Johnny Mains' first short story The Spoon appeared in The Third Black Book of Horror Stories and featured popular spoon bender Uri Geller. This was followed by With Deepest Sympathy in The Fourth Black Book of Horror Stories which received favourable reviews.
Mains is a life-long fan of The Pan Book of Horror stories and created a fan site for the thirty book series. This in turn led him to release his first anthology as editor, Back From the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories, which features sixteen new stories and five reprints from the original series. Authors featured include such Pan luminaries as Basil Copper, Christopher Fowler and Nicholas Royle. The book was released through Mains' Noose and Gibbet imprint at the World Horror Convention in March 2010.
Hey Johnny how are things with you?
Things are rather tickety boo at the moment! Have just received my copies of BITE SIZED HORROR and it’s a fine looking book! Very chuffed with how it has turned out.
Could you tell the readers a bit about yourself?
Well...I’m a thirty five year old male with a love of black clothing and horror films from the seventies...
That aside, I’m Johnny Mains, live in Norwich, am married to Lou and have a dog called Biscuit. I run a very small publishing company, write the occasional short story, like to edit anthologies and am trying to amass one of the biggest private anthology collections that will ever be seen on the British Isle. It’s quite a mammoth task, but I’m doing well!
So who or what is a Noose Gibbet?
Noose and Gibbet Publishing is my very humble imprint that is dedicated to bringing out books inspired by everything I read as a teenager. Where did the name come from? Well, I’ll let you into a secret – I was halfway through editing BACK FROM THE DEAD when I started going through all of the stories in the series looking for a great name for the imprint, when I came across a story called THE GIBBET INN by Thomas Muirson (Ian C. Strachan) that was in the 21ST PAN BOOK OF HORROR STORIES. I toyed with The Gibbet Press, The Swinging Gibbet and Gibbet Books before I ended up with Noose and Gibbet Publishing. I designed the logo, then passed it along to my friend Jon Dixon to tidy up – and everything suddenly became a reality!
How exactly did a boy from Galashiels, become one of the custodians of horror? Seriously the horror genre owes you a huge debt?
The horror genre owes me no debt, but I shall always continue to pay it homage as long as it wants me to!
I left Galashiels at seventeen after four years of reading any horror anthology or novel I could get my hands on, then carved my own path through the world, living in Germany, France, Russia, Spain and Ireland for many years. Throughout this time I would read anything I could get my hands on, but in foreign climes they were few and far between to get a hold of, so when I did, they were treasured. When I came back to this country after five years in Ireland I was a mess, too many years of excess were catching up with me and I decided to just live slow and catch up with all of the books I felt I had neglected. Bit by bit, my love of horror came back, but it wasn’t until 2006 when I took my first tentative steps in trying to do what I now do.
What is it about The Pan Book of Horror that sparked such a passion?
Where do I start? Well, it all began when my dad bought me the 13th Pan Book of Horror Stories from a Blue Peter ‘Bring and Buy sale and I read John Ware’s SPINALONGA – and that truly began my love affair. I’ve bought and lost those 30 books many times now – but now I have two complete sets, one pristine set signed from books 4 – 30 and another set that I use for reading. The stories still enthral me, repulse me, scare the crap out of me, even to this day. It’s meant that I was able to get the first book in the series to be reprinted – and that was one of the best moments of my life (apart from my wedding day). Many years of hard work being paid off in that way, was just tremendous.
Can you remember what was the starting point for your love of horror? Mine was sneaking down one night as a kid and watching Taste The Blood of Dracula?
Apart from watching the odd late night horror film with my dad, I think the first time I really ‘got’ horror was at a very young age and the Ladybird adaptations of the horror classics, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde etc. There was also a Dracula related comic – can’t remember what it was now – but one of the lady vampires had her head chopped off – and her face, full of surprise – flew across half a page of the comic book. That left an impression!
Who are your genre heroes?
Conrad Hill, Harry E Turner, John Burke, Bram Stoker, Mary Danby, Nicholas Royle and Stephen King.
Not only are you helping to preserve the genre, you also set up the Johnny’s Japan Auction charity. You managed to get your hands on some amazing auction pieces, did you bid on any yourself?
The auction was brilliant and I was really chuffed with the way it turned out. I will hopefully be doing a massive Xmas auction nearer to the date... I did bid on one thing – a first edition of Mark Samuels’ THE WHITE HANDS – I wanted it so badly, but was outbid almost immediately!
How much money did you raise for Japan?
I raised over a grand – and that was always my target. So over the moon with it, and for it to go to such a great cause was brilliant. And also I am aware that my humble auction inspired the massive GENRE FOR JAPAN – which raised a staggering amount of cash. It shows how generous everyone in the genre is and I thank everyone for giving up their time, goods and cash to help both causes.
Publishing is a rewarding, but risky venture, why did you decide to set up Noose and Gibbet?
I’m a fan of the limited edition book as much as the next person, but I don’t want to charge silly money for them. As long as I can make the costs back on the books, I don’t care about making money for myself. Simple as. But I am committed to bringing out quality books. I will, in the future be bringing out Herbert van Thal’s collection and also Mary Danby’s debut collection – both very affordable, but hopefully very collectable.
