Horror legend Ramsey Campbell discusses his new trilogy.

INTERVIEW WITH RAMSEY CAMPBELL

by Gary Fry

 

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There are some things in life that are simply too good to miss. This is one of them—THE SEARCHING DEAD, Volume 1 of THE THREE BIRTHS OF DAOLOTH. I envy you for the journey you are about to take. Kind of!

www.pspublishing.co.uk 


 

 

Gary: I was delighted to recently review The Searching Dead [LINK] and made no secret of the fact that I consider it one of your finest, most intimate works, not least because it appears to draw on aspects of your childhood. I hope we can explore these autobiographical strands below, but first could you tell me a little about the novel – the first part of a trilogy called The Three Births of Daoloth, of course – and its genesis?

Ramsey: Since around the turn of the century I’ve been returning to my oldest themes in an attempt to do better by them. The Darkest Part of the Woods, for instance, revives Lovecraft’s unused idea on which I based “The Insects from Shaggai” back in 1962, because I believe I ruined it in that tale and wanted to recapture if I could the evocativeness of Lovecraft’s transcribed dream. More recently my good old friend Pete Crowther suggested that I might write a Mythos novella (Brichester Mythos, that is, which of course is a pale shadow of Lovecraft’s) set in a Northern coastal town, and The Last Revelation of Gla’aki – in which I tried to make more sense of some of the notions in “The Inhabitant of the Lake” and perhaps capture a little more of a sense of the cosmic – was the result. After that he gently persuaded me to attempt a horror trilogy. Now, I won’t write in a particular form unless there’s an actual reason to use that form, and so it took me years to see a reason for this one – the fact that the three volumes span several decades, with some of those separating each pair of books. It’s also yet another bid for cosmic terror, in the hope that I’ve learned enough by now to achieve at least a little. That’s my persistent ambition, and I can only hope to bring it off.

Gary: I’m certainly keen to see how it develops. Let me ask about challenges involved in writing a trilogy of novels. You’ve often said that your best material comes when you don’t follow a plot, but I wonder whether such an ambitious undertaking required a different approach. For instance, if I were writing something similar, I’d worry that developments further down the line might conflict with earlier, already published material. How did you address this issue?

Ramsey: I fear you’ve answered your own question, Gary. I worry, except when I’m panicking. I did consider not publishing any of the trilogy until I’d completed the final drafts of all three volumes, but we decided to go ahead with the first one, and so I’m committed to seeing them into print as they’re finished. I’m just hoping that my subconscious has had enough sense of the entire structure and its developments that I won’t find I’ve made any massive errors that need to be addressed somehow. At the time of writing I’ve done the first draft of the second volume, Born to the Dark, and am amassing material for the third, which I’ll start writing as soon as the second is rewritten. Right now I do have a reasonable sense of where I’m going, though that will pretty inevitably change in the course of actually writing.

Gary: Sounds daunting. Good luck! Stephen King says something interesting about The Shining, how, while writing it, he hadn’t realised how much it related to his own life. To what extent were you conscious of drawing upon what appear to be autobiographical memories while writing The Searching Dead?

Ramsey: It’s actually not as specifically autobiographical as you might think. I’ve sometimes had the experience Steve cites – I give you my word that I didn’t realise how many of my childhood experiences “The Chimney” drew on until years after the story was published – but in The Searching Dead I’ve tried to place such elements at a conscious distance or write variations on them, though certainly not to rob them of truth. So the staff of the Holy Ghost school are almost entirely invented (although they paraded out of my mind in the course of a single morning here at my desk), except for the Latin master, who is a bit like one I had. Dominic’s loss of faith is a lot closer to the one I experienced in my adolescence, and his reasons are quite like mine, but I haven’t given him specific incidents from my past. The dentist is all too real, though. I still remember him from my early teens, and that paragraph is very accurate (though I left out his habit of playing Gilbert and Sullivan over the speakers in the waiting-room).

