GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Daemon Manx: Frankenstein

Frankenstein OR The Modern Prometheus
By: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Genre: Horror, Gothic, Science Fiction
Pages: 260

Mary Shelley’s seminal novel of the scientist whose creation becomes a monster.


Frankenstein OR The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Written in 1818 by the English author, and original Goth Girl, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein was originally published anonymously when she was 20. It wasn’t until the release of the second edition that Shelley’s name even appeared. Some of Shelley’s background is certainly important to know to fully understand the magnitude of what the author has so masterfully painted and implied in her work. I assure you; the message and the social implication of Frankenstein is just as relevant today as it was two hundred years age.

Shelley’s mother died from an infection she developed after giving birth to Mary. The iconic author grew up never knowing her mother and had bonded strongly with her father, William Godwin. However, Godwin’s second wife was jealous of their relationship which resulted in his pulling away from young Mary, and for his favoring her half brothers and sisters instead.

Mary later met and married Percy Bysshe Shelly, one of the Romantic Poets. In 1815 Shelley gave birth to Clara, who died two weeks later. Mary continued to lose her children in a similar way for the next eight years. This is such an impactful premise that followed her through her life and ultimately helped to shape Frankenstein.

In 1816, while travelling in Geneva, Shelley, Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori decided to see who could write the best ghost story. Only one of them ever completed their story. Mary Shelley was 18 when she won the contest with her story Frankenstein.

The story is masterfully executed as it shifts from one narrative POV to the next. Initially the story is told through a series of letters from ship’s Captain Robert Waldon, a failed writer on an expedition to the North Pole. It is through the eyes of Waldon that the reader first meets Victor Frankenstein, and we get a glimpse of the giant creature on the horizon. Victor is nearly dead by the time Waldon finds him. Consumed by his own compulsive desire and obsession, Victor sees a bit of himself in the captain, a man obsessed with his voyage to the North Pole. We learn that Victor has been pursuing the giant creature and his obsession has nearly killed him.

Flawlessly the narrative shifts and is told through the eyes of Victor as we learn about his childhood, the death of his mother, and his passion for the sciences and Alchemy. Victor is consumed with the pursuit of knowledge and has learned the secrets to creating life.

There are no bolts of lightning, there is no assistant named Igor, and there are no electrodes attached to the neck of Victor’s creation. The creature is 8 feet tall because the intricacies of the human anatomy would be too difficult to work on and recreate if performed on normal scale. It is done with a mixture of science and chemistry, and a bit of mystery as we never learn how Victor actually did it. However, he succeeds, and he is instantly repulsed by the sight of the creature. It is so profound to take note that Victor has put a great deal of effort and devotion into the creation of his creature. Then when the act is complete and the fruits of his labor are revealed, he no longer wants it. In fact, Victor wishes nothing more than to destroy his creation. Victor losses his mind for a moment, if he was ever in possession of it to begin with, and takes off, while his newborn is left to fend for himself. We later find out that shortly after this incident happens, Victor’s brother is murdered.

The narrative then shifts to the point of view of the creature. Alone, unable to understand the language, the creature must fend for itself in the wild. It hides and teaches itself how to speak by watching a family, and he quickly grows intelligent. However, he is aware of his own repulsiveness and soon finds that all humans see him just as his father Victor does, hideous and unworthy of love.

The creature decides that if he cannot be loved and since he is so hated by man, that he will find Victor and force the scientist into creating the only thing that could love him, a mate in his image, hideous and repulsive. I will not give it all away as I nearly have already. However, if you have only seen the Hollywood flicks and never read Shelley’s masterpiece, you are doing yourself a great disservice. This is the real deal, the original horror classic. Certain Horror associations should be giving out the Shelley award. The guy who wrote that story about a creepy count was a hack compared to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I said, and it is too late to take it back. And I will tell you why…

First, Victor is Frankenstein-not the creature. Also, Victor is the monster. A parent who decides to conceive his child, puts all his effort in giving that child life, and then brings that child into the world, only then wishing the destruction of that child. Shelley’s mother died as a result of childbirth. Mary Shelley lost several children during childbirth and/or soon after. Also, abortion was as controversial a subject then as it is today. This all plays heavily into the subjects of destruction of life and the abandonment of a living being.

Science was in question. Was it right for man to assume the role of God when it came to creation? Was it even a place for a man to have a place at all? I urge you to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and allow yourself to go a bit deeper. This story not only sets the precursor for the modern-day horror novel and sci-fi thriller, but also suggests that we dig a bit deeper into what truly defines us as human? It’s about the balance between our emotions and our obsessions, our desires and our darkness. It’s about what separates man from monster?

Can I give more than five stars? What is the limit? Whatever it is, that is what Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley deservers, and so much more for her masterpiece, Frankenstein-The Modern Prometheus.
I Love, Love, Love this Book…Daemon Manx


Boo-graphy:
Daemon Manx writes horror and speculative fiction. He is a member of the Horror Authors Guild (HAG) and has had stories featured in magazines in both the U.S. and the U.K. His short story, The Dead Girl, became a finalist in The Green Shoe Sanctuary’s summer writing prompt contest in August 2021. His debut novelette, Abigail, was released through Terror Tract Publishing and has received 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon and Goodreads. He lives with his sister and their narcoleptic cat Sydney in a remote cabin off the grid, where they patiently prepare for the apocalypse. There is a good chance there they will run out of coffee.

Abigail
Strange things come in small packages. Adrian Billard believes he knows what it’s like to be different, and has nearly given up hope of ever finding happiness. But, a strange package left on his doorstep is about to turn his entire world upside down. Everything Adrian thinks he knows is about to change. He is about to meet…Abigail.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ben Eads

Meghan: Hi Ben! Welcome to Meghan’s (Haunted) House of Horrors. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Ben: The weather and the colors of Autumn. I love that crisp cinnamon smell in the air. Most of my fiction is written during the winter. I love taking walks in the woods and just taking it all in. I always looked forward to visiting my relatives in Tennessee. My uncle would take me for walks into the hollow behind his house. My imagination was operating on all 8 cylinders then, and it does now. I was able to bring that same hollow into my latest horror novella, Hollow Heart. Of course, my uncle called it a “holler.”

