{The Graveyard Shift} This week’s warden is horror legend Stephen Volk

Initially, this feature was going to be called Deserted Graveyard Reads, the reason for this was that I simply reworked the idea initially set up by Roy Plomley for the long-running Desert Island Discs.

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 gavin@kendallreviews.com

It’s a huge honour for Kendall Reviews that the first shift is about to start and the warden is none other than…

Stephen Volk

BOOKS

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is not only a sublime formalist with a prolific output, she’s also an author who unashamedly ventures into the horror genre, in such collections as Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque and The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares. Her Black Water is chilling and unforgettable, not least because it horribly echoes what happened at Chappaquiddick. Oates adds more to the skimpy facts: art has to have shape because life does not. And so it is with her magnum opus, Blonde—a dark, dazzling riff on the life of Norma Jean Baker. Orphan whose mother is declared mad. Woman who changes her name to become an actress. I read it on holiday, in one go, day after day, until I was done (or it was done with me). The imagined inner life of one of Hollywood’s legends, it is astonishing, disturbing, and a masterpiece.

Nightmare: The Birth of Horror by Christopher Frayling

For all his vast and wide-ranging erudition, Sir Christopher, to his credit, sees no distinction between so-called high and low art. A tireless enthusiast to the core, he has written books about Spaghetti Westerns (Sergio Leone: Something To Do With Death); the art and design that influenced a London landmark (Henry Cole and the Chamber of Horrors); a superb analysis of the greatest ghost story committed to celluloid (The Innocents); and documented the rise of the bloodsucker in culture (Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula). He also curated a fantastic exhibition on the gothic in art. Nightmare is a book I always prayed for: the “making of” stories behind the genesis of the formative myths of modern horror—Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s simply a treasure trove, and belongs on any self-respecting genre fan’s shelf.

Mary Rose by J.M. Barrie

A stage play, this—but one that has intrigued me since I first read it. Not since Picnic at Hanging Rock could I remember the very nature of the mysterious, neither malevolent nor benevolent, but spiritual, being explored in a drama. The unknown is the central core: the enigma of Mary Rose’s vanishing that refuses to be explained. No wonder Hitchcock had a lifelong hankering to make it as a movie, with its doomed romance between a girl who embodies the nature of the inexplicable in human form, and Ross, who represents the rational, sceptical side of our nature. To me it reeks of the tainted love of Vertigo or Marnie. It is about memory, loss, and belief. But as you’d expect from the author of Peter Pan it is also about childhood, the protected innocent state which disappears with puberty and sexual awakening.

The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

I grew up with those yellow-spined Arrow paperbacks of the sixties, with their allure of candle-lit rituals and naked women on the covers, inseparable from the prurient titillation peddled by the liked of The News of The World. Without doubt, Dennis Wheatley, though largely forgotten today, was the Stephen King of his era in terms of fame, success and even imagination. His books were never out of print and sold in their millions throughout his lifetime. His style of writing is now hideously dated (as are some of his political attitudes), but we dismiss at our peril the fact that he brought his own brand of occult horror into the modern world as deftly as Stoker did to an earlier generation, greatly bolstering the plausibility of his ripping yarns with the help of experts such as Montague Summers and Aleister Crowley (the notorious Great Beast, 666) along the way.

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

I became obsessed by the achingly sorrowful pleasures (and sins) of Patrick Hamilton when I discovered Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, his trilogy of interconnected stories about three people who populate the Midnight Bell pub in pre-war London, all doomed to feel the hurtfulness of love. His Gorse Trilogy became the surprisingly disturbing ITV series The Charmer, about an irredeemably heartless conman. Best known for the suspenseful stage plays Gas Light and Rope, it’s in Hangover Square Hamilton’s style and themes are most evident: jagged stream of consciousness, alarmingly modern to read as we are immersed in a disturbed person’s inescapable madness. The protagonist, George Harvey Bone, a sad, fragile thing buffeted by the cruelty of the world, as the world collapses into war around his ears. The ending alone is one of the most moving, ironic and horrifying in fiction.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

I was torn between including this or Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters as the most influential and game-changing collection of this century, but, in the end, hell, Nathan’s had enough praise from me! Seriously, I have no hesitation in recommending this to any writer looking for a gimlet-eyed attention to prose, fastidious structure, and a poetic imagination nevertheless deeply informed by a world where politics is the stuff of life and death. To say this is ‘magical realism’ is to be almost an insult. It’s more like Aickman. One of my favourite short stories of all time is “An Invocation of the Big-Eared Runt.” It involves a murder tour of Buenos Aires, but to tell you more would, again, be an insult. Every one of these stories is a gem and I look forward to re-reading them. (And buy North American Lake Monsters while you are at it!)

