My old mum always said, and I’ve always believed her, “there’s no such thing as a freebie….” And it’s a philosophy which has generally held me in good stead down the years. However, today my mum and I are happy to eat humble pie, as I’ve just digested a juicy literary freebie which really has no catches. Being a long-term reader and admirer of Adam Nevill it was a privilege to pen some thoughts on “Cries from the Crypt: Selected Writings” for the Ginger Nuts of Horror. Adam is seven novels into a highly distinguished career of writing supernatural horror, with book eight “Under a Watchful Eye” due early next year.
I discovered Nevill in 2010 when I was particularly taken by his second novel “Apartment 16” and after tracking down his debut “Banquet for the Damned” have read all his subsequent novels immediately after publication. Reading a Nevill novel is most definitely an event for me. Being a life-long reader (not just of horror) I have a decent sized bank of authors with whom I always look forward to releasing something new which will force me to pull down the shutters and devour immediately. So Nevill keeps good company with Scott Sigler, Ian Rankin, Stephen King, Ian McEwan, C J Sansom and a few other big beasts.
So “Cries from the Crypt” really is a freebie and has no strings attached, so grab it whilst Adam is still feeling generous. And what’s really nice about it, is that it’s primarily for his fans and we’re obviously the punters who are going to enjoy it most. The 21 chapters give a wide-ranging insight behind the curtains of a truly creative writer, who is first and foremost a wonderfully knowledgeable reader of fiction himself and a great student of the horror genre and all the side-roads that encompasses. Anybody who is in the early stages of their journey into horror will find the various interviews packed with great author recommendations and insights into his inspirations, his writing process and habits. Many of his recommendations go well beyond horror and highlight the importance of reading James Joyce as a teenager to his admiration of cult writers such Charles Bukowski, and Bukowski’s hero, John Fante. Like Adam, I wholeheartedly recommend everything from Buk’ and Fante.
If you’re a budding writer (not necessarily horror) various articles give lots of sound advice about publishing, editing, agents and to be frank: how tough it is to get started in the writing world. Adam struggled for years before “Apartment 16” was a surprise hit and lesser mortals may well just have given up. You really get the sense of the struggle through the various articles. But horror was in his blood and he kept chugging on as he believed in what he was doing. He advises writing courses and even finding a mentor in someone further down the literary highway than yourself to help you along. Some of pieces on editing are really fascinating. I enjoyed the notes on Adam’s thought process on why various sections which were cut from novels and the reasons why are often just as interesting as the new text itself, coupled with the side-notes on literary disagreements with editors. There was even a mention (but not included) of an alternative ending to “The Lost Girl” which was considered way too bleak to use. I’d love to read that by the way…. Many of the older interviews come from online horror websites which no longer exist and are very detailed.
I was really taken by the forays into the wider world of horror, there was a great piece on why seeing “The Omen” when he was twelve had such a huge impact on him as a young horror fan, particularly the kill set-pieces. Being roughly the same age, and watching the same films as a boy, I could completely identify with that. For me it was seeing “The Howling” which did the exact same thing. I will never forget the scene when the werewolf carefully picks the journalist off her feet and almost gently bites into her neck and the shot cuts to her jerking feet. That’s why I love horror, some stuff you never forget. Along the way you’ll read about wider interests such as True Detective, Paranormal Activity, the importance of ‘Hannibal Lector’ to the world of horror and his opinions on sub-genres like extreme horror. Lots of ‘usual suspects’ from the horror world are mentioned here and there across the text, Bill Hussey, Joseph D’Lacey, Alden Bell and many other horror writers Adam respects and enjoys.
The book opens and closes with two short stories, the first “Little Mag’s Barrow” has some leanings towards his novel “The House of Small Shadows” and the final story “Estrus” was in some ways quite a funny story which will strike a chord to all of us who have had flat or housemates who spent ages in the toilet, especially when you were busting to go or had to get to work. These are good tasters for his first full collection of short stories “Before You Sleep” which should be out in hardback for Halloween. Adam is releasing this limited edition book through his own publishing company ‘Ritual Limited’ and more can be found out about this from his website or Facebook page. You can pick up three of the stories for free in the same way as you can this collection. He has a great Facebook page, never bombards you with stuff, but often gives great and knowledgeable book recommendations and well thought insights into the wider world of horror. The discussions are usually populated by very knowledgeable horror fans, nobody knows everything, so they’re great for recommendations. There is even the odd cute picture of his daughter thrown in.
The book is roughly chronological and because I read his novels that way I read this collection the same way. However, it’s an easy collection to dip into, you should treat it like a (free) box of chocolates and read it in any order you fancy. As the articles cover quite a long time period it’s interesting to pick up major influences, as they’re mentioned often, such as Shirley Jackson, and to feel the excitement of when a new author begins to shake the horror tree. If you haven’t read any of his novels, watch out for the odd spoiler which does crop up occasionally. To be honest, if you haven’t read any of his novels I would try them before reading this and it’s up to you where you want to start, he hasn’t written a duff book and it all comes down to personal taste. In no particular order my three favourites are “Last Days”, “No One Gets Out Of Here Alive” and “The Lost Girl”. Because I had read these books more recently the deleted scenes held much more interest for me.
The essay “Apocalypse Right Now” which focused on the environmental crisis which is the crucial setting of “The Lost Girl” was a fascinating read. Nevill discusses how he wanted to write about the “pre-collapse” which leads to the apocalypse, rather than the end itself and it is in this world that the man searches for his daughter in “The Lost Girl” which was a truly tremendous novel. Perhaps JG Ballard kicked off what we now all ‘Cli-Fi’ with his “Drowned World” in the early 1960s, but Nevill’s unbelievably realistic version of the collapse is unforgettable and by reading this essay you’ll realise how much environmental research went into it. Maybe we’ll see more books about the ‘pre-collapse’ as it’s a fascinating literary area to explore.
Lots of things made my smile in this book. Apparently Nevill wrote to the Scotsman newspaper and the journalist in particular who reviewed “The Ritual” who then mixed up the different sub-genres of heavy metal music, something which was important to get right in “The Ritual”. I also laughed when Adam tried to run a mile after being asked to lead a writing course, there’s nothing worse than being taken out of your comfort zone! Funnily enough this novel is set in a remote Swedish forest, as it happens my wife is Swedish and so I have seen my fair share of Swedish forests over the years and whenever I am in one I cannot help but think of this novel.
Budding writers should get so much good advice from this, from simple stuff like don’t give up, to keep editing until you really are happy. I think, across the various articles, Adam is very realistic and states that few horror writers get rich. Sure, there have been periods when a few authors have done very well, but the 1980s blockbuster days of King and Herbert are long gone and may never return. The articles answer questions I’ve often thought about myself, what did Adam really think about the Guardian quote “Britain’s answer to Stephen King” and discusses the “break-out” novel which once in a while a horror writer gets. What will be the next one? Your guess is as good as mine.
Adam says of King: “He’s the head of the family, the Lucifer, and we’re the winged minions trying to get airborne…” Well Adam is certainly airborne these days, swooping and diving somewhere over the south coast. “Cries from the Crypt” should be seen as a trip into the brain of a really great writer and I picked up countless nuggets to mull over and I’m sure many others will also. The gold standard of literary memoirs is without doubt Stephen King’s “On Writing: a Memory of the Craft” which is really a memoir of SK’s writing and just as important what he reads, and he reads a lot. You’ll get the same impression from this collection of extracts of Adam. He reads as much as King and is as knowledgeable of “the craft” as anyone you’ll meet and to paraphrase what both authors say: to write well you have to read first and foremost!