The Fear interview Graham Masterton

The Fear interview Graham Masterton

What initially interested you in the horror genre? You have writing crime fiction and thrillers but keep coming back to horror with, most recently,  Night Warriors: The Ninth Nightmare, 2011; Plague of the Manitou, 2015 and the short story collection Figures of Fear, 2014. What brings you back to the field?
 
I have been intrigued by scary stories ever since my mother used to read me Grimm’s fairytales when I was young.  I loved the horrible witches and the trolls and the giants who ate children.  I was writing stories myself almost as soon as I could write,  mostly adventures inspired by Jules Verne and HG Wells.  I would write them in exercise books and bind them myself in cardboard and illustrate the covers.  Then I came across Edgar Allan Poe and his horrific stories inspired me even more.  I wrote short horror stories and read them to my friends during breaktime at school.  One of my old schoolfriends came up to me years later when he was a City broker and said that I had given him nightmares for years with a story about a man with no head who sang Tiptoe Through The Tulips out of his severed neck.  Most people love to be scared and horrified because it gets the adrenaline going and as an entertainer that’s what I enjoy doing. I also enjoy writing about ordinary characters who are faced with terrifying supernatural threats, to see how they deal with them.  They are not superheroes,  they are everyday people with everyday problems like mortgage arrears and broken marriages and it is fascinating to imagine how they would cope with some bizarre occult threat.  In the Night Warriors series I also very much enjoy inventing dream and nightmare scenarios in which ordinary people have to fight for their survival in worlds that defy all common logic.
 
You worked with William S Burroughs, another literary hero of mine, and, I believe,  collaborated  with him on a novel, Rules of Duel. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
 
When I was a young reporter working for the Crawley Observer I first read William Burroughs’ novel The Naked Lunch,  and was deeply impressed by the wildness of his imagination,  his fearlessness in writing about anything he wanted to,  and his straightforward writing style.  I wrote to him when he was living in Tangiers and we kept up a correspondence of letters and postcards until he eventually came to London to live in a flat just off Jermyn Street.  We met regularly and had drinks and dinner together and discussed for hours how to make fiction a much more vivid and realistic experience for anybody who read what we were writing.  Bill was interested in all kinds of writing techniques like cut-ups (which meant writing a story and then literally cutting it up with scissors and putting it back together in a different order).  The technique that interested me the most was what we called “intersection writing” in which you wrote something straightforwardly and then rearranged what you had written to emphasise different points.  Rules of Duel was written in that way and strongly evokes the feeling of London in the late 1960s.  You can see the same technique in Bill’s novels The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded,  which incidentally include some sentences from Rules of Duel.  Rules of Duel was an experiment and isn’t very easy for the casual reader.  I never thought of having it published until I was approached by David Howe at Telos Books who has brought out a really handsome edition.  Working with Bill was fascinating.  He looked like a bank manager and spoke with a slow and emphatic Mid-Western drawl but he was very droll and his interest in discussing ways of bringing a story to life was of huge importance to my later fiction.  All kinds of interesting characters used to show up at his flat,  like Allen Ginsberg and Alex Trocchi,  the author of Cain’s Book,  the artist and writer Brion Gysin and the film-maker Antony Balch.  All dead now,  so that’s an experience that I’ll never be able to repeat, although I can still see them and hear their voices as if it were yesterday.
 
You were the editor of an unusual charity anthology called Scare Care, that was published for the benefit of abused children in Europe and the USA. How successful was that and would you consider producing a follow up?
 
Scare Care was hugely successful and eventually we were able to donate tens of thousands to various child-abuse charities.  It was incredibly hard work to put together,  though,  since all of the authors had to be persuaded to contribute their stories free.  The late Jerry Williamson was a huge help recruiting American authors,  and it was through his contribution to Scare Care that I first met Jim Herbert. I don’t think it got all the attention it deserved at the time,  mainly because the media were wary of rhe combination of horror/abused children. I think if it were re-launched today it wouild receive a much more open reception because social attitudes have changed so much.  I am not planning on producing another one,  though.  I simply don’t have the time.  However I do support an orphanage near Strzelin in southern Poland and a campaign to protect abused children in Wroclaw. I also have an annual signing session every October at the Cancer Research shop in Purley,  in Surrey,  which is managed by my friend Dawn Harris (who also happens to be a brilliant new writer of eerie fiction. ) 
 
Several of your books are now being produced as epubs by Open Road Media and The Devil In Grey was published in the UK for the first time this month. Would you tell us a little of how these came about? Do you think that freedom of electronic publishing will help the horror genre or are there pitfalls in this newfound freedom for established and would-be authors?
 
