(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: Paul Flewitt: Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer Pt 1

When I invited Paul Flewitt to take part in this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, I never could have expected the guest post that he sent me. We discussed it several times over the past few weeks, and every time he would tell me that it was almost done, send me over a small portion of it, and ask me what I thought. When I received the final copy, I immediately sat down to read it – a retrospective on one of my all-time favorite authors? – and could not believe just how good it was. Weighing in at 69 pages, 40,227 words… it’s definitely the largest, most researched blog post I have received in my seven plus years of being a blogger. I have broken it up into six days, so sit back and enjoy.


Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer:
A Retrospective
Part 1

Hi everyone, and happy belated Halloween. Thanks to Meghan for inviting me to write this, admittedly rather lengthy article.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that, given the opportunity to do so, I would write an article about Clive Barker. I have never made a secret of the fact that I love his work, and that I hold Barker in high esteem as a writer, artist, director and human being. I think every interview I have ever given has included Barker in some way or another – how could it not? He is a huge influence on my writing, as is reflected in many reviews of my books and stories. It would be utterly remiss of me to refuse to celebrate him in any way that I can. So when I discussed with Meghan the kinds of spots she wanted for her Halloween Extravaganza, and a Barker retrospective came up in the conversation, I leapt at the chance to be the one to write it. I do hope that you take as much pleasure in reading it as I have in researching and writing it.

I have tried to be concise, to keep this from becoming an unauthorised biography running into many thousands of words, but there is a lot of ground to cover. Clive has been an insanely prolific artist over the last 40 years, and to fit absolutely everything into a blog article in the detail that each project deserves would be inadvisable. I have written here a potted history of his books, some selected movies, and mentions for plays he has written. You might see this post as a jumping off point for further research. I recommend Douglas E. Winter’s authorised biography The Dark Fantastic, Clive Barker’s own The Essential Clive Barker, and also the Barkercast and Revelations websites for further examination of his wider work.

So, all of this said… shall we begin?


Liverpool, UK in the 1950’s and 60’s was a city in transformation. The year of Clive Barker’s birth, 1952, came seven years after World War 2 ended; Liverpool was still rebuilding and regenerating after being gutted by bombing and the docks, which once provided the lion’s share of the city’s economy, were slowly dying. It was a city catching up with the modern world, and was a hotbed of artistic creativity. From this soup would be fermented bands like The Beatles, The Merseybeats, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and writers like Phil Redmond and, of course, Clive Barker.

The young Barker was a creative, artistic boy. His bedroom was filled with scribblings, doodles, and models half-built. He created for himself different worlds to inhabit and take him away from one that made very little sense to him, which probably gave a clue to the man that he would become. He was an intelligent child; was one of only ten children in his primary school to pass his eleven-plus exam and be admitted to Quarry Bank Grammar School. The headteacher of Quarry Bank was William Pobjoy, a man forever remembered in history as the guy who allowed a young lad named John Lennon to form a little sciffle band while at school and play during lunch periods; The Quarrymen would pretty soon become The Beatles. Pobjoy was described as a “pompous prick” by Barker, so he clearly didn’t enjoy the same rapport with the man as Lennon did. Of course, Clive also described himself as a “snidey little bastard,” so his criticism is not only reserved for his headteacher, but turned upon himself too.

In his first years, Clive was absent from lessons more than he attended them, a fact that was mourned by one teacher who remarked that the class was “lesser for Clive’s absence.” He hated sports, and the class system which pitted child against child. The enigma to teachers was that Barker was a talented pupil, far from a dunce. He performed well in exams and in class… when he deigned to show up. Put simply, academic pursuits held little relevance to the young Clive Barker; the arts and words were where the world made sense to him. In time, he came to a compromise with his parents that he would knuckle down at school, if he could also pursue his art. As long as his mess was confined to his room, a deal was struck.

Clive’s English teacher, Norman Russell, immediately saw something very different in the young Barker, famously refusing to mark Clive’s assignments because “he had moved beyond the curriculum and could not be marked.” Russell was the man who encouraged Barker’s exploration of his imagination, supporting his endeavours on stage. Clive was cast in school plays throughout his time at Quarry Bank and was permitted to put on his own fringe plays, many of them written by him and his friend Phil Rimmer. This was also where Barker first met a boy two years his junior, but would become a lifelong friend, Doug Bradley. Most memorable of these self-produced plays was Neongonebony, a play entirely improvised by the students.

