Alex Laybourne Interviews Horror Author and Writing Icon… Graham Masterton

When I first started interviewing people on my blog, I did it for a bit of fun, as a way to give me a post every now and then, but after a while things changed. I grew to love interviewing, digging around inside a writer or an artist’s mind.

I have been lucky to interview some rather successful people, but today’s interview is one of those that came along by chance, and just had to be taken. I befriended my conversational companion today on Facebook, having long been a fan of his work.

He is a British writer of high pedigree, who has written across multiple genres with equal aplomb, and even as I prepare to post this, I find myself re-checking to make sure that I am not asleep, I really did interview a writing icon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I will introduce you to a man that requires no introduction; Mr Graham Masterton.


What inspired you to write your first novel?

I have been writing stories (and drawing) ever since I was old enough to write.  I wrote and made my own books and comics – most of them based on Jules Verne-type stories with heroes fighting giant squids.  I also created a Pickwick-type character because I have always enjoyed writing humorous fiction. When I was 14 I wrote a 400-page vampire novel called MORBLEU but I regret the manuscript of this is lost and gone for ever. I hesitate to use the word “inspired” because I always saw writing as something I did as a matter of course and never felt particularly “inspired”.

Which writers influenced you the most when you were young, and who inspires you the most today?

Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, and then the hard-bitten American novelists like Herman Wouk and Nelson Algren.  I was particularly impressed by The Caine Mutiny and The Man With The Golden Arm,  mostly because of the simplicity and accuracy of their language and yet the way they made their characters come alive,  After that I discovered the American Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg and when I was sitting in the school library and supposed to be reading Shakespeare and Oliver Godsmith and Dickens I was out on the trail with Dean Moriarty or working in some dysfunctional drug-ridden hospital with Doctor Benway.

What drew you to the horror genre? Were you a big fan of horror growing up?

I was a big enthusiast for Edgar Allan Poe.  Apart from Dracula and The Pan Book of Horror Stories series edited by Herbert van Thal there wasn’t much horror around ,  apart from that.  But I always liked horror and won the school magazine prize with a story about a man who dismembered his unfaithful wife and use her body parts to decorate his mansion.

Can you recall the day you first heard that you would be a published author?

My first published work in a “real” book was a selection of poems in an anthology of sixth-form poetry called Sprouts on Helicon which was published by Andre Deutsch.  By the time that come out,  however,  I had been expelled from school for taking too much interest in girls and Beat writers and had found a job as a reporter on my local paper The Crawley Observer.  So I was already regularly having my work in print and wasn’t all that excited about it.  I soon had my own pop-music and youth news page in the paper with my own byline.  An important thing happened to me at that time,  though,  as far as writing was concerned.  I had started corresponding with the author William Burroughs while he was still living in Tangier,  and when he came to live in London we met regularly at his apartment in Duke Street,  St James’s,  and became friends.  We spent hours discussing the mechanics of evocative writing and in particular how to write so that you, the writer,  become completely invisible to the reader — “El Hombre Invisible” he called it.  This is an extremely difficult discipline and I am still working on it even today.  William used to say “forget about the page in front of you…pick up your typewriter and walk”.  In other words feel the wind blowing ,  hear the sounds around you,  listen to people talking…don’t write about it,  BE there. It particularly applies to dialog which is very hard to master,  because if you wrote down verbatim the way that people really speak it would be dull and almost incomprehensible.

The rise of Indie publishing has led to a change in the way books and writers can bring their work into the public eye. As an establish writer, how do you perceive this indie ‘movement’?

After I was a newspaper reporter I became a magazine editor and so I always see published work from an editor’s point of view.  There is a lot to be said for the freedom of indie publishing,  but there is also a great deal to be said for submitting your work to experienced editors who can show you where you’re going wrong and how you might improve your work.  I always respect criticism,  even now.  Unfortunately standards in publishing have slipped badly over the past decade or so,  even in some of the best publishing houses,  and too much editing and line-editing is being done by talented and very pleasant young girls who wouldn’t know how to construct a rhythmical sentence if you sang it to them,  accompanied by the London  Symphony Orchestra.

As a (formerly) self-published and now Indie published writer, I am familiar with the way the industry works now, but can you tell us a little of what it is like following the more traditional publishing routes?

I did everything backwards because I was editing Penthouse magazine and I was asked to write several sexual “how-to” books by Warner Paperback Library in New York..  These sold enormously well so when the bottom fell out of the sex-book market in 1976 I still had an outstanding  contract for a new sex book.  I insisted the publisher honor the contract and I gave him THE MANITOU instead of HOW TO TURN YOURSELF ON.  I had written THE MANITOU in five days to amuse myself in between writing sex books,  and it was based on my wife Wiescka’s pregnancy with our first child and a legend I had read about in The Buffalo Bill Annual 1955.  The publisher accepted the book (although he asked if I could change the ending,  which I did) and it sold 500,000 copies in six months.  Normally,  as a writer starting out in the world of conventional publishing,  you would try to finds yourself an agent,  which you can do by Googling literary agents.  If you can’t get one to take you on,  submit your work directly to the publisher…two or three chapters is enough,  along with a 1-page synopsis.  I will tell you,  this,  though:  everybody in the world wants to be an author and it is hard and disappointing and there are many brilliant books written that never get to see the light of day.

I am a big fan of your work, but if you had to pick a favourite book, or scene, which would it be?

