Readerz.Net / Ramsey Campbell
Ramsey Campbell (born 4 January 1946 in Liverpool) is an English horror fiction writer, editor and critic who has been writing for well over fifty years. He is the author of over 30 novels and hundreds of short stories, many of them widely considered classics in the field. Three of his novels have been filmed, all for non-English-speaking markets.
Since he first came to prominence in the mid-1960s, critics have cited Campbell as one of the leading writers in his field: T. E. D. Klein has written that "Campbell reigns supreme in the field today", and Robert Hadji has described him as "perhaps the finest living exponent of the British weird fiction tradition", while S. T. Joshi stated, "future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood."
Early life and work
Campbell was born in Liverpool, England, to Alexander Ramsey and Nora (Walker) Campbell. He was educated by Christian Brothers at St Edward's College, Liverpool. Campbell's childhood and adolescence were marked by the rift between his parents, who became estranged shortly after his birth. Campbell's father became a shadowy presence more often heard than seen. Campbell states, "I didn't see my father face to face for nearly twenty years, and that was when he was dying." Years later, Campbell's mother degenerated into paranoia and schizophrenia, rendering his own life a living hell - an experience he has discussed in detail in the introduction and afterword to the restored text of The Face That Must Die. Other autobiographical pieces regarding Campbell's life are available in Section V, "On Ramsey Campbell" in his essay collection Ramsey Campbell, Probably: 30 Years of Essays and Articles (ed. S.T. Joshi, Hornsea, UK: PS Publishing, 2002).
Campbell's mother "wrote a great deal, novel after novel, but was largely unpublished aside from a handful of short stories in writer's magazines." She encouraged her young son to send his writing off from an early age. Growing up in the blitzed landscape of post-war Liverpool, he avidly consumed the work of Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Franz Kafka and the cinema of film noir.
Campbell's earliest tales, written when he was 11 years old (1957–58) (under the influence of a magazine from Bolton, Lancashire, called Phantom), comprised a self-illustrated collection of sixteen stories and a poem he entitled "Ghostly Tales". Campbell intended to submit to Phantom, but his mother, who regarded literary success as a possible way of financing her escape from her disastrous marriage, persuaded him to wait until he had a whole book to show to publishers. His English teacher, Brother Kelly, used to have him read his stories to the class. Campbell (as John R. Campbell) submitted Ghostly Tales to 'numerous publishers' including Tom Boardman publisher; Boardman rejected it as they did not publish ghost stories, but his rejection letter included encouragement to Campbell to keep writing. This collection of juvenilia was published thirty years later, as a special issue of Crypt of Cthulhu magazine titled Ghostly Tales: Crypt of Cthulhu 6, No 8, whole number 50, Michaelmas 1987, edited by Robert M. Price). It is of interest that, though the stories are mostly mainstream spectral lore, one story ("The Hollow in the Woods") can be considered a very early mythos yarn.
Another issue of this magazine - Crypt of Cthulhu No 43 (Hallowmas 1983), titled The Tomb-Herd and Others collects various early stories, including some early drafts of tales later published revised in Campbell's first book, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (Arkham House, 1964)). The manuscripts of Campbell's early tales are housed at the Local History Library of the Liverpool Public Libraries.
The influence of H. P. Lovecraft and The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants
Campbell first encountered H. P. Lovecraft at age eight (1954), via the story "The Colour Out of Space", which he found in the Groff Conklin anthology Strange Travels in Science Fiction, and within the next few years read "The Rats in the Walls" and "The Dunwich Horror", encountered in the Wise and Fraser anthology Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. At the age of twelve, Campbell attempted to write a novel titled Broken Moon, influenced by Arthur Machen, but it petered out after fifty pages. By the age of 14, he discovered Lovecraft's Cry Horror!, a British edition of the collection entitled The Lurking Fear, and read it in one day, finding the fiction's sense of awesomeness as well as horror extraordinarily appealing. He had also read Arthur Machen's major horror stories by this age, and some works by John Dickson Carr which led him to write a 100-page Carr pastiche (unfinished) titled Murder By Moonlight.