In these plays Barker and his fellow actors showed a forward-thinking and almost revolutionary philosophy toward the arts, seating the audience on stage while the play was enacted on the floor, lit by candles held by the actors and with horrific special effects designed by Clive and Phil.

Clive left Quarry Bank with the intention of attending Liverpool College of Arts, but at the insistence of his father who wanted him to get a proper education and some possibility of gainful employment, he went to the University of Liverpool instead. This dismayed his English teacher, Norman Russell, who had hoped to see Clive accepted into Oxford or Cambridge, but as Barker himself concedes “I lacked the application… I didn’t want to be an MP or justice of the peace…” University did not stop the young Barker from creating; writing plays and even a short novel, originally entitled “The Company of Dreamers;” later released as “The Candle in the Cloud” and dedicated to his friends: Julie, Sue, Anne, Lynne, Doug, and Graham; his fellow actors from school.

Throughout his years at university he continued to act, forming his own theatre company with Doug Bradley, Peter Atkins, Phil Rimmer, and others. The company started out as The Hydra Theatre Company after Clive and Phil Rimmer made a series of experimental short films, which included Salome and The Forbidden. The company occupied much of Clive’s spare time throughout the 70’s, mutating into The Theatre of the Imagination. Under both guises, Barker put on a number of plays. At this time he also wrote The Adventures of Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus, a short novel for young adults which was eventually released in 2009 and loosely based on his theatre company and friends. The theatre became more of a full time focus when he graduated from university in 1974, and they built a solid reputation for themselves.

Liverpool could not contain Clive Barker for much longer, however, as travel to cities like Paris and London showed him the wider world. It took some persuasion – Barker believed that living in Liverpool offered a unique mystique that being in the London scene would not afford them – but he was persuaded and was first of his friends to move, with his partner, John Gregson, to London in 76. Doug Bradley moved in 78, as did Phil Rimmer and the rest of the company. The troupe morphed as new members joined, becoming The Dog Company and performing several Barker-penned plays including “History of the Devil,” applying for funding from The Arts Council and touring to places like Edinburgh and Holland to perform. Barker and John were never particularly well off, but got by on John’s salary, Clive’s welfare checks, and whatever small income he received from performing. He also supplemented his income writing for a small S&M magazine, copies of which were seized and burned, much to Clive’s delight. It was these stories and articles that would later inspire, in part, Clive’s most famous creation, Pinhead.

More plays followed in the early years of the 80’s, with “Paradise Street,” “Frankenstein in Love,” “The Secret Life of Cartoons,” “Crazyface,” “Subtle Bodies,” and “Colossus” being written and performed in 81, 82 and 83. By now Clive had withdrawn from acting, taking on the role of stage director and principle writer in pursuit of more singular recognition for his writing.


1983 and 84 proved pivotal years for Barker as he began working at night on short stories. His days were still spent on plays and the theatre, the stories being more a distraction and something to share with his friends from the company. He explored his imagination in a much deeper, unreserved way in these stories, giving no thought to publishing any of them. That was, until he saw the Dark Forces anthology in a bookstore, containing short stories by Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ramsey Campbell. This anthology set off a lightbulb for Barker and he immediately set about, with his theatrical agent, to find a publisher for his stories. It was a tough sell; the industry opinion was, and still is, that anthologies don’t sell. Sphere Books took a chance on them however, and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were published. A new Imaginer had arrived, and took the world of horror and dark fantasy by storm. Ramsey Campbell wrote; “I think Clive Barker is the most important writer of horror fiction since Peter Straub,” and Stephen King wrote; “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” It was a phrase that Barker says “changed my life forever…” but also proved to be something of a curse.

Books of Blood (1984)

Of all Clive Barker’s works, Books of Blood is the one I see most frequently recommended in online groups to initiates into the world of Barker (or The Barkerverse, as I term it) these days. I can see why too; Books of Blood gives an overview of everything that might be expected from Clive’s work. There are claustrophobic horrors and epic fantasies, peopled by monsters of both the human and distinctly non-human variety. If you’re going to like any Barker at all, you will like a lot of what’s contained in these volumes.

