AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ramsey Campbell

For those of y’all who don’t know, Ramsey is one of my most favorite authors. And I’m not just saying that because he will be looking at this post when it goes live. When I began The Gal in the Blue Mask all those years ago, there were two big time authors that I wanted to have on my blog – Kevin J. Anderson and Ramsey. Kevin has been on the blog twice, and as of today, so has Ramsey. If I never post ever again it won’t matter because I have connected with the two people that I have always thought were the most amazing authors ever. Cloud 9. Every time. And I thought y’all should know.


Meghan: Hey, Ramsey! Welcome back to our annual Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Ramsey: I have to say it has no great significance as a festival in Britain. There were attempts a few years back to situate it as an alternative Autumn event to Guy Fawkes Night, since it was felt there were too many accidents at private firework displays on 5 November. When I was a child it wasn’t celebrated locally at all, and so my only sense of it was through fiction—specifically, some of the great tales of Ray Bradbury. Ray made October uniquely his, both capturing its flavours and adding individual ones of his own. While you can read them at any time, they have a particular relevance to Halloween, and so I’ll name them as my favourite aspect thereof.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Ramsey: Alas, for reasons outlined above, I have none. Oddly enough, I’ve often been at World Fantasy Conventions in America over the season, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen signs of the celebrations. Ah, hang on—in Baltimore in 1980 all the check-in staff at the Park Plaza were dressed as witches and pumpkins and the like. I think it was a pumpkin who proved loath to let Steve King have his room because he presented not a credit card (he had none in those days) but cash.

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

Ramsey: It isn’t, sorry. It still hardly exists here. Christmas and Guy Fawkes have always been mine.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Ramsey: Not much. My mother was both a Roman Catholic and highly superstitious—salt over the shoulder, don’t walk under ladders, look for luck if a black cat crosses your path (although an exactly opposite superstition also exists) and much more—all of which biases me towards rationality. However, for more years than I can remember I’ve found myself glancing at clocks to see that they’re showing 7.47, so often that the digits have acquired an ominous significance. Could they refer to an aeroplane, or a time of the morning, or both? Perhaps both will coincide one day, and I’ll know their significance at last. Let’s hope they prove to have been worth waiting for.

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

Ramsey: Monster—the greatest of them all, the original King Kong. Surely no artificial creature has more personality or unites horror and pathos more fully, even Karloff’s creature in the James Whale films. Villain—Niall McGinnis’s Karswell in Night of the Demon, among the most fully characterised adversaries in my experience of cinema, especially in the longer edit of the film (which, despite a still persistent legend, was never released theatrically in Britain—we had the shortened and reshaped version just as you did). He’s among the many reasons why the Tourneur is my favourite horror film.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Ramsey: None. It’s not a fascination I’d indulge. The nearest I’d come is a presumably vain desire to learn why an old friend of ours was murdered years ago—John Roles, the fanzine editor and Liverpool bookseller. He was strangled to death by a postcard collector who wanted cards John wouldn’t part with. The killer—Andrew John Swift, apparently a charity worker—then set the premises on fire. When Swift was brought to trial, the defence maintained that John had been a recluse with few if any friends. If I’d been there I would have done my best to put the record straight, but I only read a transcript afterwards. During the trial it was said that it was likely nobody would know why Swift had committed his atrocity. The rest of us who care deserve to know.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Ramsey: That vaccination gives you a contagious vaccine disease. That wearing a mask doesn’t help protect anyone but makes you ill. That the pandemic has been produced by conspirators.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Ramsey: I have none. They’re a contemptible and pathetic bunch. Those I’ve portrayed in fiction tend to be inadequates who commit murder in order to impose their own view of themselves on the world. If your question covers fictitious figures, I hope it would let in Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, irresistibly charming and yet utterly sociopathic, incomparably played by Dennis Price.

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

Ramsey: Psycho when I was fourteen, and it was quite a baptism. I should explain that in those days almost all horror films had an X certificate in Britain, which barred anyone apparently under sixteen from watching them. I found the cellar sequence in particular breathlessly nightmarish. Now that I knew I could bluff my way into X showings, I devoted years to catching up all over Merseyside.