The first ebook I ever sold was over 16 years ago to my former US agent Richard Curtis.  He was prescient enough to start an ebook company called E-Reads.  It wasn’t very profitable to begin with because readers in those days didn’t have Kindles.  I think I used to get royalties of about $15 twice a year.  However ebooks eventually took off,  and Richard sold E-Reads to Open Road Media,  who not only publish The Manitou as an ebook but wanted The Devil in Gray and several others,  and they have proved to be very successful indeed.  I can honestly say that ebooks have transformed my career.  They enable me to reach thousands and thousands more readers,  and best of all they have allowed me to publish almost all of my backlist,  which would never have happened if publishers had been faced with the prospect of having to reprint my old titles as paper editions.  Ebooks and Facebook have been terrific in enabling me to keep in personal touch with my readers,  which I thoroughly enjoy.  
 
Apologies, I have to ask you about Eric The Pie as several people have asked whether they can still obtain it. Now that several decades have passed, what was your take on the whole saga, the reaction ot its publication and do you think it would have the same effect if published for the first time now? - actually, judging by comments on Good Reads it still does disturb.
 
I wrote Eric the Pie to see how far to the edge of acceptability a story could go (and,  as it turned out,  it went slightly too far).  But the real importance of Eric for me as a writer was that a story as challenging as that has to be written extremely well,  otherwise it is nothing but gross and crude and yucky.  I have tested myself again with several other stories that are as near (or beyond) the knuckle as Eric.  One is Sepsis,  which was published as a chapbook by Cemetery Dance,  in which a besotted young woman eats the dead kitten that her lover gave her.  Cemetery Dance will also be publishing Cheeseboy as an illustrated chapbook – early next year from what they tell me.  This is a story set in Ireland about a boy who is bullied at school.  I was upset that Eric the Pie saw the new Frighteners magazine being banned by WH Smith retail,  because it was a great horror magazine,  very glossy and professional.  On reflection,  though,  I still think that it would have the same negative reaction from booksellers if it were published again today. The main objection was the scene with the dying calf,  and if there is one thing that people don’t like,  it’s cruelty to animals.  You can torture and chop up as many women in your novels as you like,  but beware of hurting cows,  cats,  and even snails (see my short story Beholder).  There is a dogfight scene in my new Katie Maguire novel Living Death and despite the ghastly things that are inflicted on humans in the book,  this is the one scene that has provoked a horrified reaction.  Seven reviewers have already said that they had to skip past it.
 
Horror now seems to be very popular with the YA audience. You've written several horror books for children, apart from the obvious, is there anything that you have to be particularly aware of when writing horror for that market?
 
When I write for a younger audience,  I make a point of avoiding gratuitous violence.  You can write scary and even bloody scenes,  but for the YA market I make sure that there is an understandable motivation behind them,  and that they are an integral part of the story.  My YA characters are not sexless,  but I don’t include graphic sex in the way in which I would write it in an adult novel.  This is not because I think that the younger audience don’t know about sex…these days they obviously do.  It’s just that young readers are all at a different stage of sexual maturity and I don’t want to usurp their parents’ authority.
 
You are renowned as a thriller and crime writer. How did you come to be involved in crime fiction and do you think the darkness of the crime genre perhaps appeals more to someone who has started writing fiction in the horror field?
 
When I first started writing novels,  I had no idea about different “genres.”  As far as I was concerned,  I could write about anything I felt like – and did.  I wrote horror,  and political thrillers,  and disaster novels,  and historical sagas,  and sexy humorous novels like Confessions of a Wanton Waitress.  And of course I wrote sex instruction books like How To Drive Your Man Wild In Bed – 29 of them in all.  In some ways this diversity was a mistake.  Stephen King published Salem’s Lot around the same time as The Manitou,  and continued to write horror,  whereas after writing The Revenge of the Manitou I went off and wrote Plague and The Sweetman Curve and 700-page epics like Rich and Railroad and Maiden Voyage.  Because of that,  I didn’t progressively build up my horror audience,  and so when I returned to the genre with Tengu,  I pretty much had to start again from scratch.  The terrible things that people do to other people in real life are far more grisly and disturbing than any horror writer can think of,  and while my late wife Wiescka and I were living in Cork,  it occurred to me that a crime novel could be even more chilling than a horror novel.  Again,  I could use the technique of pitting an ordinary everyday heroine with her own personal problems up against some of the most devilish villains you could imagine.  Not only that,  I have always felt it important to set a novel somewhere unusual and interesting, and there are few places on the planet that are more unusual and interesting than Cork.  That was how the first novel in the series featuring Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire came to be.  It was first published only in the US by Pocket Books,  under the title A Terrible Beauty,  which is a quote from a poem by WB Yeats.  After my wife passed away,  though,  my new agents Peters Fraser & Dunlop sold it to the new UK publishing company Head of Zeus,  and they brought it out under the new title White Bones,  since A Terrible Beauty didn’t resonate so strongly non-Irish readers.  The secret,  of course, was that they published it first as an ebook.  The audience for crime novels is vast compared with the horror audience,  and so my readership exploded exponentially.  I was selling hundreds of thousands instead of thousands,  and reaching readers all over the world.  Katie Maguire novels have topped the bestseller lists in America,  Canada and Australia  Altogether I have been commissioned to write 10 of them,  and I have nearly finished number 8!  What was critical for me,  though,  was that I didn’t desert my horror readers.  The Katie Maguire books have plenty to make your flesh creep,  and worse.  Judging by the response I have received from readers,  this has worked.  The Sunday Times described Living Death,  as “stomach-churning,  but worth sticking with.”
 