There are a number of releases of Books of Blood: individual volumes and omnibus editions which collect volumes 1-3 and 3-6, all with differing cover art. Really, Barker is a collectors’ dream when it comes to interesting cover art. Like Pokemon; you’ve gotta catch em all.

Stand out stories for me here would be: Pig Blood Blues, Rawhead Rex, Dread, The Forbidden, Book of Blood, The Body Politic, Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, Son of Celluloid, and In The Hills, The Cities. Honestly though, there isn’t a bad story in the whole bunch. As an introduction to Barker’s work, you really can’t go wrong here.


The release of Books of Blood proved something of an anomaly in publishing circles; for a writer to debut with a short story collection was unheard of in the modern era, for them to be a critical success unprecedented. It wasn’t an astounding commercial success, but sold enough for Sphere to want more from Barker: a novel. It was a daunting prospect for Clive to write a full length piece, but he set to work and produced a synopsis entitled “Out of the Empty Quarter.” This was proposed to begin in the Arabian desert; an explorer discovers the ruins of Eden inhabited by a lonely angel. The explorer returns to England and unleashes a horrifying force, which turns out to be more angelic than demonic. Sphere rejected this idea, finding it more akin to fantasy than horror. Unperturbed, Barker came up with something else: “Mamoulian’s Game,” but we would come to know it as “The Damnation Game.”

The Damnation Game (1985)

The story begins with a thief wandering through the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto, searching for a legendary card player. Stories have been told of the European, the greatest card player they have ever heard of who never loses, and the thief is skeptical. Of course, he wants to meet this man himself and disprove the fable… and play him himself. He has tracked the European to Warsaw, and here he will find him… and win. The prize for winning against the European is wealth, fame, and long life, a prize that the thief accepts eagerly.

Years later, Marty Strauss is in prison for armed robbery, closing in on parole and determined to see out his sentence in peace. He is summoned to a meeting with the governor of the prison and is greeted by William Toy. Strauss is soon made an offer he could scarcely refuse: early release, in return for his services as bodyguard to the hermetic millionaire, Joseph Whitehead.

Strauss is taken to Whitehead’s Sanctuary by Toy, where he will live as Whitehead’s right hand man. He meets Whitehead and, quite frankly, cannot believe his luck. He is paid well for his services, lives in a grand mansion, and can live his life again. All is going better than Strauss could have possibly dreamed… until Mamoulian comes to call.

The Damnation Game is a Faustian tale of redemption and… well, damnation obviously. Marty Strauss is portrayed as a normal guy, thrown into some very unusual and terrifying circumstances, used by a man who considers himself above the common. Mamoulian, the Last European, is characterised as an eloquent, melancholy, and ill-used antagonist in the piece. There is a lot to like in this story, as bleak and morbid as it turns out to be. It is certainly a great debut novel from a writer finding his feet and discovering his style.

Once again, Barker’s work was praised by the genre critics, but wasn’t so much a commercial success. Sphere marketed it as a middle-ranked book, giving it a little marketing and hoping that Clive could sell it in personal appearances. They were hoping to sell movie rights, but they never materialised. It certainly engendered a response, with one critic calling it “spiritually bankrupt,” while another said it was “Zombie Flesh Eaters written by Graham Greene.” Characteristically, Barker revelled in these critiques. “What you can’t do to most of the images in my books is ignore them…”

If nothing else, Barker had announced himself on the scene as a major writer of dark fiction, and his contribution was recognised in 1985 by the British Fantasy Society and World Fantasy Society, awarding him Best Collection award for 84’s Books of Blood.

Now it was time for Barker to cement his place in the pantheon of British horror writers… but not before a little distraction in the form of movie-making.


1985 also brought Barker’s first feature film through Green Man Productions: Underworld. A futuristic horror, it was doomed from the beginning by interfering producers which led to a disjointed affair. Barker wrote the script and friend, George Pavlou, directed with a shoestring budget; neither was in control of the money and Pavlou was even barred entirely from the editing suite during post-production. A second writer was brought in to rewrite Barker’s scripts (which began as unfilmable since Clive had previously written for stage and had no experience of writing for the screen), but the new writer turned it into a more 80’s themed, low budget action romp. Pavlou tried to sew the two scripts together in an effort to create a coherent script… and ultimately failed. Barker saw the movie in the theatre and couldn’t watch, seeing the butchery that had been committed on his vision, which gave a preview of themes that he would revisit in Nightbreed.