The book was 50 Years of Ghost Stories, borrowed from the local library when I was six. Various tales from it haunted my nights. Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” did, but the greatest source of dread was M. R. James’s “The Residence at Whitminster”—the hand that gropes out of the drawer, the gigantic insect in the dark. When the terror faded a little I wanted to repeat the experience or find more tales that had a like effect. I’d say that’s what separates the horror aficionado from other folk.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Ramsey: I’ll invoke my capacious definition of horror and name Samuel Beckett’s L’Innomable, as terrifying at novel length as his monologue for Billie Whitelaw, Not I (accept no substitutes). Outside the field, as a teenager—the season when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of suicide—I was profoundly disturbed by The Heart of the Matter, one of many reasons why Graham Greene remains a firm favourite. I was younger when several short stories hit me hard—Villy Sørensen’s “Child’s Play”, Angus Wilson’s “Raspberry Jam”, Charles Beaumont’s “Miss Gentilbelle”. It occurs to me that all three deal with the mutilation of the helpless.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Ramsey: None, but I think the one that dug deepest into me—to the extent that at several points I considered leaving the cinema if the scene went on much longer—was Fire Walk With Me. Lynch is the only director whose work I frequently find terrifying on a level I’d call visceral.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Ramsey: This is Halloween from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by. It is ALWAYS a pleasure and you are welcome back any time. Before you go, what are your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Ramsey: I’m fond of John Carpenter’s Halloween—a slasher film that feels as if it could have been produced by Val Lewton. In prose, I have a special affection for Mildred Clingerman’s short story The Word, partly because (since Halloween was virtually unknown in Britain in the fifties, when I read it) decades passed before its point caught up with me. As with W. F. Harvey’s August Heat and Nabokov’s The Vane Sisters, that’s a particular kind of retrospective pleasure. It has only just occurred to me that both the latter tales feature an unaware (not unreliable in the conventional sense) narrator, the kind I tried to portray in “The Words That Count”.


Boo-graphy:
Ramsey Campbell is a British writer considered by a number of critics to be one of the great masters of horror fiction. T.E.D. Klein has written that “Campbell reigns supreme in the field today,” while S.T. Joshi has said that “future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood.”

The Wise Men
Patrick Semple’s aunt Thelma Turnbill was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they’ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?

The Three Birds of Daoloth 1: The Searching Dead
Dominic Sheldrake has never forgotten his childhood in fifties Liverpool or the talk an old boy of his grammar school gave about the First World War. When his history teacher took the class on a field trip to France it promised to be an adventure, not the first of a series of glimpses of what lay in wait for the world. Soon Dominic would learn that a neighbour was involved in practices far older and darker than spiritualism, and stumble on a secret journal that hinted at the occult nature of the universe. How could he and his friends Roberta and Jim stop what was growing under a church in the midst of the results of the blitz? Dominic used to write tales of their exploits, but what they face now could reduce any adult to less than a child…

Ramsey Campbell recently returned to the Brichester Mythos for his novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki. His new trilogy The Three Birds of Daoloth further develops the cosmic horrors he invented in his first published book, The Inhabitant of the Lake. The Searching Dead is the first volume, to be followed by Born to the Dark.

The Three Birds of Daoloth 2: Born to the Dark
“There’s a place past all the stars that’s so dark you have to make your eyes light up to see,” Toby said. “There’s a creature that lives in the dark, only maybe the dark’s what he is. Or maybe the dark is his mouth that’s like a black hole or what black holes are trying to be. Maybe they’re just thoughts he has, bits of the universe he’s thinking about. And he’s so big and hungry, if you even think about him too much he’ll get hold of you with one of them and carry you off into the dark . . .”

More than thirty years have passed since the events of The Searching Dead. Now married with a young son, Dominic Sheldrake believes that he and his family are free of the occult influence of Christian Noble. Although Toby is experiencing nocturnal seizures and strange dreams, Dominic and Claudine have found a facility that deals with children suffering from his condition, which appears to be growing widespread. Are their visions simply dreams, or truths few people dare envisage? How may Christian Noble be affecting the world now, and how has his daughter grown up? Soon Dominic will have to confront the figures from his past once more and call on his old friends for aid against forces that may overwhelm them all. As he learns the truth behind Toby’s experiences, not just his family is threatened but his assumptions about the world . . .

