In The Ritual, Moder stalks the group throughout and little is revealed until the end. Was it difficult to step away from the mysterious and offer an explanation?
AN: I felt there had to be at least partial glimpses. Throughout, there were suggestions of what it [Moder] would look like, from the effigy in the attic, and what it did to the other characters. Critics have complained that I don’t reveal enough about the forgotten Pagan culture or rules that govern it, but I don’t usually go that far in trying to justify the supernatural. It’s worth remembering that there is no omniscient narrator. Everything the reader experiences, is from the point of view of the characters. They went camping and were suddenly in the midst of something inexplicable and unnatural. All the reader gets are the exhausted perceptions of wounded men.
Incidentally, Moder is my homage to a Lovecraftian deity and Arthur Machen’s short story ‘The White People’.
What were you creating through glimpses of Moder?
AN: I tried to create a poetry of the grotesque. I offered only impressions of its anatomy. It seemed to be an amalgam of both man and beast and a God.
Can explicit gore ever be as effective as literary fiction?
AN: There is a place for everything in horror. My own personal taste is for the more literary end of horror, such as Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Robert Aickman and the great ghost story writers. I aspire to write like those writers and approach writing from a more sophisticated use of language and as an exploration of consciousness. I want to be associated with good writing, even though I’m writing within a popular fiction genre that is generally derided as pulp. There are plenty of both pulp and literary fiction writers in horror to suit all tastes, and I certaintly don’t wage war on writers who are more explicit and overt in their approach.
“The Ritual started as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could write in the modern idiom of the thriller.”
I would say The Ritual is more violent and visceral than anything I have ever written before, but I don’t consider it pulp fiction. I wanted it to be a transporting reading experience, and not just a sensational entertainment. It started as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could write in the modern idiom of the thriller, for my own amusement. I wanted everything to move forwards constantly and for the story to begin at a point of crisis. I was three-quarters of the way through when I received the book deal for Apartment 16. The Ritual became the second book in the deal, so suddenly the experiment was for real. Cormac McCarthy was the biggest influence on that book. He once said he writes about life and death because nothing else matters as much. I tried to do that on every page. So, of course, in the right hands, gore can have the same impact as violence in literary fiction. I’d say The Road is a perfect example of two sets of approaches to horrifying material working in perfect unity.
AN: That’s close to how I wanted it to be received. I said to my agent and publisher, it’s The Blair Witch Project meets Deliverance, and I imagined the whole thing in cinematic terms.
How did you initially land a book deal with Pan Macmillan?
AN: My agent submitted Apartment 16 to all the relevant major publishers, and it was out there for over a year. One publisher suddenly showed an interest, and others blew the dust of their copy and soon also expressed their interest. This culminated in a small auction. It was unbelievable, as I’d always thought the novel was a small press book – it’s very idiosyncratic, twisted and didn’t strike me as a mainstream fiction novel. I’d all but given up on ever being published at that level too. But it’s been a real breakout for an English writer of horror. It’s going into nine different editions, was reprinted three times, and was number one on Amazon’s horror chart for three months. For the previous fifteen years, mainstream publishing wouldn’t touch horror fiction from new writers.
The Ritual was also originally titled Children of the Beast, which my publisher thought was a bit of a mouthful. I also don’t think I’d enjoyed writing a book as much as The Ritual – it burnt its way out of me. Every scene just suggested another as I was writing. I think I experienced what John Gardner called “the continuous dream of fiction.”
I now have another two book deal with Pan MacMillan, which is fantastic and beyond my expectations again . To give some perspective, it took me three years to write Banquet for the Damned, and a further three years to find a publisher for the novel. Similarly, Apartment 16 took four and a half years to write and was out there a year before it was published. It’s been a long, hard slog.
Do you usually start novels with a concept or experiment?
AN: I’ve written all four of them differently. My current novel, Last Days, is an idea I have had for years. But with a deadline, I had to produce a story outline for the publisher before writing any of it, and then was required to finish the book within 12 calendar months.
The previous three books were either finished or near-finished by the time I found a publisher.
The Ritual started as a couple of set pieces and grew out of that. I knew I wanted the story to be about men of my generation, set in the wilderness, and I wanted a story to begin at the moment of crisis and to escalate from that first crisis. Most of the rest came to me while actually writing the book. Apartment 16 began with a number of disconnected set pieces, from dream sequences to fragments. Banquet for the Damned started with a set of general ideas: I wanted to feature a forgotten counter culture book and a mentor/apprentice relationship with a Jamesian spectre the heart of the story. But again, the bulk of the stories came from actually writing them.
Going forward I will have to write books using the model I’ve used for Last Days due to deadlines It has advantages. It produced the most even and internally consistent story and writing voice so far.
AN: No. I’ve written nine erotica novels to a deadline. But I wasn’t sure how this arrangement would translate to horror, as the books are usually more ambitious, longer, involved and complex. There was a fear that I may not like what I’d written five months into the deadline. That would have been a disaster, but it didn’t happen. Beyond everything else, I don’t want to rush my writing – I couldn’t live with myself if I was in that situation and knew I was delivering substandard work. I’ve come too far to take a step backwards.
But even though I had a deadline and carried out a lot of research, I delivered Last Days two days before the deadline. Once my editors and readers had read it, I carried out a few final drafts, tinkering with the language and syntax mostly.
Will Banquet for the Damned be re-released?
AN: I took the rights back for the book and am hoping there will be a new edition. I am discussing it with my agent and Pan Macmillan.
Going back to The Ritual were there challenges when switching from the outdoor to indoor environment?
AN: It was essential to make that switch; I don’t think the first half of the book could have taken another moment in that forest. Luke had gone beyond the end of his tether and the other three were dead or missing.
Critics have said that it should have stayed in the forest and it’s too great a contrast, but I don’t think it is. If it had ended in the forests it would have been a 40,000 word novella. There were still a lot of things I wanted to say, and things I could only have said in the situation featured in the second half of the book.
What are you working on now?
AN: I’ve not long delivered Last Days, and it’s a very ambitious book with an epic sense of history spanning four hundred years. It is told from the point of view of guerrilla documentary film-makers. It’s a horror novel inspired by films like The Blair Witch Project, [Rec] and Paranormal Activity.
AN: I love that it was made by a horror film enthusiast in his own house, outside of the Hollywood system. I think it has four or five absolutely sublime moments. I also like that it takes its time and has an authentic, natural feel.
When I saw Paranormal Activity, the cinema was completely full. There were people screaming – I’ve not seen an audience reaction like it since Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. I remember people running out of the cinema because they were so frightened they were actually crying.
Would you adapt your novels for screen and which novel is most suitable? Similarly, would you consider writing an original screenplay?
AN: If I was given the chance, yes. I would love to adapt any of my books. It’s not in my hands unfortunately. The most obvious one to adapt is The Ritual, I would love to adapt that, and I’d even like to have a go at an original screenplay if I had the time.
But film-making is a collaborative effort fraught with difficulties and disappointment. It’s not something I have ever actively sought. People ask why I’m not writing screenplays and I think it’s because it takes all of me to write a novel. I write very few short stories, as once I’ve written a novel there’s not much gas left in the tank. But I’m a life-long horror fan and I think I know how horror films work. Horror films inform my books too, probably as much now as the works of other writers I’ve read.
PHOTO: TANIA GLYDE
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