Hello and welcome to yet another edition of Flame Tree Friday. Today I have the honour of sharing an interview with Horror LEGEND Ramsey Campbell. Enjoy …
Q1 You have been writing horror for many years now. How has it changed over the decades?
One major change was in the seventies, when a whole bunch of us turned to writing horror novels. Of course the form wasn’t unheard of, but it was still relatively unusual. Steve King in particular explored various approaches to horror at novel length and provided examples to emulate or develop, rather as Lovecraft applied himself to trying out as many styles of horror narrative as he could achieve. That said, the short story remains just as important, and happily the growth of the horror novel didn’t drive those out by any means. I think social comment became far more pronounced then and since in horror, and now we’re seeing an increase in diversity, all of which can surely only enrich the field.
Q2 You have written many books. Is there a particular sub-genre of horror you have yet to try but would really like to?
Not that I can think of, but every so often I aspire to communicate the awe that lies above (or on the far side of) terror – the kind to be found in the best of Blackwood and Lovecraft and Machen.
Q3 Does it become more difficult to find character names once you have already used so many?
I think I may well have repeated a few first names over the decades. The process is instinctive, though, like so much of my approach. I try and know what the characters are called well in advance of writing about them, but it’s a matter of whatever names emerge from my subconscious and feel right for them. Quite often they’ll be changed in the course of writing or rewriting the story, especially if it’s a name that proves to rhyme inadvertently with words that often show up in the narrative.
Q4 How much research into witchcraft and the occult did you conduct for The Wise Friend?
None at all. I much prefer to invent my own occult rather than draw on material that already exists – it engages more of my sense of the uncanny. Occasionally I’ll use research and references to support stuff I’ve invented – Creatures of the Pool is perhaps the best example.
Q5 You are considered a National Treasure, Britain’s answer to Stephen King and often cited as people’s introduction to horror. How does that make you feel?
The answer to Steve King – well, that always makes me wonder what the question was. I’d like to feel I’m an ambassador for horror fiction, and when the kind folk at a Liverpool university gave me an honorary fellowship I said in my acceptance speech that I wanted to accept on behalf of my field as well. More generally, though, I feel very touched that people like my stuff, even things I wrote so long ago I hardly remember.
Q6 How different has it been releasing The Wise Friend during lockdown to your usual book tours and convention appearances?
Not so different when I’ve been able to interact with people – for instance, we launched the book online with live questions coming in. But otherwise, while the process of writing is certainly a lonely business (though my wife Jenny is my first reader, so mine isn’t as lonely as some) I do like meeting folk and talking to them, and I look forward to doing that again soon.
Q7 Is there someone within the community that you would still love to collaborate with?
Alas, I’m no good at all at collaborating. Billy Martin (in those days Poppy Z. Brite) and I tried many years ago, and I was a complete let-down. I seem to need to be alone inside my head while writing.
Q8 What advice would you offer someone like me, just breaking into the world of horror writing?
Tell as much of the truth as you can. Set out to convey what frightens or disturbs or otherwise affects you, rather than striving to impose the experience on the reader (as I tried far too hard to do in some of my early stuff, The Parasite, for instance). Choice of language, and the modulation of it, I think is crucial to the effect of horror fiction, and so is a care for structure, whatever kind you may employ. Make sure your characters and their behaviour ring true – there’s nothing more likely to destroy a horror tale than characters who act unrealistically. And don’t get discouraged by rejections or bad reviews!
Finally, what is next for you?
I’ve delivered a new novel, Somebody’s Voice, a psychological tale in which a crime novelist turned ghost writer finds his sense of himself increasingly undermined by the book he’s writing and the other person’s memories, particularly since some of those may be unreliable. Nothing relieves the pressure of my untold stories, however, and I’m already well into the first draft of a supernatural horror novel Fellstones. Shall I ever end? That sound inside my coffin will be a pen on paper.
Thank you so very much to Ramsey, who is always ready to answer questions and give advice. He is a thoroughly nice chap as well as a National Treasure. Make sure you are following him and Flame Tree Press over on Twitter.
Next Flame Tree Friday will be … Q and A with the A-Mazing Jonathan JANZ so get your questions in fast.
And, as always, sleep well …