In a city so quick to honour it’s achievements in music and sport it’s perhaps understandable that the extraordinary contribution it has made to literature has been overlooked by the greater part of its population. RAMSEY CAMPBELL is perhaps the world’s most decorated horror writer, having won every major award in horror many times over, yet precious few Liverpudlians that I’ve spoken to had heard of him, let alone read one of his books. In horror, he stands like a colossus; to Stephen King, Alan Moore, Guillermo Del Toro, he’s a respected colleague. Amongst the people of Liverpool, Tom Slemen gets more recognition. Do the math.
This interview is not intended as an introduction, it’s Further Reading. For an introduction, read The Face That Must Die, or Creatures of the Pool. There is simply too much of Ramsey Campbell to fit into an easy-to-read introduction. Suffice to say, there is a universe of horror, a whole catalogue of texts set around the cities tunnels and bedsits, which construct a second side to Liverpool, in which hungry elementals cower in office block elevators and serial murderers stalk about in dirty raincoats. If you haven’t seen this side of the city, and you want to, you are in for a treat.
Bido Lito!: Do you think there is a lack of awareness of the sheer volume of great writers who were born around Merseyside?
Ramsey Campbell: I fear so, not least on Merseyside itself. Just this week I read this in the introduction to an anthology of Liverpool writing: ‘Merseyside has been best known, to date, for its poets and playwrights.’ I certainly wouldn’t denigrate either group — we have some fine examples of both — but all the same, it’s dispiriting that if you ask a Scouser to name local writers the chances are that they’ll list folk who write plays (almost certainly not the Shaffers) and films. Once again, their achievements are admirable, but try asking for the names of Merseyside writers who are famous for their books and you may well expect a blank look. In some ways I fear our City of Culture isn’t quite as cultured as it would like the world to think.
BL: You have said that you will always write in the horror field, and that you have never felt constrained by it; do you ever develop ideas for stories that do not live in your particular milieu?
RC: It’s more that my conception of the field embraces the ideas I get – almost all of them. (I’ve very occasionally written fantasy – not too bad – and science fiction – bad.) For instance, I wrote a comic novel about a serial killer (The Count of Eleven), which I regard as horror because it doesn’t stop being comic when it really should. (Mind you, we could say the same of Nabokov’s Lolita.) Secret Story is a comedy about extremes of creativity, and The Seven Days of Cain is (I think) a tragedy on a version of that theme. Not everyone might call them horror, but I do, and the field lets me talk about whatever engages my imagination. I’d say a lot of my recent stuff – The Grin of the Dark, Creatures of the Pool – could also be called comedy of paranoia.
BL: You’ve written stories based in a multitude of settings, yet you forever seem to return to Liverpool. Do you think there is anything inherently terrifying about the city you have lived in for so many years?
RC: Not more so than many another big city! But its locations have proved inexhaustible so far, and some of its traditions too. Just recently I’ve come at those and its history in a novel (Creatures of the Pool) set very largely within the area of the original seven streets and drawing on local legends and strange tales – I invite the reader to decide which bits I’ve made up.
BL: As well as writing you have a deep interest in film. Do you think that horror has been well served by filmmakers in your lifetime?
RC: Certainly by some. Above all David Lynch comes to mind in terms of recent films – several of his are the only ones that convey a sense of utter dread to me no matter how many times I watch them. But I’m very fond of Cronenberg and ‘Hellraiser’ and ‘Los Sin Nombre’ and ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and a whole lot else. Indeed, if we’re going to go back into my youth, ‘Psycho,’ ‘Night of the Demon,’ ‘Repulsion,’ ‘Taxi Driver’ – I could certainly go on at length.
BL: How do you feel about receiving awards?
RC: It makes me feel as if I may be doing something right, though it’s a transient reassurance.
BL: If you could trade in your critical acclaim for anything, what would it be?
RC: A career as a stand-up comedian.