Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Monday, 3 October 2011

Adam Nevill interviewed by David McWilliam

Adam Nevill, photo by Tania Glyde
Adam Nevill was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969 and grew up in England and New Zealand. He is the author of the supernatural horror novels Banquet for the Damned (2004), Apartment 16 (2010) and The Ritual (2011). He lives in London and can be contacted through

DM: How did you come to write horror professionally?
AN: Ramsey Campbell published my short story ‘Mother’s Milk’ in Gathering the Bones. Couple of years later, PS Publishing published my first novel, Banquet for the Damned. ‘Mother’s Milk’ made its way to Ramsey through two intermediaries, from what I remember – James Marriott and John Coulthard. You could honestly say I was of absolutely no interest to major publishers or agents for ten years; I was saved from the abyss, into which so many fall screaming, by Ramsey Campbell and Peter Crowther. A few years later, my agent John Jarrold―the only agent who’s ever had any interest in my work―continued to pull me out of the shadows in which I crouched, muttering and swatting at small black angels.

DM: Who are your greatest influences, and why?
AN: If I answered this question with absolute precision, we’d run into pages. I’ve been in receipt of major influences from so many writers and poets, as well as painters and film makers, and still am as I go along. I think I have my own voice now, which still changes timbre on every book, but I am constantly under the influence of the many writers I read. Some at a craft level, some at an imaginative level, some at every level. Chiefly, I’d say M R James, H P Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Walter de la Mare, William Peter Blatty, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Robert Aickman and Ramsey Campbell from horror. But Robert Marasco, Shirley Jackson, Edith Wharton, W F Harvey and H R Wakefield all made me realise how much they made me want to write during recent rereads of their work. Maupassant and the other James ditto.

Outside of the genre weird tale, Cormac McCarthy, James Ellroy, James Joyce, Alan Warner, all dropped major pennies for me too, as did Nathaniel West, Bernard Malamud, Knut Hamsun and Dostoyevsky.

Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel and Francis Bacon have a guiding hand in my work too.

DM: All three of your novels to date feature a supernatural threat. What is the continuing appeal of the otherworldly in your writing? Do you ever see yourself writing a mundane horror novel, in which danger stems from the world we know?
AN: The first question is a big one. Much of why I write what I write still remains unexamined. Will I ever truly know? But I’d say I’ve had an innate receptivity to the idea of the supernatural and unworldly since my first memories. I still write about what frightened me when I was younger – in fact, much of my horror still comes from that time. The unseen or barely glimpsed other world was very much a possibility to me then. Even as an adult I still have a strong sensitivity to the uncanny, and have never stopped, at least in my imagination, working out a kind of poetry of the grotesque that lends itself to horror. If I have any kind of artistic vision, then supernatural horror is it.

There are few more liberating and terrifying and dreadful and awe inspiring experiences than realising you are close to something so immense that a glimpse is nearly too much, but a full revelation would be unbearable. Lovecraft’s wonder and awe. That’s the force I want underwriting my horror fiction. I am still overwhelmed in this way. Quite recently while lying on a couch, in the early hours of the morning, outside a farmhouse in Catalonia (where I was a guest writer), I looked at the largest and clearest night sky I had ever seen―just dense with stars and debris disintegrating as it hit the atmosphere―while a violent electrical storm set fire to trees in the forest around the farm (in which boars could also be heard crashing around from time to time). I’d watched the storm get closer as it came in from the sea, and it looked like the end of the world. It could have been for all I knew in an unfamiliar place while alone at night. And for a few minutes I realised with the fullest comprehension possible, that I was on a planet for a miniscule fragment of time in a universe so vast I couldn’t even understand it. I nearly screamed. For a few moments I completely lost my mind and expected to be yanked up and into the sky. Is there anything more significant than our crushing insignificance within this wondrous and utterly dreadful universe and its infinite possibilities? So why would you write about anything else? There is nothing bigger than the mystery of life and the unmapped vastness of existence. Much derided, but horror is the best vehicle, in my humble opinion, for exploring this.