Gary: And how about the experiences of becoming a writer that Dominic goes through? To me, these felt hugely familiar – that sense of self-consciousness, being eager to please, and assimilating what one has learnt from favourite new writers. Was this how it went for you?

Ramsey: Pretty much, though my trajectory at school was different. In my first year at the Christian Brothers grammar school the English master encouraged me to read my tales to the class and then to submit to the school magazine, though my submission wasn’t as ill-received as Dominic’s – the editor, who wasn’t a fan of the ghostly, simply changed a word at the end of my tale to do away with the supernatural. But certainly trying to learn from (or at least imitate) favourites was my way back then – Arthur Machen to begin with and then John Dickson Carr before Lovecraft gave me my crucial focus.

Gary: It’s interesting that you mention Machen, because I detected in your novel strands of “The Great God Pan”, which was an influence on another you admire, King’s Revival. It’s clear from your ‘mission statement’ that you’re situating the trilogy in Lovecraft’s arena, but I wondered if, while documenting Christian Noble’s dark activities, the great Welshman figured in your thinking, too?

Ramsey: Not so consciously here as he certainly did in The Kind Folk (not to mention “The Place of Revelation”). But I do see that the more mystical elements I’m trying to rediscover in the trilogy lead us back through Lovecraft (where that kind of vision is more prevalent than is often acknowledged, for instance in the quote from the Necronomicon in “The Dunwich Horror” and much of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) to Machen. Come to think, “The Dunwich Horror” itself explicitly acknowledges Machen. In my trilogy I think this element is an aspect of my latest bid to reach for cosmic terror.

Gary: The attempt to achieve cosmic terror is one to which you’ve returned repeatedly during your career. Why, among your other achievements – including psychogeography, exploring abnormal states of mind, and the comedy of paranoia – does this ambition remain important to you, and how do you hope the trilogy will fulfil it?

Ramsey: Because I think it’s the highest aspiration of the field – a sense of awe that can border on the numinous, or more precisely a dark version of that experience. I find it in the best of Lovecraft and in tales such as “The Willows”, for instance. Perhaps it’s precisely its indefinability that both lends it power and makes me want to achieve it, but as to how I hope to do so – well, I can only trust my instincts and urge them not to let me down.

Gary: Okay, let’s return specifically to The Searching Dead. On the first page your narrator writes, “I might have noticed more if I hadn’t been preoccupied with the changes taking place in my own small world.” Unlike for Lovecraft, aspects of character and its socio-historical setting matter to you. How did you go about rendering the mores of 1950s Liverpool so rich?

Ramsey: Ah, many of those are autographical in at least a general sense. Certainly I tried to draw on my memories as much as possible for telling details (the kind I find so evocative in Graham Greene). Tony Snell (one of the Radio Merseyside presenters) happened to refer on the air to his own memories of starting a new school, and those opened a whole cache of mine. I’m a great believer in happy accidents when I’m writing, and catching his broadcast was certainly one.

Gary: I was also struck by the importance of fiction to your characters, the way it shaped identities as they mimicked film stars’ mannerisms and interpreted their activities through stories. Among so many other influences examined in The Searching Dead – especially religion, politics, and science – how important do you feel fiction is in terms of constructing such realities?

Ramsey: Well, you know me – I’m not going to start ranting about the dangers of imitating fiction or more precisely accusing fiction of being dangerous. But I do recognise that we derive parts of our identities from what we read and watch, so that (for instance) most British folk are to some extent American, perhaps especially when we’re young. Elements of us are composed of bits of films and books and (probably popular) songs, not even necessarily our favourites. I think I’ve also addressed the gap between fictional depictions and reality quite often in my tales, which brings us all the way back to the recurring theme of how what’s perceived differs from what’s real.

Gary: It’s also interesting to reflect on the influences of different fictional forms on your work. For instance, one of my favourite moments in The Searching Dead – not to spoil it for readers, but I’m thinking of the frightening cinema bathroom scene – would be very difficult to film effectively. Despite your love of film, do you aspire to achieve the kind of effects that only prose can do well?

