Graham Masterton

An Interview With Graham Masterton

1) What made you decide to write horror in the first place? Who were your influences?

I started writing horror because it enabled me to invent worlds in which everything and anything was possible…words in which fear could actually take on a physical shape, and in which dread and uncertainty could be explained, rationalized and conquered. That is one reason why I draw so heavily on myths and legends and stories of ancient demons . In olden times, storytellers would explain the fear of the unknown (such as pestilence, madness and natural disasters) by giving it flesh. I am still doing that today, by inventing creatures and situations in which our daily terrors can be grappled with in a physical form. My early influences were Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker and Ray Bradbury. There weren't nearly as many popular horror writers around in those days!

2) Have your influences changed over the years?

I am not influenced these days by other writers. If you have been sitting down all day writing horror you rarely feel like reading it. I am trying these days to push forward the bounds of believability…to create worlds which are impossible yet utterly credible (and frightening, too.) My latest novel DOORKEEPERS (provisional title) is set in a "parrallel London" in which our hero and heroine find themselves facing some extremely ghoulish opponents. It has some of the fantasy-comic book-Gotham city feeling of NIGHT WARRIORS but its atmosphere is extremely dark.

3) Most of your novels have been standalone though you have written three series (The Manitou, Night Warriors and Rook). Did you intend to write them as series? If not, what made you decide to return to those books and characters rather than others you've written?

I intended to write Rook as a series and in fact I am currently working on ROOK 4:- SNOWMAN. I did intend THE MANITOU to be a trilogy (or even a quartet, for those who have read my long short story SPIRIT JUMP) it happened mainly because of Harry Erskine, the main character, who was actually me, and I wanted to find out what I did next. I wrote more NIGHT WARRIORS simply for the fun of it, because I think they're great entertainment. I am planning a fourth NIGHT WARRIORS in which there is a massive and conclusive battle in the world of dreams. Can't let Wes Craven have all the fun.

4) How do you approach writing a novel? Is there a great deal of research done beforehand or do you research as an ongoing activity during writing?

I do a reasonable amount of background research before I start writing a novel because the research will dictate how a story will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. But the characters in books never behave themselves and new plotlines and incidents develop during the course of a book, which require additional research which I do as I go along. I have a huge pile of books on demons and mythology and magic and so I am unlikely to exhaust all my research material in my lifetime.

5) Have you changed your approach much over the years?

When I am writing I try to be unaware of the screen in front of me..,I try to live the story, as if I am really there. So I am not very conscious of any describable "technique". I am simply relating what I see , what I feel and what I hear. If my writing has developed in any way it is only because I have grown older and more experienced and I can say things now that I might not have been able to say twenty years ago.

6) Is there a significant difference to how you go about writing a short story?

Yes. I stop writing sooner. But seriously, a short story is an opportunity to explore one particular idea and to develop it extremely well. I spend much more time per page on writing a short story than I do on a novel. A short story (such as THE SECRET SHIH-TAN or UNDERBED) will lurk in the backof my mind for years before I finally get around to putting it on paper. I think my short stories tend to be more poetic than my novels (FAIRY STORY and ABSENCE OF BEAST) although one or two of them tend to be fairly nasty ( ERIC THE PIE and PIG'S DINNER) and this nastiness is intensified tenfold by the concentrated nature of the short story.

7) Many of your novels and short stories are based on intricate reinterpretations of old legends, stories and fairy tales. How much of this reinterpretation is a result of your research into the source of these legends and how much is purely of your imagination?

I take a basic legend then tell it to suit my own purposes. I always have a lot of fun changing and reinterpreting well-known stories and legends (such as Alice through the looking glass and The Picture of Dorian Gray) and I hope that readers do, too. This is fiction, this is pure entertainment, and so there is no need to adhere strictly to the original story, as long as you come out at the end feeling that you've had one hell of a ride.

8) In the Night Warriors trilogy you experimented in an interesting way in a strange mixture of horror, fantasy and science fiction, which could almost be comic book but for the very dark core running through the heart of the stories. It certainly seemed quite a departure (though Night Warriors was the first of your novels I read). What prompted you to try this experiment?

I have always been interested and attracted to the world of comic books, but in some ways I find them limiting because they are only as good as the artist who draws them. In NIGHT WARRIORS I wanted to create a comic book type world in which there were no artistic limits…in which everything was possible, because it was happening inside the reader's head instead of on the page. Comic books present some fascinating challenges, but it is difficult for them to compete with the multiple special effects on which a writer of prose can draw: sound, smell, feeling and sight. If you like,NIGHT WARRIORS was as near as I have ever come to producing a comic book, and I except that it always will be.

9) Several of your books are notorious for their graphic violence, particularly Black Angel and The Sleepless, yet whenever you use violence it seems an integral part of the plot. Is this an important pre-requisite to its use, or have you ever used violence purely for its shock value?

If you try to use violence for its shock value alone and not in the context of a believable story, it has no meaning And ergo no shock value. I have been accused of introducing some very violent scenes, but people read horror to be frightened and I am in the business of giving them what they want.I am not going to attempt to justify the violence I write about by saying that the real world is far more violent and disgusting than anything that happens in my books. I have no social or moral axe to grind. You want the hair on the back of your neck to prickle? That's what I do.

10) Some of your recent books are highly sought after, though at the same time very difficult to find (many of them being out of print already). Are they likely to be reprinted at any time in the not too distant future?

Without going into the long and complecated details of publishing house takeovers and the migration of editors, my recent novels have not been widely in the UK and this is a situation I am trying to do something to rectify. Like singers and actors, writers go through cycles in their careers, and while my books are selling in huge quantities in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Poland , etc,. They seem to have temporarily gone out of favor over here. I am planning a relaunch of my horror career in December in the U.S. with PREY and THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT coming first from Leisure Books. I am planning a similar revival over here. I apologize to all of those readers who have difficulty in finding my books. It wouldn't hurt if you wrote to Heinmann / Mandarin and grumbled about it.

11) Which authors and books have pride of place on your bookshelf?

Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, early Len Deighton, Violett Leduc, William S. Burroughs.

12) How has writing in other genres influenced your horror writing?

Enormously. Once you learn to create a strong character in an epic historical novel, you can transfer that knowledge To creating characters in any genre. Similarly, you learn to handle research and background detail to create a believable background, which is essential for any super natural novel. I have a very powerful idea for another historical novel which I am going to try to write before the end of 1999, and I hope that I shall learn a great deal from it in terms of handling motivation and human psychology in moments of extreme stress.

Very best wishes to all of those readers who have shown support and enthusiasm even when my books have been very thin on the shelves. The time for a grand revival is on hand.

Graham Masterton


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