KG: This book has been talked about in the horror circles. It has almost gained legendary status. When did you first get involved with Thomas Singer and his thought lost last book?
CL: That's right, there have been rumours about this book's existence for years. I knew a couple of people at college who were huge Thomas Singer fans and they were always talking about parts of manuscripts being leaked online or some illegal copy of dictated notes going up for sale on eBay. I didn't really give it much thought myself. I'm one of those people who has an ever growing pile of books to read. I always figured I'd read some of his stuff one day and I guess, in a way, I wasn't wrong.
I first met Thomas in a writer's group I'd started attending in my home town of Rugby. I was trying to finish my first novel at the time and I was getting nowhere. Thomas came in one night and I was vaguely aware of who he was. It was only after he found out I wrote horror that he started talking to me. We got on quite well for a while. I went round his house a few times but we never really talked about his last book. That only came about after he died, you know after he disappeared and they found his body in those caves near Ambleside. It was all a bit strange. Getting the call from his solicitors and having to go to London. There was a lot of paperwork involved before I saw anything. He'd never let on that he was going to trust me with this huge responsibility. It was pretty intimidating. I was just lucky my old college mates didn't find out about it. I would've been in serious trouble if they knew I'd got to read Thomas Singer's last work before they had, let alone edit it.
KG: Lots of writers have worked on lost manuscripts and writing as dead writers. Did it seem strange working and editing such a milestone book from such an iconic horror writer?
CL: It really did. The first time I read the five stories I was going to edit it felt so strange. It was like I could feel him in the room with me. It was hard not to be aware of the weight of it on my shoulders as well. I was really doing this out of an obligation. I'd abused Thomas' trust towards the end and I really felt this was my chance to make amends for that. Only there was something odd about these stories. I spotted it as I read over and over them. There was these odd little patterns in the plots and the characters. They were like breadcrumb trails. A lot of the editing really became about digging into his past and the few other journal and diary entries his solicitors allowed me to see. I can see now why people can grow so fascinated with his writing. There is always a great story for you to enjoy but there is always this hint of something underneath. Something concealed inside the story. There is going to be a final part of this book I've not read yet. Thomas wrote that himself and there is a lot to suggest he is going to explain his reasons for holding back this four stories until now. To be honest I'm counting the minutes until I can finally read that. It's totally stopped me working on anything else. I can't wait to see what he has to say for himself.
KG: How did you feel when you first got the manuscript?
CL: The first time I got to see it was at his solicitors. After I'd signed everything we set a date and I had to go back down to London to see it. They set it up in one of their meeting rooms and left me alone with this locked briefcase. When I first opened it and took the pages out my hands were shaking. I mean there are people who have devoted themselves to studying his work. They would have killed to be there but, somehow, I'd jumped ahead of them in the queue. Some of those pages were so old. In the end I suggested we scanned them in and I took away a copy but it never took away that feeling of the old boy watching over my shoulder.
KG: What other horror writers would you closely identify yourself with?
CL: Now that's a tough question I don't know if anyone else gets this but I always find it's hard not to identify with Stephen King. He has sewn himself into the fabric of modern horror. He was the struggling horror writer who couldn't catch a break. A man really wrestling against himself and his own demons and doubts. Then there's his desire to tell the story in such a clean and simple way and to tell the story he wants to write. There's such a variation in his work. His Dark Tower is still one of the best things I've ever read and his book on the process of writing is brilliant. It's a great read, let alone a great tool.
There are other horror writers I find myself drawn to but they all belong to a different age. The old Victorian gothic style of ghost stories. I love those but the writers themselves can feel almost alien at times. They lived in a different world to us in so many ways. A world of dwindling candles and strict values. I suppose, in some respects, the fact they lived as outsiders is what I most understand about them. The feeling that you're just outside the margins of the normal.
KG: You've now written a lot novellas what is your favourite story and why?
CL: I'll be honest, that can change on a daily basis. I'll always have a soft spot for The Compressionist as it was the first one I ever had properly published and people really responded to that character and those stories. Then there's The Final Restoration of Wendell Pruce. That came out of a nightmare I had and still managed to catch me off guard when I was writing the end. The image of those things dancing back into the sea. It still creeps me out. For all of that, though, I am still hugely proud of the stories in The Righteous Judges collection. Those six stories, well seven in the end, almost seemed to write themselves at times. Particularly a story like Pepper's Bridge. That came from so many strange places, including a long conversation with my optician about place names. Again, just like Wendell Pruce, the ending really caught me by surprise. My subconscious was doing all the heavy lifting with that first draft and it never even let me know.
KG: They've all been put into a collection by Kensington Gore Publishing. Available here.
Do you have a good working relationship with another horror legend Kensington Gore?
CL: Kensington Gore is one of a kind. There's really no other way of summing him up. There is no one else operating in the world of horror like him at the moment. Yes, okay, there are a lot of strange rumours about his temper and his drinking but I've never really seen them for myself. He is always out there, trying to find the best in new horror and he will do anything to get it in front of the reader. Then there's his extensive past in the business and his sense of style. He is a true icon that one. One day they will sing songs about him. Some of which won't be safe to be sung around children.
KG: You are a good editor and work well with other's work.
What are your future writing plans and aspirations?
