I want this to be a platform for EVERYONE within the horror community; authors, publishers, bloggers, reviewers, actors, directors, artists. I could go on, if you work in the genre then you are more than welcome to apply for the job.
For the sake of Twitter characters and in looking for something a little more punchy, I’ve now decided to call this feature The Graveyard Shift. (#GraveyardShift)
The rules are quite simple…
You are invited to imagine yourselves as warden for an old graveyard, and choose eight books, preferably horror/dark genre, to take with you to cover your shift; here you can discuss why you chose the books.
As well as the books, wardens are allowed one song/album to listen to. Again, an explanation for this choice is required.
You must also discuss one luxury item you can bring, which must be inanimate and not allow communication.
If you’d like to take part in The Graveyard Shift then please submit an application to firstname.lastname@example.org
A new shift is about to begin and the warden is…
Lolita By Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita was a revelation to me when I first read it just before my seventeenth birthday. I admit I bought the Corgi paperback partly as a naughty book, but I’d read at most a few pages before I realised how much more the novel offered – joy in language, dark humour, stylistic surprises and the shock of photographically precise imagery, a classical use of literary references (not least to Poe), above all a disturbing lyricism. The novel demonstrated how fruitful approaching your theme from unexpected directions could be, and liberated my own writing so explosively that my prose changed well-nigh overnight (however minor the earliest result, “The Stone on the Island”, may have been). I bought everything else by the author I could find, not least the equally extraordinary Pale Fire (a suspenseful comic crime novel in the form of a 999-word poem and hundreds of pages of commentary). He remains an absolute favourite.
H.P. Lovecraft: Penguin Modern Classic Volumes (Texts Corrected By S.T. Joshi)
Just now there’s a tendency to discuss H. P. Lovecraft in terms of his faults rather than his very considerable achievements. In time I believe balance will be restored, as it has been (for instance) with Richard Wagner. Some of his detractors even feel the need to dismiss him as a writer. Some cite his avoidance of dialogue and his minimal depiction of character, which makes exactly as much sense to me as writing Chopin off for not composing symphonies and operas. Lovecraft devoted his career to exploring all the forms of weird fiction he could in a search for the perfect approach, and his finest work is exemplary in terms of careful structure and modulation of language. His greatest tales reach for awe or plumb subterranean depths of horror – sometimes both. There are so many collected editions that you have quite a choice. Mine are the three Penguin Modern Classics volumes with texts corrected by S. T. Joshi.
Collected Ghost Stories By M.R. James
M. R. James is often cited (though not by the late Robert Aickman) as the greatest British ghost story writer. In an essay on the ghost story he declared that horror was necessary to the form, and I rate him as a master of supernatural horror. Many of his menaces are not ghosts at all: Count Magnus’s tentacled companion (whose shape I believe influenced Lovecraft), the thing that turns out to be nearly just a sheet when a whistle summons it, the restless item that’s mistaken for a bag of treasure, the thirsty denizens of the ash-tree, the many-legged denizen of a room at Whitminster… James was committed to intensity of terror (a tendency inherited by our era’s splendid Adam Nevill), but he achieved his effects with enviably well-chosen prose and by reticence – by showing just enough to suggest far worse. The Wordsworth paperback Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James looks like a bargain.
Cold Hand In Mine By Robert Aikman
Robert Aickman is unique. He regarded himself as writing strange tales rather than anything more definably generic, and tended to dismiss horror and science fiction (“that boring commodity”), though he included examples of both in the excellent anthologies of ghost stories he edited for Fontana. I hoped not to offend him by using several tales of his in horror anthologies of my own. Some of his stories are certainly horror: “Ringing the Changes”, with its annually awakened dancing dead; “Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal”, as delicately disturbing as any treatment of the vampire I’ve encountered; “The Swords”, a seedy sexual nightmare; “Wood”, which boasts an untypically gruesome final revelation… Others demonstrate how enigmas can be far more satisfying than any explanation, and certainly more haunting. Faber have him in a uniform trade paperback edition, and Cold Hand in Mine is a fine varied introduction to his work.
The Haunting Of Hill House By Shirley Jackson
Some works are great because they’re inimitable, and The Haunting of Hill House is one such, even if some of us have had a go. I know of no other writer in the field who conveys paranoia and spectral dread with more delicacy than she. Who else could terrify with the sight of a picnic on a lawn? Robert Wise’s film The Haunting captures some of the psychology and attendant terrors of the novel, though its insistence on how much is left unseen sometimes recalls Lovecraft at his least restrained. As for the remake, I shall say only that the press release claimed it was faithful to Shirley Jackson. We must hope it put nobody off the book, which I’m happy to claim is the greatest of all haunted house novels, and arguably the greatest novel of the supernatural. No less affecting than its reticence is its extraordinary poignancy. They are qualities I should like to see rediscovered by the field.