On leaving school at age sixteen, Campbell went to work in the Inland Revenue as a tax officer (1962–66). Campbell sold various of his early stories to editors including August Derleth and Robert A.W. Lowndes. His concept of what was possible in the weird genre became highly imbued with the influence of Lovecraft for the next few years. In December 1961, Campbell completed the story "The Church in High Street" (previously titled "The Tomb-Herd") which he sent to August Derleth at Arkham House. Derleth accepted the story in February 1962 and it became Campbell's first professionally published tale, appearing in the Derleth-edited anthology Dark Mind, Dark Heart. Campbell wrote various other tales of the Cthulhu Mythos between 1961 and 1963. Derleth gave the young writer invaluable advice on improving his writing style.
Forming his literary apprenticeship with stories modelled after Lovecraft's themes, Campbell's first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (Arkham House, 1964), published when he was but eighteen years old, collects his Lovecraftian pastiches to that date. At the suggestion of August Derleth, he rewrote many of his earliest stories, which he had originally set in the Massachusetts locales of Arkham, Dunwich and Innsmouth, and moved them to English settings in and around the fictional Gloucestershire city of Brichester, near the River Severn, creating his own Severn Valley milieu for Lovecraftian horrors. The invented locale of Brichester was deeply influenced by Campbell's native Liverpool, and much of his later work is set in the real locales of Liverpool and the Merseyside area. Campbell has written, "In 1964 I was several kinds of lucky to find a publisher, and one kind depended on my having written a Lovecraftian book for Arkham House, the only publisher likely even to have considered it and one of the very few then to be publishing horror." The title story of the collection introduces Campbell's invention of a tome of occult lore similar to Lovecraft's forbidden Necronomicon, The Revelations of Glaaki (see Books of the Cthulhu Mythos).
His later work continues the focus on Liverpool; in particular, his 2005 novel Secret Stories (published in the U.S. in an abridged edition as Secret Story (2006)) both exemplifies and satirizes Liverpudlian speech, characters, humour and culture.
The story "Cold Print" (1969) marked an end to Campbell's literary apprenticeship, taking the essence of Lovecraft out of the New England backwoods into a modern urban setting. Subsequently Campbell briefly disavowed Lovecraft, while working on the radically experimental tales which would be published as the collection Demons by Daylight; but he later acknowledged Lovecraft's lasting influence, and his subsequent Cthulhu Mythos tales, collected in Cold Print (1985; expanded in 1993), confirm the transition from pastiche to homage, most notably in such tales as "The Faces at Pine Dunes" and the eerily surreal "The Voice on the Beach" (1982).
The 1970s: "Determined to be myself": Demons By Daylight and early novels
With his stories written between 1964 and 1968, beginning with The Reshaping of Rossiter (first draft of The Scar), A Garden at Night (first draft of Made in Goatswood) and The Successor (first draft of Cold Print) Campbell set out to be as unlike Lovecraft as possible. Having discovered writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Aickman, William Burroughs and Henry Miller, and such influences as the French 'new novel', he became interested in expanding the stylistic possibilities of his work. He finished the collection that would become Demons By Daylight in 1968, but it would not see print until 1973. Meanwhile, from 1969 to 1973, he continued to write short stories in which he gradually developed his own voice and themes and left the influence of Lovecraft far behind. Campbell worked in the Liverpool Public Libraries as a library assistant (1966–73) and was acting librarian in charge (1971–73).
In 1969, he had written Lovecraft in Retrospect, a violent diatribe against Lovecraft, for the fanzine Shadow, "condemning [Lovecraft's] work outright." However, in his 1985 book Cold Print, which collects his Lovecraftian stories, Campbell disavowed the opinions expressed in the article, stating: "I believe Lovecraft is one of the most important writers in the field" and "the first book of Lovecraft's I read made me into a writer."
Around 1970, Campbell stopped using his first initial. "J." on his work, though a few stories earlier than this appeared as by "Ramsey Campbell", and a few after still saw print as by "J. Ramsey Campbell". Campbell later legally changed his name to remove the "John".