The Three Birds of Daoloth 3: The Way of the Worm
More than thirty years have passed since the events of Born to the Dark. Christian Noble is almost a century old, but his and his family’s influence over the world is stronger than ever. The latest version of their occult church counts Dominic Sheldrake’s son and the young man’s wife among its members, and their little daughter too. Dominic will do anything he can to break its influence over them, and his old friends Jim and Bobby come to his aid. None of them realise what they will be up against – the Nobles transformed into the monstrousness they have invoked, and the inhuman future they may have made inevitable . . .

Somebody’s Voice
Alex Grand is a successful crime novelist until his latest book is condemned for appropriating the experience of victims of abuse. In a bid to rescue his reputation he ghostwrites a memoir of abuse on behalf of a survivor, Carl Batchelor. Carl’s account proves to be less than entirely reliable; someone is alive who shouldn’t be. As Alex investigates the background of Carl’s accusations his grasp of the truth of the book and of his own involvement begins to crumble. When he has to testify in a court case brought about by Carl’s memoir, this may be one step too far for his insecure mind…

Ramsey Campbell, Certainly
Ramsey Campbell, Certainly collects the crop of the author’s columns and essays from the last twenty years. Censorship is confronted, whether in Charles Platt’s notorious novel or a disciplinary memoir. Standards of horror are upheld, and the uncanny is acclaimed. Fun is had with uproarious films, and the mating of comedy and horror is celebrated. A novel favoured by discussion groups is skewered, and a supposed satire of horror is satirised. M.R. James is defended against accusations of plagiarism, and the importance of his style is demonstrated. Lovecraft’s prose is appreciated at length, as are several of his greatest tales. Other builders of the great tradition are discussed – Machen, Blackwood, Hodgson – and inspired toilers in the pulps are given their considerable due – Leiber, Wellman, St Clair. Nor are living talents left out: you’ll find Niveau, Lansdale, Atkins, Bestwick and many another. Horror comics are examined and enjoyed, and so is the macabre in music. The most substantial pieces let the author’s late parents speak for themselves through their correspondence, in which August Derleth plays a part, and present a history of the Liverpool Science Fiction Group with copious excerpts from the minutes of their fannish meetings. Does this book have something for everyone? Look for yourself!

Limericks of the Alarming & Phantasmal
Ever mischievous, Ramsey Campbell has delighted his fans—and certainly the team here at PS Towers—by regaling them with a staggering ability to limmer (or whatever the verb might be for producing small five-line rhymes designed to amuse and promote groans). Able to create these mini poem-ettes at the drop of a hat (or even a cleaver), it didn’t take much to persuade him to fill an entire book and, furthermore, for us to approach the equally prolific Pete Von Sholly to come up with some illustrations to boot.

The Village Killings & Other Novellas
The Village Killings and Other Novellas is a companion to the two-volume Ramsey Campbell retrospective Phantasmagorical Stories, also published by PS. Needing Ghosts is one of Campbell’s most nightmarish comedies of paranoia, a journey through a world where nothing can be trusted to be what it seems. In The Pretence an ordinary family comes to realise that a profound unnoticed change has overtaken the world—perhaps a kind of apocalypse. The Booking takes us to a bookshop that may extend to the limits of imagination, but why do books and the booksellers never leave the shop for long? The Enigma of the Flat Policeman uses one of the author’s early stories as a lens to examine his life at the time it was produced—his haunted adolescence and his determination to write. Written specially for this volume, The Village Killings sends a detective novelist to investigate a situation you might find in a whodunit and challenges the reader to get there first. It’s a highly personal take on the Agatha Christie tradition, which it finds less cosy than it’s often said to be. Spanning more than thirty years, the collection displays Campbell’s range, from the uncanny to the psychological, the disturbing to the comical.

  • Introduction: The Third Form
  • Needing Ghosts
  • The Pretence
  • The Booking
  • The Enigma of the Flat Policeman
  • The Village Killings

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: William Meikle

Meghan: Hi, William. Welcome back to our annual Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

William: I have a confession.

