What first attracted you to horror writing?
Friendless, insular and twitchy, I spent much of my late childhood writing stories, starting novels and turning out the occasional epic poem. Hunched over an old typewriter my dad had salvaged for me from work. It was mostly fantasy, quest stuff, lame old cobblers but it was the start of my journey. Then aged about 12 I was given a big box of books by our trendy next-door-neighbour. They were very grown-up books. Therein was The Rats by James Herbert. I read it in secret, terrified it would be confiscated by parents concerned for my innocence, in a wide-eyed, glorious wonder of discovery. I’d found something very important. It’s a book that’s very dear to my heart, a genuine classic, and I’d still not hesitate to recommend it. Some of the scenes burned themselves into my imagination, and the scene when the rats invade the school is probably the most vivid and life-changing piece of horror writing I have ever read. Knock the style if you like, but I was 12 and it rocked and I knew then, to a soundtrack of Cars and the thrill of a persistent anxiety-hardon, that this was what I wanted to write. In some way. My sensibilities have changed considerably since then, but it was the definitive moment in my literary experience. On reflection it’s still strange to me how much I enjoyed this thrill of horror. The Quatermass Xperiment had reduced me to tears of dread a few years before and I just assumed I was a bit of a shitter.
I imagine it’s probably Black Static; it won the BFS award for best short story in 2005 and when Andy Cox wanted to change the name of The Third Alternative magazine, he chose Black Static as its new name. My collection, Islington Crocodiles did pretty well and people seemed to enjoy it.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novella called The Night Clock, which is becoming disastrously complex, and a couple of short stories. I’m a lazy, distractible man with very little drive and ambition and so these stories take a long time to write. But I think they’re going to be quite out of the ordinary.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
I admire certain writers for certain works. Clive Barker for his Books of Blood, Ramsey Campbell for his early short stories and novels and Stephen King for The Shining, Salem’s Lot and The Stand. These are outstanding, timeless works. Does Cormac McCarthy inhabit the horror world? Well, he pops in now and again. The Road, then. One of the best books I’ve ever read in any genre.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
Gore’s fun so long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m personally uncomfortable with anything lingering or cruel. I prefer it bright and cartoony. Nothing wrong with an exploding head or a nice slew of guts. It’s all about what it adds to the story, I suppose, and watching someone unhurriedly dig an eyeball out with a blunt stick seems unlikely to develop anything other than nausea. I’m not prim. I’ve seen the lot, mate, and remain reasonably unmoved by most of it. So, I suppose I prefer psychological chills as it takes more skill to generate the anxiety necessary to feel real fear, or to be unsettled by fiction, and that, I guess, is what good, admirable, horror should seek to achieve. It’s a more mature engagement with the reader. For example, what’s more frightening, getting a kick in the bollocks or waiting for days for one you know is inevitable to come from nowhere?
Why should people read your work?
Well, for the gore I’d say. Or perhaps for the attempts I make to write something with an emotional content, something rich and perplexing, using language in a dramatic and amusing way. With good dialogue.
Recommend a book.
I’m going to have to say, ONE by Conrad Williams. Best opening chapter I’ve ever read, stunning, vivid prose style and emotionally wrenching. Fantastic story. And that tiger! Fuck me, the tiger!