My new book, Under a Raven's Wing, a paen to Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, is in many ways a tentative follow-up to The Dark Masters Trilogy, and in some ways harkens back even further, to my first work to hit the cinema screens, Gothic: a telling of the origin of Frankenstein through the eyes of Mary Shelley. I have grown to like using genre authors as a prism through whch to examine and explore my own infatiation and obsession with creating dark fiction. But the aim of this was a little more specific, as I elaborated to PS Publishing head honcho Peter Crowther when he asked me write a short blog to give insight into what spark ignited the project in my mind. I said this:
I’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes, like, forever. I know everyone says that, but really. Hand on heart, the first thing that genuinely scared me as a young kid was a radio production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I couldn’t get off to sleep that night without my uncle explaining to me that the bone-chilling howl that echoed across Dartmoor was probably a bald man in glasses in a soundproof booth at the BBC. (I’m still only semi-convinced.) Still, the imagery, the chase, the detective, the clash between the rational and supernatural, all got in my blood and I’d never be the same again.
I grew up. (Well, slightly. Let’s not be rash.) My reading choices changed, and I gravitated from Marvel’s Fantastic Four and Famous Monsters of Filmland to the numerous Pan books of horror stories, which almost invariably included the obligatory tale by Edgar Allan Poe. Back then, I never had an inkling of the tragic narrative of the author’s life (or even that he was American), but his incredible stories—“The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Tell Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat”—reeked of deep, tangible psychological terror, unequalled even now for sheer symbolic bravura.
I don’t know when it first occurred to me there was an inescapable connection between the two: between Poe and Doyle.
It must have been on my first reading of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”—featuring, as it did, a brilliant Paris detective and his not-so brilliant assistant and amanuensis. The case, one of brutal and bloodthirsty slaughter seemed completely unsolvable. However, under the might of Poe’s quill, C. Auguste Dupin did solve it—by a process of deduction he called ratiocination . . . Elementary, my dear Watson.
And there it was. Hidden in plain sight, just like “The Purloined Letter”—another of Poe’s tasty conundrums.
Dupin was no less than the exact progenitor of Sherlock, both in style and substance. And you don’t have to take my word for that. Doyle himself acknowledges it on numerous occasions.
“Poe,” Sir Arthur said in his preface to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1902), “in his carelessly prodigal fashion, threw out the seeds from which so many of our present forms of literature have sprung, was the father of the detective tale, and covered its limits so completely that I fail to see how his followers can find any fresh ground which they can confidently call their own.”
Countless scholars and writers since have agreed that Holmes owes his creation in no small measure to the “first detective” in fiction—Dupin.
Fast forward to 2010. Editors Charles Prepolec and Jeff Campbell ask me for a story to appear in their anthology Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes, the brief all to evident in the title, and I decide to submit something that dramatises Doyle’s indebtedness to Poe in story form.
The result was “The Comfort of the Seine”, which drew the curtain back from my C. Auguste Dupin and a callow young Englishman called Sherlock visiting 1870s Paris for the first time.
Little did I know, however, that this wasn’t the one-off story I thought it was, but rather the first of several featuring the duo of investigators I soon grew to love.
I increasingly wanted to return to that sandbox to play and have more adventures, involving the most outrageous and shocking crimes that could be imagined. (By me, anyway.)
Strangely, I am not constitutionally attracted to writing police procedurals. In a modern setting, their familiarity and ubiquitousness bore me. But in a Paris somewhere between the Franco-Prussian War and La Belle Époque, I found I could create a seethingly post-gothic world of crime and decadence that felt right in my wheel house.
Freed of the canon of Doyle, set as it is in Victorian/Edwardian London, I could paint my world unreservedly in vivid colours taken from Poe, populating my stories with baroque ideas, grotesque scenes, and concepts that nudge to the very edge of the inexplicable—even supernatural.
It was, I confess, as the stories added up year on year (and I wrote them really with no grand plan other than to please myself), a heady mixture and an intoxicating one. One that demanded I create impossible crimes—horrifying crimes—which would test the very limit of my detectives’ talent and resolve.
It was also a labour of love to not only the various actors I had enjoyed playing Holmes over the years—Cushing, Rathbone, Brett . . .—but also to the immense influence of the Poe films of Roger Corman had exerted over me, and still did.
But then something peculiar happened.
I realised that the solving of crimes was not what I was writing. The series wanted to be more, finally. It had to be about the passing of the baton. From master to pupil. From C. Auguste Dupin to Sherlock Holmes, before the young detective was to meet his Watson in London, and the rest is history.
That imperative took me on a journey to dig deeper into the two characters and what they meant to each other, and to me.
For that reason I feel intensely proud of this book. I hope it will find a readership as excited by turning the pages as I was when writing them. And, coming it does on the heels of my Dark Masters Trilogy, I hope they feel it is a fitting tribute to two magisterial authors who, probably more than any others, shaped my writing taste and abiding obsessions to this day.
Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. I salute you. And I hope Under a Raven’s Wing does, too.
To order Under a Raven's Wing go to www.pspublishing.co.uk
Another chance to listen to this interview from 2018 in the series Write Through the Roof, the podcast by Madeleine d'Este for writers who want to improve their craft.
In Episode 25, amongst he subjects we discuss are:
The Hidden Station Podcast presents "With All My Love Always Always Forever XXX" - a mini Christmas horror story by Stephen Volk specially written for the festive season. With James Hamer-Morton playing the narrator and Iestyn, and Charlie Bond as Michaela. Produced by Conor Dowling. Original music by Darren Lee. Check out Episode 10 of The Hidden Station podcast to hear their interview Stephen Volk about Ghostwatch.
Terribly thrilled to be the subject of a sudden and somewhat humbling retrospective of my work thanks to the guys at Horrified Magazine. In their words (not mine) - "What better way to see in Halloween than with a celebration of the very writer who scared the hell out of anyone who settled down on a Saturday night, All Hallows’ Eve in 1992, to watch a BBC ‘spoof’ horror programme? Ghostwatch left an indelible mark on many, if not everyone, who experienced it and caused such tremendous shockwaves that it’s never been rebroadcast. Even 28 years later, Ghostwatch is still heralded as landmark horror television, and quite rightly so.
"Yet, Stephen Volk’s career is about more than Ghostwatch alone. From the screenplay to Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986) to last year’s set of essays, Coffinmaker’s Blues, by way of the brilliant triptych, The Dark Masters Trilogy and 2011’s The Awakening, his work continues to terrify, thrill and challenge us.
"Our celebration features an essay on Ghostwatch, a new 3-part interview with the man himself, a special Halloween giveaway of Stephen's books (see below) from PS Publishing, reviews of The Dark Masters Trilogy and Coffinmaker's Blues – plus a brand new short story, "For the Benefit of the Tape" written exclusively for Horrified.
"And," they add, helpfully - "just before you think of leaving this page - remember, Pipes said we’ve got to stay…"
Best-selling novelist Neil Spring - author of The Ghost Hunters (adapted into the ITV drama Harry Price: Ghost Hunter starring Rafe Spall), The Watchers, The Lost Village, and The Burning House, kindly asked me to interview him for the online launch of his spooky and gripping new novel The Haunted Shore. I was more than delighted to do so. I think we had an enteratining chat in the run-up to Halloween about what intrigues us both about the subject of the supernatural in fiction and real life - in fact, both of us rather blur the lines between the two. (For instance, Neil features Aleister Crowley as a background, malignant force in The Burning House, whereas I use him as a fully fledged character in "Netherwood" - one of the stories in my Dark Masters Trilogy.) Watch the whole conversation on Facebook here. Neil reveals some fascinating insights into the inspiration for The Haunted Shore, set as it is against the atmospheric and eerie background of Orford Ness, and, as ever with his stories, is as much about a sense of place as it is about the echoes of past traumas acted out in the present. A real page turner.
Buy your copy of The Haunted Shore here
Shortly after the broadcast of Sky/HBO's The Third Day’s live episode, Autumn, starring Jude Law and created by Punchdrunk and director Marc Munden, Stephen Volk (creator of the BBC’s notorious Halloween "live" event, Ghostwatch) and novelist and short story writer Robert Shearman (also screenwriter of Dalek for Doctor Who) got together via Zoom with Paul Simpson of SciFi Bulletin to discuss the remarkable, genre-bending folk horror 12-hour event. Their conversation, lightly edited for clarity, can be found on SciFi Bulletin. It also contains some spoilers for the first three episodes of The Third Day, as well as the all-day theatrical event.
Return – if you dare – to the heyday of horror...
To the era of British cinema when the bywords for terror and the celluloid supernatural were Hammer Films, Amicus Productions, and Blythewood – the “Studio of Screams” (as the News of the World dubbed it in 1965).
Here, as never permitted before, are the authorised novelizations of four Blythewood classic horror films.
Forgotten by some. Unforgettable to many.
To chill your spine from the printed page as they once did from the silver screen...
SWORD OF THE DEMON
Death and disaster stalk the members of a British expedition after they plunder the tomb of a legendary Chinese warlord, for among the artefacts they ship back to London is a sword rumoured to contain the spirit of a vengeful demon...
THE DEVIL’S CIRCUS
Le Circus Furneaux brings screams of joy wherever they travel, but there are other screams as well. Each searching for a missing brother, Yvette and Hugo will find those screams beneath the big top of The Devil’s Circus!...
CASTLE OF THE LOST
After surviving the war, Jack and his wife and child return to his family estate, Grayland Castle, the site of a scandal involving ritual sex and murder. That was all in the past, and now they're here to make the place their home. But in such places, the past does not wish to remain hidden. And in the castle's basements, shadows stir...