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Ben: It was handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters but, sadly, that’s come to an end. Now it’s re-reading my favorite horror novels. Also, I love dressing up as one of my favorite horror creatures. I plan to dress up as The Hell Priest this year, and I have a friend who does special effects. I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of. Hopefully, a few buddies of mine and I can get together and read short horror stories to one another.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Ben: Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, we could dress up and go to school as our favorite monsters. I always tried to scare the hell out of my classmates. You can’t do that on any other holiday or regular day, for that matter. It’s also a time of renewal—out with the old, in with the new.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Ben: Talking about fiction I’m currently writing. That’s the only thing. I’m sure this is disappointing. LOL

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Ben: There’s a lot! I think it would be a tie between Pennywise, The Hell Priest, Charlie Manx, and Frankenstein. Freddy isn’t—and hasn’t been—scary, at least to me, for many years. Ditto Jason Vorhees and the other slashers. I love some of the other Universal movie monsters, too. But Dracula, at least for me, isn’t very scary anymore.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Ben: The murders of Jack the Ripper. Why? Because we’ll never, ever, ever, know who committed those murders. It’s left up to the imagination. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I think Alan Moore was on to something with his amazing graphic novel, From Hell. Big fan of Alan Moore.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Ben: I don’t believe in the supernatural, so none. However… people try to mimic urban legends as well as perform hoaxes. I had a friend in middle school that almost convinced the school the Jersey Devil was roaming the halls. Ha! I guess this comes close: I had a friend in high school that pulled one hell of a prank on me. He even got some of my friends in on it too. He took my Lovecraft books out of my drawer, burned my drawer, and placed a bible in their place. I literally believed that… for about a day. Then a friend called with a guilty conscious and told me about it. With friends like that…

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Ben: Jack the Ripper. Again, we’ll never know who did it. It leaves the imagination wide open, and there’s tons of conspiracy theories based on him/her. Who knows?

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Ben: I was six-years-old when Hellraiser was playing one night on cable. I only made it ten or fifteen minutes in before shutting the TV off. I couldn’t sleep for two days after that. Thankfully, I didn’t need therapy. But it was the taboo of it, as well as me needing to face my fears that got me through the film. After finishing it, I was still scared to death, but my imagination was operating on a whole new level. Barker is a genius.

I was ten-years-old when I read The Dark Half by Stephen King. I remember not really getting it and realizing I wasn’t old enough yet. I took the book to my mother and asked her a ton of questions. She helped me out a bit but said that one twin absorbing the other fetus in the womb was impossible and, therefore, the book was silly. A month later, a co-worker told my mother that she had the same thing happen to her when she was in the womb. She came home very scared, and said that whoever Stephen King was, he’s a weirdo, sick, twisted, and demented. It was love at first sight! I have him to thank for getting me hooked on horror.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Ben: That would be tie between Stephen King’s IT, The Shining, and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. The former due to it being one of the best horror novels ever written, at least in my very humble opinion. The concept, the characters, the world, and how IT could be anything. The Shining had me actually believing in ghosts for a few years. That’s how well that book is written. The movie is good, but the book is so much better. The Girl Next Door has amazing characters, an amazing world, but, oh, man… that poor girl. It’s based on a true story, which shows what human beings are truly capable of. I had a very, very hard time reading the book towards the end, for obvious reasons. But you can’t put it down. You’re there, like the other kids, bearing witness to true horror.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Ben: That would be a tie between Hellraiser and Alien. With Alien, Ridley Scott’s vision, as well as Giger’s art and creature scarred me. The life-cycle of the xenomorph hits us on a sub-conscious level, too, which, when you think about it, you can’t get more disturbing than that. The sequels just didn’t hold up to the original.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Ben: The Hell Priest because it’s so damn hard to do! Ha! That’s why I’ve enlisted a friend who does special effects for a living. He told me it will take about four to five hours just to get my face and head finished. It’s going to be hard to pull off, but I love a challenge!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Ben: I dislike gothic music, but every Halloween I love cranking up Type O Negative. My favorite song would be Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-all). I have no idea why, but when Halloween hits, it’s gothic music time for Ben!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Ben: Favorite treat would be a Snickers bar. I hate candy-corn. Whoever invented the latter should be drug out into the street and shot. I’m biased because I bit into one once and cracked a tooth. The pain was instant and immense. Not a good Halloween that year!

Meghan: Thanks for stopping by Ben. Before you go, what Halloween reads do you think we should snuggle up with?

Ben:

  1. IT, Stephen King; The Shining, Stephen King; Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.
  2. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson; The October Country, Ray Bradbury; The Books of Blood, Clive Barker; The Cipher, Kathe Koja; Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury.
  3. The Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale; Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill; NOS4A2, Joe Hill; Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, Joyce Carol Oates.
  4. The Vegetarian, Han Kang; The Woman in Black, Susan Hill; Sineater, Elizabeth Massie; The Scarlet Gospels, Clive Barker.
  5. The Great and Secret Show, Clive Barker.
  6. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde; The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen; The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft.
  7. Broken Monsters, Lauren Buekes; The Turn of the Screw, Henry James.
  8. Pet Semetary, Stephen King; Misery, Stephen King.
  9. The King in Yellow, Robert W. Chambers.
  10. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson.
  11. Minion, L.A. Banks; Bird Box, Josh Malerman.
  12. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier.
  13. Psycho, Robert Bloch.
  14. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova; The Road, Cormac McCarthy.
  15. Bubba Ho-Tep, Joe R. Lansdale.

#1 and #2: The October Country, Ray Bradbury; Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury. Both are some of the best Halloween reading one can find.


Boo-graphy:
Ben Eads lives within the semi-tropical suburbs of Central Florida. A true horror writer by heart, he wrote his first story at the tender age of ten. The look on the teacher’s face when she read it was priceless. However, his classmates loved it! Ben has had short stories published in various magazines and anthologies. When he isn’t writing, he dabbles in martial arts, philosophy and specializes in I.T. security. He’s always looking to find new ways to infect reader’s imaginations. Ben blames Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Jorge Luis Borges, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, and Stephen King for his addiction, and his need to push the envelope of fiction.

Hollow Heart
Welcome to Shady Hills, Florida, where death is the beginning and pain is the only true Art…

Harold Stoe was a proud Marine until an insurgent’s bullet relegated him to a wheelchair. Now the only things he’s proud of are quitting alcohol and raising his sixteen-year-old son, Dale.

But there is an infernal rhythm, beating like a diseased heart from the hollow behind his home. An aberration known as The Architect has finished his masterpiece: A god which slumbers beneath the hollow, hell-bent on changing the world into its own image.

As the body count rises and the neighborhood residents change into mindless, shambling horrors, Harold and his former lover, Mary, begin their harrowing journey into the world within the hollow. If they fail, the hollow will expand to infinity. Every living being will be stripped of flesh and muscle, their nerves wrapped tightly around ribcages, so The Architect can play his sick music through them loud enough to swallow what gives them life: The last vestiges of a dying star.