Back from the Dead was your first publication through N&G, in it you have amassed a veritable who’s who of horror. How did you decide on who to include, and just how on earth did you get so many first class authors to submit?
I’ve done my research, interviewed many of the Pan Horror authors and became friends with a sizeable chunk of them. Sixteen authors agreed to write a new story for me and five gave me reprint rights on stories that appeared in the original series. They were all my literary idols – and still are. The book was only hard to put together in regards to the order of the tales – but Conrad Hill’s was always going to be the last one in the book – that was KNOCKOUT.
The book has sold out do you have any plans to release it in another format?
It has and I won’t. It’s important to me that it remains as it is – my first book as a professional – and full of the mistakes and hesitancies that comes with a project such as this. I’m so very proud of the book, and the van Thal biography at the end of the book is being reprinted...but I have no plans to re issue the anthology.
It’s been two years if I’m correct since you set up N&G, how have the past two years been? I imagine pretty frantic. How smooth has the journey been, did you fall foul of any pitfalls, and if you did what lessons did you learn?
I knew nothing when I started out, blagged a lot of favours and it blew me away when the book received as many favourable mentions as it did. I still wing it to this day – and I think I always will. I don’t want to know everything that’s involved in putting a book together – I want to go into it blind, it’s a lot more fun that way. And if I balls up? Well, it’s my money...
Your love of Pan Horror also lead you to get the very first Pan book of Horror reprinted with an article by yourself in it. How do think the genre has changed in the 52 years since it was first published? Do you think the genre has changed for the best?
It’s changed, for the better and the worse. It’s sad that the short story has all but died. Good news is that Stephen Jones’ BEST NEW HORROR is still going strong, but it’s the only book of its kind in the mainstream press, and the PAN HORROR’S may or may not enter that paddling pool. I was so chuffed that the Pan Horror was reprinted; I was able to persuade a massive publishing company that it was the right and honourable thing to do. I don’t think they’ve forgiven me yet...
I see you also had an article in the SFX Horror Special, I’m a subscriber to SFX, but seeing as the specials aren’t included in the subscription fees I never picked it up. So what was the article about, and how did you come to have it published in SFX?
It was a potted history on the Pan Horrors and I just cold called SFX and they happened to be putting a Horror Special together. The guy in charge, Ian Berriman doesn’t like me anymore. I tried to fight his corner once and may have, accidently slagged the magazine off (which I never meant – my mouth just runs sometimes). He’s never forgiven me for it. Which is fair enough. It’s a good article though.
How long is it until Bite Sized Horror is released? I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on a physical copy?
It’s out at the end of June. Either go to www.obversebooks.com or Amazon to get your copy!
The anthology is one hell of read (folks check out my review here). How much free reign did you have in selecting the stories for it?
I was given carte blanche with who I wanted and what stories went in. All of the stories I received were bloody marvellous and I think it is a damn fine anthology. I’m really proud of it and I hope it sells well. It deserves to.
Do you have a personal favourite?
Diplomacy dictates that they are all brilliant.
What would you say is the unique selling point of the anthology (I’ve really got to stop watching The Apprentice)
It’s punchy, quirky, emotive, horrific and thought provoking and it has stories by some top notch authors. What more do you want?
Is there any reason for the cover change? I really liked the original version
Ask the publishers!
Are you going to be working with Obverse books in the future?
We are in talks. If BSH sells well there are plans afoot for a very special book indeed. I think if it comes off, it has the makings of being a very good anthology. Many great, solid names lined up for it – and one or two of the synopsis for stories if it does go ahead sound astounding.
The last year has also seen the publication of you debut collection With Deepest Sympathy. How did you select the stories that appeared in it? How much of your time as a writer is in the book?
The stories that appeared in the book range from some of my very first stories ‘Jesus Wept’ and ‘Stour Bridge’ to some brand new ones written for the collection itself, ‘The Judge’s House’ and ‘Life Through a Lens’. It’s a book I’m incredibly proud of, Obverse took a punt on me which I shall always be thankful, and am looking forward to hopefully getting a second collection out in the future. Am working on a few stories just now, and they please me. I write less now that I used to. Maybe 10 hours a month now.
You’re currently working on a collection of stories by Mary Danby, why did you choose Mary for your second N&G publication?
It will be my third publication, the van Thal book will be coming out just before Mary’s. I’m so excited by Mary’s book though – collecting ALL of her short stories from the Armada Ghosts, Nightmares and Fontana Horrors, plus a brand new story from her. It’s a real landmark for Noose and Gibbet and about time that she was published. I feel real sorrow that she hasn’t been published before now, to be honest.
When can we expect to see the final product on the shelves?
Hopefully before September!
Do you have a dream author, that, if you could clear the rights, publish?
I’d love to publish the short stories of Adobe James (James Cardwell) – but his widow is a very difficult and awful woman to deal with. She treats his legacy of stories with contempt, and as much as that is horrible for me to say – it’s the truth.
What does the future hold for you?
I hope to publish three books next year, maybe fit in a collection of my own and am working on two novels. Watch a few films and add some nice books to the collection. And spend more time in the garden.