In the swinging sixties, Geraldine Copper works for the EBFC, better known as the censor, in London’s Soho. When she clashes with a firebrand director, Marcus Rand, over cuts to his violent and sexually-charged film The Mortal Sins of Dracula, it sets in train a series of ghastly events as the film itself seems to haunt her...
But whatever happened to Blythewood Studios?
Reclusive former movie producer Lawrence Blythewood agrees to surreptitiously meet with a college professor in rural Québec. Insisting upon the utmost security, he comes out of exile for just 24 hours. Long enough to discuss his cinematic legacy – and the four films above – but harbouring his own dark agenda...
A new anthology from PS Publishing of inter-conected stories from the fevered minds of masters of horror Stephen R. Bissette, Mark Morris, Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon and Stephen Volk, with cover art by genre movie poster legend Graham Humphreys.
Unsigned Jacketed Hardcover. (A signed & numbered edition limited to 100 copies is also available.) Order your copy here.
Also check out this special feature at SciFi Bulletin: A Zoom interview with the authors about the Blythewood project and how it came about - with encyclopaedic references to our influences. And a chat between Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette about the book:
I think it’s true to say that many of us horror writers of a certain generation have treasured memories of Hammer Films, Amicus Productions and their ilk. In fact, their output of genre classics is so important that some of us have secretly longed for a way to relive and recapture the excitement we had when we first experienced them.
That was my exact impulse when I first talked to Mark Morris about a book proposal entitled The Blythewood Horror Film Omnibus — an unashamed homage to John Burke’s Hammer Horror Film Omnibus, a fat paperback that came out in the sixties, comprising four novellas based on upcoming horror films. The difference being that our “Blythewood” would be a studio that never existed.
Our four films would be movies that we’d invent from scratch. Movies we wished we could have seen as feature films when we were growing up. And now we can – in book form – thanks to PS Publishing.
Amongst the eighteen entirely new stories brought together to celebrate the thirtieth year of Tartarus Press in the latest Strange Tales volume is my own contribution, "The Flickering Light", in which the preternatural flits in a hesitation between past and present tensions, real or imagined.
Tartarus says: Representing the best contemporary writing in the fields of the literary strange, supernatural, fantasy and horror, the contents of this anthology range from the wry comic fantasy of Jonathan Preece’s "Great Dead American Authors Alive and Living in Cwmbran", to the atmospheric horror of Andrew Michael Hurley’s "Hunger". In "Grassman" by Rebecca Lloyd, two sisters come of age during a village ceremony, while in "Meiko" by J.M. Walsh, a mysterious guest upsets the equilibrium of a country house party. Mark Valentine’s "Other Things" documents the romance and strangeness of private lore, while the search for a missing girl leads to a sinister discovery in D.P. Watt’s "The Wardian Case". Dark family secrets are gradually uncovered in Angela Slatter’s "The Three Burdens of Nest Wynne".
Founded in 1990 by Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker, Tartarus has become a well-egarded feaure of the genre publishing landscape, known for championing both classic and contemporary writers. The stories in this volume sit proudly within that tradition, and I'm very proud to be a part of it.
See here for full table of contents and list of authors
"This rich and masterful collection of horror highlights both up-and-coming and established authors in an interesting twist on the standard anthology [...] Highly recommended for longstanding horror fans and those readers who may not think horror is for them. There is something for everyone in this one" Booklist
This new anthology contains 20 original horror stories, one of which is my own contribion, entitled "The Naughty Step". Edited by master of horror in his own right Mark Morris, it is the first of what will hopefully become an annual, non-themed horror anthology from Flame Tree Press of entirely original stories, showcasing the very best short fiction that the genre has to offer.
Order a copy here
High time I gave a shout out on this web site to the vastly talented Pedro Marques, the cover designer behind, I'm glad to say, all the fiction books I have done with the marvellous PS Publishing, so far. Whatever the dubious quality of the prose contained between said covers, the books, I always know, will look damn gorgeous. And it's always exciting to see what he comes up with.
As PS themselves said in a recent newsletter, Pedro is one of a select bunch of artists who design the whole book; interior text and graphics, signing sheets, slipcases, the whole shebang!
His most recent work for PS includes The Complete Short Stories of Mike Carey, and The Divide, playwright Alan Ayckbourn's debut novel. He also worked on the interior book design and cover arrangement using Dani Serra's artwork for Angela Slatter's collection The Heart is a mirror for Sinners.
Pedro is currently working on up and coming PS projects The Big Blind by Lavie Tidhar (his eighth Lavie book) and Stephen Volk's Under a Raven's Wing (his fourth). (More info on that latter project as it comes in.)
Meanwhile, is this really a photograph of the elusive Pedro, or simply "fake news" created by a quick trawl of the internet? Perhaps that fine looking lobster knows, but he sure as hell ain't telling...