GUEST POST: Stephen Volk

Halloween Memories

My memories of Halloween, growing up.

Er… Not many, to be honest.

No memories at all.

See, if you grew up, as I did, in the Great Britain of the late 50s and early 60s, Halloween wasn’t exactly a big thing, like it was in the USA.

Yes, we knew what it was. We’d read enough in comics or creepy stories to know it was a time when ghoulies and ghosties come out to play.

But in those days you didn’t have shops packed full of masks and witches’ costumes, Devil outfits, claw-like plastic fingernails, gummy fangs, and gobstopper eyeballs next to the supermarket checkout.

And you didn’t go around your neighbours’ houses knocking on doors in said costumes, demanding confectionary with menaces and the threat of evil to be carried out if such gifts were not given.

“Trick-or-Treating” was as alien to us as that guy with pointed ears on Star Trek.

We learned about Halloween, gradually, like Sorceror’s Apprentices. Except we didn’t glean our wisdom from potions or dusty, creaking grimoires – we got it from a much more dubious source.
Television.

Shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters were my generation’s entertainment staple and consummate joy.

They inculcated us into an alternative reality of Halloween and the macabre, plying us with forbidden fruit the like of which was as likely to be offered us on the BBC as pigs had of flying.
Here in the UK, we were dumbed and numbed by the innocuous (but strangely terrifying) fare of Twizzle, Andy Pandy and Sooty and Sweep. (Google if you dare.)

But from across the pond, by way of the airwaves, came strange and sinister confections – in the case of The Munsters – re-concocted from primal images indelibly created by Universal Studios in the form of their famous monsters… Frankenstein and his Bride, Lugosi’s Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr’s Werewolf

The weird things was…. They became our friends.

Far more so than the more palatable and educational stuff our domestic television channel was churning out. (I use the singular because for my early childhood, there was only one in the UK, until ITV – “independent” television – arrived to lower the tone. And way before Channel 4 in the 1980s lowered it even further.)

No great surprise then, that, as a writer of horror, I feel I was created by these imported monstrosities as surely as if someone had put current through bolts in my neck and yelled to the heavens that I was alive.

I was alive, suddenly.

My love of all things grotesque, from horror movies that were way beyond my cultural reach, to the heady symbolism of Edgar Allan Poe, began right there.

You could say, “Halloween” dug a hole deep in my heart.

And like many a horror writer before and since, it gave me comfort, because it spoke of powers of the night that were silent by day, of lusts that a child’s imagination cannot comprehend, of the lure and perils of the undead – of loved ones who, maybe, just maybe, could come back from the grave, but… changed!

It was thrilling. It was terrifying. It was real because it was unreal.

It was where I belonged.

And maybe those feelings lay buried or maybe they didn’t. Because when they finally came to the surface again, and Halloween came to play in my own back yard, things were never the same again.

CUT TO: 1992

I’d been writing for a living ever since I left film school. After a stint in advertising in London, I sold one of my first screenplays – wow! – and in a foolish commitment to luck over probability, decided to become a freelance screenwriter, full time.

You won’t have seen it unless you are as old and decrepit as me, but the film was called Gothic, and was about the birth of Frankenstein in the mind of a young girl of nineteen, Mary Shelley. It starred the late Natasha Richardson, with Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron, and was directed by one of the most amazing British directors of all time – Ken Russell, who’d made the febrile phantasmagoria, The Devils. One of my favourite films of all time. And one of the most controversial.

No pressure, then.

A few gigs after that, I found myself in Hollywood working with the director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, no less, on a film that became The Guardian, based upon a novel about an evil nanny who abducts children from good hard working middle-class families in contemporary Los Angeles. (Again, Google if you must.)

After that baptism of fire, with my confidence shrivelled by the process, I returned to England and, wanting to get in touch with my inner core as a writer again, pitched a new idea to a BBC producer who liked my writing, Ruth Baumgarten.

It was a TV series, a bit like The X-Files (given The X-Files wouldn’t exist for another 10 years) – a reporter and a paranormal investigator team up to find out the truth behind a haunted house.

A slam dunk, you might think? Well, no.

The BBC didn’t bite. The supernatural, then as now, is a hard sell for Auntie, more at home with costume dramas and cop shows.

But my producer was undaunted.

“Could we do it as a single drama? There’s a 90-minute slot going begging.”

“Great,” I said. “But the whole six hour series couldn’t be done in an hour and a half. What if we did the last episode and the rest is back story? What if we just do that last episode, a live broadcast from a haunted house on Halloween night… BUT WE DO IT AS IF IT REALLY IS LIVE?”

Ruth’s jaw dropped. “Do you think we can do it?”

I shrugged. “Let’s try.”

Many drafts and a brilliant director (Lesley Manning) later, we began shooting it over a cold summer, first the video footage from the bland house in suburban London where the poltergeist infestation was supposed to be taking place, then coverage in the fake TV studio where the presenter and various experts were supposedly observing the happenings from afar.

Obviously, in order to control what we could control, we weren’t going to film it “live” at all – and certainly not on Halloween night, the night when the programme was ostensibly supposed to be going out.

We had been given no transmission date at the time of shooting. Nevertheless, Lesley took a huge gamble in placing all manner of Halloween paraphernalia on set – carved pumpkins, plastic cobwebs, apples dangling on strings –and insisted on long takes, to give the illusion of verisimilitude that the project required if we were to pull it off.

All this long before The Blair Witch Project and the whole wagon train of “found footage” horror films that followed. They say our BBC drama Ghostwatch is the grandaddy of them all. And maybe they’re right. I wouldn’t be so grand as to claim that honour.

But the effect it had must surely put it up there.

Because when our show was transmitted, none of us could have expected… Wait. What did we expect, exactly?

We’d faked a “live-stream” ghost, right in front of the TV viewers’ eyes, audaciously and unapologetically. Without warning the audience that what they were about to see wasn’t true.

It was mere fiction, albeit wrapped up in the visual language of what seemed like an outside broadcast.

It was done like that – with real presenters like Michael Parkinson, a TV legend who’d famously interviewed Mohammed Ali, as the anchorman – to make the conceit work as planned. Not to “fool” anybody, any more than any drama “fools” anybody by convincing them it’s real. Neither did we expect anyone to feel like they’d been “had”.

Boy, were we wrong.

The phone calls coming in jammed the BBC switchboard even as the programme was being aired that Halloween night.

