I’d always been a fan of horror films ever since I was a kid (my mum took me to see the Hammer remake of Phantom of the Opera when I was about eight and I had my first nightmare that night) and I collected the horror magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland (younger readers are now wondering exactly how fucking old I am and are also checking Wikipedia to find out what the hell Famous Monsters of Filmland was) and read the Pan books of Horror Stories before graduating to ‘proper’ horror, books like The Exorcist when I was a teenager. I also started going to the pictures every week during my teens and saw countless films there and on TV but I think horror was my biggest love so I suppose it was just natural progression that I would go on to write it for myself. However, if I hadn’t read a really fucking awful horror book (I won’t name it) I don’t think I’d ever have started myself to be honest. I read this book when I was eighteen and thought “if people are getting paid to write shit like this I must have got a chance myself…” That’s why I get worried when people write to me now and say, “I read one of your books and thought I’d like to write…” I always wonder if it’s for the same reasons I started, it wouldn’t surprise me. I just think that you’re less constrained in the horror genre, you can get away with the kind of stuff you couldn’t in more conventional writing. It does become a bit formulaic after a while if you don’t watch yourself and if you look at most horror films these days they follow the same fucking patterns over and over again. I can’t comment on modern horror fiction because I don’t read it.
It depends on what your criteria are. Slugs was notable because it sold loads and gave me a foot on the ladder way back in 1982. Victims for many other reasons that included me changing to a different kind of horror (as did Assassin) but Renegades is probably most notable because it encapsulates my writing to perfection I think (oops, got a bit pretentious there for a second…sorry) and it introduced Sean Doyle who’s my most enduring character and the one closest to me (bitter, twisted loner who hates the world, that kind of thing). If you asked ten of my readers (if you could find ten) they’d probably all give you a different answer. Each book is notable to me for one reason or another (just the fact that I finished the fucking thing is notable as far as I’m concerned) but Renegades gave me the most satisfaction (well, that and Dying Words). So, not much of an answer for you but there you go.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the novelisation of the Hammer film Twins of Evil which is out in October and I’m contracted to do two more but I don’t yet know which ones. Having been such a fan of Hammer when I was younger it was a real honour to be asked to do these and I always thought my style was similar to the way they made films because I was so heavily influenced by them when I started writing. My writing is nowhere near as classy as their early stuff but what the fuck, we can all dream can’t we? But, basically I’m sitting around with my thumb up my arse at the moment waiting for some work. Years ago I would have been preparing and researching the next novel and working out plots and synopses but it doesn’t work like that anymore for me. I have ideas and jot them down but they usually just stay in the fucking notebook to be honest.
I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have some admiration for Stephen King purely and simply because he sells so many fucking books. I read lots of his stuff when I was a teenager, just as I did James Herbert. I never go in bookshops so I couldn’t tell you who’s writing horror these days besides which publishers seem intent on running the fucking genre into the ground. They only support shit like Twilight which is nice and safe (and no, I’m not jealous of its success I hate how it’s devalued the image of the vampire and werewolf, they’re supposed to be menacing, powerful and scary not vegetarian and fucking shiny). Of the older horror masters people like Lovecraft, M.R. James and Poe are pretty much untouchable. I was hugely influenced by people like John Carpenter when I first started writing (Carpenter was making films like Halloween, The Fog and Assault on Precinct 13 then) but my influences have always been cinematic rather than literary and not usually horror based either. Sam Peckinpah (director of The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs) and Martin Scorsese (director of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) were always bigger influences on me when I started than ‘horror’ people. I never read other horror authors and don’t now. If you read too much of the stuff you write you end up unconsciously imitating it and what you write should be your own.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
I suppose with nicknames like ‘The Godfather of Gore’, ‘Master of the literary nasty’ and ‘The Shakespeare of Gore’ you’d expect me to say gore! Having said that I’ve also written kids horror and you have to be considerably more restrained when you’re writing horror for twelve year olds! You write whatever fits at the time. If you need to describe someone having their head ripped off then you do it in detail, if you need to frighten the shit out of someone then you do that. It’s easy to make people throw up but not so easy to unsettle and frighten them. Both obviously have a place in horror but they’re not mutually exclusive. I’ve had that bullshit since I started that you can’t mix the two. Bollocks. You can have a scene of incredible gore and explicit violence in one chapter then psychological scares in the other. Too many authors and critics over the years have tried to convince people that there is only one way or the other to write, you’re either a fucking gore-hound or you do the psychological stuff and that’s complete bullshit. You write what is necessary at the time in the story and if it calls for a detailed description of sex with a rotting corpse while simultaneously carving off your own eyelids with a scalpel then just do it and stop wondering what the fucking critics will think or how Lovecraft would have done it.
Why should people read your work?
Because I said so. They’ll be entertained and that is the only purpose of mass market fiction. It isn’t to educate, it isn’t to get messages across. It is to give the readers their money’s worth. They buy books to be entertained and that’s what should happen when they read one of my books. They might think it’s shit, they might love it but as long as they finish reading it and it makes some kind of mark on them then that’s fine. I’ve never pretended to be a great writer but I can tell a good story and there is also no pretension about the way I write. It’s horror for fuck’s sake – how can you be pretentious about things crawling about in sewers, attics and graveyards (answer, you can if you want to be but don’t come near me when you’re doing it)? Read my books for entertainment, scares, shocks, some black humour (intentional I assure you) and just a bloody good time. If you hate it stop reading. If you like it go and buy some more.
I assume you mean one of mine? I recommend anything I’ve written but especially Renegades, Captives, Relics, Dying Words, Lucy’s Child and Spawn. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to recommend other authors books I’d say, without any hesitation, The Exorcist and Legion by William Peter Blatty, Headhunter by Michael Slade, The Keep by F. Paul Wilson, and any of the first ten Pan books of horror stories. However, for real horror then read Beyond Belief by Emlyn Williams, the true story of the Moors Murders, what a fucking book and an insight into the mind of a killer unlike anything I’ve ever read before or since.