Barker had sold the rights of first refusal to Green Man Productions for five of the stories from Books of Blood: Rawhead Rex; Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament; Confessions (From a Pornographer’s Shroud); Sex, Death and Starshine; and Human Remains.

Pre-production on Rawhead Rex would begin in January 1986.

If Clive thought that Rawhead Rex would be a happier, more successful experience and that Green Man Productions would have learned from the errors made with Underworld, he was mistaken. From the outset it became apparent that this would be another difficult production. First, the producers re-set the movie in Ireland instead of the south of England, then announced a budget of £3m, but the reality was rather less. Barker wrote the screenplay, which director George Pavlou loved… and that was essentially the end of Barker’s involvement in the project. He was never invited to the set, nor was he even called for advice. Clive presented the artists with sketches for the Rawhead character, but the producers had other ideas. The make-up artists designed an elaborate twenty-piece suit for Rawhead which would take seven hours to dress, but these were also rejected for being too expensive by producers. Instead, they went with a single piece suit which took fifteen minutes to dress… and it showed. Shooting took place during the worst storms Ireland had seen for years, meaning filming was a torturous experience. The movie took seven weeks of eighteen hour days to make in terrible conditions.

Needless to say, Rawhead Rex was far from the movie that it could have been, and once again Clive was disappointed with the result. What could have been a fine inclusion into the pantheon of monster horror was resigned to the B-movie comedy bin. Barker was not bitter about the experience, however; he had been taught an important lesson: if you want something done right, do it yourself.

1986 also saw Barker’s work return to the stage, and this time in the West End. The Secret Life of Cartoons had been received well at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1982, and now there were producers who wanted to put it onto the bigger stages in London. So it was that Tudor Davis directed the play at the Aldwych Theatre in October of 86. Barker expanded the play to two hours from its original one, and the play starred Una Stubbs (Worzel Gummidge), Derek Griffiths (Play School), and Geoffrey Hughes (Coronation Street). Unfortunately, the critics were not kind to Clive’s venturing into farce and the run was a short one.

1986 was a year of learning harsh lessons indeed… but 1987 was a year where everything would change and Clive Barker would put the lessons he had learned into action.

The first seeds of Barker’s rise to prominence on the world stage were sown in 1986, when he began writing the novelette that would kick his career into the stratosphere. So far, while his written work and stageplays had been moderately successful, his movies could only be viewed as interesting failures. 1987 would be the year that all of that changed… but Clive had to raise some hell first…


The Hellbound Heart (1987)

Clive Barker’s next release came with little fanfare: a novelette published in the Night Visions 3 anthology. This was a small press release, and very limited, so Barker could not have known the impact that this small (only covering around 100 pages) Faustian tale could have on his future. Night Visions was re-released in 1988 as The Hellbound Heart; the story itself not released individually until 1991, at the height of the movie’s success.

The Hellbound Heart begins with Frank Cotton, a man fuelled by excesses which are no longer sated by normal human pursuits. He travels in search of the next experience, the next excess with which his desires might be relieved. He is given a small, plain black box in Dusseldorf by a man named Kircher, who promises that to open the box is to travel… or something very like it. Of course, Frank wastes no time in finding the solution to opening the box and summoning the Cenobites of The Order of the Gash, explorers of the outer reaches of pleasure and sensation. They take him to their realm, to discover the limits of his own desires.

Barker takes inspiration for the Cenobites appearance from the homoerotic S&M magazines that he had written stories for previously; their scarred and disfigured appearance, bound in leather recalling the most extreme body modifications. He is here calling to outsider culture in the most direct terms possible, and perverting their activities as only Barker can.

Rory and Julia Cotton move into a house left to Rory by his missing brother following his disappearance, helped by their old schoolmate, Kirsty. Julia has grown to dislike Kirsty, her dour demeanour and endless fawning over Rory, and isn’t exactly happy in her marriage either: her thoughts are often drawn back to the day that she had succumbed to the advances of his brother, the irrepressible and missing Frank.

