Monday, 6 June 2011

Open House Day 7 - Gary McMahon

Early Influences

Talking to my mother recently, she told me that even as a small child I was interested in anything dark, macabre, or unusual. She told me a story about pushing me in my pram one day through an indoor market in Sunderland. We were choosing posters for my room – apparently she’d promised that she’d hang whatever posters I chose. I picked the darkest, most monstrous images on the stall, and, it being a promise, my mother had no choice but to buy them for me.

I’ve thought a lot about early influences, and why exactly I might be drawn to all things horrific in art and literature, and it’s difficult to pinpoint any one moment or instance when such interests may have been sparked. It seems to me that it’s a perfectly normal thing to be fascinated by the dark side of human nature, and by monsters and magic and the fantastic. Back in the 1970s, when I grew up, it seemed that there were elements of this darkness everywhere – it pervaded all forms of entertainment, even kids’ TV shows. There was nothing out of the ordinary, for example, in a children’s’ television show that was an anthology of horror stories. Indeed, the show in question, Shadows, was a formative influence on me and my subsequent tastes.

I’m always puzzled and confused when people aren’t interested in this stuff. I mean, how weird is that?

I suppose there is one particular television programme that I can put down as changing the way I thought about the world. The 1977 BBC adaptation of Dracula, starring Louis Jordan as the Count, blew me away. It led me to read (and understand) Bram Stoker’s novel at the age of ten or eleven, which in turn showed me the way to the likes of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Doctor Moreau, the ghost stories of M.R. James and other seminal classics of the field. Then, not long afterwards, there was Fear on Friday on TV – great weekly double-bills, usually consisting of an old Universal horror and a Hammer.

These were great days; regular doses of the good stuff to corrupt my young mind.

Back then, we only had three television channels. So this kind of content was like gold dust to me. These days you can access most of these films at the press of a button, and that kind of instant accessibility removes the allure these productions had when I was a kid. So, the sense of forbidden content...maybe that was a big factor in the reasons why I was drawn to horror in the first place?

I used to collect the magazine Hammer House of Horror, and the horror genre was so prevalent in popular culture at the time that even a major crisps company (Tudor) brought out a series of metal horror badges you could get hold of only by cutting out coupons from the crisp packets. Does anyone else remember Wear’ em Scare ‘ems. I had them all...sadly, they got lost or swapped or thrown in the bin, along with my old Aurora model kits and most of my treasured copies of HHoH. I still have my battered old Alan Frank Horror Film books, though: they’ll have to prise them from my cold dead hands.

Another huge influence was the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. As far as I can find out, this was first broadcast in the UK in early September 1981. I would have been twelve years old. Probably much too young to be allowed to see the show, but thankfully my mother showed some wise judgement and let me watch it. I went out the following weekend and spent my pocket money on the paperback of King’s novel, and that was my first major introduction to the world of truly modern horror fiction. I read everything I could by King, and his brilliant essay book Danse Macabre opened up to me a whole new world of other writers...from Lovecraft to Ramsey Campbell; from Fritz Leiber to Harlan Ellison, and I spent the years that followed hunting down and ticking off on the list in the back of the book as many of King’s recommended reads as I could.

I think that one book – Danse Macabre –did more to expose me to horror literature than anything else I can think of. So it’s all, his fault: that Stephen King bloke. And I can’t possibly thank him enough.

Gary McMahon’s fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.K. and U.S and has been reprinted in both THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR and THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY & HORROR. He is the British-Fantasy-Award-nominated author of Rough Cut, All Your Gods Are Dead, Dirty Prayers, How to Make Monsters, Rain Dogs, Different Skins, Pieces of Midnight, The Harm, Hungry Hearts, and has edited an anthology of original novelettes titled We Fade to Grey.

Current and forthcoming are several reprints in “Best of” anthologies, a story in the mass market anthology THE END OF THE LINE, the novels Pretty Little Dead Things and Dead Bad Things from Angry Robot/Osprey and The Concrete Grove trilogy from Solaris.



  1. OMG! I watched that same SK movie and at the point where the vampire boy is hovering outside of the window wanting in, my dad came up behind me and grabbed me (he was trying to scare me) I freaked! and I have read everything King since .
    My daughter has been into the dark stuff since she was around 5. It is who she is.

  2. You're right about Dance Macabre - it's a great book and was a real inspiration to me when I read it aged about fifteen. There's certain sections of it that have always stuck with me - I wish he'd do a follow up discussion books and films since that one was published.