RAMSEY CAMPBELL has been justly described as perhaps the finest living exponent of the British weird fiction tradition, and in 1991 he was voted the Horror Writer’s Horror Writer in the Observer Magazine.
John Ramsey Campbell was born in Liverpool in 1946, and still lives on Merseyside with his wife Jenny and their children Tammy and Matty. He sold his first story, ‘The Church in the High Street’, to August Derleth in 1962. Leaving school that same year, his first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and less Welcome Tenants appeared from Derleth’s Arkham House imprint two years later. Campbell worked for the Inland Revenue and later in a library until he became a full-time writer and reviewer in 1973. Although his early fiction was heavily influenced by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos (yet set in a distinctly British milieu), his subsequent books and stories have revealed him to be a unique voice in horror fiction.
Ramsey wrote a detailed introduction in Dark Companions which gives some insights into his life and influences.
"My most vivid memories of my early childhood are of being frightened: by Hans Anderson and the girl cutting off her feet to rid herself of the dancing red shoes, by the deformed creatures that swarm out of the mine in The Princess and the Goblin, by (most unlikely of all) an edition of The Rupert Annual in which a Christmas tree stalks home to its forest one night, creaking away in the dark and leaving a trail of earth through the house. The cinema got to me too: I spent most of Disney’s Snow White in a state bordering on panic, and then there was the scene (meant as a joke) in Danny Kaye’s Knock on Wood where a corpse is hung up like a hat and coat on the back of a door. I began to read adult horror fiction when I was eight or nine years old, but I’d already known for years that fiction could be terrifying." A couple of years ago Ramsey found that copy of The Rupert Annual and showed it to his audience at the Harris Museum where he was doing a reading. It was even more scary than he remembered it!
"So when I began to write stories, they had to be tales of would-be terror. At the age of eleven I had finished a short book of ghost and horror stories, patched together like Frankenstein’s monster from fragments of tales I had read. Most writers start by imitating their favourites. Mine, three years later, was H.P. Lovecraft, now that I’d found a complete book of his stories. Lovecraft’s style seemed easy to imitate, and so did his monsters. I wrote half a dozen stories in the manner of Lovecraft, with titles such as ‘The Tower from Yuggoth’, and sent them to August Derleth of Arkham House, Lovecraft’s American publisher. Derleth liked them enough to tell me how to improve them - by describing fewer things as eldritch and unspeakable and cosmically alien, for a start, and by re-reading the ghost stories of M.R. James to learn suggestiveness - and eventually he published a book of them. You can tell I was seventeen when I finished the book - one character thinks nothing of buying a house sight unseen - but all the same, it began my career."
"Literary imitation is rather like ventriloquism - trying to say things in someone else’s voice - and just about as limited a skill. My next book was a reaction against this, and sometimes so personal as to be wilfully incomprehensible. By now I’d left school and was working in the tax office, where I wrote stories at my desk in the lunch hour, surrounded by bureaucratic activity and ringing ’phones. No wonder my surroundings began to appear in my stories, and so did my growing obsession with movies and the dying cinemas where I caught up with films of the previous thirty years."
"Since my first book was an imitation of Lovecraft’s horrors, it had been a way of side-stepping my own fears - I sometimes think that is why so many amateur writers imitate Lovecraft today - but now I was beginning to write about them, perhaps because I was gaining enough confidence as a writer to be more honest about myself."
Ramsey’s home life was also a great influence in his work. His mother slowly drifted into madness and Ramsey was petrified that his father, a policeman, would come home before he was asleep in bed.
"While the supernatural elements in these new tales weren’t autobiographical, the feelings were - particularly the descriptions of how it felt to be afraid. During my schooldays I’d often been terrified of going to the to the Catholic grammar school, where they were fond of using corporal punishment, but now that I was growing up I found that there were many other things to fear: women, and answering the office ’phone, and talking about myself, and going to parties where I knew almost nobody... Well, I needn’t go on; most of it is in my stories somewhere."
"I had four years of the tax office, and another seven of public libraries. It wasn’t until my second collection was published that I decided to try to write full time. I was growing bored with irrelevancies; at least everything you do as a writer is relevant to the job - no cramming yourself for examinations (a pet hate of mine) with facts you will never use again, no dressing up and looking servile at interviews. The first couple of years were hard; if my wife hadn’t been working, they would have been impossible. At least writing for a living persuaded me to make myself clearer, and so, I suppose, did reading my stories to audiences - for me, the most enjoyable part of my work."
A multiple winner of both the British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards, Campbell has also completed several of Robert E. Howard’s stories of Solomon Kane, written the novelizations of The Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter under the house name ‘Carl Dreadstone’’, and is the author of Claw (US: Night of the Claw) behind the somewhat obvious alias of ‘Jay Ramsey’. In 1992 he celebrated thirty years of chilling spines, and the bumper collection of his best short fiction, Alone With the Horrors, commemorates the event.
Ramsey is president of the British Fantasy Society. His pleasures include good food, Laurel and Hardy films, walking, and he uses music from Hildegard von Bingen onwards as an aid to his writing. His books have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Finnish, Japanese, Swedish and Dutch. He is much in demand as a reader of his stories to audiences.
- Superhorror aka The Far Reaches of Fear (1976)
- New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos
- New Terrors
- The Gruesome Book
- Stories That Scared Me
- Fine Frights
- Best New Horror series, with Stephen Jones
- Uncanny Banquet
COLLECTIONS OF SHORT FICTION:
- The Inhabitant of the Lake
- Demons By Daylight (1975)
- The Height of the Scream
- Dark Companions (1982)
- Cold Print
- Dark Feasts (1987)
- Scared Stiff (1989)
- Waking Nightmares
- Alone With the Horrors
- The Doll Who Ate His Mother
- The Face That Must Die (1979)
- To Wake The Dead (US: The Parasite) (1979)
- The Nameless
- Incarnate (1983)
- Obsession (1985)
- The Night of the Claw
- The Hungry Moon (1986)
- The Influence (1988)
- Ancient Images (1989)
- Needing Ghosts (novella) (1990)
- Midnight Sun (1990)
- The Count of Eleven (1991)
- The Long Lost (1993)
- The One Safe Place (1995)