I don’t celebrate Halloween, and haven’t since I was a kid. Back in Scotland when I was growing up, Halloween was for kids, and just for kids. I never saw an adult dressed up, never saw a house decorated for Hallowen. We kids went out ‘acting the gloshes’ which translates as ‘pretending to be ghosts’ and, as we were all poor as church mice, that mostly consisted of an old sheet with holes cut for eyes.

We went round the local houses, not trick or treating as such… we had to tell a joke or sing a song to get a reward which in those days was often a toffee apple. I always enjoyed the singing (I found out later that I perform well in front of audiences with guitar in hand).

About the only thing I recognize when watching North American Halloween is dunking for apples in a big bucket of water. Some of the old folk in town still insisted we did that before we’d get a treat… an apple usually.

It being the end of October, in the West of Scotland, Halloween was often damp, windy and sometimes downright miserable as a lot of folks didn’t bother to participate.

So my favorite part of Hallowween these days is watching in bemusement what a big deal gets made of it over here in the New World.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

William: We didn’t have pumpkins in Scotland. We carved swedes (we call them tumchies) with kitchen knives, a process that took hours and caused many a bruised knuckle, then stuck a candle in them. I can still smell the roasted turnip even now fifty years and more on.

It’s a very old tradition. Carved swedes have been found in old graves all the way back to the Neolithic.

And there’s something spooky about the manic grin on a carved turnip that no amount of artistry in pumpkin carving can match. That was always my favorite part of the night.

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

William: See above. I do like seeing kids enjoy themselves, but I’m a bit bemused as to how much adults get into it here in North America.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

William: Not a lot really. I am a believer in the supernatural, having had several encounters that leads me to think that the land of Faerie is close by us, so if I’m somewhere with a faerie tradition (there are more than a few places in Scotland and also some here in Newfoundland) I try not to piss off the wee folk and always say hello and thank you when crossing ‘their’ bridges.

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

William: The same one it has been for fifty years. It’s not strictly horror, but it has to be KONG. I first saw the big guy back in the late ’60s in his 1933 incarnation, and around the same time I caught the Japanese Godzilla vs Kong movie, and that was it, I was hooked on big beasties.

The recent resurgence, firstly with Jackson‘s Kong ( which I loathe in places and love in other places) through to Skull Island and Godzilla vs Kong has me like a kid in a toy shop.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

William: It’s always been the Whitechapel Ripper case. I’ve read numerous books, seen all the movies, and remain no closer to having a clue as to who Jack might have been.

His crimes cast a shadow over the whole late-Victorian era in London, and his effect on popular culture down the years has been remarkable. He’s become almost mythic. I wonder if the perpetrator had any idea what he was starting… and indeed, was that the point?

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

William: Back in the 1950s, in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, about 20 miles north of where I lived, stories were going around about missing children, believed killed. The culprit was said to be a seven-foot vampire, with iron teeth, lurking in the Southern Necropolis graveyard.

One night after school, hundreds of children of all ages armed themselves with blades and crosses, stakes and dogs and descended upon the Necropolis to hunt it. The children prowled the graveyard as night fell, checking behind trees and headstones for the awful creature that might be lurking.

They never caught it of course, but the story passed into legend.

I heard about it when I was around ten years old in ’68 and it gave me a recurring nightmare that still pops up every few years.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

William: I don’t have a ‘favorite’ serial killer. I find the idea of having that kind of empathy with them to be a strange concept. But there’s one or two that intrigue me.

Again in 1968, which was kind of a formative time for my horror roots, a serial killer was operating in Glasgow, as I said before only 20 miles from us. Bible John, as he was known, was stalking a nightclub, quoting bible verse, abducting young women and killing them. It filled the news at the time and we schoolkids were obviously fascinated.

There were 3 confirmed deaths, several other possibles.

He was never caught.

When I was at university in the late ’70s in Glasgow rumours spread that he was still around, still working the same area. We all kept a close eye on our female friends when we were out and about town.