Ramsey: Absolutely, Gary. One of the aspects of horror fiction at its best that greatly appeals to me is how it conveys the uncanny, the terrifying, the disturbing or whichever quality it’s communicating through the selection of language. In Lovecraft this involves paragraphs that are very formally constructed, for instance, while in M. R. James the moment of terror is often embedded within the paragraph and all the more powerful for lying in wait in the prose. I think many of the most memorable moments in prose horror fiction depend on the use of the perfect word or phrase, which can’t be transferred to the visual or other media. Sometimes, of course (as in the unforgettable line about holding hands in Hill House), it can.

Gary: There are certainly scenes in The Searching Dead – the voice in the house (“Leave me dead.”), the visit to France, the scene under the church – which exemplify this quality. I’d envy those yet to read it if I didn’t realise there were two volumes to come. I know you don’t like talking about unfinished projects, but can you give any hint about the content of at least the next one, Born to the Dark?

Ramsey: We’re now in 1985. Dominic works as a lecturer on film and is married with a young son. The boy suffers from a rare but apparently increasingly common medical condition, which seems to be a kind of nocturnal seizure. He’s being treated for it, but Dominic is increasingly disturbed by the boy’s tales of his dreams, if that’s all they are. Soon he begins to suspect that Christian Noble’s influence has returned in a new and insidious form…

Gary: Sounds terrific. I can’t remember when I looked forward to a new book more. Here’s to autumn 2017! Thanks for your time, Ramsey, and all the best with the trilogy. The Three Births of Daoloth looks set to become a considerable work of weird fiction.

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Gary Fry

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Gary Fry and Ramsey Campbell

 

Keith Miller shares his vision of a fallen angel

 

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When literary and detective agent George Zacharias finds a fallen angel on a Cairo street, his first thought is profit. Zacharias and his sidekick, Tomo, hide the angel as they try to figure out who she is and where she came from. However, they soon find themselves pursued by sinister forces.

Terrified, the hapless detectives flee with their catch, first to the city’s seedy underbelly, then into the desert, where they take refuge in a hidden monastery. There is no escape from their pursuer, however, for he is Lucien Yaldabaoth, the prince of darkness. As Zacharias slowly pieces together the angel’s story and uncovers Yaldabaoth’s nefarious purposes, he realizes there is more at stake than he had imagined.

Read the first chapter on Keith’s website.


 

“Written in a terse, noir style, the evocative mix of the mundane and the fabulous has a dreamlike quality.”

Publisher’s Weekly

“Miller is a true sorcerer . . . This novel will hold you under a fantastic spell.”

Christopher Barzak

“A quirky, mysterious, lovely and slightly dark detective novel.”

Amazon Vine

 “A masterful fusion of literary modes and the mark of a great talent. Miller wields his pen like no one else.”

Simon Strantzas


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Keith Miller

In 1999, after three years in southern Sudan, my wife and I moved to Egypt. Soon after we arrived, I picked up E. M. Forster’s Alexandria: A History and a Guide, which has been called the best guidebook ever written. It deftly melds the mythology and history of the city with modern-day landmarks. In the opening pages, Forster gives a brief synopsis of the Gnostic cosmogony, discussing the demiurge and Sophia, the last of the fallen angels. Reading his overview, I had a vision of a fallen angel on a Cairo sidewalk, and knew I would write her story one day.

Seven years later, the notion of a literary and detective agent came to me, and dovetailed with the earlier vision of the fallen angel. In the meantime, I’d discovered the Nag Hammadi texts and had delved deeper into Gnosticism, and realized I could fruitfully bring that knowledge to bear on the tale of Sophia and my blundering detective, George Zacharias. The book was started in Beni Suef in Upper Egypt, completed in Madison, Wisconsin, and polished in Ventura, California.

