See what I did there? I cheated, I went for the plural rather than the singular and expect Big Jim to cuff me around the lughole for the temerity of it… but really it’s just gonna be about the one book, but there are a few I want to touch on in passing before I get to the ‘big one’ – so pop pickers… I’m gonna cheat. You knew I would… Right, so, the portrait of the writer as a young man, just rediscovering the joy of reading. My folks had gone away for a couple of weeks over the summer, I had the house to myself, and I blew most of the money mum left me for food on books. Yeah, err, feed the mind and invent a brand new horror-and-fantasy driven diet. I could probably talk about Mort, by Terry Pratchett, which just completely changed my ideas of storytelling, or could pick any of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion novels. I read them one-a-night for the six weeks around my finals at uni, doing anything other than study. Then there’s Stephen Lawhead’s Paradise War books, which caused me to write the most incredible series of fan letters to Stephen discussing how we could (or couldn’t) see the workings of God in the world around us, and if it was possible that He might reach out to us through a medium we could understand, like, say, a favourite novel. There was a slew of young British novelists, Stephen Laws, whose novel Frighteners still stands out as one of my favourites of all time, Mark Morris, Stephen Gallagher, Steve Harris, all building on an excitement that seemed to be swelling in the genre at the time. And then there was Clive Barker, who has already been named by several of the writers here as the writer of the book that made them. Weaveworld was the book that made me realise I wanted to be a writer.
Cabal made me understand that even a short book could have a lot to say, and the sprawling epic of The Art made me understand there was magic in the every day.
But I don’t want to talk about any of these. I don’t even want to talk about Jonathan Carroll, who I’d put down on my list of favourite writers of all time because of the body of work over any actual singular novel, though Bones of the Moon and Child Across the Sky were perception shifters for me, and Sleeping in Flame still makes it onto my desert island list.
Nope, none of them. A post went up on Facebook about an hour ago which has changed everything I wanted to say and crystalised my thoughts into everything I need to say about the book that made me.
A Manhattan Ghost Story by T.M. Wright. The post?
"This is Roxane, Terry's wife. He won't be doing facebook any more. His health has become worse. He has been dealing with dementia the past two years and it's become worse. I will try to deal with it as much as I can, but he doesn't have much sense of what is taking place with the net or facebook. I am looking for a care facility for him. Thank you all for all your support. You've all been so kind and generous with your thoughts and prayers."
I read those lines and I couldn’t think. I mean brain lost the power to connect thoughts together. I was lucky. We’re talking bucket-list lucky. Terry did the introduction for my serial novel published by Apex Digest, saying some incredibly generous things I couldn’t possibly live up to. I came to know him in part because of a messageboard, Shocklines, where we both posted, but it wasn’t until I tried to explain how I had a shelf with maybe a dozen books on it that shaped me as a writer, and how A Manhattan Ghost Story was the first book to go up on it, that we really began talking. I was a complete fanboy. I don’t mind admitting it.
I had been browsing the old Waterstones in Grey’s Monument, in Newcastle, where I fed my addiction. Normally it was for fantasy novels, but there was something about this cover that meant I kept coming back to it. It was an old Gollancz paperback, green tinged, with only a pair of eyes on it and two blurbs ‘A rare and blazing talent’ Stephen King, and ‘A Unique Imagination’ Dean R. Koontz. I couldn’t not buy it. First published in 1984, it’s a New York City ghost story. It’s not about the haunting of a single dilapidated house. It’s about an all-pervasive layer of eeriness that shrouds the living city. It is a love story long before Ghost came along to do its dead guy hot girl pottery class thing. It’s Abner Cray’s story. He’s a photographer who is slowly pulled over to the other side despite being very much alive.
A Manhattan Ghost Story resonates in so many cultural classics, too. I see dead people anyone? Abner is in Manhattan to work on an illustrated book of the city, but the guy who owns the apartment he is staying in has gone missing. The only link is Phyllis. In a classic case of boy meets girl, girl is totally not what boy was expecting, Abner falls for Phyllis only to discover his missing friend is actually wanted for her murder, which happened before the whole boy meets girl thing. There’s a wonderful disconnect to the novel that mirrors the ‘ghosts’ of our own cities, with Abner wandering the streets, seeing the disaffected souls hailing taxis, selling puppies on street corners, pushing baby carriages, unseen, or at least unnoticed by the world around them.
It isn’t a fast book filled with action of cheap thrills. There’s nothing overt, nothing horribly scary about either the novel or the premise, but it is beautiful.
