Fellstones: Ramsey Campbell
Reviewed By Gary Twigg
It’s a long time since I have read anything by Ramsay Campbell, a writer who hails from my part of the world. Back in the 80’s I found his style to be disturbing and dreamlike, which is a great attribute to have as a horror writer, so I was really interested in reading new material.
Fellstones begins with our protagonist, Paul Dunstan, who is happily working in the music section of a Liverpool bookshop with his girlfriend, Caren, when an agent of change in the form of his adoptive sister visits Paul in his place of work. The sister, Adele, refers to him as Michael and it unfolds that Paul has a complicated past tied up with the guilt of his parents’ demise and the uneasy relationship that Paul, originally known as Michael during childhood, had with the people who adopted him. They viewed him as a musical prodigy on account of his singing voice, but as Paul grew older, he rejected their dreams for him and eventually left Fellstones, the village where he’d grown up, to make a life for himself and reassert his own identity. Adele still refers to him as ‘Michael’, and essentially guilts Paul into returning to Fellstones to visit her ageing parents, who she intimates are not in the best of health.
Paul reluctantly goes back to Fellstones, and it’s here that things begin to feel off-kilter in terms of Paul’s interactions with the Staveleys, his adoptive family and the residents of the village, which is dominated by a stone circle on the green that gives the place its name. The stones themselves are characters in the book and at first appear on the periphery of the story in uneasy glimpses, but as the narrative progresses, they take centre stage and introduce a creeping dread as Paul becomes enmeshed in the web created by the Staveleys. Campbell gives us glimpses into Paul’s past that demonstrate their desire to keep him within their family and in the village, as he has an important part to play in the strange rituals that govern the place.
Paul finds that his life in Liverpool and relationship with Caren are placed in jeopardy as his adoptive family find ways to lure him back to Fellstones, combined with the attraction of his adoptive sister as the rot sets in with Caren. He discovers the horrifying truth, eventually, through repressed memories and his increasingly bizarre encounters with the Staveleys, until the final trap is laid and their true purpose for him is revealed.
Ramsay Campbell is clearly a master of his craft. Reading this book was like being driven up a treacherous, steep mountain pass by someone with knowledge of every bump, hole and dip in the road. As a passenger you feel supremely safe in their hands and I had the same experience here. He knows instinctively how to pace the story, make us see things through Paul’s eyes and when to inject the dread and subtle terror needed to make this such a good horror book.
Fellstones is out now via Flame Tree Press.
Fellstones takes its name from seven objects on the village green. It’s where Paul Dunstan was adopted by the Staveleys after his parents died in an accident for which he blames himself. The way the Staveleys tried to control him made him move away and change his name. Why were they obsessed with a strange song he seemed to have made up as a child?
Now their daughter Adele has found him. By the time he discovers the cosmic truth about the stones, he may be trapped. There are other dark secrets he’ll discover, and memories to confront. The Fellstones dream, but they’re about to waken.
I mainly write horror and paranormal thrillers although I am probably the most squeamish of people when it comes to watching horror movies and normally watch the scary parts through my fingers. Why I write in this genre of fiction is therefore quite ironic, but I’ve always been attracted to horror and thrillers in all their forms, whether on print or large and small screen. I have early memories of secretly watching Appointment With Fear with my older brother on an old black-and-white portable TV on Monday nights when we should have been asleep. The image of Christopher Lee crashing through French windows in the first Hammer Horror Dracula movie, with blood on his fangs chills me to this day!
Predictably, I am a huge fan of Stephen King, but also love writers such as Dean Koontz, Joe Hill, CJ Tudor and James Herbert. When I was a kid, I was fascinated and enthralled by Robert E Howard’s sword-and-sorcery tales of Conan The Barbarian and several other creations, and then by Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series. These stories really fuelled my imagination and made me want to write my own stuff. When my older brother introduced me to Stephen King, I was soon lost in even darker worlds and I haven’t wanted to come out of them ever since. My books are, therefore, quite disturbing, gory at times, but I try to also litter them with characters who, while flawed, display the finer human qualities such as bravery, loyalty, and above all love of other people above themselves. I hope that you think that I have succeeded in this.
In my normal life I work for a charity that supports blind and partially-sighted people and I am also a qualified psychotherapist. This is all after spending twenty-five years in the private sector, where I wasn’t just unfulfilled, but also monumentally bored. Working with people directly to help them solve their own problems was definitely a better fit for me.
I live in Cheshire with my wonderfully patient wife and our small dog, Bailey, who loves nothing better than cuddles, food, and waiting until I’m relaxed of an evening before she demands some attention.