You haven't deserted the horror field as some writers who are now crime novelists have done. Is there any form of pressure from publishers or elsewhere to leave behind former writing fields to focus on another, such as moving from fantasy to crime? Or has the way in which genres have merged and markets moved meant that writers can again be writers without being held within strict genre boundaries?
 
I’m getting no pressure from my publishers except to write eight-and-a-half days a week to meet my deadlines!  I think that the genres have merged a great deal, and this is mainly due to the torrent of information about books that readers can now get from social media.  I love the horror genre,  and I love the readers who enjoy it.  I have been to horror and fantasy conventions in Britain and Poland and France and the atmosphere  is always great,  with girls in cosplay and men dressed up as Freddie and that Clive Barker character with the nails in his head. But when I go there,  readers bring me copies of the crime books to sign,  just as much as the horror novels.  They don’t seem to mind what genre the books are,  so long as they deliver the shocks and the thrills that they’re looking for.
 
You have a French 'fantastic fiction' award named after you - Le Prix Masterton. How did that come about?
 
In the 1980s and 1990s I was incredibly successful in France and Belgium.  Le Figaro newspaper even recommended that I should be given an honorary doctorate,  and I was the first non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger for Portrait Du Mal (Family Portrait.)  I had a terrific French publisher,  Bragelonne,  and a great Belgian publisher Marc Bailly, who brought out my books in Phenix editions.  I visited Paris and Brussels several times for book fairs and signing sessions and I could have lived off my French royalties alone.  For some reason,  however,  around about the millennium,  the bottom fell out of the French-language horror market.  It just went dead,  like a week-old croissant.  Sales of my French horror novels plummeted,  Phenix stopped publishing,  and Bragelonne didn’t want to buy any more.  Don’t ask me why.  The same thing happened in the US with sex books.  One day I was making a fortune out of Sex Secrets of the Other Woman,  and rhe next my publisher was saying that the market had gone cold and he didn’t want any more,  even though he still had a contract with me.  It was because of that,  incidentally,  that The Manitou came about.  I insisted he honour his contract and sent him The Manitou as a substitute for How To Turn Yourself On.  Thinking about it now,  you couldn’t make it up,  could you?  Anyway,  Marc Bailly had established a prize to promote my books – Le Prix Masterton – which annually honours the best French-language horror novel,  the best foreign-language horror novel, and the best French short horror story.  Marc has kept it going for 10 years now,  and it has become the premier French-language horror award.  The award itself is an 11-inch high statuette of a demon with an enormous willy holding a Halloween pumpkin.  Now – mainly thanks to ebooks and a new generation of readers – the horror market has revived in France.  Bragelonne have re-published Descendant,  my vampire novel,  and will be bringing out The 5th Witch,  White Bones and 16 other titles.  They are a great horror and fantasy publisher so I am really looking forward to their new editions.
 
You also have a story in volume 2 of The Black Room Manuscripts which is also out  shortly. How are you involved with that project?
 
I was simply contacted by Justin Park and asked if I would like to contribute a short story.  I thought my story about childhood terror What The Dark Does would suit a charity anthology,  and so I gladly sent it to him.
 
What is coming up in terms of writing projects both in the horror and crime fields that you can tell us about?
 
As I said,  I am currently finishing off Dead Girls Dancing,  which is Katie Maguire novel number 8.  This year I also published Scarlet Widow,  which is a creepy historical crime novel featuring Beatrice Scarlet,  who was brought up as the daughter of an apothecary in 18th century London,  and is kind of an 18th century CSI.  When everybody thinks that grisly murders are the work of Satan,  Beatrice tries to prove different.  I have been commissioned to write Beatrice Scarlet number 2.  I also have a great idea for a major new horror novel which I want to squeeze in somehow.  Apart from that,  I am co-authoring a short horror story with Dawn Harris – provisionally entitled Animal Instinct -- which should be ready by Halloween.  I think you can reassure Fear readers that there is plenty more fear to come.