The Deadly Percheron By John Franklin Bardin
John Franklin Bardin’s The Deadly Percheron is the tale to which the Robbie Coltrane character keeps referring in Neil Jordan’s film Mona Lisa. It begins like a story from Unknown Worlds, with the narrator attempting to psychoanalyse a patient who receives mysterious instructions from a leprechaun. Soon the narrator is attacked and robbed of his identity. Philip Marlowe would have swapped clothes with his neighbour in hospital and made his escape, but Bardin’s protagonist recognises how paranoid his story sounds and becomes a victim of it. The book progresses further into nightmare and never quite emerges, even managing to extend it into Bardin’s second novel, The Last of Philip Banter, where the psychoanalyst appears to no happy end. Read that too, and the third, Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly. All three (the last with my afterword) are reprinted by Centipede Press. Alas, his later novel Purloining Tiny is perverse but reads like someone imitating Bardin.
Cuckoo Song By Frances Hardinge
For a while Frances Hardinge was a secret that everyone who knew it wanted to broadcast abroad. By now I hope her awards have spread her reputation, and not just to young folk. While her novels are published for young adults, they (like the work of Alan Garner and Philip Pullman, for two) will reward the discerning oldster at least as much. A Skinful of Shadows received the Children of the Night Award from the Dracula Society, and Cuckoo Song was on the shortlist for the James Herbert Award for horror fiction. I was by no means alone among the Herbert judges in finding it the most inventive imaginative book on the list, and for myself I thought it the most genuinely frightening, and often productive of awe. I could recommend any of her titles, but Cuckoo Song has a special place in my heart, and is a splendid introduction to her genius.
The Weird Edited By Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
I’ll end with an essential anthology. I could cite Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (Wise and Fraser), still offering many treasures three-quarters of a century after it first appeared, or David Hartwell’s anthological history of horror The Dark Descent, a major attempt to define the field. However, I’m going with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s immense (over 1100 pages) compendium The Weird. Horror readers will be well rewarded, not least by its range, but it may open your eyes to other levels of weirdness, and to its international scope. So alongside surely familiar names we find others that ought to be: Tagore, Meyrink, Ugolini, Sakutarō (with a favourite tale of Thomas Ligotti’s), Tutuola, Bhêly-Quénum, Murakami… It’s a feast to occupy many hours, and deserves to be on every shelf of the fantastic and of literature (not, as this book proves, that the distinction need be made).
Beethoven: Végh Quartet
If the foregoing selections involved painful exclusions, how much more so the choice of a single solitary album! Stripping away favourites could give me sleepless nights for weeks. Even once I light on Beethoven I’m aware that I could never do without Johann Sebastian Bach. If I had to choose a single Beethoven it might be the sixth symphony, which contains so many (though by no means all) of his qualities – lyricism, humour, drama, a sense of the numinous – or his final string quartet, whose third movement is as poignant as any music I know, while the entire work refines Beethoven to a simplicity poised between autumn (russet mellowness) and winter (naked structure) without losing any of his inventiveness. However, I hope I’m allowed to cheat to the extent of treating a set of works as an album, in which case I’ll go not with the symphonies, much as I love them, but the quartets – the cycle of them recorded by the Vegh Quartet, their second account of the works.
And a luxury – perhaps a crop of psilocybin, that most genial of psychedelics.
Author Photo By Tony Knox
The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for outstanding services to literature. Among his novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain, Ghosts Know, The Kind Folk, Think Yourself Lucky, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach and The Wise Friend. He recently brought out his Brichester Mythos trilogy, consisting of The Searching Dead, Born to the Dark and The Way of the Worm. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence, The Booking and The Enigma of the Flat Policeman are novellas. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You, Holes for Faces, By the Light of My Skull and a two-volume retrospective roundup (Phantasmagorical Stories). His non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably and Ramsey’s Rambles (video reviews). Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal is a history of horror fiction in the form of fifty limericks. His novels The Nameless, Pact of the Fathers and The Influence have been filmed in Spain, where a television series based on The Nameless is in development. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.
Ramsey Campbell lives on Merseyside with his wife Jenny. His pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever’s in that pipe. His web site is at www.ramseycampbell.com.
Please follow Ramsey on Twitter @ramseycampbell1
The Wise Friend
Patrick Torrington’s aunt Thelma was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they’ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?
The Retrospective And Other Phantasmagorical Stories
Punters, salutations! Please start here if you like, or possibly sample a tale or two. You ll be perfectly safe. Presenting sixty years worth of my published shorts, a personal selection, was Pete’s suggestion Pete Crowther, I mean, the man behind PS.
The Retrospective is a hardcover horror collection. A slipcased edition, signed and numbered, and limited to 100 copies is also available direct from PS Publishing