It’s one of a few I’ve ever read I’ve put down wishing I’d written it. There’s a sheer downbeat power to the prose that is deeply affecting. Maybe it was the time of my life when I encountered it, but with Hollywood pumping out movies about The One I always found it rather brilliant to think that it’s possible the one waiting for me might have been there amongst the recently—and restless—dead waiting for her knight in not-so-shining armour to come along. What can I say? I’m strange. But I’m the kind of strange that Terry along with others made me with their words during those all-important days of growing up. How could I not be, when to believe in ghosts I needed to accept they were everywhere, not just a knocking in the attic? For there to be one there had to be thousands upon thousands, lining the streets, haunting the places where they died yesterday and yesterday and all those other yesterdays before. That was the kind of world he conjured, which had me running past the graveyard at night on the way home (because no one tells you they dig graves at night, do they? And how fucking scary is it to have a grave digger pop up out of a hole in the ground as you’re walking by?)
We are the sum of our parts.
Terry’s A Manhattan Ghost Story is one of the books that made me.
Steven Savile has written 20 books for various media properties including Doctor Who, Torchwood, Stargate, Warhammer, Slaine and Primeval. Shadow of the Jaguar, which was a #1 bestseller in the UK in 2008, and sold over half a million books worldwide. 2010 saw the release of his first non-fiction book, Fantastic TV, charting 50 years of science fiction television in the UK and US. He is the co-creator of Monster Town, recently bought by Sony Entertainment to develop for cable tv in the US (with Adam Fierro, Dexter, The Shield, 24, Walking Dead, as show-runner) and his novels have been translated into 9 languages, including German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Silver, his debut thriller, was released in January 2010 from Variance, in the US, It reached #2 on the e-book bestseller list of Amazon UK and spent over 100 days in the top 100, having sold 50,000 copies since Feb 1st 2011. Steve also wrote the storyline for Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 3. He has been runner up in the British fantasy award, and won the Writers of the Future Award and the Scribe Award for best Media Tie-In in 2010. His most recent novel, The Black Chalice, was released in March 2011.
Silver was written entirely in coffee shops across Europe. Yeah he’s THAT guy
Steve’s first ever story sales were to ‘lads mags’ in the UK. You’ll never find them. He used 12 different names.
His mum found the mags hidden under his bed and threw them out so Steve doesn’t have any copies of his first 12 stories. They were written back in the time of typewriters. Shudder. … and no, they weren’t porn stories. Mind out of the gutter, you. They were all horror stories.
Steve supports Tottenham Hotspur. What this means is if you look closely you’ll find obscure references to the boys from White Hart Lane hidden in his books.
Steve signed the Official Secrets Act in the UK when he worked for the Ministry of Defence
Steve has been escorted at gunpoint more than once. It’s less fun than it sounds.
Steve has a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and a Master of Philosophy in Comparative Religions. He dropped out of a PhD in English when he emigrated to Sweden.
Steve has worked as a teacher, a burglar alarm salesman (for a day), a double glazing salesman (for a day), an auditor for a building company (managed a few weeks until he found out one of the partners was embezzling from the firm), in a fish factory (again for a day – there’s a pattern here, can you see it?), and had various local Government jobs before becoming a full time writer.
Steve wrote one of the competitive tenders read before the House of Parliament during the rationalisation of the Navy. They all lost their jobs. Coincidence?
In 2003, Kevin J Anderson burned Steve’s story. In an open fire. Stranded in a cabin. He claims it was a matter of survival.
A Manhattan Ghost Story
Do you see ghosts? Photographer Abner Cray arrives in Manhattan to begin work on an illustrated book of the city. However he finds that Art, the owner of the flat he is staying in, has gone missing, leaving behind a beguiling and sensuous young lady called Phyllis Pellaprat to whom he's instantly attracted. Soon Abner is deeply involved with Phyllis and is wholly unprepared for the revelation that Art is actually wanted for her murder - an event which took place some time earlier. When Phyllis disappears, Abner wanders the streets, and he sees what appear to be disaffected and strangly acting people everywhere - hailing taxis, selling puppies on street corners, pushing baby carriages, and he starts to suspect ... This classic novel was first published nearly twenty-five years ago: it's a hypnotic, spooky page-turner that is by turns a terrifying slide into madness and an effective love story. "T M Wright is a rare and blazing talent." Stephen King "Wright convincingly proves that he understands, as few do, how to give a scare without spilling blood all over the page." Publishers Weekly "T M Wright is the best ghost story writer alive today." American Fantasy Magazine
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