As for the second question: if not in physique, but in temperament, I’ve always shared an affinity with Conan, who only feared the supernatural and not men. But Lovecraft’s more atheistic sci fi horror really appeals to me, so I wouldn’t rule out that in the future. But I haven’t felt a significant enough pull yet, toward realism without mystical embellishments. I’ve tinkered but end up in the usual place. I once tried to write in a social realist style and before I knew it, the characters I attempted to draw from life were grotesque puppets and hyper real … perhaps I was on to something. But I think my reading of more social realist writers has taught me to prepare the ground for the uncanny in a believable world, which inevitably amplifies the supernatural when it appears. Or when, as M R James wrote, it “put out its head”.

DM: The atmospheres you evoke in your novels have a distinctly cinematic quality to them. Do you draw inspiration from horror films? If so, can you name some favourites and explain why they are important to you?
AN: Yes, lots of inspiration. In fact I imagined The Ritual as a film as I wrote it. It’s a cinematic novel. I wanted to get as close to an amalgam of the two mediums as I could, without eschewing the inner life and the lyricism you need in prose, while also not losing the immediacy of cinema with too much exposition or description. Lots of popular fiction novels do this, but I rarely feel transported by the books, even if the plots are engaging. The Ritual also had to be a transporting book for me, or it would have been a failure.

Often with films, it’s a scene, or an image, or an aesthetic that stays with me and can inspire me years later. For instance, in recent years, the last fifteen minutes of REC (2007) are as good as anything I have ever seen in a horror film; the photographs and the cult in Martyrs (2008) made me shiver; the interview with the Dachau survivor in The Nameless (1999) took me out of myself; the teeth in the rags in Blair Witch (1999), preceded by the cries of the victim in the dark of that wood, have never left me; the peep over the door in House of Blood (2011) made my head spin. Even before I’d seen the original Nosferatu (1922), as a child I’d seen a clip of Max Schreck walking up the stairs with those long fingers and probably came as close to paralysis through fear as I have ever done since. The clown under the bed in Poltergeist (1982), the jackals bones in the grave of Damien’s mother in The Omen (1976), the Venice of Don’t Look Now (1973) … these are a few of my favourite things. One day I will edit them all into one long loop and play them on a huge screen in a dark room, and listen to ‘A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh’ by Celtic Frost at full volume, and just wait for the men in white coats to be called … Perhaps I’m a supernatural terror junkie.

DM: There is a recurrent theme of ancient beings with whom we should not meddle via rituals and occult magics. Do you have a personal fascination with/fear of the arcane?
AN: Both a fascination, and the fear of the sensibly cautious. I’ve never dabbled myself, and won’t even go near a Ouija board, but I tend to consider occult magic as complicated and sophisticated a system of belief and ritual and discipline, as so much of philosophy or psychiatry is. It also brings a great deal of comfort and insight into many of its practitioners, who I do not mock, and has little to do with evil. It’s almost a therapy and system for outsiders too, which I like. I just prefer to consider the occult at an imaginative level, or as apocryphal. It creates a discourse through its symbols and metaphors and reputation that facilitates supernatural horror, if used sparingly. I think I also tend to use it in fiction as part of a process in which reader receptivity is cultivated to accepting something beyond natural law. In Banquet I used it as a medium that prepared the characters to make contact with something in a process, rather than it wielding great power alone through spells and ceremonies etc. I believe the bane of horror is the magic amulet, the cursed skull, the trinkets, lotions and potions, the spells and incantations. They’re too often risible. I think M R James and H R Wakefield hit the right note that I also try and catch. The occult is a wonderful aesthetic if used economically, same with folklore in antiquated dialect. But I fall short of the Reverend Montague Summers’s fear/reverence of satanic evil within magic and the world, if that’s what you’re getting at!