After working four years in the tax office and seven years in public libraries, by 1973, Campbell became a fulltime writer, encouraged by the issuance by Arkham House of his second collection, Demons by Daylight (as by Ramsey Campbell). (That collection had been due for publication in 1971, but was held back two years by the death of August Derleth). Demons by Daylight includes The Franklyn Paragraphs, which uses Lovecraft's documentary narrative technique without slipping into parody of his writing style. Other tales, such as The End of a Summer's Day and Concussion, show the emergence of Campbell's highly distinctive mature style, of which S. T. Joshi has written:
The book's appearance induced T. E. D. Klein to write an extensive and highly positive review, Ramsey Campbell: An Appreciation in Nyctalops magazine and critic S. T. Joshi has stated that:
Campbell has written that "Having completed Demons by Daylight in 1968, I felt directionless, and it shows in quite a few of the subsequent tales." He wrote only four tales in 1970, and five stories in 1971. He has written that "retrospect demonstrates how untimely my decision [to write fulltime] was. Kirby McCauley, now my agent, had to tell me that the market for short horror stories was very limited... My solution was to lurch into science fiction as best I could. Little of it sold..." Many of the science fiction tales are collected in Inconsequential Tales (2008); he also wrote the novella Medusa (1973) and the short story "Slow" (collected in Told by the Dead), but has stated that his science fiction "tried to deal with Themes, too consciously, I feel".
Outside the world of horror, he wrote a series of fantasy stories starring Ryre the Swordsman, who battles enemies on an alien world called Tond (see Extraterrestrial places in the Cthulhu Mythos). Initially published in various anthologies, these stories were finally gathered in the collection Far Away & Never (Necronomicon Press, July 1996). In 1976 he "completed" three of Robert E. Howard's unfinished Solomon Kane stories, Hawk of Basti, The Castle of the Devil and The Children of Asshur (published in 1978 and 1979). By the time Arkham House published his second hardcover collection of horror stories, The Height of the Scream (1976), he was beginning to be seen as one of the major modern writers of horror.
1976 also saw the publication of Campbell's first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, which immediately drew acclaim from figures such as Fritz Leiber and T.E.D. Klein. In this and The Face that Must Die (1979), Campbell began to fully explore the enigma of evil, touching on the psychological themes of possession, madness and alienation which feature in many of his subsequent novels. He also continued to write short stories, mainly supernatural, receiving the World Fantasy Award for "The Chimney" (1977) and "Mackintosh Willy" (1980).
Campbell has been a lifelong enthusiast of film; early stories such as The Reshaping of Rossiter (1964; an early version of The Scar) show the influence of directors such as Alain Resnais, and as early as 1969 Campbell had become the film reviewer for BBC Radio Merseyside. As of 2013, he can currently be heard in Merseyside on the Friday edition of "Breakfast" and less frequently on Claire Hamilton's Sunday show. A longer version of his reviews deliever to air appears on the Radio Merseyside website, where he also reviews DVDs. His love of old movies features prominently in two of Campbell's later novels, Ancient Images and The Grin of the Dark.
Campbell wrote novelisations and introductions for a series of novelisations of Universal horror films. The series has a rather complex publishing history. They were published in paperback in 1977 in the US, with uniform packaging, by Berkley Medallion Books as The Universal Horror Library. All six of the Berkley editions were published under the house name 'Carl Dreadstone'; all six of the US editions featured stills from the relevant films. It is believed this set was made available as boxed set in slipcase, as well as sold individually. Only three of the novels were actually written by Campbell, though he contributed introductions to all six volumes. No US hardcover edition of the series is known. Campbell's contributions to the series were Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula's Daughter and The Wolfman, published as Carl Dreadstone. Three further novelisations which appeared under this house name were not by Campbell but written by other authors. Walter Harris (author, broadcaster) wrote two of the novels: Werewolf of London and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The author of the sixth Dreadstone (The Mummy) remains unknown. UK editions followed - in 1978, Universal Books (a paperback division of W. H. Allen Ltd) published The Bride of Frankenstein (by Campbell) together with Harris's The Werewolf of London and the (unknown author) The Mummy under the 'Carl Dreadstone' house name, with similar packaging under the title 'The Classic Library of Horror'. A further two years would elapse before the rest of the series was issued in the UK. The last three of the series were issued by Star Books (a W. H. Allen imprint) in 1980 (with different packaging from the 1978 titles) and these three appeared under a different house-name - 'E. K. Leyton'. These were Campbell's remaining two novels of the series, Dracula's Daughter and The Wolfman, together with Harris's Creature from the Black Lagoon. At least one hardcover omnibus was published, presumably prior to the UK paperbacks: The Classic Library of Horror Omnibus - The Mummy & The Werewolf of London (London: Allan Wingate, 1978). Its existence suggests there may have been two companion hardcover omnibuses collecting the balance of the series (if this were the case they would contain the Campbell-authored novels), but their existence/issuance is uncertain. All six of the UK paperbacks and the hardcover omnibus omitted the film stills which appeared in the original US editions.
