Friday, July 4, 2008

Interview: Brian Lumley

Good Paula Guran interview with prolific horror writer, Brian Lumley.



Brian Lumley: His Vampires Do a Lot More Than Just Suck

Brian Lumley doesn't just write novels (and short stories and poetry) he writes series of novels, and series of series of novels. He's a seemingly unstoppable force of nature -- or perhaps, considering his subject matter, a supernatural force. The prolific British author (over forty books and still counting) is best known for his "Necroscope" series, a rich tapestry of vivid characters and complexity that begins by combining the unforgettable Harry Keogh, a man who can speak to the dead, with Cold War espionage and a race of vampires from another world.

Invaders (published by Hodder and Stoughton in the U. K. as E-Branch: Invaders), just out this spring from Tor, is the first of the "E-Branch" trilogy that will end the Necroscope-related titles at 13 books altogether. The first ten Necroscope books have sold 1,500,000 copies in the U. S. alone and they have been or are in the process of being published in nine other countries. (Lumley's total sales for Tor overall have now passed the 2,000,000 mark.) Comic books and a role-playing game have been based on Necroscope themes as well.

Lumley waited for two decades to write about vampires. "When I read Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (God, how many years ago?) it put me off writing my own vampire novel for the first 20 years of my writing career. It was THAT good," says the author." But what's in will out, so eventually I did write it...and as we've seen, the thing got to be like Topsy. But I was conscious that quite a few vampire tales were being written, and I wanted vampires that did a lot more than just suck. They had to have histories, they had to have an origin, there had to be a damn good reason why they hadn't long since taken over the world, and so on. It became very involved, and the more story I told, the more there was to tell." The complexity of the mythos he has created will, he admits, probably will be the death of it. "The big problem now is that while I used to do lots of historical, geographical, and political (if you will) research, now I have to research my own books! There are so very many threads running through them that if I'm not careful I might easily trip myself up. That's why the series will probably end with this trilogy. It's simply getting too complicated to continue."

A fan of horror and fantasy fiction since his teens, Lumley was almost thirty when he began writing in 1967. He was serving as a Royal Military Policeman in Berlin. "I was on Night Duty on the desk and had nothing much to do in the wee small hours. I read August Derleth-edited Arkham House collections." (Derleth and his small press, Arkham House, were noted for the posthumous popularization of H. P. Lovecraft.) "They saw me through many a night and shaped the style and contents of my first stories. I actually wrote some of those stories on duty, on that desk in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. And I typed them up from my scrawly longhand and sent them to Derleth who bought them."

By then he was no longer a part of the fan scene, "I hadn't been since I was a kid, 13 or 14 years earlier. I didn't know a damn thing about professional publishers or publishing. And I definitely didn't know that Derleth was the dean of macabre publishers, the man who had first published Van Vogt, Bradbury, Bloch, Leiber, Lovecraft (of course), and so many others that they're literally a Who's Who of our favorite genres. So these stories of mine were single-spaced things on oddly-sized sheets, unnumbered pages, stapled in one corner, rolled up and stuffed into cardboard tubes, and posted surface mail to Wisconsin ... from Berlin! It's just amazing that they ever got there -- let alone that he read them! Can't you just see him trying to unroll them, and having to nail them to his desk top in order to read them? But it appears I was lucky then, and I've stayed lucky ever since."

Lumley returned to civilian life in 1981 and became a full-time writer. He produced --among many other titles -- the science fictional "Psychomech" trilogy -- Psychomech (1984), Psychosphere (1984), and Psychamok! (1985) -- in which a hero with enhanced psychic abilities fights bad guys with similar powers; Demogorgon (UK 1987, US 1992) features the spawn of Satan himself using his supernatural powers to fight his dark side and against his unholy father; four books in the heroic fantasy "Dreamlands" series, and, of course, the Necroscope books which began in 1986.

Lumley's early reputation was linked to his liberal use of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos in both short stories and his earliest novels -- the "Titus Crow" series of the mid-to-late-1970s. Crow, an occult detective, tangles with Lovecraft's monsters in a fantastic extradimensional void in the series. "Without Lovecraft there would never have been a Titus Crow. All Mythos stories are dependent upon HPL, of course. But another big influence was the much-maligned August Derleth, the boss of Arkham House. He viewed the Mythos from a different angle, and if he could do it so could I. Burroughs was probably an influence, likewise Abraham Merritt, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, that whole bunch. But you know, I've read and talked Lovecraft until I really can't do it any more. Why can't we just say of him that he was an original, one of the greats, and that he influenced so many of us that he probably is the most important cornerstone of the weird fiction tradition today...and leave it at that?"

