Considered as one of the most influencial and succesful horror writters, Mr Graham Masterton needs no further introduction. The author of masterpieces such as «The Manitou» and «Master of Lies» took time to answer the questions our editing team put together for him and today we are thrilled to share his thoughts with our beloved Nyctophiliacs.
Mr Masterton, we sincerely thank you for accepting our invitation, it is an honor for us and our readers to have you on Nyctophilia.gr.
What was the main inspiration behind the “Written in Prison” contest? How did the idea occur and what where the original ambitions for the project?
I first had the idea of the Graham Masterton “Written In Prison” Award (Nagroda Grahama Mastertona “W wiezieniu pisane”) when I visited Wolow maximum security prison near Wroclaw in October 2016, as part of a promotional tour that I was doing all over Poland. I spoke to about 70 prisoners about my career as a writer and although most of them looked extremely tough, I was amazed how interested they were in writing and books. They were one of the most responsive audiences I have ever had! They may have been gangsters and drug dealers and murderers, but they still had enquiring minds. I had lunch with the Warden afterwards and after I talked to him, it occurred to me that no matter what creative thoughts these prisoners might have, they had absolutely no way of expressing them to the outside world. I felt that if they thought that what they had written was being read and understood outside the walls of their cells, it might make them feel more connected with society. I broached the idea with the Wroclaw Agglomeration, which is an association of towns all around Wroclaw with the object of promoting culture in that part of the world. They were very enthusiastic and they have been helping me all along (for instance with translation and with sending my invitations out to all of Poland’s prisons.)
Where there any difficulties or fears while organizing the contest?
There have been no problems at all (so far!). The contest was opened on January 1 and closed on March 31. I had the full co-operation of the Polish Prison Service and a great deal of publicity from Polish media.
The contest closed with nearly 130 entries, which shows that many inmates felt the need of expression. What are the main emotions expressed in these short stories and what message do they have to deliver to the free world?
There was one last-minute entry, so we made it to 130! Unfortunately I do not read Polish and so the stories are being translated for me by a very good professional translator. When I have had the chance to read them I will let you know what they express. I am hoping that we might be able to collect them together and publish them as an anthology.
The first “Written in Prison” contest was held in Poland. Are you planning on hosting it again next year and maybe even expanding it to other countries as well?
Once I have judged the stories and awarded the prizes in Wroclaw in June, I will make a decision about doing it again next year. It has gone so well and so smoothly that I think the answer is probably yes. The first prize is a plaque and a hamper of food and fruits. All entrants will get a personal letter of thanks and a special souvenir pen. I have already been asked if I might organize a similar contest in other countries, such as the UK and Ireland, but I will have to see what response I get from the inmates. I am visiting a prison in the North of England in May and I will ask the inmates what they think.
Many people are surprised to find out that you are in fact British. Would you say there are qualities particular to British horror that distinguish it from US horror?
When I started writing horror I was visiting the United States very frequently and it seemed to me to make sense to set my stories in America since (a) I was friends with several US publishers; and (b) the American market was so much bigger than the UK market, so it made commercial sense. Not only that, so many audiences around the world were familiar with US characters and US settings from watching American TV programs. Added to that, I did not want to write traditional horror stories about vampires or werewolves or zombies. I wanted to write about something completely unexpected and unusual. I think British horror tends to be a little more old-fashioned than American horror, with the emphasis on haunted houses and ghosts. I am not really an expert, though, because I never read horror. In fact since I started writing fiction for a living, I can’t read fiction any more. I am much too critical of my own work, let alone anybody else’s.
In many of your novels, you draw heavily on Native American myths and folklore. What is it about these myths that fascinates you and how did this fascination begin?
As I say, my interest in Native American mythology began because I was looking to write about a supernatural threat that had rarely been done before. There was one very good Native American short story The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood and of course HP Lovecraft had his Indian character Quamus (on whom I based my wonder-worker Misquamacus). Another aspect of Lovecraft’s stories which I liked was that he invented a completely new mythology. My first horror novel The Manitou was inspired by my late wife Wiescka’s first pregnancy and an article I had read when I was about ten years old in The Buffalo Bill Annual, which described how Indians believed that there were spirits (manitous) in almost everything…animals, trees, rocks, rivers, you name it. The Manitou was hugely successful when it was first published, and it earned the gratitude of the Native American community for highlighting their mythology. Sitting Bull’s grand-daughter took me to lunch in New York to thank me and presented me with a framed picture of her grandfather. Rather incongruously, she took me to The Russian Tea Room on 57th Street. Of course The Manitou was also filmed with Tony Curtis in the lead role and after that it seemed fairly obvious that I should write more books about Native American demons.
You have written horror, mystery, thriller, young adult, historical romance, self-help books… Is there a genre you would shy away from?
I have not yet been tempted to write a book about plumbing.