By the end, Ghostwatch was reputedly one of the most complained about TV programmed of all time. People – or at least some people – were not pleased. They thought they’d been taken for mugs. Others were just plain terrified, and wanted to swing a punch at the makers.

“Heads must roll at the BBC!” screamed the tabloid headlines that hit us in the subsequent days.

Michael Parkinson was door-stopped and had to say with his trademark Yorkshire bluntness that “People are daft! Some of them even believe the wrestling!” He stood by us, having bought into the concept from the start, getting immediately from his days presenting TV’s Cinema what a TV horror movie was trying to do.

Scare people! Duh!

Still, Sarah Greene (another real TV presenter cast under her own name) had to appear during children’s hour to assure young viewers that she hadn’t been killed by the ghost who’d trapped her in the closet under the stairs.

Meanwhile the two girls (real sisters) who featured in our story went to school on Monday morning and had their 15 minutes of fame in the playground, having enjoyed every minute of playacting a ghost story for television that, as it turned out, had spooked the nation.

To the extent that questions were even raised in Parliament.

From the BBC duty log we found out that three women had been so scared watching it they’d gone into labour.

We received a letter from an irate vicar telling us that, even though he knew the drama was fake, we had nonetheless “conjured up dangerous, evil forces”.

Best of all, Ruth got a letter from one woman asking for compensation because her husband, a war veteran, had shit his pants with terror and she wanted to buy him a new pair of jeans.

The whole experience, to put it mildly, was most peculiar on a psychological level, if nothing else, because for every person who’d thought the events of Ghostwatch were really happening, right up to the end credits, there was another who didn’t buy it, from the first ten seconds.

For every person outraged at the outrageous “hoax” perpetrated on their unsuspecting selves and their vulnerable children, there was another who thought it was the most exciting and provocative programme the BBC had ever made.

Go figure.

Well, we’d liked to have done. We’d liked to have, at least, discussed the aftermath, and explained why we wanted to created such a drama in the first place.

I, for one, had the answer readily to hand: Firstly, I wanted to create a really good ghost story for television, just as I’d been captivated and influenced by the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas and Nigel Kneale’s seminal TV play The Stone Tape. As a secondary objective – and this was always seen by us as an added bonus – Ghostwatch was intended to be a satire about the medium itself. Our reliance on TV personalities as a surrogate family, and our inability to separate fact from fiction. To believe uncritically in what we are shown. And to get a vicarious, voyeuristic thrill from what we watch.

But we didn’t get the chance.

The BBC swiftly gagged us in the face of a torrent of criticism, and the programme was buried forever in the BBC vaults, never to be repeated. The dictat even went out that it should never be mentioned in any other BBC programme, ever.

So far, so Stalinist.

But not very surprising. The BBC, like all institutions, is primarily interested in its own self-preservation. Support of its creative staff, we found, comes very low down the list of corporate priorities.

Even so, I think it is true to say, my Halloween has never been the same since.

With the British Film Institute bringing out a DVD of Ghostwatch in 2002 for its tenth anniversary, we found out to our astonishment and delight that not everybody hated Ghostwatch. Far from it.

In fact, there were thousands of fans – less vocal than the green ink brigade – who had prized it all along as one of the most riveting and life changing viewing experiences of their lives.

I know this because they told us about it, eager to share their memories.

They arranged screenings. Often at Halloween. Often coming in costume. Reliving the thrill and fun of seeing the apples bobbing and extras dressed as devils and witches. Chuckling as Parkinson introduces the show:

“No creaking gates, no gothic towers. No shuttered windows. Yet for the past ten months this house has been the focus for an unprecedented barrage of supernatural activity. This footage was shot by parapsychologists investigating the case. You are about to see one of the incidents that have earned the house in Foxhill Drive an unenviable reputation as Britain’s most haunted house….”

They loved it.

And to those of us who had actually made the thing, that was unbelievably touching.

A fan website was set up, and eventually a feature length documentary was made by our biggest fan, Richard LawdenGhostwatch: Behind The Curtains, featuring interviews with all the prime movers, including our late executive producer Richard Broke.

Blogs, discussions and interviews about the show have become so plentiful as to be difficult to keep track of. And invitations to do a Q&A at screenings keep on coming, thick and fast. Usually clustered around that very special, spooky time of year we all know and love.

Yes, for my sins, now, I can honestly say Ghostwatch has become a Halloween fixture. As much part of the furniture of that whole capitalist frightfest as grinning pumpkin heads and monster masks.

And I’m inordinately proud of that.

It’s pretty cool that a single, 90-minute TV programme transmitted on one night only and never repeated, is remembered almost 30 years later, and remembered mostly positively by a massive cohort of horror fans.

Fans who sometimes come up to me and say “You know, Ghostwatch was the best thing I ever saw on TV. It changed my life, got me interested in horror, and now I’m making horror films of my own.”

For me there can be no greater reward than this. To pass on the baton.

When Rob Savage, director of the internet sensation of 2020, Host, told me Ghostwatch was his biggest inspiration, my heart swelled with pride.

Sometimes I want to draw the line under it. I’ve written many things since after all – half a dozen feature films, including The Awakening, and I’ve created and been lead writer on television series such as Afterlife– as well as being the author of books such as The Dark Masters Trilogy.

But I’m reconciled to the fact that when I turn up my toes the headline will be “Ghostwatch Man Dies”. Ah, well.

It’s not a bad legacy, and, I hope, a little bit of Halloween horror history.

Watch it if you can find it. Preferably on Halloween night. Preferably with friends.

Turn the lights down, imagine yourself watching it back in 1992, unaware that it’s fake from beginning to end. And above all:

Don’t have nightmares.


Boo-graphy:
STEPHEN VOLK is best known as the writer of the BBC’s notorious “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch and the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife. His other film and television screenplays include The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall, and Gothic, starring the late Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley. He is a BAFTA Award winner, Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the author of three collections: Dark Corners, Monsters in the Heart (which won the British Fantasy Award), and The Parts We Play. The Dark Masters Trilogy comprises of three stories (Whitstable, Leytonstone, and “Netherwood”) using Peter Cushing, Alfred Hitchcock, and Dennis Wheatley as fictional characters, with a guest appearance by the occultist Aleister Crowley. His provocative non-fiction is collected in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror (PS Publishing, 2019) and his most recent book, also from PS Publishing, is Under a Raven’s Wing – grotesque and baffling mysteries investigated by Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s master detective Dupin in 1870s Paris.