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

William: The first time I remember being terrified at the movies was not at a horror movie as such, but at the transformation scene in Jerry LewisThe Nutty Professor which I was taken to see by my mum… I can’t have been more than six years old at the time. All that strobing red lighting and screaming soundtrack had me getting out of my seat and heading for the door before fascination had me turning back to see…

The first horror movie I remember seeing was a rerun of the original The Blob in around 1967 when I was nine. I thought it was a hoot and loved every minute of it, and it gave me a lifelong love of big blobs in film. There’s a particularly good one in one of the early B&W Hammer movies X-The Unknown that I love to bits.

The first X-rated horror movie I saw in the cinema was when I sneaked in to The Exorcist on its first run in 1973. I’d already read the book so knew broadly what to expect, but it certainly made an impact.

As for books…

I got early nightmares in around ’67 from a first read of The Hobbit, my dreams being plagued by Gollum and red eyes in dark places for a while.

The first outright horror book I remember reading was one of the Pan Books of Horror collections, probably some time in 1969 IIRC. My granddad was an avid reader and had boxes of paperbacks lying around. I’d pick them up and read them, which is how I discovered the likes of Alistair MacLean, Ed McBain, Louis L’Amour and many more. One day I picked up #6 in the PBOH series and was immediately hooked. That led me on almost directly to Dennis Wheatley, then H.P. Lovecraft and then, in ’74, a chap called Stephen King came along and everything changed.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

William: T.E.D. Klein‘s The Ceremonies

Dread is a word you don’t see used much in association with horror fiction any more. And it’s a shame, because used properly, slow building dread can be more horrific than any gore or bloodletting.

Fortunately, there are writers who understand this, and one of the best examples can be found in The Ceremonies, which starts slow, gets slower, but accumulates dread along the way like a wool suit collecting cat hairs. And it’s a marvel of timing, precision and skill, with its cast of great characters all circling around the central motifs, each of them catching glimpses of the whole but none completely understanding what they are being shown, or why.

The slow build, taking care and attention to let us get to know, if not like, the main characters, gives their respective fates at the climax emotional resonance, and a depth that’s often lacking in fiction in the field.

The book is one of the wonders of modern weird fiction.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

William: Don’t Look Now

I was only 17 when I first saw this classic, and wasn’t really prepared for the depth of sadness and misery that has hold of the main characters all the way through. It’s a simply stunning piece of work, with the director Roeg keeping us unsure as to what’s going on all the way through to the shock at the end. It’s lived with me ever since. Donald Sutherland‘s best movie, Roeg‘s best movie, and one of the all time great horror movies.

As an aside, Roeg‘s use of color, in particular red, to highlight important plot points meant that when I first saw The Sixth Sense and saw that Shamalyan had done the same, I saw the end coming a long way off…

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

William: I still have a nostalgic fondness for that white sheet I mentioned earlier but if I were to do it today (and had the money) I’d splash out on a good gorilla suit and go round as KONG for the night. That would be lovely.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

William: That would have to be THE MONSTER MASH, not the Boris Pickett version but the one by the very silly Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, a bunch of English eccentrics who did a brilliant cover version.

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

William: As I don’t really do Halloween, I don’t really have one. And in Scotland we didn’t have ‘candy’, we had ‘sweeties’. My favourite as a lad was black liquorice dipped in sherbet – I’m weird that way.

I remember being disappointed as a kid by a very old and sad Tangerine.

Meghan: Thanks, William. This has been great, learning more about you. Before you go, what are your top three Halloween movies and books.

William:
Top films

Top books


Boo-graphy:
William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than thirty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries.

He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, Crossroad Press and Severed Press, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines.

He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company.

When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.

Website

The Green & the Black
A small group of industrial archaeologists head into the center of Newfoundland, investigating a rumor of a lost prospecting team of Irish miners in the late Nineteenth century.

They find the remains of a mining operation, and a journal and papers detailing the extent of the miners’ activities. But there is something else on the site, something older than the miners, as old as the rock itself.

Soon the archaeologists are coming under assault, from a strange infection that spreads like wildfire through mind and body, one that doctors seem powerless to define let alone control.

The survivors only have one option. They must return to the mine, and face what waits for them, down in the deep dark places, where the green meets the black.

William’s Halloween Giveaway