1979 saw the publication of the non-supernatural thriller The Face That Must Die, the story of a homophobic serial killer told largely from the killer's point of view. Initially considered by numerous publishers, including Campbell's British publisher Thomas Tessier at Millington Books, as too grim to publish, it is considered by many critics to be one of Campbell's finest works. The novel was cut by Star Books, who first issued it in a paperback edition in 1979; it was not issued complete until the US Scream Press edition of 1983.
Subsequently, Campbell has published numerous novels and collections; many of his most popular stories can be found in the 1993 collection Alone with the Horrors.
The 1980s: The Parasite to Ancient Images
Campbell became even more prolific during the 1980s, issuing no less than eight novels (of which six won major awards for Best Novel) and three short story collections. He has written that after moving away from Lovecraft's influence he was "determined to sound like myself" but also that "The Chicago and San Francisco tales of Fritz Leiber were now my models in various ways. I wanted to achieve that sense of supernatural terror which derives from the everyday urban landscape rather than invading it, and I greatly admired - still do - how Fritz wrote thoroughly contemporary weird tales which were nevertheless rooted in the best traditions of the field, and which drew some of their strength from uniting British and American influences."
Campbell's supernatural horror novels of this period include Incarnate (1983), in which the boundaries between dream and reality are gradually broken down (it was written during the "terrible nightmare year" of Campbell's mother's last mental breakdown); and Midnight Sun (1990), in which an alien entity apparently seeks entry to the world through the mind of a children's writer. In its fusion of horror with awe, Midnight Sun shows the influence of Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen as well as Lovecraft. The Influence (1988) and Ancient Images (1989) are tightly plotted novels of supernatural menace, each with (predominantly) female central characters. In The Claw (1983) and The Hungry Moon (1986), Campbell writes in a more commercially minded way than in other novels (admitted with characteristic honesty by the author in afterwords/essays), and despite many redeeming qualities, these novels are perhaps less successful than other work. The latter is a multi-character 'small town' horror story along the lines of similar work in this period, a subgenre perhaps 'pump-primed' by the likes of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot.
In the early 1980s Campbell had crossed paths a number of time in Liverpool at cinemas and various parties with a young Liverpool writer named Clive Barker, who had been working around London as a playwright. Barker asked Campbell if he knew any markets for short stories and eventually asked him to look over a soon-to-be-published manuscript and the contract he had been offered for it. Campbell says "My jaw dropped when I looked at the manuscript - it turned out to be the Books of Blood." Campbell wrote the introduction to the first edition.
The 1990s: Midnight Sun to The Last Voice They Hear
The 1990s again saw Campbell publish eight novels, though in the second half of this decade he moved away from traditional horror to explore crime and tales of social alienation with novels such as The Last Voice They Hear (1998). A sympathetic serial murderer appears in the black comedy The Count of Eleven (1991), which displays Campbell's gift for word play, and which the author has said is disturbing "because it doesn't stop being funny when you think it should". Other non-supernatural novels, such as The One Safe Place (1995), use a highly charged thriller narrative to examine social problems such as the deprivation and abuse of children. Four of this decade's novels won major awards for Best Novel.
Other novels of this decade include The Long Lost (1993), and a fine, long 'haunted house' novel called The House on Nazareth Hill (1996). The latter, combining Campbell's M R Jamesian suggestiveness with an increasingly idiosyncratic prose style (whose tricks and quirks might almost be trademarked and which the author will develop even further in future work), is a harrowing study of familial psychology and the unchanging nature of social processes, particularly those relating to the young's quest for independence and the threat this presents to others. Also notable from earlier in this period is the novella Needing Ghosts (1990), a nightmarish work that blends the horrific and the comic; Campbell himself has described the composition of this piece as unique among his work in that it "felt like dreaming on the page" and was written relatively quickly without technical or structural challenges.
