A couple of weeks back we posted our answers for The Creative Process Blog Tour, at the end of which we nominated C. E. Murphy and Ramsey Campbell to follow on with their own answers. Ramsey doesn’t have a Blog but I told him Facebook would be fine and he posted his own answers on his FB page a couple of days ago. Not being a FB user myself (I use Leah’s account to log in and post bits to our own FB page) it was only yesterday that I realised that only Ramsey’s FB friends would be able to read his responses. So, I emailed him earlier today and he’s very kindly given us permission to post his answers here. He’s not just Britain’s greatest living horror writer, he’s also a lovely chap.
I’m on the Creative Process Blog Tour, in which each participating writer answers the same four questions and passes the baton to two more (my two are John Llewellyn Probert and Thana Niveau). I was invited by Leah Moore and John Reppion (http://www.moorereppion.com/
What am I working on?
A new novel, Think Yourself Lucky. It was originally announced as Bad Thoughts, but the present title couldn’t be more appropriate. I always try not to repeat myself, which isn’t to say that I often succeed. This one does feel like a departure to some extent – comedy of paranoia, certainly, but untypically anarchic at its core. Indeed, I think those sections may have more energy than the chapters that are interleaved with them. I look forward to trying some of them out on audiences once the book is published. I may say I’ve borrowed a technique from a friend, the fine writer Steve Mosby, whose work is published as crime fiction but in quite a few cases is my kind of horror.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
To be able to answer that with conviction I’d have to know more of the field than I can manage these days (though the indefatigable Steve Jones somehow seems to find the time to read everything that’s published in it). All I can say is that I find I can do whatever I want to with my writing – not just write what I choose to without eyeing the potential market but talk about whatever concerns me. Lovecraft declared that the weird tale – by which he meant much of what I mean by horror fiction – could only ever be a portrayal of a certain type of human mood. Certainly one of the pleasures of some of the greatest work in the field is the aesthetic experience of terror (which involves appreciating the structure of the piece and, in prose fiction, of the selection of language). I don’t see this as limited. There’s surely no more reason to criticise a piece for conveying only this experience than there is to object to a comedy for being nothing except funny (as might be said of Laurel and Hardy, surely the greatest exponents on film) or a tragedy for making its audience weep. Indeed, I wish more of the field still assailed me with dread: these days little besides the darker films of David Lynch achieve it. However, the field is capable of much more, and frequently succeeds – as satire or as comedy (however black), as social comment, as psychological enquiry, and perhaps best of all when it aspires to the awesome, the sense of something larger than can be directly shown. One reason I stay in the field is that I haven’t found its boundaries, and I suppose that’s to answer the question by saying that perhaps I don’t differ from it but try to embrace its best qualities, which are varied and considerable.
Why do I write what I do?
Because it engages my imagination. See the previous answer!
How does my writing process work?
I very rarely plot much in advance. Once I’ve begun to focus on developing an idea I gather any amount of material around it. This all goes in my notebook (one of them – I always have at least one for the imminent novel or the novel in progress, another for random ideas and also any short story I’m about to write). Many of the notes for a story often get abandoned as I form a clearer picture of it – of the characters and the situation, for instance. Sometimes a tale may move so far away from my early notes for it that I’ll use some of them elsewhere. For instance, the novel I was planning to write as The Black Pilgrimage travelled so far away from that notion that I dropped that title and renamed it The Kind Folk.
I’m here at my desk every morning I’m at home (Christmas and my birthday too), usually in time to see the dawn. Certainly I’ll be working on the first draft of a tale about six in the morning, when I’m generally most creative. One thing I’ve learned in fifty years as a writer is always to compose the first sentences before I sit down to write. I generally work until late morning on a first draft, sometimes later. If we go away the tale in progress goes with me.
I was also lucky to learn very early in my career – even before August Derleth sent me editorial advice – to enjoy rewriting. These days I do more of it than ever. Absolutely everything in a first draft has to justify itself to me to make the final version, which is pretty nearly always significantly shorter than the first one (anything up to twenty per cent shorter, I’d estimate). The first drafts of fiction are always longhand (with the solitary exception of “A Street Was Chosen”, written in the form of an experimental report, which I couldn’t write except on the computer) and the rewrites are at the keyboard.
Just as a final little bonus here, today I found out (via the always wonderful A Podcast to the Curious) that a reading of Ramsey’s Jamsian tale The Guide is free to listen to/download at darkfictionmagazine.co.uk
Don’t say we never give you anything!