The Pale Onesstarts with our narrator, a young book dealer, falling under the wing of an odd and somewhat roguish older seller, Harris. They undertake a trip to Yorkshire to acquire stock cheaply, where it becomes increasingly apparent that Harris is not at all what he at first seems…
First memory of reading horror
I don’t remember ever not having some sort of book of scary stories at home as a child, stuff like the Armada and Fontana ghost story anthologies for kids. But the first story I can specifically remember, I read at probably quite a young age – about 7, I’d guess. It was about a scientist or zoologist encountering giant snails on an isolated island. It was in a horror anthology in the village library. Only recently did I discover that story was ‘The Quest for Blank Claveringi’ by Patricia Highsmith, whose Ripley books I came to love as an adult (her name always struck me as familiar). An honourable mention should definitely go to The Werewolf Maskby Kenneth Ireland though. A collection of horror stories for children. They absolutely terrified me. They might still be utterly terrifying, in fact. I have the book somewhere, but I don’t quite dare to fetch it down from the shelf to see…
For readers new to horror which 3 books would you recommend they start with?
I’m going to offer my readers a choice. (Kind of like a set menu, no?)
This is because either a) I’m a massive cheat, or b) not all readers fit quite the same mould. Hold on, possibly both of those things are true…
The starter: either The Shining by Stephen King, or The Haunting of Hill Houseby Shirley Jackson. King has acknowledged his debt to Jackson so on one level these are two treatments of a similar idea. The Shining is classic, accessible King, but Jackson’s book? Well - it’s something special…
For me, the horror short story is absolutely where the game is at – so for the main course, we have a choice of either a really good big anthology, something like The Dark Descent edited by David Hartwell – the all-in-one version (the UK the anthology was published split into three volumes), or for those with a particular interest in voice and experimentation, a collection by one of the dominant voices in contemporary horror, Thomas Ligotti – the Penguin Classics combined edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe.
And finally our novella course – a choice of either the classic Turn of the Screw by Henry James or, for those with a stronger stomach, The Brotherhood of Mutilation by Brian Evenson (later expanded to Last Days).
Do you have a favourite horror sub-genre, and why?
I love it all, but the stuff that really gets me is the fiction at the edges of the genre – the weird, the uncanny, the experimental. It tends to be short fiction, but not exclusively so, and some of this stuff gets labelled ‘quiet’ or ‘mundane’. Sometimes ‘urban’. Dennis Etchison, Robert Aickman, M. John Harrison. Ramsey Campbell. Shirley Jackson. Lots of Peter Straub’s stuff, although his methods vary immensely (which to my mind is one of the great pleasures of reading his fiction). Angela Carter. Gene Wolfe – think of his novel Peace, say. Jonathan Carroll. Thomas Ligotti. Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire. Charles Burns’ graphic novels. Donald Antrim. Horror is all about transgression of boundaries after all, and these writers stray into (or perhaps stray from?) adjacent territory.
New horror authors you’d recommend.
There’s lots to like about Nathaniel Balingrud. John Langan, Victor LaValle, Michael Wehunt and T. E. Grau are all doing interesting stuff. Perhaps both Laird Barron and Paul Tremblay are too well known or too obvious to qualify as ‘new’ picks, but are certainly worth mentioning as relatively recent success stories.
Your favourite horror film (adapted from a book) & why?
The early 1970s was a fertile time for horror adaptations – The Exorcist, The Wicker Man, and Jaws, for example, are all rightly regarded as classics. But my pick - from the same period - is Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now from Daphne du Maurier’s story. It’s an amazing film – intense, sad, beautiful. And most importantly, scary.
Horror book that you’d like to see adapted to film & why?
Shadowlandby Peter Straub. Why? Because it is just an awesome story. And all-out creepy. And I think that the book would need to be reimagined quite carefully for the screen – and for me, that’s fine, some stuff that works on the page doesn’t translate exactly. It would be a difficult task, I think, but potentially rewarding for the right creators. The source material, as with most of Straub’s work, is deep and rich and fertile.
Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance?
As a publishing category, sure, why not? But I don’t think horror ever went away. It’s really kind of deathless (aptly enough). In bookshops and libraries and so on, over the past few years horror as a category has been a little less visible. But that depends on exactly where you draw the lines demarcating the genre. Regardless of all that, there is almost always a substantial horror readership out there, one large enough to support lots of subgenres. There’s always something horror-related or –themed in the zeitgeist – serial killers or sexy vampires or just plain old zombie rampages - even if it doesn’t always get the specific ‘horror’ label.
Tips for new writers of horror fiction.
Read as much of everything – and I mean everything - as you can. Think about why you like to read the things you do, and how that writing works, and differs from other sorts of writing. And then simply write. A lot. There’s a useful exercise to do. Find a story you admire (short is good). Read it through three times. Stow your copy. Try to reproduce it as exactly as you can. Compare yours to the original. After having tried to ‘write’ the story yourself, you might find that you’re able to see more clearly how the author does the ‘technical’ stuff’(and believe me, there is a lot of technical stuff). But know also that there isn’t a single rightway to do fiction, horror or otherwise. Rules and advice can and do help, but don’t accept any truism unquestioningly!
Do you believe in evil?
I do, but not in the Evil-with-a-capital E, Manichaen sense. It is something that results from people’s actions, not an existent force that motivates action. Whether or not there are facets of reality that are either hostile or simply indifferent to human existence is a slightly different question.
Do you celebrate Halloween?
Absolutely! And this year I’ve bought masks from the Silver Shamrock company for all the family! What could possibly go wrong?