Peter Grant Talks to Horror Writer Ramsey Campbell
Peter Grant was given the pleasure of interviewing Ramsey Campbell, one of Liverpool’s most iconic horror writers.
The Mersey Sound is celebrating its 50 year anniversary so is Sgt Pepper. You must be celebrating 60 years as a writer? How many books have you written to date?
Not quite sixty, but give me time – I first saw print in 1962. Books, just about as many as those years, though some are collections of short stories and essays. All the same, I’m by no means slowing down, and I don’t intend to until they nail the lid on, perhaps not even then. I like to think I’m refining what I do, and enough folk have enthused about my recent stuff that perhaps I can believe myself.
What did you think of the Mersey Poets and The Beatles?
My favourite was Adrian Henri, not least because we had horror in common, H. P. Lovecraft in particular. At his last exhibition at the Walker he made sure I saw a Lovecraft painting he’d done, and later I was responsible for using it on the cover of a book, though sadly only after Adrian left us.
I once saw the Beatles at the Cavern one lunchtime – in 1962, I believe – but it was only with Revolver (which I’d seen enthusiastically reviewed in the New York Village Voice) that I really started engaging with their work. After that I was quite a fan and still am – there’s a gag about them in Creatures of the Pool.
Merseyside has produced so many writers and musicians do you think the area is an inspiring place. Has it inspired you?
Very much so – I’d go as far as to say that my first real story was set in Liverpool. This was “The Cellars”, published in 1967 and based on an actual location, an extensive series of abandoned basement under Rumford Place near Old Hall Street. A lot of classic horror fiction grows out of actual places, and over the decades quite a few in Liverpool have given me ideas.
That’s true of the Wirral as well – “The Ferries” was my attempt to convey the strangeness of Parkgate, for instance, and “The Companion” came out of the old abandoned fairground in New Brighton.
What can people expect when you give your Eveing With talk?
An old fellow rambling randomly but unstoppably, together with a few jokes and the odd shiver.
Do you enjoy giving talks about your craft?
Greatly. I hope they’re useful to people, though I always say my way is only one of many, and folk should find the method that works best for them.
When you talk to students, groups etc., what are the most frequently asked questions?
Among them –
“Do you ever write anything other than horror?” (Very rarely, and not well.)
“Isn’t there enough horror in the world without writing about it?” (You could say the same about crime and tragedy, and surely fiction reflects the world in its own way.)
“Where do you get your ideas?” (I’ve a subscription to Muses-R-Us and they send me a bunch every month.)
What book are you reading at the moment?
Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time – I’m on the fourth volume. It’s great English comic fiction, which I’d place alongside Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis.
Creatures of the Pool features local landmarks. Was it fun using real Merseyside places in the text?
Certainly was, and the book was so long in the research – I collected histories of Liverpool, the more obscure the better, over more than a decade – that I no longer always know which historical references and legends are real and which are inventions or improvisations of mine. I’d also say the novel might just be the longest Scouse joke ever told.
You have won many awards – which one means the most to you?
I think I’d have to say the Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University for “outstanding services to literature”. At the ceremony I accepted it on behalf of my field as well, because I strongly feel horror fiction at its best is a branch of literature.
When you are not writing how do you relax? You used be Radio Merseyside’s film critic do you still go to the movies?
I don’t go to the cinema too much these days, but I do like the Light in New Brighton, and we’re often there. Late on most afternoons I’ll watch a DVD or now more likely a Blu-ray, a format I think has been absolutely crucial in resurrecting classic or lost films and forgotten filmmakers.
Just now we’re watching the remarkable Japanese epic The Human Condition from the late fifties, banned in Britain at the time but now on disc in a fine restoration.
Many people attend talks to get advice about becoming writers, What was the best advice given to you?
What is your latest book about?
The Searching Dead – it’s the first volume of my trilogy. It’s set in Liverpool in the early fifties, where an occultist is sending spirits of the dead into places he doesn’t dare venture himself.
And what are you working on next?
The Way of the Worm – the last volume of the trilogy, set in something like the present day. Our narrator has infiltrated the occultist’s operation, only to discover far more than he would like to believe…
How many years have you lived in Wirral. What do you like (or even dislike) about the area?
We’ve been here since the very early eighties and wouldn’t move anywhere else. Close enough to Liverpool whenever we want to go, but handy for Thurstaston and Delamere and Freshfield and many other favourite sites. Dozens of good restaurants within easy travelling, including some absolute favourites. And I’ve a view across the river from my desk – I wouldn’t give that up.