Under a Raven’s Wing
The Apprenticeship of Sherlock Holmes

In 1870s Paris, long before meeting his Dr Watson, the young man who will one day become the world’s greatest detective finds himself plunged into a mystery that will change his life forever.

A brilliant man—C. Auguste Dupin—steps from the shadows. Destined to become his mentor. Soon to introduce him to a world of ghastly crime and seemingly inexplicable horrors.

The spectral tormentor that is being called, in hushed tones, The Phantom of the Opera . . .
The sinister old man who visits corpses in the Paris morgue . . .
An incarcerated lunatic who insists she is visited by creatures from the Moon . . .
A hunchback discovered in the bell tower of Notre Dame . . .
And—perhaps most shocking of all—the awful secret Dupin himself hides from the world.
Tales of Mystery, Imagination, and Terror

Investigated in the company of the darkest master of all.

The Dark Master’s Trilogy
Whitstable – 1971.
Peter Cushing, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and soul-mate, is walking along a beach near his home. A little boy approaches him, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer films, begs for his expert help…

Leytonstone – 1906.
Young Alfred Hitchcock is taken by his father to visit the local police station. There he suddenly finds himself, inexplicably, locked up for a crime he knows nothing about – the catalyst for a series of events that will scar, and create, the world’s leading Master of Terror…

Netherwood – 1947.
Best-selling black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley finds himself summoned mysteriously to the aid of Aleister Crowley – mystic, reprobate, The Great Beast 666, and dubbed by the press ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – to help combat a force of genuine evil…

The Little Gift
The nocturnal scampering invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens.

What time is it?

Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror

The Parts We Play
An illusionist preparing his latest, most audacious trick… A movie fan hiding from a totalitarian regime… A pop singer created with the perfect ingredients for stardom… A folklorist determined to catch a supernatural entity on tape… A dead child appearing to her mother in the middle of a supermarket aisle… A man who breaks the ultimate taboo—but does that make him a monster?

In this rich and varied collection of Stephen Volk’s best fiction to date, characters seek to be the people they need to be, jostled by hope, fears, responsibility, fate, and their own inner demons—and desires. These tales of the lies and lives we live and the pasts we can’t forget include the British Fantasy Award-winning novella, Newspaper Heart.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephen Volk

And now, for a little bit of fun…

Meghan: Hey Stephen! Welcome… back? Hahaha. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Stephen: 1) My grandsons having fun!

2) The movies!……. It is the one day of the year when TV puts out horror movies or shows about horror movies. And it is the one night of the year when people who don’t like scary things like to be scared, And – see – that’s when we GET them! Heh heh heh!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Stephen: Telling ghost stories by candle light. Except nobody does it any more. Our campfire tales are usually told in front of the latest wide screen plasma screen. And told by cinematographic storytellers. But there is nothing quite like the old tradition of HEARING a ghost story to truly chill the blood. The images you conjure up in your head are far worse than any CGI can deliver!

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Stephen: I like ANY holiday because it means the phone won’t ring and I can get on with writing without being disturbed!

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Stephen: I’m not superstitious in the conventional sense, but I have a desk full of talismanic objects… A statuette of Peter Cushing, Poe and Alfred Hitchcock, skull money boxes, monster toys etc…

But generally I believe in “paying back” – so if I get paid for a screenplay, I like to spend money on a work of art. Be it a small print of £50 or a bigger piece of artwork I have fallen in love with – or indeed an expensive or lavish book. I love the visual arts – painting, etching, etc – lots of my friends are artists and you can pick up an original work of art rather than a mass produced print and feel you are supporting the artist. I like that! I also like to share all sorts of weird images on my twitter feed or Facebook timeline – they are great inspiration for stories!

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Stephen: It would have to be Frankenstein’s creature. It isn’t just frightening it has a lot of tragedy and pathos – it was rejected by its father, so it wasn’t born bad, it was made bad by being treated badly. I love that as a metaphor for life. Maybe there is a story to be written where Viktor Frankenstein was a good daddy? That would be interesting.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Stephen: The Jack the Ripper murders of Whitechapel in 1888, of course. I don’t think we will ever get to the bottom of the mystery. Not anymore, so long after the primary evidence has decayed and the witnesses and investigators are all dead. All the theories overlap and the territory is too muddy. My own theory is that “London” or specifically the East End was the murderer. There was no single killer of the canonical five. And the person who wrote the “Dear Boss” letter was an enterprising reporter called Tom Bulling. In fact, I wrote a TV script about him, and the creation of the first tabloid true crime story. Bulling “created” the myth of Jack the Ripper, I think. (I was always fascinated that Inspector Abberline was alive long enough to have watched Hitchcock’s “Ripper” film The Lodger in a movie house!)

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Stephen: The phantom hitchhiker, probably. It’s very easy to hallucinate a figure at the side of the road but it turns out it’s only a signpost or tree, but the idea of a hitchhiker being a ghost sitting next to you is terrifying. We’re terribly vulnerable in our cars at night. I tried to dramatise this is a script I wrote called Octane (called Pulse in the USA) starring Madeline Stowe and Norman Reedus. It was about vampires who prey on people in car crashes at night. It was a cool idea but the movie didn’t quite work.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Stephen: I don’t find serial killers interesting or charismatic. In real life they are boring, odious non-entities. I think we have to grow up and face the fact that they aren’t comic book monsters let alone “heroes” – they are human beings who have gone badly wrong. And we can’t spot them in a crowd because they look like you and me. In my stories about people who do terrible things I always want there to be shadings of gray. Maybe a terrible person does something for a good reason, or a good person is forced to do something awful. That is much more interesting to me than a Freddy or a Jason.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Stephen: First horror movie was on TV and it was a black and white one called The City of the Dead. It was a British film, I think, but set in the USA, full of men in monks’ cowls and streets swathed in fog – it was terrific! There is one particular image that stayed with me ever since, and that was a man staggering through the fog holding a life sized cross from the graveyard to ward off the evil ones – who I think burst into flames! That, to me, was almost the equal of the iconic scene in Hammer’s Dracula where Van Helsing leaps up and pulls down the curtains letting in the sunlight that shrivels Dracula to a crisp – then holds the two candle sticks in the form of a crucifix to finish him off! Wonderful stuff!

