Meet author Gary Budden @gary_budden #HorrorLounge
My latest (and indeed first) book is a collection of interlinked stories called Hollow Shores, published by Dead Ink. It’s a landscape punk book mixing the traditions of landscape fiction, weird fiction and more, with a heavy focus on the landscapes of the north Kent coast and the city of London where I live.
First memory of reading horror
I had a book of fairy tales and folk stories from around the world as a child (luckily, I was able to track down a copy as an adult,). It left a huge impression on me. There’s a story from ‘Arabia’ involving malicious djinn and two men called Softy and Sly. Lost in the desert, Softy is slowly dying of thirst and hunger. Sly agrees to give him some sustenance from his own supplies, but at a horrific price: Softy must allow Sly to stab him in the eyes and blind him. Sly gains nothing from this beyond sadistic pleasure. That horrified me. I think if most people are honest, their first experience of horror in literature or on screen is in stuff ostensibly aimed at children.
My first sense of what I can call existential horror was from reading Roald Dahl’s The Witches. The bit about the girl who gets put inside a painting, moving position every day and getting older and older as the decades roll by, until one day she disappears. That gives me chills just thinking about it.
For readers new to horror which 3 books would you recommend they start with?
I think M.R. James’s ghost stories are pretty essential. It will lead you to Robert Aickman, Ramsey Campbell, and so much more. This isn’t necessarily an endorsement, but I do think you’d need to read H.P. Lovecraft – at least ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, At the Mountains of Madness and ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ – to have a grip on the horror genre. One of Shirley Jackson’s short story collections (the Penguin edition, Dark Tales, is as good a place to start as any).
Do you have a favourite horror sub-genre, and why?
If (and it’s a big if) weird fiction can be classified as a horror sub-genre, then that’s the one I love. It’s endlessly versatile and seems to me to be the best equipped of any current genre of writing at dealing with the insanities and complexities of the world we live in.
Most terrifying book you’ve ever read.
There’s a moment in Catriona Ward’s Rawblood that made me feel genuinely upset (in a good way) and I just felt like shouting ‘no no no’ in horror as I realised what was happening. A book rarely affects me in that way, and the sense of sinking inevitable awfulness conveyed in the narrative was really quite impressive.
Your favourite Stephen King book.
I actually haven’t read that many… obvious choice, but IT left a dark stain on me when I read it as a twelve-year-old. Sex and swearing and unfathomable cosmic horror was an eye opener back then.
New horror authors you’d recommend.
Again, all depending on your definition, but I’d really recommend the following writers of horror and the weird: Nathan Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters), Livia Llewellyn (Furnace), Malcolm Devlin (You Will Grow Into Them), Aliya Whiteley (The Beauty), Helen Marshall (Gifts for the One Who Comes After), Angela Slatter (Sourdough), Adam Nevill (Some Will Not Sleep), Camilla Grudova (The Doll’s Alphabet), John Langan (The Wide Carnivorous Sky), Stephen Volk (Whitstable). I‘d claim Hassam Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ as horror, and Nina Allan’s short-story work in the genre is stunning.
Who do you consider the King and Queen of horror fiction?
Robert Aickman for me is the King. I’d claim a contemporary writer, Livia Llewellyn, as my favourite female writer of horror. I don’t find it that helpful drawing these gender lines though.
Your favourite horror film (adapted from a book) & why?
This is a great question! Probably Misery by Rob Reiner (adapted from Stephen King’s novel). Surely every writer’s nightmare, right? Kathy Bates is so brilliant in that film, and it has this wonderful sense of absurd black humour running through it. And of course it has the hobbling scene which haunts every person who has watched that movie.
Horror book that you’d like to see adapted to film & why?
Maybe ‘The Willows’ by Algernon Blackwood. You could do so much with the epic Danube landscapes!
Best horror TV?
The first series of True Detective without a doubt. Half of Rust Coehle’s monologues were lifted from Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, for a start. It fell apart at the end but still remains one of the best attempts to put weird, cosmic horror on screen. The first five or so episodes are stunning. Also (and I know this is an obvious choice) the BBC adapatations of M.R. James’ work, especially Whistle and I’ll Come to You and A Warning to the Curious. If we can claim The League of Gentlemen as horror – and I think it is – then that too.
