I used to spend a lot of time on the beach (okay, I still do!). The early years were spent reading horror comics which soon morphed into paperbacks. This were the halcyon days for the kings of horror – Dean Koontz, Stephen King, James Herbert (to name just a few). But for me, rising above them all, was Graham Masterton. There was something about his stories that resonated with me. Perhaps so much so, that I like to think my style has some vague echoes of the riveting way he could take a myth or legend, and throw it into today’s world and watch the mayhem and terror it would inflict upon us all.
In 1976 he released a book called the Manitou, later made into a movie (staring Tony Curtis), about a vengeful Native American spirit trying to force its way back into the world of the living. Though I didn’t find the book until the 80s in a secondhand shop, I loved it, and also just about every book he has turned out.
Graham still writes today, and is still as prolific as he ever was. He has kindly given up some time to talk to me here on ThrillerCentral.
WHAT IS HORROR?
-- GRAHAM MASTERTON --
Believe or not, I have never thought of myself as a horror writer. Horror to me is just a category which book retailers put your books into because they happen to have violent or supernatural content, or both. I have never made any distinction between horror fiction and any other kind of fiction. Fiction should always challenge what you believe in, and make you think hard about what it is to be a human being.
Some of the horror stories, though, made a lasting impression on my friends. Twenty-five years later, a schoolfriend told me that even though he was now a city manager, he still had nightmares about a man who has no head who used to walk about the house singing Tiptoe Through The Tulips.
What almost all of my stories shared, though, even at that age, was my feeling that fiction should take readers right to the very edge of human experience. Reality is strange, and exhilarating, and tragic. Sometimes reality is well beyond our understanding. But I always believed that fiction should take us even further, right to the very boundaries of our humanity.
When I was 13 I wrote a 400-page horror novel in which the sole purpose of a mysterious sect of vampires was self-destruction. At 15, I discovered the Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, who were taking both the style and the content of their writing to an extreme. William Burroughs wrote a novel called The Naked Lunch which caused an uproar when it was published in 1962 because of its political and homosexual content and its open discussion of drugs.
William was living in Tangier at the time but I wrote to him and we kept up a regular correspondence until he came to live in London in 1965. By then I was deputy editor of a new men’s magazine called Mayfair. William wrote for Mayfair regularly and we spent many evenings in his apartment in Duke Street discussing revolutionary writing techniques. Rules of Duel, the manuscript of which I recently discovered after forty years and which was published last year by my good friend David Howe from Telos Books.
With William’s encouragement and involvement I wrote a novel myself,
With William’s encouragement and involvement I wrote a novel myself,
The writing that William and I did together was difficult, often obscure, and pushed convention and accepted taste right to the very limit, and beyond. You probably won’t be able to grasp much of what Rules of Duel is all about. But William had some very good lessons, not just for a horror writer but for any kind of writer who wants to take writing to the very edge.
The writer should not appear in his own work. He should be El Hombre Invisible, the invisible man. Learn how to construct sentences so balanced and rhythmical that your readers are scarcely aware they are reading at all. This takes painstaking practice, especially with dialog, and a complete understanding of the mechanics of grammar. You need to be able to take your work apart and put it together again like a motor mechanic.
When you’re writing, don’t look at the page in front of you (or the screen, these days.) Be there. Feel the wind on your back and hear the noises all around you. Take your characters by the hand so that you can physically feel them. And never be scared to say anything. Ever.
Several times, I have purposely taken my work beyond the boundaries of accepted taste. I suppose it started with my novel Ritual, which was a jolly story about gourmet cannibals.
The Celestines were a religious sect who believed that they would eventually get to see God by devouring their own bodies. They kidnap the son of our hero, who rather appropriately happens to be a restaurant critic, and in his attempt to rescue the boy, the critic joins the sect. To be accepted by them, though, he has to show that he is prepared to consume part of himself. He cuts off his own finger, fries it and eats it.
Other stories that have gone right to the edge and over include the notorious Eric the Pie, which was the cover story for the first issue of Frighteners magazine, and was considered to be so disgusting by WH Smith that they banned it from their retail outlets, leading to the magazine’s very sad demise after only two issues. You can read Eric in the fiction section of my website www.grahammasterton.co.uk and make up your own mind.
Eric recently reappeared in a chapbook called Tales Too Extreme For Cemetery Dance. Cemetery Dance also published a chapbook called Sepsis which I deliberately wrote to go right to the limit of what readers could swallow. A story called Epiphany was sadly but understandably dropped by my publisher from my recent collection of short stories Festival of Fear (Severn House) because of its sexual content.
I have a new extreme story coming out in Figures of Fear next year, called Beholder. If you can stomach Beholder you can stomach anything. All I’m going to say at the moment is that it’s about eyes.
A favourite device of mine is to make ancient and mythic
But again, I don’t consider this to be “horror” fiction. It’s just stories as stories have always been told. Stories to make you think who you are. Stories to help you to come to terms with your mortality. All of us who are alive at the moment are like a city, with its millions of lights sparkling in the night. One by one, though, the lights are extinguished, and then there is nothing but darkness. There lies the horror.
Three favourite books:
I don’t read horror novels so I am hard-put to nominate three of my favourites. My three all-time favourite novels are THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM by Nelson Algren which is pretty gritty stuff; THE CAINE MUTINY by Herman Wouk, which has one of the subtlest turn-arounds of character sympathy that I have ever read; and THE PROCESS by Bryon Gysin the exquisitely-written story of a black professor crossing the Sahara.
After my late wife Wiescka and I spent five years in Cork, in southern Ireland, I turned to crime writing with WHITE BONES about Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire of An Garda Siochána, the Irish police. It has recently become a Kindle bestseller and a second Katie Maguire novel BROKEN ANGELS is due out in September.
Meanwhile a ghost thriller COMMUNITY will be published on May 31, and a further ghost thriller FOREST GHOST is due out either later this year or early 2014. A new disaster novel DROUGHT is also set for publication this year, following my earlier disaster novels PLAGUE and FAMINE.
GARDEN OF EVIL, a new horror novel featuring college teacher Jim Rook came out a few months ago, and I am working on a new idea for Jim. I have also been commissioned to write two more Katie Maguire novels and a horror/disaster/ thriller novel called INFECTION.
A new collection of short stories FIGURES OF FEAR is due out in 2014.