Rory cuts himself on a nail during the move and blood drips onto the floor of the house, unwittingly inviting a visitor into their new home. That night Julia is drawn to a room at the top of the house, the wall peels back to the sound of tinkling bells and a strange, flayed form is revealed; Frank is back.

What follows is a tale of love and lust. Julia agrees, reluctantly at first, to bring men back to the house so that Frank can feed. This she does and, over the course of the next few days, Frank grows stronger and ever more persuasive… what he needs next is flesh, and there is a donor living in the house with them.

Rory has asked Kirsty to look in on Julia, concerned by her suddenly erratic demeanour and distracted mood. When Kirsty does, her curiosity overcoming her. She explores the house and finds the puzzlebox that had undone Frank and the husks of Julia’s victims. She comes face to face with the skinless Frank, who lusts after her and sees her ripe for corruption. Kirsty escapes the house with the puzzlebox, fully intending to warn Rory before it’s too late, but she faints on the street outside the house.

She awakes in a hospital and notices the puzzlebox on the table beside her. She studies it to pass the time, her fingers moving across its lacquered surfaces. Unwittingly, she solves the puzzle, the box begins to open, and the Cenobites arrive. Of course, Hell’s servants must take Kirsty back to their domain, but Kirsty manages to persuade them to take another in her place.

Kirsty returns to Julia’s house, hoping to save Rory from a fate similar to the men whose remains she had seen. When she gets there, she finds Julia and Rory, with blood on his face, drinking brandy. Rory tells her that he has killed Frank, and knows all about Julia’s actions of the last few days. He then utters a phrase which betrays him – “Come to Daddy…” he says, belying the man who really lived beneath the borrowed flesh. Kirsty argues against him, and Frank gives chase through the house until they reach the upper room. There, Frank unwittingly names himself and bells begin to toll as the Cenobites arrive to take their errant pupil.

While Barker didn’t write the story with any thought toward making a film of it (it was written to exorcise the ghost of his ended relationship with John Gregson after ten years), he soon realised that it would translate very well to a low-budget film. Clive first approached George Pavlou, but was also introduced to Chris Figg, who was interested in making a horror movie and had ambitions toward production. Learning from past mistakes, Clive insisted on directing the movie. Figg knew that insistence meant that the project would be small scale, low budget – no one would offer cash to a first time director. So, they set about trying to convince financiers to invest. Barker set about writing The Hellbound Heart as a screenplay and, via a circuitous route they came to Hollywood. After a deal with Virgin Films fell apart, New Line Cinema stepped into the breach and committed $4.2m to the project. Filming began in 1987, less than a year after Clive had conceived the story.

The movie version of Hellraiser was approached in much the same way as Barker approached his work with The Dog Company: it was a family affair. He drafted in Doug Bradley to play Pinhead and his cousin, Grace Kirby, played the female Cenobite with Nick Vince and Simon Bamford as Chatterer and Butterball. Clare Higgins was enlisted to play Julia, with Andrew Robinson as Larry and Ashley Laurence as Kirsty.

The movie is fairly faithful to the book, aside from the relationship of the principle characters being changed: Kirsty is now a teenage firebrand daughter of Larry (Rory) and Julia Cotton, not the dowdy old school-friend. The roles are perfectly played, particularly Kirsty, Julia, and Pinhead. Doug Bradley particularly understands the understated quality of Barker’s invention; equal parts Karloff’s Frankestein’s monster and Christopher Lee’s Dracula, he presents Pinhead as an aloof figure, intensely eloquent and with a quiet aura of threat and promised violence. Andrew Robinson, too, provided two improvisations which have proved to be iconic moments in the films; as he chases Kirsty through the house, he growls “Enough of this cat and mouse shit,” and as the Cenobites deliver their coup de gras, the tortured Frank utters the famous line “Jesus wept” moments before he is ripped apart by the hooks and chains which bear him up. It is these improvisations which show the spirit of collaboration that Barker brought to the project and work to make Hellraiser one of the most faithful and best adaptations of a horror story ever produced.

