Seven more sleeps till Halloween! Sorry, had to get that out of my system.
As we approach the final week of 31 Days of Halloween, it is an immense pleasure to welcome Stephen Volk, “the BAFTA-winning writer of the notorious BBC TV ‘Hallowe’en hoax’ Ghostwatch,” to the Library. Volk’s other screenplays include The Awakening and Ken Russell’s Gothic, and the award-winning ITV drama series Afterlife.
While North American audiences are likely to know him primarily from his television and film work mentioned above, he’s also an accomplished author, with stories appearing in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Best British Mysteries, and Best British Horror, and multiple award nominations. His short story collection Monsters in the Heart won the British Fantasy Award in 2014. And his latest collection, The Parts We Play , is available now from PS Publishing.
So I know you’re wondering – because I certainly am – what scares the man who scared so, so many people back in 1992? Read on to find out.
* * *
31 Days of Halloween… with Stephen Volk
In your opinion, what is the all-time scariest horror novel or short story?
I must say, often short fiction scares me more than full length novels, perhaps because it’s easier. It’s something to do with the conciseness not being bound to a larger narrative. Once the story gets longer, the reader gets more critical. The short story that genuinely unnerved me more than any other is “Small Animals” by Alison Moore, in her collection The Pre-War House and Other Stories. Another is Mark Morris’s superb “Puppies For Sale” which appears in Wrapped in Skin. Mark writes the kind of stories I love. The late, brilliant, Joel Lane wrote an unnerving but achingly beautiful story called “For Crying Out Loud” in the collection The Anniversary of Never which is, as of my reading it last week, one of my favourite stories of all time. As far as novels are concerned, Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park I found intensely disturbing. Adam Nevill’s The Ritual is incredibly immersive and replete with a sense of morbid and existential dread. But when I consider the span of my reading life, the stand-out for getting under my skin (and staying there) has to be Blatty’s The Exorcist. Here we have quality of writing on so many levels that lifts it out of genre, or even literature, to the level of a cultural phenomenon. By way of very many sleepless nights.
What’s the scariest scene and/or book you yourself have written?
I guess it is a scene in my BBC TV drama Ghostwatch – which was transmitted in the UK on Hallowe’en 1992, to extraordinary and unexpected effect, creating outrage and panic, jamming the switchboards at the BBC, causing the tabloid press to have a field day, questions to be raised in Parliament, and even eventually being quoted in the British Journal of Medicine as being the first television programme to cause post-traumatic stress in children! The scene that worked so well, I think (on a viewing audience half of whom thought is really was a live broadcast from a haunted house), was the scene in the children’s bedroom, where the hand-held camera does a quick whip pan past a monkish figure standing by the curtains…. and when it pans back, the figure is gone. I love the idea that the audience at home were going “I saw somebody standing there!” “No you didn’t!” “Yes I did!” And nobody in the programme is remarking upon it. People must’ve thought they were going nuts. So that gives me a great deal of pleasure.
Your top three fears?
Alfred Hitchcock was once asked: “Mr Hitchcock, you frighten people for a living – but what are you afraid of?” Hitch said: “Everything.” So my three answers would be – Everything, Everything and Everything!
Visit Stephen Volk at www.stephenvolk.net