First horror book was a magazine – FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine! I used to save up my pocket money and go to the local newsagent and buy it. The photographs were like nothing I’d ever seen. And of course long before I was old enough to see any of the movies themselves – which were “X” certificate in Britain – ADULTS ONLY! That’s how I got to know Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, way before I saw the films.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Stephen: Possibly Dracula at a young age – it sort of felt real because it was in diary form. Like the equivalent of a “found footage” movie today. You plunge into the immersive world and it doesn’t let go. When you are young you don’t understand the graphically sexual imagery – it is just the force of predatory evil and strangeness that is all-consuming.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Stephen: Without doubt, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. It’s my number one film of all time because when the ending happened (I was sitting in a movie house all alone on a wet Wednesday afternoon) I thought I’d lost my mind. I thought the reels must have been switched. I didn’t get it, then it all made sense. Then there was that marvellous montage of all the hints that had told you what was going on all along. It’s a true cinematic masterpiece, and I will watch it over and over till the day I die. Purely from the craft point of view there is so much to learn from the storytelling and the depth of character.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Stephen: I have a skinhead skullcap with a massive rubber Mohawk sticking up. I like it because my dad wore it one time and it looked hilarious so it reminds me of him. And, since I’m bald, it is kind of perverse to wear a bald skull cap on top of a bald head! But hey, that’s how I roll!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Stephen: Gotta be “The Monster Mash”. I can’t think of any other. And now I’ve got it playing in my head, damn you!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Stephen: Nothing. I’ll eat anything. If you were a chocolate bar, I’d eat you.

Meghan: Stephen, thanks again for joining us today. Not for one interview, but TWO. Before you go, what are your favorite Halloween movies?

Stephen:

#1 Halloween – the original and the best!!

#2 Ghostwatch (I wrote it – so, sorry!)

But for Halloween night, I’d always recommend these superlative cinematic treats:

#3 The Innocents
#4 The Haunting (black and white version)
#5 The Woman in Black (British TV version)
#6 Herzog‘s Nosferatu
#7 Dreyer‘s Vampyr
#8 Haxan
#9 Viy
#10 The Devil’s Backbone

Thanks for the interview. To sign off here is George, my grandson, carving pumpkins and looking super chilled:

Boo-graphy:
STEPHEN VOLK is best known as the writer of the BBC’s notorious “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch and the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife. His other film and television screenplays include The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall, and Gothic, starring the late Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley. He is a BAFTA Award winner, Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the author of three collections: Dark Corners, Monsters in the Heart (which won the British Fantasy Award), and The Parts We Play. The Dark Masters Trilogy comprises of three stories (Whitstable, Leytonstone, and “Netherwood”) using Peter Cushing, Alfred Hitchcock, and Dennis Wheatley as fictional characters, with a guest appearance by the occultist Aleister Crowley. His provocative non-fiction is collected in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror (PS Publishing, 2019) and his most recent book, also from PS Publishing, is Under a Raven’s Wing – grotesque and baffling mysteries investigated by Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s master detective Dupin in 1870s Paris.

Under a Raven’s Wing
The Apprenticeship of Sherlock Holmes

In 1870s Paris, long before meeting his Dr Watson, the young man who will one day become the world’s greatest detective finds himself plunged into a mystery that will change his life forever.

A brilliant man—C. Auguste Dupin—steps from the shadows. Destined to become his mentor. Soon to introduce him to a world of ghastly crime and seemingly inexplicable horrors.

The spectral tormentor that is being called, in hushed tones, The Phantom of the Opera . . .
The sinister old man who visits corpses in the Paris morgue . . .
An incarcerated lunatic who insists she is visited by creatures from the Moon . . .
A hunchback discovered in the bell tower of Notre Dame . . .
And—perhaps most shocking of all—the awful secret Dupin himself hides from the world.
Tales of Mystery, Imagination, and Terror

Investigated in the company of the darkest master of all.

The Dark Master’s Trilogy
Whitstable – 1971.
Peter Cushing, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and soul-mate, is walking along a beach near his home. A little boy approaches him, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer films, begs for his expert help…

Leytonstone – 1906.
Young Alfred Hitchcock is taken by his father to visit the local police station. There he suddenly finds himself, inexplicably, locked up for a crime he knows nothing about – the catalyst for a series of events that will scar, and create, the world’s leading Master of Terror…

Netherwood – 1947.
Best-selling black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley finds himself summoned mysteriously to the aid of Aleister Crowley – mystic, reprobate, The Great Beast 666, and dubbed by the press ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – to help combat a force of genuine evil…

The Little Gift
The nocturnal scampering invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens.

What time is it?

Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror

The Parts We Play
An illusionist preparing his latest, most audacious trick… A movie fan hiding from a totalitarian regime… A pop singer created with the perfect ingredients for stardom… A folklorist determined to catch a supernatural entity on tape… A dead child appearing to her mother in the middle of a supermarket aisle… A man who breaks the ultimate taboo—but does that make him a monster?

In this rich and varied collection of Stephen Volk’s best fiction to date, characters seek to be the people they need to be, jostled by hope, fears, responsibility, fate, and their own inner demons—and desires. These tales of the lies and lives we live and the pasts we can’t forget include the British Fantasy Award-winning novella, Newspaper Heart.

(SERIOUS) AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephen Volk

When Stephen and I discussed what he wanted to do in this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, he told me that he was impressed with an interview I had done of a fellow author, a serious one. How can I deny someone who is impressed by one of my interviews, right? After some back and forth, and my suggestion of doing both, he agreed. So here, first, is the serious interview. Ladies and gentlemen, Stephen Volk.

Meghan: Hey, Stephen. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Stephen: My name is Stephen Volk. In spite of a name that sounds German, I’m Welsh. I’m a BAFTA winning screenwriter best known for writing the so-called “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch which was transmitted by the BBC on Halloween night 1992. Astonished that thirty years later people still talk about it! I’ve also been creator and lead writer of two TV shows (Afterlife and Midwinter of the Spirit), have written lots of other screenplays and television scripts, as well as dozens of short stories and novellas, and a few stage plays. Mostly, but not all, in the horror genre.

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

Stephen: I have a cat named Asbo. I was once at a party with Jack Nicholson. I grew up in the same town as Tom Jones. My house was built in 1692. I hate jazz.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Stephen: A large illustrated book of The Pied Piper, when I was about four. I don’t remember if it was the poem or just the basic tale. The illustrations were magnificently terrifying, complementing the innate horror of the story. Its impact sank deep. I later wrote a story related to The Pied Piper, called “Best in the Business”. I’d also one day like to tell it in a film, set post-US Civil War, in the style of Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Stephen: I’m reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. (A new spin on Lolita in the age of #metoo.) It’s a spellbinding and gripping read. Before that I read The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, the new story collection by the incredible Mariana Enriquez.

