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.

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.