Thursday, 25 March 2010

Interview with Mark Morris

In the run up to Hub's Doctor Who special I will be posting a series of small interviews with those writers who have kindly contributed specially commissioned pieces for the Easter Special.

The third interview is with Mark Morris, bestselling horror novelist and Doctor Who Magazine poll-topping author of Tenth Doctor novels Forever Autumn and Ghosts of India.

Hi Mark. There are quite a few writers and critics out there who believe that the Horror genre shouldn’t be taken serious and that the modern Horror novel has no place amongst ‘proper’ literature. How would you respond to this?

In my opinion, most of those critics have never actually read any horror fiction, because they consider it beneath them, and so are preaching from a pulpit of ignorance. I read very widely – horror, science-fiction, crime, mainstream, non-fiction – and have found there to be good and bad writing right across the board. Good horror, like all fiction, deals with big human issues – life, death, love, madness, alienation, grief, anxiety, hope, despair – and indeed, many so-called literary or mainstream writers have written ghost and horror stories. MacBeth is a horror story. Similarly The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are full of dark, fantastical elements. Charles Dickens wrote ghost stories – A Christmas Carol, The Signalman etc. Many modern literary writers delve frequently into the supernatural: Ian McEwan, Rupert Thomson, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Patrick McGrath, Bret Easton Ellis, John Harwood, Haruki Murakami…the list goes on.

The Horror genre today is a very different beast to the one that was thriving in the Seventies & Eighties. Do you see this as a good or bad thing?

In the 70s and 80s horror was really booming, and as such there were lots of cheap rip-off novels based on the various trends of the time. After Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, for instance, we got a million and one novels about evil demonic children, and after Jaws came a slew of books about killer dogs, cats, crabs, spiders, crocodiles, rats etc. Unfortunately after this incredible boom came the ‘bust’ period of the 90s and the early 00s. There was still a lot of good horror fiction being written, but most of it was being published by high-quality small press publishers like PS and Subterranean and Cemetery Dance. This was fine for discerning readers, but it’s been very tough for writers. It’s much harder to make a career as a horror writer now than it was fifteen years ago. There are, happily, palpable signs of recovery, in that various mass market publishers are actively looking for good quality horror fiction again. But hell, the whole market has changed in the last fifteen, twenty years. People in general – mainly young people – just don’t read as many books as they used to. It’s a worrying trend.

If you could travel back and give the yet-to-be-published Mark Morris one piece of advice what would you say?

Don’t spend all your big advances at once! Save for the future. Your career will be full of ups and downs. Remember, this writing lark is a marathon, not a sprint… that kind of thing.

The walking dead, or zombies, is a theme you’ve revisited a couple of times in your novels, are there any other popular Horror ‘monsters’ you’ve considered using?

I love werewolves, and if I came up with a really good, original werewolf idea I might give it a go. I have written one werewolf story in the past – Immortal, which appeared in the Mammoth Book of Werewolves back in 1994 and has just been re-issued as the Mammoth Book of Wolf Men to cash in on the recent, very disappointing movie. Re zombies, I ought to say that, although I love them, they have been imposed on me a little bit just recently. I submitted an idea to Big Finish about a zombie virus created by the Daleks and distributed in the form of acid rain. When this was originally rejected, I then decided to do an all-out, no-holds-barred zombie fest in my Torchwood novel, Bay of the Dead. Then Big Finish came back to me and asked me whether I’d like to do my Dalek/rain zombie story as part of their Stockbridge trilogy. And then Big Finish employed me again for another project (which I’m not allowed to talk about at the moment), because part of the story arc involved a mad scientist who brings the dead back to life, and they thought I’d be ideal for that.

So I’m now officially zombied out. For the time being, at least.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Oh, lots. Far too many to go into here. Part of the reason I write is to try to re-create and convey the sheer pleasure I’ve gleaned over the years from the work of writers like Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, Jonathan Coe, James Lee Burke, Rupert Thomson, Jonathan Carroll, Magnus Mills…oh, many, many more.

From this moment forward you can only read one book, listen to one album and watch one film, what would they be?

I hate these kinds of questions. So much of what I want to read or watch or listen to depends on my mood at the time. However, if pushed, I’d say my book would be a great big, hand-picked anthology of my favourite horror short stories; my album would be a Stranglers compilation (my favourite band of all time); and my film… this is a tough one. I’m tempted to say Psycho, because in many ways I believe it’s the perfect film. But I absolutely adore the old Hammer and Amicus films I grew up with, and so I’d probably choose a huge, 10-hour long Amicus portmanteau movie – an amalgamation of From Beyond The Grave, ‘Asylum, Tales From The Crypt and The House That Dripped Blood, starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, and co-starring lots of lovely character actors from the 60s and 70s.

Who or what has been the biggest creative influence on your writing?

There are lots of influences: my old 3rd year English teacher, Mr Hodgson; Doctor Who – and indeed, many of the seminal TV shows I grew up with in the 70s; the Pan and Fontana books of Horror and Ghost stories; the work of Nigel Kneale, Brian Clemens, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell and (in my teenage years) James Herbert; The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, The Damned, The Clash… all of this stuff filters through in one way or another.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Write every day. Write as much as you can. Be Flexible (I meet so many people who just want to write for Doctor Who). Keep submitting your stuff. Listen to advice from editors, publishers, agents, etc. Don't take rejections too personally. Be prepared for a long, hard road, full of ups and downs.


Mark's official website is at

http://www.markmorriswriter.com/


His Doctor Who novels Forever Autumn and Ghosts of India are available from BBC Books.


To download and/or order Mark's Big Finish audio plays go to

http://www.bigfinish.com/


The next interview will be with Doctor Who writer and author of the popular Brenda & Effie novels Paul Magrs.


3 comments:

  1. Excellent interview Scott and great answers from Mark, really interesting. Glad to hear of 'palpable' signs of recovery in the market for Horror Fiction.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Jason. Horror has been in a bit of a rut over the past two decades and it's nice to see that it's finally dragging itself out. Hopefully soon it might become as popular as Sci-Fi and Fantasy are at the moment.

    ReplyDelete