I am especially fond of TRAUMA about Bonnie Winter the crime-scene cleaner which originally I was going to write under a woman’s pseudonym.   Jonathan Mostow who made the submarine movie U-571 bought the film rights but he never got around to making it.  I am not completely sorry because I hated the script.  I also like SCARLET WIDOW an 18th century crime novel which hasn’t yet been published.  But usually I prefer my latest novel.

What passage has meant the most to you in terms of emotional investment?

Every passage I write has emotional investment in it.  If your characters are real to you then it’s inevitable.  I like to make my readers cry,    At random,  here is a paragraph I wrote today,  in the third Katie Maguire crime novel RED LIGHT.:

She paused in the porch for a moment with her front-door key held up to the lock.  The breeze had made her think of little Seamus breathing against her face,  and it had given her one of those terrible and unexpected pangs of grief.  She knew there was no point in grieving.  She could cry for the rest of her life and it would never bring him back again.  She just hoped that he could see her now,  wherever he was,  in some baby’s heaven,  and that he knew how desperately she missed him.

 Your current novel ‘White Bones’ is doing very well and has been received with some acclaim. What drove you to make the jump from horror to crime fiction?

WHITE BONES has now been followed by a second crime novel BROKEN ANGELS which has been doing even better.  I didn’t make a jump from horror to crime fiction.  I am still writing horror and other fiction too.  I have written historical novels, thrillers,  sex instruction books and disaster novels.  MY latest disaster novel DROUGHT is out next year,  a follow-up to PLAGUE and FAMINE.  I wrote WHITE BONES because we were living in Cork in Ireland and I was fascinated by the idea of writing about a woman detective trying to make her way in the very chauvinistic Garda Siochána and in Irish mythology and in writing about a city which very few people had written about in any detail before.  It just happened that it appealed to the crime-reading audience which is very much wider than the horror audience.  Some readers didn’t like it because it has some graphic violence in it.  They’re the sort of people who prefer whodunit novels in which the bishop gets bashed with a badger in the bathroom.  But as far as I’m concerned,  all murder is gruesome and it’s no good pretending it isn’t.

To me, a writer is a writer; genre is merely a label that can be used to define our individual works rather than a shelf to place us as a person. As someone who has written across a number of genres, do you think that it is easier now than in years gone by for a writer to successfully cover multiple genres?

This is a good question.  I published THE MANITOU round about the same time that Stephen King published Salem’s Lot and I often think that if I had stuck with the same genre the way that he did,  I might have been equally successful,  because readers do like to read a variation of the same thing over and over again.  But I wanted to branch out and write about everything and anything.  As I say, I wrote historical sagas,  political thrillers,  disaster novels and humour – whatever I felt like.  I wrote regularly for the satirical magazine e Punch,  which was something I had wanted to do since I was eight years old and first read it in my grandparents’ house.  So – career-wise – writing in so many varying genres might have been a mistake.

Both you and Clive Barker are successful British horror writers, and both of your writing contains (at times) a heavy sexual element that many American writers – Stephen King comes to mind – tend to shy away from. Do you think that this has anything to do with the different attitudes towards sexuality and expression in the two countries, or is it purely a matter of coincidence?

I don’t really know.  I have never read anything by Stephen King or Clive so I don’t know if they’re sexy or not. People in real life have sex.  That’s why the people in my novels have sex.  Sometimes it’s sadistic and lurid,  but that’s better than being boring.

As an established writer, do you still get that same excited / nervous feeling when it comes time to launch a new novel?

No.  But I do very much like it when readers come back to me on Facebook or Twitter and say that they’re really enjoyed a book.  The two best compliments that I have ever been paid is by the editor who first read WHITE BONES and thought it had been written by a woman;  and the reader who wrote to me and said that she had to keep stop reading BORKEN ANGELS and turn round to reassure herself that she was still at home and not in Cork.

What is the best and worst thing about being a full time writer?

Best thing is you don’t have to commute to work.  Worst thing is,  you probably work much harder than you would if you did commute to work.  What I really like now is meeting readers. I have been to two major horror/fantasy conventions in Poland this year,  one in Poznan and one in Krakow,  and there were literally thousands of fans there.  I was able to talk to audiences of more than 500 enthusiastic young people at a time, and that’s great,  especially since many of them are very pretty young girls,  some of whom I remain in touch with.  Eat your heart out,  Justin Bieber!For independent writers, Social Media is the main viable outlet for us to promote our work. How big a role does it play in marketing strategy of a traditionally published writer?

It definitely helps to get the word around about what’s coming up,  but obviously most of my marketing is done by my publishers and their publicity and promotion departments. I like Facebook and Twitter because all of the friends I have on those media are warm and communicative and amusing.

Given the changing trends and market structure, would you ever consider going the route of James Patterson, for example and take control over the entire writing and release process?

I was once asked by Robin Moore (who wrote a best-selling book in the 1970s called The French Connection) if he could publish a thriller I had written under his name,  as a marketing strategy and as a way of saving him the effort of writing his next book himself.  I said no.  James Patterson does things his way,  and I know that he is very encouraging to aspiring authors,  and I can’t deny his huge success,  but that’s not for me.  Everything I write I write myself,  and I leave the marketing to the publishers.



Are you a Graham Masterton fan? What is your favorite GM book? I would love to hear from you.


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