Your latest works are closer to the dark mystery genre (eg “Blood Sisters”) than to pure horror (such as “Pariah” or “The Manitou”). Was it a spontaneous change of genre or something that inevitably happened with the passage of time?
Wiescka and I lived in Cork, in Ireland, for five years, and while we were there the horror market was going through a very slow patch. Although I had been hugely successful in France, now my French publishers told me that they didn’t want any more horror. This was just before the explosion in e-books, which of course transformed the whole world of publishing. Because horror was selling so badly at that time, I decided to reach a much wider market – the readers of crime novels. I set my first crime novel in Cork, because it is a fascinating and very idiosyncratic city, and because nobody else had written crime novels set in Cork before. I deliberately made the stories quite dark and brutal because (a) crime is dark and brutal; and (b) I did not want to disappoint my loyal horror fans. To begin with, my first crime novel featuring Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire was published only in the US as A Terrible Beauty (which is a quote from the Irish poet WB Yeats) but later it was published in the UK as White Bones and sold so well that my publishers commissioned me to write a whole series about her.
Many writers have some memorable quotes or descriptions that have been etched in their readers’ memory. For you, admittedly, that cornerstone description is the first chapter of your novel «Black Angel» (also published as “Master of Lies”). How do you feel about that? While writing it, did you imagine that it would provoke so many different reactions?
I have had many readers expressing shock (and sometimes disgust) at what I write, but there are far worse atrocities happening every day in the real world, like the slaughter of children in Syria. The opening chapter of Black Angel was simply my way of conveying the terror of a home invasion, and I didn’t think when I wrote it that it was any more frightening than anything else I had ever written. What has struck a jarring note is my description in Living Death, (which is one of the more recent books featuring Katie Maguire) of dogfighting in Ireland, which is unbelievably cruel. Many readers wrote to me and said that they simply couldn’t bear the descriptions of dogs being torn apart, even though they had read dozens of my books in which men, women and children are reduced to human kebabs. My aim was actually to expose dogfighting for the ghastly sport that it is. I was even discussing with a friend of mine who is a well-known Dublin psychologist who also happens to have a keen interest in rescuing dogs that we should start a media campaign together to highlight the fact that dogfighting is still going on in Ireland and in the UK and many other countries as well. When I consulted a friend in the Irish police, however, he warned me not to do it, because the gangs who run dogfighting are very dangerous, and they make more money out of one dogfight than a bank robbery or a major drug deal. My friend the psychologist is very well known and lives in Ireland so I do not want to put her into any kind of jeopardy.
In your stories, you often make references in your earlier books and characters. I can’t help but wonder, do your heroes and plots take place in a “common universe”? Or are they based on different, distinct «parallel universes”?
Nobody has ever asked me that before, but I think, yes, all of my characters live in the same world, and could feasibly meet each other. Sometimes I think they take on a life in the real world, too. I am often asked if Harry Erskine the fake fortune-teller from The Manitou is going to have to face up to Misquamacus again. My usual reply is that I have phoned him, but he says he is quite happy telling the fortunes of wealthy old ladies in Florida and has little interest in getting involved in another terrifying adventure.
Are they any plans of visiting Greece any time soon, maybe for a book sign event?
I am very much hope so! I will be having some new books published in Greece fairly soon. I will let you know the details as soon as the deals are finalized. When that happens, I would love to visit Greece again.
How much should a horror writer insist on keeping things realist? From what point on the adherence to detail spoils the effect and the emotions he wishes to inspire his readers?
You don’t have to be realistic so long as you make your characters and your settings sound convincing. The Lord of the Rings isn’t exactly realistic but it is described in such a way that it sounds believable. Do your research but use that only to make your voice authoritative. Don’t bore your readers by telling them everything that you’ve discovered while researching your novel
Is one born a writer or does he become one? What are your thoughts on the various seminars, literary workshops, etc., do they really help build better writers or simply just create better readers?
It’s hard to say if people are born to be writers or not, because there are so many different kinds of writing. But I think there is a certain type of person who is born to write fiction. I have no particular views on the usefulness writer’s workshops but if people enjoy them, that’s fine by me. I was a newspaper reporter and that for me was the best training ever, because it teaches you to be alert to possible stories, to empathise with other people, and to write every day even if you don’t particularly feel like it. I have some “rules of writing” in the fiction section of my website www.grahammasterton.co.uk but they are suggestions rather than rules.
What kind of advice would you give to those aspiring horror writers whose works are considered by critics as «paraliterature»?
Ignore critics. Write what you want to write. I never read reviews of my e-books online. People who write reviews, good or bad, are a tiny and atypical minority of your readers. All that matters is your sales figures.
One final question. If you had ten minutes before you died, what would be the last thing you would do?
I would write a letter to my late wife Wiescka, and tell her that if the price of having her back for those ten minutes was that I had never written a word in my life, then that would be a price I would gladly pay.
You may also find the greek translation of the interview HERE.