Simon Maginn was born in 1961 in Wallasey, Merseyside. He published his first novel, Sheep, in 1994. He lives and works in Brighton, UK, and also writes comedies as Simon Nolan. You can find out more at Simon Maginn’s website.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
I think the thing that first really grabbed my attention was The Amityville Horror (1979). I’d be about eighteen, and I was deeply fascinated by the dark house, the bad place: the grim outline on the hill in Psycho, the labyrinthine nightmare of Gormenghast, the abandoned pier in Carnival of Souls. The Amityville title sequence is, I think, just about the best of its kind, with that wonderful, eerie score by Lalo Schifrin. The house has a face, and it is not a kind one. The house has eyes. It is this sense of mute, inexplicable menace that I love. James Brolin is mesmerising as he starts to unravel, the bad father incarnate. He seems to spend much of the film chopping wood with his shirt off and snarling (well that’s how I remember it anyway), and, for an 18 year old gayer, he was something of a revelation. For me, Amityville is a better film than The Shining (heresy I know, and I love The Shining), for the reason that James Brolin has a mad, glittering fire behind his eyes, whilst Jack Nicholson is – well, Jack Nicholson.
I read The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty, 1971) at about the same time, and I have admired it ever since. Blatty is a tremendous writer, subtle and clever and with a sureness of touch in the characterisations that is quite rare, I think. The sequel, Legion, may be even better.
What is your most notable work?
The thing people are most likely to have heard of is Sheep (1994), my first novel, which has just been released as an ebook. It was filmed as The Dark (Sean Bean, Maria Bello, 2005). Sheep is a deep, dark psychological thriller. It’s about a derelict farmhouse (a very bad place indeed), a grieving family and a sequence of animal mutilations. The film is a very different beast, with a completely different storyline involving Welsh mythology. And no, I had no input into the script, and yes I was mad as hell at the time. Got over it now, though.
What are you working on now?
I’m up to my ears in a big rewrite on a novel with the working title The Etherophone Player. It’s a dark crime thriller set in Brighton in 1936. Again we have a bad place (32 Surrenden Road), and a bad father (Dr Canadine), but it isn’t horror. I’ve pretty much stopped doing horror. I think whatever it was I wanted to say in the horror field, I said it in my first four novels (and a novella, Rattus, which appeared alongside a cracking novella by the wonderful Gary Fry, The Invisible Architect of Psychopathy, Pendragon Press, 2010).
Who do you admire in the horror world?
At the risk of predictability, I’d have to go for Stephen King. ‘Apt Pupil’, for instance, from Different Seasons (1982), is an extraordinary story, seeming to tap directly into some source of evil which just bubbles up from the well groomed suburban lawns. There is a genuine darkness to this story. But you don’t need me to tell you to read Stephen King, now do you.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
I’m on the psychological side. Gore doesn’t interest me at all.
Why should people read your work?
Depends what you like. There’s nothing supernatural in any of my novels (except for a ghost in my second, Virgins and Martyrs, 1995), so anyone who likes vamps and zombs and whatnot won’t find anything to interest them. And there’s no gore, except for the occasional flash. What I like to do is to build, slowly, moment by moment, drip by drip. My characters are often trapped psychologically, they are frequently blind to what is happening to them, and they struggle to understand it. Madness and the fear of madness are often what’s driving the story along. I got a review in Big Issue once which said something like, “There is no shelf marked ‘unusual and disturbing’, so we’ll just have to call this horror”. If you like subtle, creepy stories, I’m your man.
Recommend a book.
I mentioned Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake earlier on. For anyone who has yet to discover this, I envy you. There are three novels: Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950) and Titus Alone (1959). Gormenghast is a castle, a stone city, an entire isolated world. We open with the birth of an heir, Titus, who will become the 77th Earl. He is born instinctively rebellious against the endless, repetitive rituals which must be performed every day, every action inscribed in one of the Books of the Law, overseen by the vile Master of Ritual, Sourdust. Titus will rebel, gloriously, and will leave Gormenghast for the final, astonishing, hallucinatory third volume. Along the way we watch as a single feather floats slowly down through an abandoned sunlit stairwell. We wander through the nightmarish Stone Lanes, the hollow halls, the interminable networks of stone passages that riddle the castle foundations. We meet grotesques of the most brilliant and exuberant kind – Swelter the fat chef, Flay the loyal servant, Steerpike, the psychopathic kitchen lad who will rise to become… Well. Stop reading whatever nonsense you’re currently wasting your time on and read this instead, immediately.
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