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Ramsey Campbell: A Life In Horror April 2003

Ramsey Campbell submitted his first book for publication at age 11 -- and sold his first story at age 15. His first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, appeared in 1976 and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. His hundreds of stories and dozens of novels range from supernatural to psychological horror, often of the "quiet" variety. Later books include five British Fantasy Award winners: To Wake the Dead (1980), Incarnate (1983), The Hungry Moon (1986), The Influence (1988), and The Long Lost (1993); International Horror Guild winner The House on Nazareth Hill (1996); and World Fantasy and Bram Stoker Award winning collection Alone with the Horrors (1993). Campbell has also written film novelizations, edited anthologies (including the Best New Horror series with Stephen Jones), and written articles and essays collected in Ramsey Campbell, Probably (2002). In 1999, Campbell received both the Stoker Life Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association and was named Grand Master at the World Horror Convention. He lives with his family in Merseyside, England.
Photo by Charles N. Brown

Official Website

Excerpts from the interview:

“I fell in love with the field before I ever started writing it, so my affinity with horror had much more to do with the fiction I was getting my hands on than with anything more external. But when I started moving away from Lovecraft in my writing, I was venturing all over Liverpool because I'd also fallen in love with the movies. In Britain, you couldn't see most horror movies until you were 16 or could pass for 16, so I had a lot of catching up to do. There were dozens of cinemas in Liverpool, often in the middle of bombed streets. So I was wandering through streets of ruined houses, a couple of shops, and this little flea-pit cinema still standing. This was the landscape I became a frequenter of for years. I'm certain that fed into the stories, as did the love of movies.”


“One reason I started writing the way I did may have been the death throes of the religion I was brought up with -- extremely repressive Christian Brother-type Catholic schooling (which I and my intellect got out of as soon as I could). You could argue that when you take God away, that's where the chaos starts -- and also the sense that there's still some sort of supernatural force that just doesn't care very much, if it's not positively inimical. In various stories I've been trying to construct some notion of the afterlife that made sense to me as being at the very most agnostic, and pretty well against the sort of religion I was brought up with. The Influence has an idea that the last dream you have (since dreams tend to 'last' a great deal longer than they actually do) for you would be eternity. Just be sure you get a good dream as you're leaving us! In another story there's a sense that the characters die and that is the end; they just go out like a television switched off (which is hardly reassuring either). For the stuff we don't know yet, there's only one way of finding out, and then we can't tell anybody.”


“I find horror imaginatively appealing, which is one reason I write it, but it certainly is a way of talking about other things as well -- talking about the way we live now. In the things I write about, the vulnerability of children is one I've been doing since the '60s. And a related theme: the children we used to be are still in there just waiting to be revealed again, however much of a façade of adulthood and maturity we erect. There are more vulnerable children than evil children in my stories -- almost none of the latter, in fact. I've always found the image of evil children somewhat suspect. My non-supernatural novel The One Safe Place, about a family of academics who come up against a criminal clan in Manchester, does have a son who's fairly unregenerate, but I was trying to show how he becomes what he becomes. I would never assume the notion of the purely evil child.

“Conversely, I don't think anybody should be able to use their childhood as an excuse. One thing that's been creeping into my fiction is the notion of people who seem to feel they have no moral responsibility, that it's always somebody else's fault. Even as early as The Nameless, there's a cult of people who have given up their names as a symbol that they've given up the right to choose, and they commit atrocious acts for reasons they don't even understand -- that's a sort of symbol of things we see when we look around us. The notion we have no responsibility for what we do is very dangerous nonsense. We have to get back to a starting point that we all have a choice, whatever we do.

“One of the points of doing horror is to make you (by which I also mean me) look again at things we've taken for granted. Certainly that includes morality. In my stuff, it's not a straightforward face-off between good and evil; it's far more the fact that the two overlap and are much more complicatedly intertwined. But it's moral in the sense that the characters have to make moral choices -- or the reader sees how they should have. Sometimes the reader has to make the moral choice. Angela Carter described horror fiction as being 'a holiday from morality.' It can be, but I don’t think it is for me. One thing it can do is give us black comedy. It allows us to see what would happen if all restraints were off, and we can indulge it because it's fiction. That doesn't happen in most of my work, but certainly there's a strain of that in the field.”


“A couple of years back, I worked for a few months in the branch of Borders in Liverpool. Originally, I thought I was going to get a short story out of it, but then it turned out to be a novel. The Overnight is set in a big bookshop built on (you will not be surprised to learn) an area with a 'reputation,' although that doesn't become plain until quite late on. The last third of the book is going to deal with one overnight of catch-up work in the shop. It is indeed supernatural -- plenty of terrible things in the shadows. A lot of stuff begins to show up in daylight, out of the corner of your eye; you just don't see it as plainly till it gets dark.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the April 2003 issue of Locus Magazine.


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