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From the mouth of the Madman

Dear Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror’s brotherhood, through the years, this, your section “De Boca del Loco” (From the Mouth of the Madman) has been pleased to bring you interviews with some of the best authors in the horror, sci-fi and fantasy fields. But once in a while the elder gods descend upon us to bless our existence (or to curse it) with the wisdom of the prophets that held the secrets of beyond.

This humble servant of Azathoth is jaunty to bring to you a Living Legend and a Master among Masters, and one of the Best writers in our beloved genre. Mister Ramsey Campbell.

Ramsey Campbell is an English Wordsmith with more than 60 years of experience; his novels, short stories and anthologies have set the base to the modern horror not only in literature, but for arts in general.

If we tried to list the achievements and awards Mr. Campbell has conquered with years of effort and discipline, we would need a whole article and a long discussion. Suffice it to say, that some great authors and academics like Clive Barker and S.T. Joshi, concur that his stories will be discussed in universities for many years to come.

So without further ado, let’s see what scary words come De Boca del Loco!!!

Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror: Thank you Mr. Campbell for honoring us with this session; usually our official interviewer El Dumpstero chooses the questions, but this time, and you being so well known, we decided to give some of your Mexican fans the opportunity to ask Ramsey Campbell directly. So let’s hear them: Isidro Morales, -a writer and reviewer of literature- wants to know; how did you learn to write, did you use a method or are you purely organic? If not, maybe you would recommend books or some other approach.

Ramsey Campbell: From the start I rarely plotted in advance but set about writing once I felt I’d gathered enough material for a tale. I did greatly benefit from editorial advice by August Derleth at the start of my career, when I was fifteen. I didn’t write a published novel until 1975, and in those days I felt insufficiently confident to do so without having outlined the book pretty fully beforehand. Once I relaxed with the form I gave that up, and for decades I’ve let novels take shape in the process of writing – I much prefer that organic process, and like to surprise myself with what I write – though I do need some sense of the general structure, the order of some of the events.

CL&H: This next one comes from an attorney, writer and essayist, Ramón López Castro, he asks: Do you consider that horror/terror literature has a concrete political ideology, and if so, what would it be?

RC: Certainly not just one. Writers such as Russell Kirk are profoundly conservative, for instance, and Robert Aickman too, though considerably more interestingly in my view. By contrast, the likes of Joel Lane and Simon Bestwick are well to the left, and the view of society and life as it is lived reflects this. I’m more in their camp. More generally, we might say that horror fiction that presents the monster as utterly Other – nothing to do with us – is conservative, though much of it can’t avoid acknowledging (even if inadvertently) how this means the monster represents some aspect of themselves the characters refuse to admit to or actively reject. On that basis, horror is often more complex than its practitioners may realise it is, though I think I’m conscious of its complexities in my own writing, and try to address these issues there.

CL&H: Now comes the turn for a lady, Dr. Marion BZ, psychiatrist, horror arts promoter and founder of CL&H. She says: In 2018, you edited ‘The Folio Book of Horror Stories’ (a great selection you made there); in your introduction, you quote David Aylward saying “Writers who used to strive for awe and achieve fear, now strive for fear and achieve only disgust”. What do you mean by that?

RC: Pretty well what Aylward said. While I think it’s an oversimplification, I do believe it has truth at its core. The more you strive to be frightening, rather than letting the narrative find its own level of intensity, the more likely you may be to spill over into excess and gratuitous gruesomeness (although restraint can be a compensating factor if you employ it successfully – you can certainly be frightening with suggestiveness). In my own work I’d say The Parasite is an example, which strains so much to scare that it becomes shrill and monotonously unpleasant. By contrast, stories that aspire to convey awe may indeed covey terror – “The Willows”, “The White People”, “The Colour out of Space”. Every so often I try to achieve this, and failing that, I do my best to deal with other terrors with at least some reticence.

CL&H: Octavio Villalpando is a plastic artist, writer and horror expert. Octavio asks: As one of the great exponents of the Weird Literature, what is your impression about the present state of it and what the future will bring to this genre? And since you were one of the younger writers of your generation who got to publish your work professionally, what would you advise the youngsters who are trying to create a path of their own (specifically in horror)?

RC: I think the field is excitingly vital just now – indeed, has been for some while. The future – well, diversity has certainly brought extra life to the genre, and who knows what new tales may be told? To youthful newcomers I’d say tell as much of the truth as you can in your work. Write about what frightens or disturbs you and you’ll find your themes, from which your style will develop too. Read the classics and your contemporaries, both within and outside the field. And bring your vigour to it! It can always use more.

CL&H: This question comes from an entity identified only as ‘Psychopomps’. IT wants to know: talking about your new trilogy (The Three Births of Daoloth). Are there any plans for it to be translated and printed in Spanish soon? I have read that the stories are back to your roots in cosmic horror and the Brichester Mythos that have frightened and influenced many people for generations.