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

Stephen: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. It’s a novel about nurses working during the flu epidemic in Dublin in 1918. It has no genre element whatsoever, but I will read anything by the author of the brilliant Room. She is such a great writer.

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

Stephen: I started drawing before I started writing. My granddad, who ran a pub, used to give me shiny squares of paper and I would hide under the table and draw on them – continuous images, as if each square was a comic book panel. I think I started writing proper in my early teens. My cousin and I were both mad keen on books and films, so for our fifteenth birthdays our mutual grandmother bought us each a typewriter. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever had. It was like receiving a travel ticket to anywhere you can imagine.

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

Stephen: I write at home, in my study, at my desk – smallest room in my house. I didn’t get a lap top until recently so if I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be working (unless I took a notebook with me). It’s not a monk’s cell exactly, but most of my stuff is produced in that room, with a window over the garden and the cat whining in the background.

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

Stephen: No, I have no superstitions. I know all the smart advice about getting started: get writing as soon as your ass hits the chair, etc. I can give them, but I rarely obey them. As far as process goes, I have to know roughly what I’m going to do before I start. Ramsey Campbell says, always start knowing the sentence you will write. That’s pretty good advice. In general, I plan a lot. Obviously in screenplays it’s a requirement, but even in short stories, for me, there will be several pages of scribbles figuring out whether the thing is worth doing, and sometimes that goes in a drawer till it is. I don’t know if it’s a quirk, but I love the feeling of typing THE END or FADE OUT. That moment is what you live for – the story exists! But always, about half an hour later or even ten seconds later you wonder if it’s complete shit.

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

Stephen: Yes, most of writing is challenging! I would definitely say getting notes, be it from an editor, script editor or producer. You can’t reject them all and usually you can’t address them all, so there is a give and take. Negotiating that in order to make this nebulous thing called “the story” better is really complex and only comes from experience. I still find it enormously difficult, but everything needs work, and you are a fool if you don’t listen to feedback.

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

Stephen: I’m not ducking the question, but it’s literally the last thing I finished. Both generally and specifically. I think you almost have to feel that. Yesterday I finished a kind of monster story/mythic fantasy short story that has been bugging me for ages – possibly all my life. I had ideas but I didn’t know what to do with them. Only by getting them on paper did I arrive at what I wanted to say, or rather, what I wanted to explore. And the story did that. The story throws back at you what it needs to be. I’m really glad that happened, so I’m on a little bit of a high that I pulled it off.

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

Stephen: Oh, too many to mention! Sometimes it is very clear. My recent book Under a Raven’s Wing, in which a young Sherlock Holmes is educated in his art by Poe’s master detective C. Auguste Dupin, is very obviously inspired by my love of Poe and Conan Doyle. It might sound funny, but sometimes I get the voice of a story by imagining it written by someone else – when I wrote my story “Sicko” I wondered how Joyce Carol Oates would write it. For “White Butterflies” it was Cormac McCarthy. “The Airport Gorilla” needed to be a bit more loose and poetic, so I channelled the wordplay of Dylan Thomas a little bit. Another story came alive when I thought of it being told by Alan Bennett. Sometimes you unlock how to do it that way.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Stephen: Honesty. Telling it from the heart. Making opposites clash, or making the story the opposite of what it seems: I often say my “horror” stories are about love. Nail the theme – what it is about underneath – but don’t be dictatorial. Let the reader fill in the gaps. The wonderful director Billy Wilder said if you give the audience two plus two and they make five, they will love you forever.

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

Stephen: Truthfulness. I hate the boring Hollywood note that a character isn’t “likeable”. It usually means they don’t feel real. And the whole process of making them lovable makes them more boring. Make them interesting in the way real people you know are interesting and complex and compelling and unknowable and contradictory. Mine your own life for detail and authenticity. Observe. Be curious. Above all, give them a flaw. The flaw, the wound is everything. The wound is where the light gets in.

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

Stephen: Dr Robert Bridge, possibly, the psychology lecturer character played by Andrew Lincoln in my TV series Afterlife. He is a rational man and thinks logically, it is his job to think things out, put them in their place (like a writer) but he is faced with a person – Alison Mundy, a spirit medium who is entirely instinct – and he fears that, fears letting himself go to emotional upheaval.

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

Stephen: Oh, listen, I trained as a graphic designer before I became an advertising copywriter. I am a design junkie. I love book design, illustration, typography, just as much as what is inside the covers, and it literally makes me squirm when I have to buy a book with a terrible cover because I love the author. I almost will not do it. I’d rather buy a book with a terrific cover that I never read. It’s not my place to be involved in designing book covers for my own books – though I feel I could, at a push, but they wouldn’t be really excellent. One of the reasons I love doing the meticulous small-run books that PS Publishing create is that I know Pedro Marques will design mine, and he is an absolute genius. Opening the box when I receive then is always mind- blowingly thrilling.

Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?

Stephen: After working for thirty years writing for film and TV, that I have learned a few things about storytelling. Most of all, that I like to be in the position, now, where I get input, but at the end of the day, what I say goes. The book is mine and nobody else’s, for good or ill. I’m tired of taking the flak for other people’s mistakes in my career.

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

Stephen: I don’t find scenes that are emotional or that cut deep difficult, even death scenes – death scenes are very gratifying, actually, because you get to be with someone dying but nobody actually dies – you can rehearse it, over and over, in the way that horror is perhaps rehearsing death over and over in a way, or what it feels to be hurt, or to lose your identity. All these things aren’t hard – they are exciting. You just have to be honest with yourself and go there till you get it. The hard scenes are where you get stupid notes to address and you can’t solve the problem, or something isn’t working – those are the killer. And sometimes later on you go: “Oh course, that’s how you do it – what’s the problem?” But at the time you felt like killing yourself or handing the money back. “Here! Take it! I’m not a writer anymore! Leave me alone!”

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

Stephen: Speaking for books and scripts and plays all together? I have no idea. Maybe they’re not in “the genre” in terms of mainstream at all. PS is a very select and exclusive edition type publisher and I’m fine with that. They don’t turn around and ask for a shark on the cover, or a bleeding skull. If I started to wonder where I sat in the genre I think I’d go mad. I have tried to figure out what the genre means to me over many years. I wrote think pieces in Andy Cox’s Black Static magazine which were compiled in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror. So that’s the nearest you’ll get to me analysing myself or my writing.

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)?

