When my wife Marie O’Regan and I first got involved with Constable & Robinson, we batted around a few ideas for Mammoth anthologies to pitch to them (Marie also came up with her own, The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, which comes out later this year and looks fantastic). I suggested ‘Body Horror’, because I’d studied this sub-genre as part of my Film Studies modules for my degree back in University. I remember scouring the shelves for any literature devoted to it, only really finding non-fiction – and precious little of that! It seems amazing to me, but a lot of people don’t even know it exists as a sub-genre in fiction; they might know it exists in the movies, but not in fiction form – which is of course where it started out. Without Lovecraft’s ‘Herbert West: Re-Animator’, we’d have no film version from Stuart Gordon; without ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W. Campbell, there’d be no John Carpenter’s The Thing; without George Langelaan’s ‘The Fly’ there’d be no Fly films…
This was something we wanted to address in the book, the origins and history of the Body Horror sub-genre, tracing it right back to Mary Shelley and Poe, then taking it through the 20th Century and into the 21st, where you’d have brand new stories from the latest exponents. So we have all-new tales from the likes of Conrad Williams, Simon Clark, Gemma Files, Graham Masterton, Alice Henderson, Axelle Carolyn, David Moody and Barbie Wilde (who, as well as being a terrific writer, some of you will also know as the Female Cenobite from Hellbound: Hellraiser II).
Speaking of which, both of us knew it was essential to have Clive Barker on board, as one of the most famous names in Body Horror – he was responsible for making the horrific beautiful in his Books of Blood, in Hellraiser… We actually chose his story ‘The Body Politic’ from the former, because it really encompasses what ‘Body Horror’ is about; our bodies literally turning against us. Luckily, having worked with him for Hellbound Hearts, he was more than happy to let us reprint this.
That sparked the idea of trying to make this a sort of ‘who’s who’ of the horror genre as well. We knew we’d love to have people like Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson – and his son, R.C. – Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, James Herbert, Nancy C. Collins, Brian Lumley (again, another story that’s always stuck with me: ‘Fruiting Bodies’), Michael Marshall Smith, Neil Gaiman and Christopher Fowler all in the book, but – if you’ll pardon the pun – it did seem like a Mammoth task! Fortunately, all of the people we approached, whether it was the authors directly or through agents or publishers, were kind enough to let us use the material we wanted. It was hard work bringing it all together, but well worth it in the end.
Next we started to think about an introduction. We’d just recently interviewed Stuart Gordon for our Voices in the Dark interview book, and he was lovely, so we asked him if he’d have time to read the stories and pen a few words. We were delighted when he agreed, and even more so when we read what a wonderful introduction he’d done. Stuart really knows his stuff, but what was even more gratifying was that he really got what we were trying to do.
Constable & Robinson sent over a selection of covers to get our opinion on, which included some really surreal images involving body parts – I think I remember one being like a flower. All were really good, but eventually we all agreed on the one it’s got now, with the face pushing through the skin. Again, it harks back to that horror-beauty thing of Clive’s; it’s creepy, but at the same time kind of mesmerising.
We’re hopeful that the anthology will appeal, not only to fans of ‘Body Horror’, but of horror in general, of the authors involved in the book – who are, even now, spreading the word about it – but also to film fans and historians of the genre. Nothing like it has ever been attempted before, so we’re all incredibly proud of it. And we hope readers will enjoy sitting down and devouring the full 170,000 words as much as we’ve enjoyed working on the project.