It isn’t for nothing that Ramsey Campbell has been dubbed ‘Britain’s most respected living horror writer’ by the Oxford Companion to English Literature. His career spans over forty years and he’s won every major award in his field several times over.
Ramsey’s ‘epiphany moment’ came when, already an avid reader, he came across the work of legendary weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft in his early teens. He went on to sell his first story, ‘The Church on the High Street’, set within the world of Lovecraft’s famous ‘Cthulu Mythos’, in 1962, at the tender age of fifteen. The head of Arkham House, August Derleth, nurtured Ramsey’s talent, encouraging him to change the setting of his tales from the New England milieu of Lovecraft’s work to one he was more familiar with – namely Ramsey’s native Liverpool and Merseyside.
Ramsey’s first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, was published by Arkham House in 1964. These tales were still very much couched in Lovecraft’s idiom, but as he gained more confidence in his own voice he began to move away from this, most notably with his 1973 collection Demons By Daylight. However, Ramsey can be said to have really ‘arrived’ with the publication of his first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother (1976), which was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and later praised by no less than Stephen King in his classic survey of the genre, Danse Macabre (1981).
After a near miss with The Doll... the awards started coming Ramsey’s way thick and fast; 1978 saw him win both the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award for two different short stories, and 1979 brought another British Fantasy Award for his novel The Nameless. To date, Ramsey has won four World Fantasy Awards, eleven British Fantasy Awards, the coveted Bram Stoker Award twice, a Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from The Horror Writers Association and a ‘Grand Master’ Award from the World Horror Convention. Quite a list; and this isn’t even an exhaustive one!
The Nameless was filmed in 1999 as Los Sin Nombre – a Spanish language feature from director Jaume Balagueró, which has no small cult following of its own and a follow- up, El Segundo Nombre, based on his 2001 novel Pact of the Fathers, due to hit cinema screens this year. This must be rather edifying for Ramsey, whose career as a film critic is almost as long and successful as his career as an author, from his work in seminal late sixties horror fanzines such as Shadow and Twylight to his present work for BBC Merseyside and cult US movie ‘bible’ Video Watchdog.
Rarely one to resort to out-and-out gore and nastiness, the power of Ramsey’s work lies in his unparalleled ability to create a sense of unease and dread in the mind of the imaginative reader - with just a few words he can conjure up a world where things just aren’t quite right. Proud to describe himself as ‘a horror writer’, he remains the one of the genre’s most erudite and articulate champions and deserves the respect and admiration of anyone who so much as dabbles within the field.
Don't miss the chance to meet Ramsey and hear him read from his work at Word Soup 6 on Tuesday 20th October!