Did you write in other genres or straight to horror?
I don’t really consider myself a horror writer. But I feel I have gravitated towards it because I’ve found it a very effective way to say the things I want to say, in a way that straight literary fiction (if such a thing exists) wasn’t allowing me to do. I have a great deal of interest in landscape writing, psychogeography, and basically anything else that takes my interest. I like coming up with hybrid forms.
Tell us briefly about your route to being published
I started by writing terrible stories that got rejected, then slowly improved and started having stories accepted by various journals, magazines and website. It was all a slow accumulation. I got shortlisted for a few prizes, and thought that maybe there was something worth pursuing, and slowly started assembling a collection. Luckily Dead Ink liked it.
Tell us about your fans
Fans might be a rather grandiose term. There are some people who seem to like my work on Twitter, and that’s nice.
Horror doesn’t seem to be as well respected as other genres of fiction. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s crucial to differentiate the horror as written by M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, the best Ramsey Campbell, Aickman etc, from the trashy pulp stuff concerned with gore and cheap shocks. They may as well be different genres. (Note: I am not rubbishing commercial and entertaining fiction. It’s just not what I consider horror to be).
I think like any genre fiction, it is seen as disposable, cheap, lurid and essentially lacking substance. Probably 90% of horror writing is crap, but then as Sturgeon’s Law states, 90% of everything is crap, including literary fiction.
Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance?
Definitely. The world is like a badly plotted, incoherent horror story right now with off-colour jokes that should have been edited out. Horror fiction, at its best, is a way for us to address the realities we are living in. The anxieties, the terrors, the nagging suspicions we feel that the world we live in isn’t right. I do believe weird and horror fiction can tackle these issues in a way that can be more truthful than realist fiction, dragging our demons out into the light. And if we can be honest about what frightens us, that is a way of actually addressing those problems. Hiding from what scares you does no good. It’s a cliché, but it helps us face our fears.
Personally I have very little interest in rehashed stories about sparkly vampires, zombies, or inbred locals torturing people. That isn’t horrifying, it’s boring. But everything I see of worth in horror seems to be having a resurgence – that’s good for writers and readers, but probably bad for the world that we need it right now.
Tips for new writers of horror fiction.
Think about the issues that most unsettle and unnerve you, and write about those. One of my favourite stories is ‘Greenteeth’, an attempt to merge the British Jenny Greenteeth myth with a very real problem – the housing crisis in my home city of London and the misery it causes.
You’ll be able to channel those feelings into what you write. Don’t bother if you’re just going to copy the plot and style of what you think a horror story should be like. Be honest with yourself and you might get somewhere.
Do you believe in evil?
Yeah I think so. I don’t think that any one person is evil, but when I look at ISIS or the horrors of the twentieth-century, I’m hard pushed to say that evil can’t happen.
What scares you?
Human beings. I’m scared of fascism and how it can dupe and corrupt people with catastrophic consequences. It sickens me to see people swallowing this nonsense ideology again. You want to know what horror is? It’s racism, it’s ethno-nationalism, and it’s the dehumanising process that leads, if unchecked, to genocide.
I’m scared of extremism that allows you to rape and torture and enslave whilst thinking you are doing the right thing, or even performing the will of your ridiculous God.
I’m scared of political and economic systems that allow people to starve on the streets in the wealthiest cities in the world. I’m scared of the wilful ignorance people are capable of displaying.
So, people scare me. We are the monsters. Every single monster or demon we ever dreamed up is a reflection of ourselves.
3 most scary words in English language?
What is that?
Do you celebrate Halloween?
Sort of, but not in the cartoonish American tradition. I like the idea of Samhain very much, which Halloween (i.e. All Hallow’s Eve) partly derives from. The notion of a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the otherworld can be crossed, is a compelling one, and of course finds parallels in things like the Día de Muertos and the Hindu Pitri Paksha. The idea of the boundary between living and dead thinning, and respecting the lives that went before us, is clearly one inherent in most cultures, and I find it touching rather than frightening.
I live next to All Hallow’s Church in Tottenham, right by a mortuary and a graveyard, which sounds very goth and Halloween-y, not helped by the fact I like to listen to the band Samhain at Halloween to go for the real goth-punk vibe.