One of the great pleasures I had while working on this book was the discovery of Gustav Davidson’s A Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels, an immensely rich and comprehensively researched text. I knew little about angels and their hierarchies when I started out, and Davidson’s book provided the background I needed to create a solid structure. I’ll leave off with the following passage from Davidson’s alluring introduction:

“Without committing myself religiously I could conceive of the possibility of there being, in dimensions and worlds other than our own, powers and intelligences outside our present apprehension, and in this sense angels are not to be ruled out as a part of reality—always remembering that we create what we believe. Indeed, I am prepared to say that if enough of us believe in angels, then angels exist…”


 

Keith Miller

Keith Miller

Keith Miller was born in Tanzania, and has spent most of his life in East and North Africa. He is the author of two other novels, THE BOOK OF FLYING and THE BOOK ON FIRE , as well as a translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s THE ILLUMINATIONS.

He is married to writer Sofia Samatar. They have two children. Visit his website at millerworlds.com.

 

 

Matthew Hughes discusses his new novel A WIZARD’S HENCHMAN

Matthew Hughes, the mastermind behind the Archonate universe, spills the beans about A Wizard’s Henchman. The universe of Archonate features in the majority of Matt’s fantasy fiction – an interstellar civilization whose
scientific foundations are about to be overturned by the dawn of an age of magic.

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For quite a few years now, I’ve been imagining a far-future civilization called the Ten Thousand Worlds, which occupies an arm of the galaxy known as The Spray. The time I’ve been writing about is just before the universe suddenly and arbitrarily shifts from a basis of rational cause-and-effect to a new regime based on magic. When that happens, technological civilization will collapse and the age of The Dying Earth will dawn, with its grim thaumaturges, haunted ruins, and louche decadence.

Whether they live on grand old, long-settled worlds or strange little planets in odd corners, virtually none of The Spray’s multitude of inhabitants knows that disaster impends. A handful do, and they are preparing for the great change.

Until now, I’ve written only about the handful and I’ve always taken the overarching story just to the point where the cataclysm is about to break upon the Ten Thousand Worlds. In A Wizard’s Henchman, for the first time, I go all the way.

So the story starts out as hardboiled space opera and transmutes into dark fantasy, from a universe of intelligent space ships to a realm of dragons and demons.

I’ll be interested to see how it’s received.                                   Matthew Hughes

Click here to read an excerpt of A Wizard’s Henchman, and be sure to check out Matt’s website! You can order an unsigned jacketed hardcover from our website, a signed numbered edition limited to 100 copies is also available.

 

FSCN0582Matt writes both fantasy and suspense fiction. To keep the two genres separate, he uses his full name, Matthew Hughes, for fantasy, and Matt Hughes for crime.

He’s won the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, and has been shortlisted for the Aurora, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Endeavour, A.E. Van Vogt, and Derringer Awards.

Deborah Biancotti talks about WAKING IN WINTER

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Deborah Biancotti’s WAKING IN WINTER novella was published in February, and Deb has taken some time out to answer a few questions about her work. Go here and see the author her very own self fessin’ up.

And just in case you’d forgotten (shame on you if you have), here’s a reminder:

On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.

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Deborah is the author of two short story collections, BAD POWER and A BOOK OF ENDINGS. She is the co-author of the Zeroes series, along with Scott Westerfeld and Margo Lanagan. Her work has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award and the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Book, as well as the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.

You can find her online at deborahbiancotti.com

Interview with Tim Powers

AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM POWERS
By Nick Gevers

Tim Powers

Tim Powers

Tim Powers, the author of such classics of dark fantasy as The Anubis Gates (1983), On Stranger Tides (1987), The Stress of Her Regard (1989), Last Call (1992), and Declare (2000), is a master practitioner of the Secret History. His vastly complex novels–set in intensely realised locations both historical and present day, riddled with skeins of occult conspiracy, and featuring protagonists whose involvement with the supernatural follows a dark perverse logic chillingly threatening to body and soul—are consistently superb, as are his occasional short stories and novellas. After the Victorian milieu of Hide Me Among the Graves (2012), Powers’s latest novel, Medusa’s Web, published in the USA by William Morrow and in the UK by Corvus, returns to the contemporary California of such books as Three Days to Never (2006).

I interviewed Tim Powers by email in January 2016.