In this decade Campbell issued no less than four short story collections, beginning with the 30-year career retrospective Alone with the Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell 1961-1991, published by Campbell's original publisher, Arkham House. This volume, illustrated by Jeff K. Potter, is not a comprehensive collection of all the stories Campbell had published in those thirty years, but 39 tales which Campbell and his editor Jim Turner thought representative. Two of this decade's short story collections won major awards for best collection.
2000 to present: Silent Children onwards
Campbell has continued his prolific output, publishing an average of a novel a year, plus standalone novellas, since 2000; three of the novels have won major awards for best novel. He has also published four short story collections since 2000, one of which won Best Collection.
Having spent a number of months working full-time in a Borders store, he wrote The Overnight (2004), about bookshop staff trapped in their hellish workplace during an overnight shelf-filling shift. The Darkest Part of the Woods (2003) successfully evokes the cosmic terrors of H P Lovecraft, while The Grin of the Dark (2007) -- considered by many to be Campbell's masterpiece, a showcase of his stylistic method and powerfully focused on contemporaneous issues arising from wide-scale Internet use -- draws on the author's interest in the history of cinema, as a character hunts material relating to a silent film comedian by the name of Tubby Thackeray. The novel is uniquely disturbing. Thieving Fear (2008) and The Creatures of the Pool (2009) use locations, in and around the author's native Liverpool, to unique effect.
Campbell also contributed numerous articles on horror cinema to The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986). He reviewed films and DVDs weekly for BBC Radio Merseyside until 2007. He writes a monthly film column, "Ramsey's Ramblings", for Video Watchdog magazine.
His latest works have included a further collection of short fiction, Holes for Faces, which gathers together his work from the 2000s, the novellas The Last Revelation Of Gla'aki (2013), The Pretence (2013) for PS Publishing, and The Booking (2016) (Dark Regions Press).
2015 saw the release of Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach, one of Campbell's few novels set outside the UK, followed by The Searching Dead in 2016. The latter was the first novel in a trilogy of H P Lovecraft-influenced works which revisit themes from Campbell's early work in that subgenre. Described by the author as his "Brichester trilogy," the three-book series (including Born to the Dark  and The Way of the Worm ) documents a character's engagement with a nefarious organisation over three time periods (1950s, 1980s, 2010s) and evokes a cosmic entity by the name of Daoloth. A new short story collection, By the Light of my Skull was also released in 2018, gathering together some of the author's more recent works, many of which -- as has been the case in his later fiction -- deal with older age.
Campbell has also edited a number of anthologies, including New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1980), New Terrors and New Terrors II, a groundbreaking two-volume anthology series; and (with Stephen Jones) the first five volumes of the annual Best New Horror series (1990–1994). His 1992 anthology Uncanny Banquet was notable for including the first ever reprint of the obscure 1914 horror novel The Hole of the Pit by Adrian Ross. The Gruesome Book was a paperback anthology of horror tales for children. Campbell is extremely well-read in the horror field, and some of his own literary influences are demonstrated by his selections for the 1988 anthology Fine Frights: Stories that Scared Me.
Ramsey Campbell, Probably, a collection of Campbell's book reviews, film reviews, autobiographical writings and other nonfiction, was published in 2002. The book included reminiscences and appreciations of authors such as John Brunner, Bob Shaw and K. W. Jeter and an extensive, negative critique of Shaun Hutson's Heathen, parodying Hutson's style.
He married Jenny Chandler (a teacher), daughter of A. Bertram Chandler, on 1 January 1971; has two children, Tamsin (born 1978) and Matthew (born 1981); and still lives in Merseyside.
In response to an interview question about religion, Campbell has stated "As I got older I’m more Agnostic" and added "I don’t think there is any supernatural force out there to make you do stuff."
For many years he was the President of the British Fantasy Society.
Novels and novellas
Selected literary awards