RC: It is indeed my reworking of the Brichester Mythos – my attempt to find more cosmic terror in it than I managed in my first published book. But alas, I don’t know of any plans for a Spanish edition.

CL&H: Speaking about influence, and since I know another passion you explore is cinema, I wanted to ask you, how much has cinema influenced your writing and are there any Mexican cinematographers you admire?

RC: Oddly enough, the very first film to exert an influence on my writing was Mexican – Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, which I first saw when I was fourteen. (It was actually the first film I saw that wasn’t in English.) The way its extreme realism is almost surreal, while it uses a surreal dream to illuminate the real, pointed me along the path I took in Demons by Daylight and since, Last Year in Marienbad showed me how disturbing narrative dislocation could be. I should add that I very much admire Buñuel’s work in general.

CL&H: And now that we are on the movie set, we have a question from another lady, Morgan D; A physician and horror writing contests organizer. Dr. Morgan D. says: Considering the current state of horror cinema, and the work of writer/directors like Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and even veterans such as Gaspar Noé, what is your position towards new horror in movies? It seems that now the aesthetics are more important than closing the story, or with stories more open or contemplative compared to classic horror films.

RC: Closing the story – well, I dislike too much explanation, and so I often favour films and prose tales that end in ambiguity or enigma. Aster and Eggers I value highly for conveying an accumulation of dread, and the contemporary horror director (because surely that’s what his films are) whose work I rate highest of all is David Lynch. Half a dozen of his films have deeply terrified me on an instinctual level, and I don’t think anyone now working communicates more of a sense of the uncanny. Other films I’ve recently admired in the field include Vivarium, It Follows, Ghost Stories (which does resolve itself ingeniously) and the quintessentially grim Possum.

CL&H: This one comes from Abraham Martinez ‘Cuervoscuro’, writer, editor and comic book creator who wants to know: Why if some of your tales and novels are so cinematic, we haven’t seen more of them adapted for the screen? And is it a coincidence that the 3 stories from you amazing catalog that went on to be filmed, are directed by Spanish directors and they are partly Spanish productions?

RC: You would have to ask the filmmakers. Spanish folk do seem to be attracted to my tales, and indeed Jaume Balagueró is presently developing a television series based on The Nameless.

CL&H: As an aspiring writer, and the fact that I am encouraged by my wife to keep writing, and as you have stated, your wife Jenny is your first reader (just like in the case of other authors like Stephen King). How important is it to get someone so close to you, involved into your work? And has she ever been shocked by your tales?

RC: Hurrah for your wife! Jenny has been crucial to me not just as a first reader who sometimes makes suggestions – she was invaluable when I first went fulltime as a writer in 1973. If she hadn’t been teaching I should never have had the time to succeed as a writer – as it was, it took five years.

CL&H: This question comes from a writer, plastic artist and collector. His name is Gabriel Carrillo, and wants to know: Do you think over the last few years, the “Lovecraftian” horror has been overexploited both in movies and literature predominating quantity over quality? And, if so, what do you consider to be worthy examples of cosmic terror in recent times?

RC: I think the aspiration towards awe is crucial to writing tales of cosmic terror. Of recent examples, Mark Samuels certainly has it, and Victor LaValle doesn’t miss it out of The Ballad of Black Tom.

CL&H: Something we consider very important (especially in this era where everything looks terrifying). What is Ramsey Campbell afraid of?

RC: Gullibility. The vulnerability of children. The increasing reluctance of people to intervene when they see or suspect wrongdoing. The espousal of beliefs that deny the right to question. The growth of fundamentalism, which means more and worse of the previous trait. The willingness of the mass (which may well mean all of us) to find scapegoats. The growth of the notion that literacy and other standards are less important than they used to be. The sense that the world is sliding into chaos, carried there by extremes of human behaviour.

CL&H: One of the frequent activities that our interviewed do for their Mexican fans is to share with us a micro fiction of whatever comes to their mind, I’ll give you the start:

The next item on his bucket list was to visit that mysterious place that his compatriot had described many years ago in the novel "Under the Volcano", so after the pandemic ended, he took a flight to Mexico and to be faithful to the story, the day of the dead, Ramsey walked the streets of Quauhnahuac when a couple of indios asked “Are you the consul?”.

RC: “I used to be,” he whimpered, “but now I’m the dog,” and fled so fast he was able to hope they wouldn’t pull off his mask and the rest of his costume and throw him down the ravine…

CL&H: Amazing Mr. Campbell, are there any final words you want to share with your Mexican fans?

RC: May you all be healthy and prosperous!

Thanks to Master Ramsey Campbell for these enlightening words and thanks to all of you Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror readers and to those who collaborated in this interview, which ended up being a collaborative class. Don’t forget to visit his official site for more information and books.

See you at the next edition of “De Boca del Loco”

-El Dumpstero-

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