NICK GEVERS: In your new novel, Medusa’s Web, you set out a very interesting and mesmerizingly complex Medusas-Web-by-Tim-Powersmetaphysical scheme, of spider images that draw human minds up and down the corridors of time. What first suggested this scenario to you?

TIM POWERS: I thought it would be fun to play around with two-dimensional adversaries after reading Cordwainer Smith’s short story, “The Game of Rat and Dragon.” I decided that since such creatures would be dimensionally handicapped by definition, why not have them be fourth-dimensionally handicapped too? I.e. they don’t perceive time, and therefore every encounter these creatures have with humans is, from the creature’s point of view, the same event. So by riding along on the point of view of one of them, you can briefly inhabit whatever other encounters it’s had with humans, regardless of when those encounters happened or will happen.

This seemed like an opportunity for lots of dramatic developments, and even one very intriguing paradox for our protagonist to blunder through.

NICK GEVERS: The central characters in Medusa’s Web, the four Maddens, are all rather short of money—having the crumbling mansion, Caveat, in the family at most adds a measure of shabby gentility. Is Medusa’s Web, like some of your earlier novels, on one level about the Matter of California, the state’s present parched and financially stressed condition?

TIM POWERS: Well I wasn’t consciously thinking of that–but certainly the story uses California as it now is, so yes, that would have been a factor! And I hope the story also conveys my love of Los Angeles, in spite of all the city’s admitted defects. Anybody can fall in love with San Francisco or New Orleans in an hour, but L.A. needs more acquaintance.

NICK GEVERS: Your love of L.A. is very clear in Medusa’s Web: characters drive around in the city a good deal and you depict a lot of the urban geography. “Admitted defects” and all, what makes Los Angeles such an effective setting for complex stories of the fantastic like yours?

TIM POWERS: Unlike New York, San Francisco or New Orleans, L.A. is spread out–there’s long stretches of coastline, and nearly inaccessible twisting lanes and mysterious houses in all the many hills, and everywhere sites where classic movies were shot, and palatial old Art Deco buildings surviving among the newer glass and steel towers–all baking in the sun and interconnected by hundreds of miles of freeway. And unlike Rome or London or Paris, its history is comprehensible–two hundred years ago there was virtually nothing there. There’s a faint whiff of “imaginary” about the whole place.

NICK GEVERS: Those L.A. buildings you mention . . . Caveat, the well-named decaying mansion in Medusa’s Web, haunted (literally) by past eras: is it based on any particular building you’ve encountered? L.A. seems to feature many such architectural relics past their sell-by dates, ghosts in wood, brick, plaster, and stone . . .

TIM POWERS: Caveat is a composite of a couple of places in the Hollywood Hills, and yes, if you know where to look, there are lots of architectural relics in L.A.–often out of the well-travelled routes, or built-over, or cul-de-sac’d away behind the newer towers. Sometimes it’s a bricked-up balcony window in an old building that used to be a theater and is now an ethnic market, or set of steps that now lead nowhere but to a parking lot, but used to be the entry to some fabulous nightclub where Mabel Normand and Buster Keaton hung out. With a bit of imagination, the old stuff can almost eclipse the modern city!

NICK GEVERS: In the novel, Madeline Madden looks back very fondly on the early days of Hollywood, when Los Angeles was young and full of hopeful potential. “Spider visions” allow some of the characters in Medusa’s Web to visit the Hollywood past. You obviously have love and respect for the silent movie era—you depict it very vividly—but do you feel it had a darker side too?

TIM POWERS: There was a peculiar innocence to that time in Hollywood, with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks entertaining visiting dignitaries at the Pickfair mansion, and the two of them and Charlie Chaplin merrily traveling around to sell war bonds–but there were drugs and alcohol and big money waiting in the wings, and they soon got busy wrecking everybody. William Desmond Taylor’s murder, and the framing of Roscoe Arbuckle for the Virginia Rappe death, pretty well ended the idyllic era!