Stephen: There’s sometimes a clever story about a title and sometimes there isn’t. It often just pops out of the air – as Under a Raven’s Wing did, the idea of mentoring and Poe in one neat phrase. I tried it out on my wife and she said: “Yeah. Obvious.” (Ha! I wish “obvious” ideas came that easily more often!) Many times, with me, the title of a story comes at the early stages – it is sort of part of the overall package of the idea that is what turns me on. That’s why when someone wants to change the title (as they always do, in films, without fail) my heart plummets. I wrote a screenplay called The Interpretation of Ghosts (which I loved) but they changed it to The Awakening. Don’t ask me why!

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

Stephen: I have only written a novel or two (the Gothic film novelisation of Netherwood; and a couple of unpublished ones), but I will answer in terms of writing a short piece as opposed to a big piece such as a film screenplay. Basically, I think a short story has immediate gratification – you can write it in weeks, if not days, sometimes, and there it is: done. A screenplay or novel will takes months at best and sometimes several years. So the two are very different beasts to handle in terms of control, focus and stamina. Your love for a novel or screenplay will have peaks and troughs, depending on collaborators. With a short story you may have no collaborators at all. You are left to your own instinct and skill, and that can be a huge liberatio. At the moment I am into short stories and novellas, but that might be a passing preference, depending what comes up next as the pandemic lifts.

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

Stephen: I’ll shift a little and talk about my next short story collection, coming out in March 2022 from PS Publishing, which will be called Lies of Tenderness. What I’d like readers to get from this wide range of tales in many different settings is that we are all given choices between empathy and selfishness at various points in our lives, and how we react to that situation and those pressures is what forms us. I’ve spelled it out in a way I would never want to, really. But that’s what I want “horror stories” to achieve – to take you to a place you think one thing will happen, and it’s actually another. You were perhaps expecting a sharp shock like the genre habitually delivers, and it’s not. It’s something else.

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

Stephen: Again thinking of Lies of Tenderness, I left out one story – which was actually fully on-theme – but was a period piece that didn’t fit the flow of the book. I’m sure it will find its way into a future book, though. In the latest story I’ve written, three characters enter the story halfway through, they rapidly get killed, and I just cut those four pages out – it made a huge difference. I always say crossing out is just as important as word count!

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Stephen: I have several things are are half-baked because they are not ready – it is best to put them aside and come back to them when the penny has dropped. Of course sometimes the penny never drops! But that is part of the game. I have numerous film projects that have never comes to fruition which makes me sad, because some of them are far more interesting than movies I have had produced. For one we had Michael Caine, Danny DeVito, and Kristin Scott Thomas all signed up, but still couldn’t get the finance. It’s quite baffling. Which is why you have to get the pleasure from the actual writing, if you can. I also have a massive novel written in archaic language which nobody will touch. I don’t know about bottom drawers, I think I have a whole warehouse full of these things!

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

Stephen: Lies of Tenderness will be out n March 2022. I have a couple of TV series in development, and a couple of feature films with producers. Very excited about all of them, but I really can’t give specific details as the business is fickle at the best of times and what seems like a slam-dunk can turn into a dead duck. As ever I will split between screen work and books. I actually want a stretch of clear blue water in front of me to see what will happen.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Stephen: Twitter ** Facebook ** Website

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say?

Stephen: Thank you for reading this far and thank you for reading or watching my work. By the way, if you read something (or watch something), try to reach out and let the writer know about it. Don’t imagine they will be too busy to hear some words of praise. Some people might be, but most of us all have dark nights of the soul and your words could mean a lot to that person at that point. It is a tough old business, writing for a living, and in some cases, those moments of contact and support are all that keeps us going! Thank you!


Boo-graphy:
STEPHEN VOLK is best known as the writer of the BBC’s notorious “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch and the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife. His other film and television screenplays include The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall, and Gothic, starring the late Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley. He is a BAFTA Award winner, Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the author of three collections: Dark Corners, Monsters in the Heart (which won the British Fantasy Award), and The Parts We Play. The Dark Masters Trilogy comprises of three stories (Whitstable, Leytonstone, and “Netherwood”) using Peter Cushing, Alfred Hitchcock, and Dennis Wheatley as fictional characters, with a guest appearance by the occultist Aleister Crowley. His provocative non-fiction is collected in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror (PS Publishing, 2019) and his most recent book, also from PS Publishing, is Under a Raven’s Wing – grotesque and baffling mysteries investigated by Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s master detective Dupin in 1870s Paris.

Under a Raven’s Wing
The Apprenticeship of Sherlock Holmes

In 1870s Paris, long before meeting his Dr Watson, the young man who will one day become the world’s greatest detective finds himself plunged into a mystery that will change his life forever.

A brilliant man—C. Auguste Dupin—steps from the shadows. Destined to become his mentor. Soon to introduce him to a world of ghastly crime and seemingly inexplicable horrors.

The spectral tormentor that is being called, in hushed tones, The Phantom of the Opera . . .
The sinister old man who visits corpses in the Paris morgue . . .
An incarcerated lunatic who insists she is visited by creatures from the Moon . . .
A hunchback discovered in the bell tower of Notre Dame . . .
And—perhaps most shocking of all—the awful secret Dupin himself hides from the world.
Tales of Mystery, Imagination, and Terror

Investigated in the company of the darkest master of all.

The Dark Master’s Trilogy
Whitstable – 1971.
Peter Cushing, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and soul-mate, is walking along a beach near his home. A little boy approaches him, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer films, begs for his expert help…

Leytonstone – 1906.
Young Alfred Hitchcock is taken by his father to visit the local police station. There he suddenly finds himself, inexplicably, locked up for a crime he knows nothing about – the catalyst for a series of events that will scar, and create, the world’s leading Master of Terror…

Netherwood – 1947.
Best-selling black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley finds himself summoned mysteriously to the aid of Aleister Crowley – mystic, reprobate, The Great Beast 666, and dubbed by the press ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – to help combat a force of genuine evil…

The Little Gift
The nocturnal scampering invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens.

What time is it?

Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror

The Parts We Play
An illusionist preparing his latest, most audacious trick… A movie fan hiding from a totalitarian regime… A pop singer created with the perfect ingredients for stardom… A folklorist determined to catch a supernatural entity on tape… A dead child appearing to her mother in the middle of a supermarket aisle… A man who breaks the ultimate taboo—but does that make him a monster?

In this rich and varied collection of Stephen Volk’s best fiction to date, characters seek to be the people they need to be, jostled by hope, fears, responsibility, fate, and their own inner demons—and desires. These tales of the lies and lives we live and the pasts we can’t forget include the British Fantasy Award-winning novella, Newspaper Heart.