I could have chosen a lot of books for this, but I went with the one that probably did the most to shape the tone and voice of my own writing.
When I was a teenager in Sunderland, I used to frequent a huge used book shop in the city centre. The owner was something of an eccentric, and he always seemed to stock a great selection of horror books. At the time, I’d just started taking my writing seriously and was producing proper narrative stories rather than snippets or mood pieces. Like a lot of people my age, I was trying to write like Stephen King. But it didn’t work; King’s prose doesn’t sit well with the grubby back streets and industrial areas of a run-down northern English city.
Then I discovered Ramsey Campbell.
At that time, King’s brilliant book Danse Macabre was a bible to me. The reading list in the back was a godsend. It opened me up to all kinds of writers I’d never even heard of. Danse Macabre should probably be the subject of this piece – it was a doorway, an aperture to wonders. I think I’d read a couple of Campbell’s stories before, In Dark Terrors or some other anthology, but it was in King’s reading list that I came upon the title (and King’s comments on) Demons By Daylight. The title alone was enough to make me start hunting for the book – but I didn’t have to look far, because there it was on the shelf of my favourite used book shop. It was the Star original paperback edition, with the silly demon face. I grabbed it and took it to the counter to pay, and scurried off home to read it.
I think I finished the book that day. I couldn’t stop reading. The stories showed me what could be possible with horror fiction. It saw the boundaries, crossed them, and didn’t look back. Campbell took real people, real events, and made them terrifying. The settings were places I knew – Campbell’s Merseyside was not unlike my own home town. The End of a Summer’s Day, with its’ trip to the caves, left me reeling. The Franklyn Paragraphs by “Errol Undercliffe” scared me so much that I spent the next few weeks looking for “movements behind the scenes”. The Sentinels – particularly the ending of that story – affected me so much that I was unable to sleep. Concussion fucked with my head in a way that I didn’t understand until a few years later, when I tried LSD.
For me, those stories were more than horror. They covered every emotion: love, hate, despair, fear, hope, disappointment. They resonated within me, connected to events and experiences in my own life. I bought every book I could find with Campbell’s name on the cover. He became my favourite writer, and his voice was the one I heard at night, whispering inside my head when I couldn’t sleep. A friend and I even began to refer to certain places as being “Campbell Country” – empty schools long after dark, playing fields at midnight, desolate housing estates, quiet residential streets where there never seemed to be anyone around and the curtains were always closed over the grimy windows. It wasn’t long until I started writing about those places, those people, Campbell made me realise it was okay to write a story about the woman along the street, the waste ground on the corner, the row of garages that nobody ever opened, the unused stretch of railway line at the back of the house. It was okay to write about common misery.
Suddenly I’d found my voice.
I entered Campbell Country willingly, and I have not left it since.
Gary McMahon is the acclaimed author of nine novels and several short story collections. His latest releases are Beyond Here Lies Nothing (the third in the “Concrete Grove” series, published by Solaris) and Nightsiders (a novella published by DarkFuse) and his short fiction has been reprinted in various “Year’s Best” volumes.
Gary lives with his family in Yorkshire, where he trains in Shotokan karate and likes running in the rain.
If you are a fan of horror fiction, then you really need to get familiar with Gary's writing. He is one of the most exciting authors working today. If you want intelligent, heartfelt and emotional charged horror Gary is your man.
PURCHASE GARY'S BOOKS HERE
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