Much to Barker’s surprise it was not the character of Julia or Frank which captured the imagination of the audience, but the monster, Pinhead. The striking appearance of the Hell Priest gave rise to tee-shirts, jigsaws, comic books, a short story anthology and several more movies (declining in quality as they move further away from Clive’s initial intention,) models and trading cars. What Hellraiser ensured was Clive Barker’s equity as not only a writer, but a director and imaginer.


Hellraiser was not the only creation that worked to cement Barker’s reputation in 1987; the year also saw the release of Barker’s second novel. Amidst the praise and furore which surrounded Hellraiser, Clive released Weaveworld.

Back in 1986, Clive had signed a lucrative new publishing deal with HarperCollins, and they were keen to capitalise on the exposure that Clive had received with the movie. The PR department went into overdrive, putting everything they had behind the UK release and were rewarded with a number one bestselling book. They eschewed the “horror” tag and marketed the book for what it was, not for what Barker had become known for. There was a nationwide tour, television appearances, and the commissioning of a carpet from the Royal College of Art.

In the US, Simon & Schuster were more reserved, preferring to cling to the horror angle. This led to critical confusion and a more lukewarm reception from critics and readers alike. The Stephen King quote, “I have seen the future of horror…,” became a millstone around Clive’s neck, rather than the lifechanging gift that it once was. It is an issue that has plagued Barker ever since, as new readers on discussion boards the world over mistake Clive for a linear horror writer, not the fantasist that he really is.

Weaveworld certainly sold in the States upon its release, but was not the phenomenon that it was in the UK.

In the UK, it made Clive Barker a household name.

Weaveworld (1987)

Cal Mooney is an accountant yearning to dream, and for his dreams to come true. He has returned to Liverpool following the death of his mother, to care for a father who isn’t dealing well with his sudden widowhood, and his beloved racing pigeons. It is a setting familiar to anyone who, like me, grew up in the north of England.

When one of the pigeons flies off for adventures of its own, Cal chases the bird and tracks it to a house being emptied to pay for its occupants’ nursing costs. In the backyard is laid a rug from the house, its design facing upwards toward the sky. Cal corners the bird on a window ledge, climbing up on a wall to catch the errant creature. Cal falls while reaching to retrieve the pigeon, falling onto the carpet and catching sight of another world in the warp and weft of the rug. It is a sight that changes Cal’s life, and colours the future events of the story. He meets the grand-daughter of the occupant of the house, Suzanna, a potter with a free-spirit and memories of her grandmother’s tales of other places and magic. She has a book of fairytales, passed down to her from her grandmother, and strangely evocative of the world Cal has seen in the carpet.

Shadwell is a salesman, the emissary of dark witch Immacolata the Incantatrix, and her horrific sisters. He wears a dazzling jacket which has the power to produce the wildest wish of whomever views its lining; all you need do is look and your dearest wish can be yours. Shadwell’s greatest wish is to find the Weave and to sell it. This puts him at odds with his mistress, whose undying ambition is to exact revenge on the people inhabiting the carpet, the Seerkind, for rejecting and fighting against her ambitions to rule them and exiling her from their world, The Fugue. Together, Shadwell and Immacolata steal the carpet, tearing it in the process.

Cal and Suzanna find a deep attraction to one another, and make love. While they sleep, the fragment of the carpet unravels, releasing three inhabitants from The Fugue… and so the story proper begins.

Weaveworld is an ambitious work of fantasy, epic in its conception and execution. Barker introduces us to a Liverpool instantly recognisable and relatable, before taking us on a flight into his own imagination. Weaveworld involves themes that will become familiar in Clive’s subsequent work: magic being shunned by a world grown banal and ordinary, the fantastic hoping to live side by side with the ordinary, the struggle for the acceptance of difference, and the wonder of the weird. Like Books of Blood, Weaveworld is a book that I see recommended frequently to readers new to Barker’s work, and one that most Barker fans have taken to their hearts as a true modern classic.

1987 was a pivotal year in Barker’s progression as a writer, seeing the success of Hellraiser and the release of his first bestselling novel. As we know, Barker is not one for resting on his laurels and the need to move forward was as strong as ever.


Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this fantastic retrospective on Clive Barker.

Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.

Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.

In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.

In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes: A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.

2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen Vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. Poor Jeffrey was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.

In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies: Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane, and more.In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue, The Silent Invader, for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.

Paul continues to work on further material.

He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.

You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…

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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.