Let’s start with the obvious – how did The Spectral Book of Horror Stories come about?
I’d wanted to edit an anthology for as long as I could remember. But having grown up reading the Pan and Fontana Horror and Ghost story anthologies, and the Armada Ghost, Monster and SF anthologies, I’d specifically wanted to edit an annual, non-themed anthology of horror and/or ghost stories. I almost did it a few years ago with PS, but then the idea fell through. When Spectral Press came along, and I saw what a great job they were doing, I approached Simon Marshall-Jones and basically set out my stall – I told him what my vision for the series was, what my creative requirements were, and what I’d need budget-wise to make it happen. Luckily Simon saw where I was coming from, shared my enthusiasm – and said yes!
Do you think this sort of anthology serves a specific purpose – apart from scaring the shit out of the reader?
Well, my aim is for The Spectral Book of Horror Stories to become a byword for excellence, an annual showcase of the very best fiction that the genre has to offer. I’m very proud of the horror genre and feel very passionate about it. It has very wide – in fact almost limitless – parameters, and I wanted Spectral Horror to reflect that. I want readers to be amazed and delighted by how incredibly diverse and imaginative this genre can be.
What parameters did you give the writers with regards to topics?
None whatsoever. As I said, this is a non-themed horror anthology, so I didn’t impose any restrictions at all on my contributors and potential contributors. All I said to them was that I wanted them to send me stories that were original, disturbing, compelling and memorable.
No, I always feel a bit uncomfortable when editors do that, and besides, I’m already part of the ‘team’ as the editor, so why – to use a footballing metaphor – would I want to play in two different positions and deny giving someone else a game?
There’s a musical theme running through a number of the stories – from medieval choirmasters to the Beatles to powerful guitars. Was this something you encouraged or is it just coincidence of inspiration between the writers?
It’s pure coincidence. It’s just one of those odd things that happens sometimes – a kind of zeitgeist effect. I felt the ‘musical’ stories were sufficiently different from one another to include them all. And, in fact, what bothered me more was that I received quite a number of stories that significantly featured fire. Again I used some of them – Gary McMahon’s, Reggie Oliver’s, Angela Slatter’s and Stephen Volk’s – because I felt they were sufficiently different from one another, in terms of theme and execution, to not be regarded as ‘samey’. But there were a couple of very good fire-themed stories that I held back for future volumes, on the understanding that if the authors wanted to sell them elsewhere in the meantime and write me something different then they were free to do so.
You’ve edited collections of non-fiction before, but this is your first fiction anthology of other people’s work – what were the challenges? What surprised you about the process?
The challenge with a fiction anthology, more so than with my two non-fiction movie books, Cinema Macabre and Cinema Futura, is in getting the right balance in terms of story lengths and different styles and themes. With Cinema Macabre and Cinema Futura all the articles were more or less the same length and the table of contents was dictated by chronology – i.e. whoever chose the earliest movie was first in the book, and whoever chose the most recent was last. A fiction anthology, though, is a balancing act – the order is important. You want the stories to complement and contrast with one another in so many different ways that you spend ages (or I do anyway) deciding what goes where. It becomes almost an organic process – and, in some ways, it becomes too like constructing a novel. For instance, with a novel you wouldn’t generally have five action set-pieces one after the other, followed by five scenes of people talking in drawing rooms. No, you’d mix and match, try to get a balance – and the same is true of putting an anthology together. You wouldn’t, for example, have five very long stories, followed by five non-supernatural stories, followed by five very gory stories, followed by five odd, surreal stories.
As for what surprised me – erm… nothing much. I didn’t get as much response from American writers as I would have liked, but that could be because I don’t personally know most of them as well as I know most of the British writers, so perhaps they felt more of a sense of distance from the project. There were also some writers who wanted to write me something, but who couldn’t in the end find time to fit it into their busy schedules. However most of them have said they’ll definitely try to do me something for volume two, so I’m hopeful that the TOC for The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories will be just as impressive as it is for the first book.
What else are you currently working on?
I’m writing a novel called The Society of Blood, which is the second book of my dark fantasy trilogy, Obsidian Heart. The first book, The Wolves of London, will be published by Titan in October, and then the second book will follow in October 2015, with the third planned for the year after that. I also have a Sherlock Holmes story to write for an anthology, a few stories to write for a new collection that will be published by ChiZine next year, and a novella to write for Johnny Mains’ Salt/Remains horror imprint. So I’ve got enough work on to keep me off the streets for at least the next eighteen months or so!