I Will Surround You by Conrad Williams

Conrad is a friend, but that doesn’t inhibit me from saying he is also a genius. His prose—every sentence—just sings, and I envy him like hell. There’s rarely a story in this magisterial collection that doesn’t take the breath away, often literally. The Fox and Rain being just two examples I return to repeatedly. Like the best horror writers, he often leaves the most horrific thing unsaid, and bids you conjure it all on your own. Yes, he’s really that nasty. But I love him for it. He shows that there can be beauty in the agonizing, seeds of survival in the bleakest of places, and gut-twisting terror in the most mundane. As his brilliant novel One shows, every shadowy path can be lit by hope, and in I Will Surround You his superbly evocative language records unerringly who we are as human beings in all our flaws.

Writing Madness by Patrick McGrath

I’ve said before that this volume is one of my prized possession. I adore the content, of course, but the book’s style and presentation, with artwork by Harry Brockway, is simply gorgeous (much kudos to editor Danel Olson). I first read McGrath’s collection, Blood and Water, on its first publication, and loved it: the author was at the forefront of the New Gothic—what’s not to like? The fact he’d grown up in an asylum was a bonus, but the literary clout melded with an affinity to the grotesque was what mattered. Here, that seminal collection is augmented wonderfully by uncollected stories, essays (some autobiographical), and illuminating introductions to the likes of Dracula, Moby Dick, Poe and Saki, as well as reviews. All gold dust, if you ask me. Beautifully written fiction to savour again and again, and nonfiction that gives excellent food for thought.

SONG

Die Easy” by Rag ’n’ Bone Man

From the album HUMAN

When it comes to bury me
Put a fifth of rum in my hand
Might as well come and take my soul
‘Cause I can’t take it to the promised land

Well, well, well
So I can die easy
Well, well, well
So I can die easy
The devil’s gonna make up my dying bed…

I know nothing about the blues, but I know what I like, and this, like some of the more Southern Gothic songs of Tom (Murder in the Red Barn) Waits, seems to bridge from American Folk to American Gothic. I just can’t shift the idea of a man singing on his deathbed being everything I want from horror—dread, beauty, and a sense of what it is to be human. No coincidence, then, that Human is what the album is called. I first heard it sung, live, by the Blind Boys of Alabama, but Rag ’n’ Bone Man’s is the version to play at my funeral, please. Don’t forget to pour that fifth of rum. Cheers.

LUXURY

I’m guessing that in a deserted graveyard in dead of night I will be provided with some means of illumination, a whale oil lamp or some such, by which to read my eight books? In which case—being a man of vivid imagination—I would request a sufficiently pointed stake. Sceptical though I am on all things supernatural, I’ve watched enough horror films to know that the person who enters a graveyard unprepared is the one who gets it. And I’m taking no chances.

Stephen Volk

STEPHEN VOLK is best known as the writer of the BBC’s notorious “Halloween hoax” Ghostwatch and the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife starring Andrew Lincoln and Lesley Sharp. His other screenplays include Midwinter of the Spirit, Shockers, The Awakening starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West, and Gothic starring Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley. His novellas and short stories have been chosen for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Best New Horror, Best British Mysteries, and Best British Horror, he is a Bram Stoker Award and Shirley Jackson Award finalist, a BAFTA winner, and the author of three collections: Dark Corners, Monsters in the Heart (which won the British Fantasy Award), and The Parts We Play. The Dark Masters Trilogy is arguably his most acclaimed fiction so far, consisting of Whitstable, featuring the late horror film star Peter Cushing; Leytonstone, based on the boyhood of Alfred Hitchcock; and Netherwood, featuring both the novelist Dennis Wheatley and the occultist Aleister Crowley. His provocative non-fiction is collected in Coffinmaker’s Blues: Collected Writings on Terror (PS Publishing, 2019).

You can find out more about Stephen via his official website www.stephenvolk.net

You can follow Stephen on Twitter @Stevevolkwriter

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