive response came from Tom Boardman Jr in August 1958. While Boardman was one of the few British houses to publish science fiction in hardcover, they didn’t take ghost stories, but he concluded: “We should like to take this opportunity of encouraging you to continue with your writing because you have definite talent and very good imaginative qualities. It means a lot of hard work to become an author but with the promising start you have made there is every possibility that you will make the grade.”

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Ramsey Campbell: Always here at my desk on the third floor of our Victorian semi. You’ll find me here well before seven every morning, by which time I’ve prepared the first sentence or sentences of the day and probably scribbled in my notebook other ideas for the day’s session. I can certainly write elsewhere – if we go away while a work is in progress, it goes with me and I work on it – but as I age I do prefer to take less taxing work with me, rereading a first draft prior to the rewrite, or proofreading.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Ramsey Campbell: I never sit down to write without having composed at least the first sentence of the session. I always write the first draft of a piece of fiction longhand in a spiral-bound exercise book, using a basic Parker cartridge pen. Rewrites are done onscreen, and I work on non-fiction directly on the screen – perhaps it’s a way of keeping the fiction process separate. New fiction is my morning work, non-fiction (such as this interview) waits until the afternoon.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Ramsey Campbell: The early stages of creating a new tale, where the characters have no names and I have no idea what they do in life, and only the vaguest sense of what the tale will contain. Ideas (for me at least) are the easy part, but then comes the task of development. Often enough it feels like groping about in the dark for items I need but can’t even identify. So far, or at any rate mostly, I eventually reach that magical place where things begin to come together.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Ramsey Campbell: Perhaps my recent (and only) trilogy, which I think multiplied the energy novels generally generate for me while I’m writing them and gave me an unusual amount of scope to develop various themes.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Ramsey Campbell: Cry Horror, the first British paperback collection of Lovecraft’s work, was crucial when I was fourteen and set me on my path. M. R. James demonstrated how to show just enough to suggest far worse (and both of them exemplified careful choice of language and structure). Fritz Leiber’s crucial development of urban supernatural horror Smoke Ghost, where the everyday environment is the source of the uncanny rather than being invaded by it, pointed me towards my subsequent work. I’d just turned seventeen when I read Lolita, which was a great revelation and liberated my style and approach to narrative (as did all the other Nabokov books I immediately devoured). Graham Greene’s precision and impressionistic conciseness was another influence. I’d also cite Buñuel’s Los Olvidados and ResnaisMarienbad, two films that deeply impressed me and prompted emulation.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Ramsey Campbell: If I thought about that I might lose my instinctiveness, which is how I write.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Ramsey Campbell: That’s not how I approach it. I simply want to believe in the characters as human beings and present them as honestly as I can. I’ve never required characters I read about to be sympathetic, and so I don’t create them in that way either. If they are, fine, but I think fiction is a good place to met people you would ordinarily cross the street to avoid.

That said, I’m quite fond of a number of my characters, not least the family in Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach – they seem like people to me. I was disconcerted by how many readers protested that one of them (Julian) was unsympathetic. He is, but what of it? At one point we glimpse a reason why he’s how he is, not that this excuses his behaviour. However, I concluded long ago that the writer can’t control the reader’s response, and I haven’t tried for many years.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Ramsey Campbell: Several, representing different stages of my life. I’d include the narrator of “The Chimney”, Peter in The Face That Must Die and to some extent Dominic Sheldrake, the narrator of the trilogy, which however is less autobiographical than some readers have assumed.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Ramsey Campbell: Generally a cover by itself won’t put me off a book. PS Publishing in particular often ask me for suggestions for images, and Flame Tree routinely do.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Ramsey Campbell: That you can always improve as a writer.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Ramsey Campbell: Just about the whole first section of Midnight Sun, where I felt I wasn’t engaging sufficiently with the material – only the scene where Ben Sterling tells his tale of the ice spirits seemed to come alive, inspiring me as much as him. Even so, once I’d finished the section I seriously considered abandoning the novel, such was my apparent lack of inspiration. I reread what I’d written – again, something I virtually never do these days until the first draft is completed – and decided there was just about enough reason to continue. The first part was very considerably rewritten and condensed later. All this said, I recently reread the book for a reissue and found it wasn’t as much of a failure as I recalled.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Ramsey Campbell: That’s for readers to decide. I simply hope the books are literate and truthful – authentic, if you prefer – and that some convey at least a hint of uncanny awe while others offer some psychological insight.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Ramsey Campbell: It should grow naturally out of the material. Sometimes a working title is supplanted by a better one. I’m fond of using titles with multiple meanings – Needing Ghosts, Thieving Fear – but then I like ambiguity of language in the tales as well. Perhaps my favourite of my titles is Think Yourself Lucky, which only reveals its significance some way into the novel.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Ramsey Campbell: Generally a novel or even a novella, given their scope and their ability to surprise me in the process of writing.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Ramsey Campbell: I write horror, ranging from the psychological to the supernatural (which are often inextricably bound together), from the uncanny to the gruesome (again, not mutually exclusive), from comedy of paranoia to bids to achieve awe. My audience is anyone who likes my stuff, and I hope it enriches their imagination and makes us – me included – look at things we’ve taken for granted.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Ramsey Campbell: The first draft and indeed the first rewrite of my 1980s novel The Claw (aka Night of the Claw) was several kinds of a mess. Although the central issue was a young girl in increasing danger from her apparently possessed parents, there were (incredibly) no scenes from her viewpoint. I deleted about a dozen chapters, including a redundant subplot about a cult in search of the titular talisman, and substituted scenes seen through her eyes. Some of the deleted material is included in an afterword to later editions.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Ramsey Campbell: I’ve several uncompleted novels from before the start of my career, and didn’t expect ever to see them into print, but the last one – a pastiche of John Dickson Carr with Lovecraftian interpolations, Murder by Moonlight – I recently resurrected as the foundation of a book for Borderlands Press. I use the adolescent narrative as a lens to look at how I and my parents were when I wrote it, and it will appear as The Enigma of the Flat Policeman.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Ramsey Campbell: Flame Tree Press have a new supernatural novel, The Wise Friend, for the spring. PS Publishing have an immense two-volume retrospective collection, Phantasmagorical Stories (note the initials). Electric Dreamhouse will bring out my collected Video Watchdog columns, Ramsey’s Rambles, and that Stooges book. I’ve recently completed the first draft of a novel, Somebody’s Voice.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Ramsey Campbell: Facebook ** Twitter

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Ramsey Campbell: I hope you may see me as an element, however minor, in the literary continuity of our field.

Photo Credit: Tony Knox

The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including 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. Among his novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain, Ghosts Know, The Kind Folk, Think Yourself Lucky, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach, and The Wise Friend. He recently brought out his Brichester Mythos trilogy, consisting of The Searching Dead, Born to the Dark, and The Way of the Worm. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence, and The Booking are novellas. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You, Holes for Faces, By the Light of My Skull, and a two-volume retrospective roundup (Phantasmagorical Stories). His non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably and Ramsey’s Rambles (video reviews). Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal is a history of horror fiction in the form of fifty limericks. His novels The Nameless, Pact of the Fathers, and The Influence have been filmed in Spain. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.

Ramsey Campbell lives on Merseyside with his wife Jenny. His pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever’s in that pipe. His web site can be found here.