Mike Carey started out as a comics writer (Lucifer. Hellblazer, X-Men, The Unwritten) before branching out into prose fiction with the Felix Castor series. He has since written nine novels, including two mainstream thrillers under the pseudonym of Adam Blake. His movie, screenplay Dominion, is in development with Slingshot Studios and Intrepid Pictures.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
I came to it late. I was never a horror fan, growing up – sci-fi and fantasy were my thing. I watched monster movies, but I saw them as an offshoot of fantasy more than anything else. Then I saw The Shining, when I was already way into my twenties, and it was an epiphany for me. I suddenly realised that horror could be rich and resonant and powerful, and go to places that were really worth visiting.
I’m still very choosy about horror novels. I watch horror movies voraciously and I enjoy most of them on one level or another. With novels, I look for stylistic chewiness as well as cool concepts.
In comics, that would be Lucifer – a series that follows the exploits of the Devil after he renounces the throne of Hell and goes to live in Los Angeles. Then, after a certain point in the series, he sort of gets to be God as he initiates his own Creation and climbs into the driving seat. It’s a cosmic epic with extensive horror underpinnings.
In prose fiction, it’s the Felix Castor novels (The Devil You Know, Vicious Circle, Dead Men’s Boots, Thicker than Water and The Naming of the Beasts). These are noirish supernatural thrillers following an exorcist-for-hire as he makes his precarious living in the mean streets of London – but a London that’s basically being inundated by the risen dead. Castor has the power to bind and banish ghosts, demons and other supernatural manifestations, but he’s more and more preoccupied with the question of where they came from and what they’re doing here on Earth – the big mystery that informs the whole series.
What are you working on now?
I just delivered a project for Orbit which I’m very happy with – a post-apocalyptic horror novel with a unique flavour, very different from Castor and from everything else I’ve done before. The working title is The Girl with All the Gifts, which is a literal translation of the name Pandora. The point-of-view character, most of the time, is a ten-year-old girl who might or might not be fully human.
I’m also working on my second collaboration with my wife, Linda, and our daughter Louise. We co-wrote The Steel Seraglio (in the UK, City of Silk and Steel, to be published by Victor Gollancz in March), which was a fantasy in the style of the Arabian Nights. Now we’re working on a second novel, House of War and Witness, which is set in eighteenth century Silesia. The heroine, Drozde, is a camp follower with the Austrian army just before the start of the War of the Austrian Succession, and the story starts when the regiment bivouacs in the grounds of a rotting mansion full of ghosts – all of whom seem to take an unhealthy interest in Drozde’s doings.
On top of this, I’m still working on various things connected to my movie screenplay, Dominion, which is going into production early next year. And still writing The Unwritten for DC Vertigo, which is about to host a shared event with Fables. And writing a superhero book for BOOM! Studios. I try to keep busy.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
Joe Hill would have to be top of the list. His novels are magnificent, and so is his monthly comic book, Locke and Key. He always gets character and emotional beats spot-on, which is a difficult trick to pull off in horror. He makes you care about his protagonists, and fear for them. And then he tears them to pieces in front of your eyes – and sometimes, if you’re lucky, puts them back together again. Wonderful stuff. The high concept in Locke and Key is nothing short of genius.
There’s a place for both. But the difference, for me, is that gore can’t sustain a narrative by itself – psychological horror definitely can. I guess at the end of the day I need a compelling story. I’ll make an exception for Far Eastern masterpieces like The Grudge and A Tale of Two Sisters, where narrative takes a second place to the supremely-realised horror moment. But usually I want there to be a narrative through-line with an actual pay-off. I loved Cabin In the Woods, for example. And The Ring, in both versions. And The Shining.
Why should people read your work?
I’ll starve if they don’t. Who needs that on their conscience?
Recommend a book.
Okay. I mentioned Joe Hill earlier. I’d recommend Heart-Shaped Box to anyone who loves horror. It’s got everything – a great hook, vividly realised characters, amazing atmosphere and a spectacular pay-off.
And if you’re into comics, check out Locke and Key. You will not be sorry.
I should say at this point – I never met Joe, or spoke to him, or was even in the same room as him. This is an unsolicited testimonial.
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