An Interview with Graham Masterton

Graham Masterton (born 16 January 1946 in Edinburgh) is a British horror author. Originally editor of Mayfair and the British edition of Penthouse, Graham Masterton’s first novel The Manitou was released in 1976. This novel was adapted in 1978 for the film The Manitou. Further works garnered critical acclaim, including a Special Edgar Awardby the Mystery Writers of America for Charnel House and a Silver Medal by the West Coast Review of Books for Mirror. He is also the only non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger for his novel Family Portrait, an imaginative reworking of the Oscar Wilde novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Masterton currently lives in Surrey, England.


Ladies and gentlemen…Mr Graham Masterton…

When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?

There was never a moment when I thought ‘I’m going to be a writer’ because I started writing stories as soon as I could write (and draw, because I always used to illustrate them.) The first time I wrote an actual book was when I came home from seeing ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea’. I was so impressed by Kirk Douglas battling the giant squid I filled an exercise book with a story about Hans Lee a harpooner and his battle with a massive octopus. I stuck a cardboard cover on it, illustrated it, and sold it to my best friend for 1d. My first book sale! After that I wrote perhaps a dozen books about Hans Lee and also a Pickwick-like character called Augustus Blank and a space pilot called Don Kenyon. When I was 14 I wrote a 400-page vampire novel titled Morbleu but sadly it is lost. I also wrote a lot of poems and made booklets out of them which I sold for 2s 0d.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It varies. I have written very long historical sagas which have taken over a year but in 2017 I wrote three novels – a new horror novel GHOST VIRUS, an historical crime thriller THE COVEN and a ninth novel featuring my Irish detective Katie Maguire, DEAD MEN WHISTLING. Each novel is about 130,000 words and the pressure was immense. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again!

Do you believe in writer’s block?

I always used to think that writer’s block was some rundown apartment building where writers sat staring glumly at blank computer screens and sheets of paper. I have never suffered from ‘writer’s block’ but I was trained as a newspaper reporter from the age of 17 and then became a magazine editor and when you write for a newspaper or a magazine you simply can’t say ‘Oooh, I can’t think of anything to write today!’ I have more ideas than I will ever be able to write in my lifetime.

What did you do with your first advance?

The first advance I received was for Your Erotic Fantasies which I wrote under the name of Edward Thorne and which was published by the small independent publisher Neville Spearman. I can’t remember how much it was but it went towards the deposit for my first house, an 18th-centurty end-of-terrace property in Lewes, in Sussex.

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

My own? Or somebody else’s? I think Edgewise was under-appreciated…but perhaps that was my fault because of the title. It’s a strong story about the Wendigo, the Native American demon who follows close behind you wherever you go, but when you turn around it’s still behind you.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

No. It’s the sales figures that tell you if a book has been well or badly received. Everybody has their own opinion, and I deliberately write to cross boundaries and disturb people, so their reaction doesn’t worry me.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Take pretty young women out for dinner. Or help pretty young women to write novels of their own. I have spent a great deal of time guiding Dawn Harris through the writing of her debut supernatural novel Diviner and I am delighted that it will be published by Telos Books in March.

What does your family think of your writing?

Boring Dad just doing his job.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Sometimes I will use names of people I have known, but only in an affectionate way.

How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

I have written a hundred and something. I am still attached to Trauma, or Bonnie Winter as it was also called when it was first published by Cemetery Dance – the story of a woman crime scene cleaner who becomes traumatized by her experiences.

Do you have any suggestions to help anyone become a better writer? If so, what are they?

I am not a great believer in giving advice to other writers because I think that everybody has their own voice. I have sketched out some basic rules for writing on my website in the Fiction section, but they are not hard and fast rules, just suggestions. Stephen King for example has said that ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’ but it depends entirely on what adverbs you use and when. I spent years discussing with William Burroughs how to write with clarity and rhythm, and we agreed that the most important thing is to have a great command of grammar and vocabulary but to use your vocabulary sparingly so that the reader always feels that they are living the story rather than just reading about it.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kind of things do they say?

I hear from readers every day and I spent at least the first hour of every day responding to them. Mostly they want to know what books I am writing and if I am ever going to write again about their favourite characters such as Harry Erskine from The Manitou or Jim Rook or Night Warriors. I have to tell them that there are only so many hours in the day and I wish I could write a hundred new books but I physically don’t have the time.

What do you think makes a good story?

Believable characters, a convincing background, and a plot that nobody else has ever thought of.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Never thought about it. I was too busy writing.

What’s the first book that terrified you?

The War of The Worlds by HG Wells. After that, nothing. I’m a seller not a buyer.9780812505153

Have you ever read a book that made you cry?

The Da Vinci Code. Didn’t actually read any of it, but any clot knows that ‘Da Vinci’ was where Leonardo came from, not his name.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Trying to copy existing successful writers. The key is to be totally original and come from left field. If you’re writing horror, don’t write about vampires or zombies or werewolves. The world’s mythology has so many unusual and scary creatures.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

No idea.

Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

I don’t think it makes a difference. Some of the most brilliant writers have been the shyest and most self-deprecatory. You just have to believe that readers will be interested in what you have to say.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

I can’t read other writers’ fiction. I am too critical of my own work.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I have written so much that sometimes I have tried writing under other names. I published The Heirloom and The Hell Candidate under the name Thomas Luke when I was working with Simon & Schuster, and two thrillers under the name Alan Blackwood when I was working with Corgi. The first sex book I wrote in America was How A Woman Loves To Be Loved by Angel Smith, but Angel received so much suggestive fan mail that I decided never to use her name again.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I don’t mix with other authors, although I knew the late Jim Herbert moderately well. The only author with whom I ever discussed writing technique in any depth was William Burroughs. In the late 1960s, we were both interested in deconstructing language and grammar and then reconstructing it so that we became invisible to the reader, and that anybody who read what we had written would feel that they were living it, rather than reading it.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Not to myself, because I always felt this, but to any writer. Don’t forget: it’s just a job.