August 18, 2014

By Blood We Read: an interview with Mark Morris, editor of "The Spectral Book of Horror Stories"

Spectral Press releases a new anthology in September, featuring stories from Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, and many more. I had the chance to ask its editor, Mark Morris, a few questions about the book. Enjoy!

Gef: The Spectral Book of Horror Stories looks to showcase some high-caliber British horror. How did this anthology come about?

Mark: Not just high-calibre British horror, but high-calibre international horror! As well as some of the best UK horror writers in the business, we’ve also got stories from US writers like Brian Hodge and Steve Rasnic Tem, Canadians like Helen Marshall and Rio Youers, and we’ve even got a story from an Aussie, the brilliant Angela Slatter.

As for how the anthology came about, my first introduction to adult horror fiction was through reading short story anthologies. I read hundreds of horror stories before I read a single horror novel. At the age of nine or ten I started reading the Pan and Fontana horror and ghost story anthologies, the Armada ghost, SF and monster story anthologies, and dozens of one-off anthologies, which I borrowed from the library on a regular basis. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I think short stories are the lifeblood of the horror genre, and ever since I became a professional writer, over quarter of a century ago, I have harboured an ambition to edit an annual anthology of non-themed horror and/or ghost stories. I approached Simon Marshall-Jones at Spectral Press a year or so ago with my vision and a breakdown of how much money he’d have to fork out to make it happen – and happily he said yes!

Gef: The table of contents looks like a who's who in the genre. I see Gary McMahon, Lisa Tuttle, Alison Littlewood, Brian Hodge, and even Ramsey effing Campbell. So, is there a lockbox in Spectral Press' possession containing an assortment of incriminating photos?

Mark: Ha ha! No, no one had to be coerced or threatened. Fortunately a lot of writers in this genre love short fiction as much as I do, and I received a huge amount of very positive and enthusiastic feedback when I told them of my intention not only to do this anthology, but to make it an annual event – depending on sales, of course. I’m hoping that once the book is out there and hopefully starts to gain some positive feedback I’ll get more great writers wanting to come on board for future volumes. My ambition is for The Spectral Book of Horror Stories to gain a reputation for excellence, and to showcase the very best that the genre has to offer. I have a huge list of writers I’d like to see stories from in the future – and, of course, I’d like to discover some great new writers too, and perhaps help set them on their way to a full-time writing career, as Charlie Grant did for me twenty-odd years ago when he published a story of mine in his anthology, Final Shadows.

Gef: With such an array of talent, the anthology should offer a pretty colorful mosaic of the horror genre. Is there any kind of unspoken theme or tone to this anthology?

Mark: No, which is the whole point of it – it’s non-themed. Themed anthologies are all very well, and in fact there are some great ones out there, but my preference has always been for the idea of an anthology which celebrates the almost limitless breadth and depth of this fantastic genre. As a kid, reading the Pan and Fontana books, I loved the fact that I had no idea what was coming next, and that each individual story had its own tone and style and theme.

Gef: How do you see the state of the horror genre these days? Robust or is Spectral Press a bastion fending off an army of hacks?

Mark: There are some really great writers out there, and if you’re prepared to shop around and become familiar with the world of the independent presses, of which there are many superb examples – PS Publishing, Cemetery Dance, Spectral, Gray Friar, Tartarus, Subterranean, ChiZine, to name just a few – then you’ll realize that the genre is in fine fettle. What there isn’t a great deal of is money. There are many fantastic writers who are earning little more than a pittance for their work. But if you’re new to the genre and looking for good stuff to read, you’ll find it in abundance. As well as the writers in this anthology, and the biggies like Stephen King, Peter Straub and Joe Lansdale, who are all still producing very fine work, check out the fiction of Joe Hill, Graham Joyce, Tim Lebbon, John Langan, Nathan Ballingrud, Lisa Hannett, Adam Nevill, Simon Bestwick, Simon Strantzas, Paul Finch, Ray Cluley, Thana Niveau, Chris Golden… oh, and literally dozens of others. They are all writers who I’d love to feature stories from in future volumes of The Spectral Book of Horror Stories.

Gef: The anthology is set to debut in September at Fantasy York, England, but what of it beyond the U.K.'s borders? How long must we wait and where do we look to buy it up?

Mark: The wonder of the internet is that the world has become a very small place. The book can be ordered direct from Spectral Press at

Gef: Vincent Chong is responsible for the cover art. So, how stoked were you when you saw the proposed masterpiece, because that kid's got talent?

Mark: Vinny is a truly fantastic artist, and one of the nicest, most self-effacing and accommodating guys you’ll ever meet. We discussed ideas, and he did a few sketches, which were variations on the theme of the three creepy children – but when I saw the final cover artwork it absolutely blew me away! I just love the colour theme he’s used, the composition, the attention to detail… it’s one of Vinny’s best pieces, I think; it’s stunning! And the great news is that Vinny’s with us for the duration. He’s agreed to do the covers for The Spectral Book of Horror Stories for as long as the series runs – which is fantastic! I’m so excited I’ve already started discussing possible colour themes and images with him for volumes two and three…

Gef: What other projects do you have in the works and how can folks keep up with what's going on with you as well as Spectral Press?

Mark: The best places to keep up with me are on Facebook and Twitter. I’m continually posting news and film/book reviews and all sorts of nonsense on there. This is becoming a very busy year for me. Rather ridiculously I’ve got four novels out this year – the official movie tie-in novelization of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah was published in February/March; Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital, the first novel based on the Stephen Jones-created franchise, came out a month or so ago; then at FantasyCon in September, where we’ll be launching The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, PS Publishing will also be launching a new novel of mine called The Black; and finally, in October, Titan Books will publish The Wolves of London, book one of my new dark fantasy trilogy Obsidian Heart. Looking ahead from there I have two new novellas coming out next year – one from Spectral, one from Salt Publishing’s new horror imprint, Remains; a new short story collection from ChiZine; the second book in my Obsidian Heart trilogy, which is called The Society of Blood; and hopefully The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories. I’ve also got new stories of my own popping up in a few anthologies, and there may be one or two other projects in the pipeline, which I’m not allowed to talk about yet.

Gef: Thanks, Mark. As for the rest of you, you can grab yourself a copy of the anthology by visiting Spectral Press' shop and making a pre-order, plus find even more great titles.

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