The Titus Crow and Necroscope books are also a Cold War metaphor. "The Necroscope books were guided by what was going on in the world while they were being written. The new trilogy is set in the future a couple of years, so it's pretty much guess-work. And it's mainly ecological as opposed to political. I've been lucky in my predictions so far; the Channel Tunnel I mentioned in the second Crow book (Transistion, 1975) is now a reality. But I really can't say if it's protected by star-stones from Mnar or not. I suspect not..."

Future worlds? Fantastic other dimensions? Star-stones? Politics? Was Lumley intentionally crossing genre boundaries to synthesize, horror, science fiction, and fantasy? "No, my crossing genres wasn't planned. It was just me trying to learn the business of writing, experimenting and finding out what I could do best and where it would take me. The first paperback book I did, The Burrowers Beneath, was a horror story "after Lovecraft". Its sequel, Transition, was a fantasy. The next two sequels were science-fantasy, and the last book in the series, Elysia, was pure fantasy. I was trying 'em all, that's all. But Necroscope? It has bits of lots of genres, but chiefly horror. Let's face it, the best of the "horror" movies do much the same thing. Is Bodysnatchers (original and remakes) horror or science fiction? Is The Thing, or Alien or Predator? See what I mean? On the other hand short stories I've done -- such as Fruiting Bodies and The Sun, The Sea and The Silent Scream -- are pure horror. So if you ask me what I am ... I'm a horror writer." Fruiting Bodies won Lumley a British Fantasy Award in 1989 and he was given a Grand Master Award at the 1998 World Horror Convention.

A couple of decades in the military, is not exactly common training ground for most horror writers. Although the author will agree that his first career has enhanced his writing career, he also feels writing offered him an escape from from his military career. "The army took me places, showed me a lot of things, let me meet a great many diverse people -- all grist for a writer's mill. But in places as dreary as Berlin was in 1967, writing did provide something of an escape."

The military also gave Lumley a taste for travel. He's visited or lived in the United States, Cyprus, Berlin, Malta, and more than a dozen Greek islands. He and his American-born wife, Barbara Ann, now live in Devon, but they still enjoy travel and Lumley particularly enjoys visits to the Mediterranean where he can indulge a bit in moussaka, and imbibe a little retsina, ouzo, and metaxa.

What would he do if he weren't writing? "There are lots of other things that I haven't done, places I haven't seen. So eventually I'll have to find time for those things while there still is time. We've got one life and the older we get the more we come to realize how short it is. I just like telling stories. Writers are in the entertainment business, and it gives me lots of pleasure to entertain my readers. But I'm no longer driven to write. Now I have to drive myself." Lumley's books have inspired music as well as reading. "There's a British heavy metal group called Necroscope; I've never met them. And in the States there are a handful of groups that have dedicated work to me. No mistaking the source of inspiration on tracks with titles like 'What Will Be Has Been,' or 'From Northern Aeries to the Infinite Cycle of the Unborn Lord.' Those are from a CD by a group called Epoch of Unlight. HEAVY!" One of his close friends in the U. K, is Keith Grant-Evans of The Downliners Sect. "Sect's been around all of twenty-five years and more; recently did a new CD called Dangerous Ground with yours truly doing voice-overs on 'Escape From Hong Kong' and 'Bookworm'."

But music's been an influence on Lumley as well. "Way back when I was 15 and 16, I had three main hobbies: Rock 'n Roll, the jive (the dance), and SF. I'm talking 1953, '54 here. I was a founder-member of NEZFEZ, the North-East Science Fiction group. We used to meet in a little town close to Newcastle at a pub called The Red Lion and talk books and like that -- you know the scene. I was doing artwork and "poetry" for fanzines (UK and USA) with titles like CAMBER, PEON, SATELLITE, etc. That was the, er, "intellectual" side of me. But I was also buying that vinyl and teaching the jive at a local dance hall. No, really -- at 16, yes! Hey, it was a great way to meet the girls!"

"So music has always been in me," he continues. "I suppose since I was ten and my big brother brought back all those 12 inch records from Germany with him in '48, after he'd finished his National Service. And was I ever into the big bands! Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, the Dorseys, etc! Today, I have this really excellent Ray Charles collection that I started to put together in 1960 in Germany, and been at it ever since. I'm usually listening to Ray while I write."

And where will the future find Lumley? "The future is a devious thing. We're all time-travellers, albeit pretty damn slow time-travellers. We only go forward at a speed of one day per day, one step for every step. And maybe that's the right way to take the future: I'll just let it sneak up on me. I mean, it's been doing it for 61 years, so why try to change things now? More to the point: when the E-Branch trilogy is finished, I think I may return to short stories awhile, just to keep my hand in -- or even to get my hand BACK in! I mean, it's quite a long time since I did any short stories. And I think I'm looking forward to it..."


Brian M Logan

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