NICK GEVERS: The cameo appearances of silent era Hollywood notables in Medusa’s Web, actors like Rudolf Valentino and Alla Nazimova, are beautifully executed. How did you set about weaving these real people, their actual biographies, into your intricate web of trans-temporal plotting?

TIM POWERS: Well the whole thing started, really, when I read that it took two priests to administer last rites to Valentino. That intrigued me, and so I read piles of stuff about him and the people associated with him, such as Natacha Rambova and Alla Nazimova–and as always, I was looking for inexplicable or apparently irrational behavior that could be explained by postulating a supernatural situation behind it all. And luckily they had such fascinating and crazy lives that there was no shortage of stuff to use! It was fun getting to know them better–initially I didn’t like Nazimova, but as I read more about her I came to admire her a lot, both for her iron ambition and for the way she could stoically roll with eventual failure and financial ruin.

NICK GEVERS: The Maddens’ recently-deceased Aunt Amity is very much a lingering presence in and around Caveat, making Medusa’s Web among other things a thrilling and amusing ghost story. Does Aunt Amity, in her obsessive, egotistical, manipulative way, like so many other ghosts in fiction symbolize the dead controlling hand of the past?

TIM POWERS: I guess so, yes! Nobody ever gets a really fresh, tabula rasa start—there’s always a litter of complications and obligations and restrictions left over from what has gone before, to get over. As Faulkner said, the past isn’t even past. But there’s nice sorts of past too, if you can get around the Aunt Amitys!

NICK GEVERS: Like many of your previous novels, Medusa’s Web involves characters whose artistic creativity is blocked or damaged by addiction—to alcohol or to rather more supernatural stimulation, like that provided by the spider visions. Scott Madden with his painting, Amity with her crime novels, Claimayne Madden with his poetry . . . Is this a danger all creative artists face, especially in Hollywood?

TIM POWERS: I don’t know that Hollywood is particularly susceptible to it, but artists do seem inclined to crash into addictions of one sort or another. I think the problem is that, at the beginning, the artificial aid really seems to help the work and not hinder the life–and then by the time it begins to wreck both, the idea of stopping is inconceivable. “They ride their cherished wreck down into darkness.” I imagine it happens to plumbers and lawyers as often as it happens to artists, but artists are more on display, and we’re more likely to miss the work they didn’t live to do.

NICK GEVERS: Medusa’s Web features some bravura action sequences—escapes on motorbikes, triple-sided confrontations with guns brandished—buttressed by hints of elaborate global conspiracies. There’s quite a lot of humor too. Why do supernatural thrillers work so well when garnished with a sense of the absurd?

TIM POWERS: There’s room, and even necessity, for a fair degree of absurdity when you’re writing supernatural adventures, especially if you’re trying to make them as “realistic” as possible–it’s not particularly grotesque when a gun misfires, but if an earnest ghost stumbles in an otherwise awesome apparition, for instance, it’s going to be at least potentially funny. When the otherworldly has to participate in this world, then accidents in the juxtaposition are going to be absurd.

But I hope I never overtly indicate that it might be funny! I don’t want to lose the numinous fact that this is, after all, the otherworldly intruding into here and now!

NICK GEVERS: There’s a love story at the core of Medusa’s Web, and that love deftly transforms an apparent villain into someone far more sympathetic. Would it be fair to say that in your novels true love is always arduously won?

TIM POWERS: Well sure! What fun would it be–in a novel, as opposed to real life!–if true love was easily won? It was fun to show the initial hostility, and then through stressful adventures break it down. And I do think that happy endings, achieved through horrifying adversity, are more fun than unhappy endings.

NICK GEVERS: What’s next for you? There has been mention of a novella rather strikingly titled Down and Out in Purgatory . . .

TIM POWERS: Down and Out in Purgatory is going to be published by Subterranean Press in June, I believe—it’s a 20,000 word novella about a guy whose cherished plans for vengeance hit a snag when he learns that his target has already died.

And I’m messing around with another novel—it’s to be set in L.A. again, though not connected to Medusa’s Web. After all, it’s a big city.