CL: Onwards and upwards. The novellas that came out over the last year or so really taught me that I could write horror. I wasn't too sure at first. A small amount of self publishing got me started but always left me a little unsure. When the novellas really started to get sharpened up they gave me my self confidence, as did some of the incredibly kind things people have written about them in reviews. Some of that has been so humbling and also really fired me up to keep going. It's like working over this book for Thomas Singer, it has shown me that it's time to get on and finish my own novels. I've got a couple I've been working for a while that I'd determined to get released now and there are a few short stories that are still bubbling away on the back boiler as well. Also, between you and me, I've always fancied taking a swing at a vampire story. I'm just not entirely sure how that's going to work yet.
KG: Will you be writing more novellas or short stories or are you strictly longer work and a novelist now?
CL: I'm going to play my pretentious author card here. I apologise now. I think it all depends on what the story is telling you as you write it. Some stories are always going to work better as a short story. They can be something chilling and quick. Something that gets under your skin and stays there, even after the end of the story is long done with. Whereas other ideas are always going to need more room to move. They offer more scope to expand and give you a chance to create a larger world for the reader to enjoy and get a little lost in. So I guess I'll let the stories steer me on that one. As long as I'm writing something. I hate not writing. It just feels so empty not to spend at least a little time each day sitting in front of the keyboard, you know.
KG: If there was a horror hall of fame. Which five people would you put into it and why?
CL: Another tough one, hey? Right, let's see. M R James has to be in there for me. He is the master of the classic ghost story. H P Lovecraft as well. His commitment to the world he created was second to none and the atmosphere in his stories just bleeds off the page. Neil Gaiman has to be on there for me. His worlds and his characters, no matter the genre of the style of writing, there is always something intriguing waiting in the shadows. He has created some of the great modern horror characters, for adults and for children. In some cases he even has you siding with the monster. If it's a hall of fame then we're going to have to put Stephen King in there. He is the Elvis of horror. There's just no getting away from him or his many, many, many books. Yes, okay, not all of them work for every one but there's no denying the body of the work or the talent that is so clear to see running through all of them. The fact he has written so much means we can see him grow as well. We can start with his slightly more blood soaked early works and follow it right through his own demons to the longer, almost braver stories he's telling now. Fifth has to be Christoper Lee for me. We lost one of the true greats when he died. He is a huge part of the horror world. Not just for his performances in some of the bedrock foundation movies of modern horror but also his ability to spoof himself but never, ever lose that shadowy edge he carried with him. Then there's that voice as well. Christopher Lee telling a great ghost story is like a lesson in horror perfection.
KG: How would you like to be remembered by horror fans?
CL: That is something I've not really thought about yet. I hope they'll remember the stories, I suppose. It'd be great if, years from now, people are still reading my stories and still getting scared by them. I think that's all you can really ask for, right? You want your stories to live on and, in the case of horror, you want them to keep catching people off guard. One of my favourite things I've heard since being published is when a story of mine has given someone a scare. I've had one person say they had to stop reading The Beast of Bellfield because it was freaking them out too much and, as far as I know, they've still not gone back to it. That was pretty amazing.
KG: If you could help an aspiring writer how would you do so?
CL: I'd say you have to keep writing. I know it's the old cliche but it's true. You just have to keep at it. No matter the doubt, no matter how hard it can feel at times. Writing is always lonely, at the heart of it. It can be brilliant when it works. It can blow you away when something really clicks and a story just starts to cover the page. But you have to shut people away to be able to do it. It's not a spectator sport. When others start to read a story then that can change but you are your own audience before anyone else and that can be tough. I think anyone starting out just has to keep writing until they get a solid foundation of confidence in their own work. Once you have that everything else is a little easier. You know what you want to say and you know how you want to say it. Once you've got that down you let others decide the rest for themselves.
KG: How did you set about working on it?
CL: It was a mammoth task. His solicitors were already pushing for a quick release but these stories needed a lot of work and I also had to know where to start. It was a Herculean task. Each story needed to be looked at objectively and I wanted to make sure I treated them respectfully. I knew there were going to be a lot of his fans who were waiting for this book and it needed to be right for them. It needed to live up to their expectations. I don't mind telling you there were a lot of long days and sleepless nights, just knowing those pages were waiting for me to go over them again and again. Don't get me wrong, it was an honour and privilege but those stories really started to get under my skin. Not just that but the man's journals as well. I think I got a little lost in the research in the end. The amount of conspiracy theories surrounding Thomas Singer, it's enough to make your head spin.
KG: Have you always admired his work?
CL: Like I said, I was more aware of him than anything else. The few fans I knew were almost beyond fans. It was like an obsession for them. I suppose that put me off a little at first. But I've always known he was about, if that makes sense. Particularly once he moved to Rugby. He had a few pictures in the paper when he was pushing a new book or collection and I always meant to go and buy the latest one but I never got round to it. In a weird way it was something I read in one of those interviews that first got me digging. He mentioned about an autobiography he was struggling to write after writing horror all his life and then one of the characters in this collection is having the same problem. Now I know writers always draw on their own experience but it was hard to not start drawing more parallels. That led to a lot of headaches, looking back.
KG: Horror seems to be in your blood. When and how did you first get into horror?
CL: I suppose it had to be scary kids stories was where it started. Grimm fairy tales, The Witches, Box of Delights. Some of The Storyteller TV show and, of course, watching horror movies when I was underage. That was when I found myself becoming intrigued by the idea of how something that scares you can stay with you and also the rush you can get from it. Not only that but the variety of stories that can revolve around that one simple premise that something is not what it seems. That's one thing I've learnt looking over these stories and really starting to get into the work of Thomas Singer. He was a master at twisting the normal and everyday into something nightmarish and unreal. Very few of his stories end quite the way you expect. I suppose that's why I can't wait to see how he finishes this book himself, from beyond the grave. So to speak.