DM: With Apartment 16 and now your story 'Florrie' in Jonathan Oliver's House of Fear anthology, you have demonstrated your love for the haunted house subgenre. At Alt.Fiction you stated that we are currently enjoying something of a Renaissance of the haunted house story. Can you list some of your highlights from recent years, with a little explanation as to what you think they are adding to the subgenre?
AN: The haunted house has never gone out of fashion. The commissioning process may have considered it old hat in film and in book publishing, but I doubt readers and cinema fans ever have done. Paranormal Activity (2007) was made outside of the Hollywood system, but grossed $150 million at the box office (I think that’s as fair a comment on what gets made within the system). The director shot it in his own house with his own equipment. I struggle to think of anything else in recent years that so vividly and vicariously captured the public imagination in a theatrical release, besides maybe Avatar (2009), though for different reasons. Avatar had a huge push behind it, but Paranormal Activity seem to find most of its success from word of mouth, from a communal expectation and desire to be frightened by a haunted house. The Birthing House (2009) by Christopher Ransom was a first novel from an author with no profile that sold into six figures on the UK high street. I liked it a lot and wanted it for the Virgin Books horror list. His second novel I enjoyed even more and it features another haunted house, and then an entire housing estate abandoned during the downturn – The Haunting of James Hastings (2010). It perplexes me why critics are so unkind about his books. His writing reminds me of Stephen King. I had very little profile as a writer, but my own Apartment 16 was popular within this vogue too, and it’s a strange and idiosyncratic book, not one I’d say is overtly commercial, but the idea of a haunted apartment block seemed, again, to ring bells. On that note, I’d like to see Burnt Offerings (1973) by Robert Marasco brought back into mainstream print (another shattered dream from my time at Virgin Books); I often struggle to find anyone my age or younger who has read it. It’s one of the very best haunted house novels.

It’s a popular subgenre because we’re all frightened in houses at one time or another, and particularly at night when we’re young. The haunted house story probably has more universal appeal than any other horror story because most of us spend at least half of our lives at home, in places older than us where others dwelled before us. Buildings are the places (and the older they are the better) where presences are probably more likely to be sensed. The places we live and visit are loaded with history and atmosphere and the curious things that get left behind.

At my current address, I still receive mail for an elderly woman who used to live here. I have a horrible feeling she either died here alone, or was transferred from here to a hospice. She may have lived here since the war, had children here, loved, lost, and suffered here – it’s an old place. Who has more right to the house now? I’d probably say she still does, or my family with her blessing. It’s probably the safest way to think of houses. That’s what the story ‘Florrie’ came from. Few would say we are not influenced by or affected by our environments, but who can really define what is influencing us, or at least watching us … just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there …

In terms of adding to the genre, it’s probably up to each new generation of writers to reinterpret the classic genres for which there is an established and enduring curiosity and fascination. Paranormal Activity and REC did this via more democratised means of film making, (even in its production in the case of Paranormal Activity) through improvements in digital filmmaking technology (that also seems to account for most current affairs visuals these days too). The haunted house/building story moved effectively with the times and wasn’t dispelled by technology – isn’t that beautiful and satisfying? The portability of ready-to-use cameras is perfect for haunted building stories, eschewing the quasi-paranormal science of the past. And I think reinterpreting the haunted house for your own time, in this way, while staying within the tradition of the ghost story, is probably more valid that trying to reinvent the wheel, which often, though not always, leads to silliness. I’m most often criticised for being “unoriginal”, but surely, how you interpret a theme or subgenre in your own time and voice is what counts? From Hill House to Burnt Offerings, to Hell House (1971) and The Shining (1977), the haunted building has a great modern tradition and isn’t only the preserve of horror fans, as other subgenres of horror might be; it tends to attract the general reader too. And many younger readers are introduced to a field or genre for the first time by writers in their own time.

DM: What are your writing plans for the next 12 months?
AN: I’m writing the final drafts of my fourth supernatural horror novel, Last Days ― my most ambitious work yet ― which is out in May 2012 through Pan Macmillan. I’ve worked on it every day, more or less for a year. Never had that luxury before. I’m also doing research and development for the novel after, which is taking me to some strange places.

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