Second Drafts With… Ramsey Campbell

Taken by Tony Knox

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Liverpool based horror writer Ramsey Campbell – I have to admit that horror isn’t a genre I’m familiar with, maybe because it scares the s*t out of me – I take my hat off to Ramsey for being able to write horror and I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him.

Over to you, Ramsey…

1) What do you do once you have finished your first draft?

I’ll experience a sense of real achievement, usuallyshort-lived. Minutes later I’ll pretty certainly be pondering what I’m going to write next and developing it in my head – quite possibly making notes in a notebook. Decades ago I would take the next day off and go out for a celebratory countryside walk, but these days the pressure of untold tales is too great. I’m still trying to set aside a day to watch Bêla Tarr’s Sátántangó as a reward after completing a first draft – the film is over seven hours long.

2) How long do you tend to leave your draft before beginning your reading of it?

Months. I’ll write short stories or perhaps even a novella in between. These days I try to arrange my schedule so that I read through it when we’re away on holiday abroad (not an option just now, alas). For the record, The Wise Friend – since that’s the book most recently out – was typical in taking about a year from the opening of the first draft (which took from 3 April 2018 to 4 August 2018 to write) to submitting the final version to my agent.

3) What is your revision process like for your first draft?

Very different from how it once was. I don’t quite know when it changed, but certainly in my early decades I tried to retain as much as I could justify of the first draft, whereas now my approach is to change and improve and condense or indeed delete everything I can. I’ll attach a couple of photographs of the first draft of the opening chapter of The Wise Friend to show you what I mean. The second page of dialogue was almost entirely dropped from the rewrite, since I felt it wasn’t doping enough or indeed very much.

4) When you have decided you need to do a second draft, what do you do?

Well, let me talk us through the process as a whole – this will cover question 5 too. The first drafts of my fiction are always written longhand with a fountain pen in exercise books (seven days a week, Christmas and birthdays included, I’m here at my desk by six in the morning). The rewrite is doneonto the computer. It’s by no means uncommon to lose maybe 20% of the length of the first draft, I print the rewrite out and read through it, at which point I’ll always make further revisions, generally minor ones. Once I’ve made those changes on the computer, off the novel goes to my agent, and I suffer my usual doubts of whether it’s any good.

5) What is your writing process like for your second draft?

See above!

6) Do you write in a different place when you are writing your second draft?

No indeed – always here at my desk on the third floor, where the view across the Mersey and the sky above is a gentle inspiration.

Thank you for your time visiting the blog today Ramsey – it was a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for outstanding services to literature. Among his novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain, Ghosts Know, The Kind Folk, Think Yourself Lucky, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach and The Wise Friend. He recently brought out his Brichester Mythos trilogy, consisting of The Searching Dead, Born to the Dark and The Way of the Worm. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence, The Booking and The Enigma of the Flat Policeman are novellas. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You, Holes for Faces, By the Light of My Skull and a two-volume retrospective roundup (Phantasmagorical Stories). His non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably and Ramsey’s Rambles (video reviews). Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal is a history of horror fiction in the form of fifty limericks. His novels The Nameless, Pact of the Fathers and The Influence have been filmed in Spain, where a television series based on The Nameless is in development. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.

Ramsey Campbell lives in Merseyside with his wife Jenny. His pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever’s in that pipe. His web site is at http://www.ramseycampbell.com.

Manuscript samples: Photos by Ramsey Campbell

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