David Botham just wants a quiet ordinary life—his job at the travel agency, his relationship with his girlfriend Stephanie. The online blog that uses a title he once thought up has nothing to do with him. He has no idea who is writing it or where they get their information about a series of violent deaths in Liverpool. If they’re murders, how can the killer go unseen even by security cameras? Perhaps David won’t know until they come too close to him—until he can’t ignore the figure from his past that is catching up with him…
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.
About the Author
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 and Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence and The Booking are novellas. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You and Holes for Faces, and his non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably. Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal are what they sound like.
His novels The Nameless and Pact of the Fathers have been filmed in Spain, where a film of The Influence is in production. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.
“The Chimney”, World Fantasy Award, Best Short Story, 1978
“In The Bag”, British Fantasy Award, Best Short Story, 1978
The Parasite, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1980
“Mackintosh Willy”, World Fantasy Award, Best Short Story, 1980I
Incarnate, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1985
The Hungry Moon, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1988
The Influence, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1989 and Premios Gigamesh, 1994 (for Spanish translation, Ultratumba)
Ancient Images, Children of the Night Award for Best Novel, 1989
Midnight Sun, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1991
Best New Horror (co-edited with Stephen Jones), British Fantasy Award and World Fantasy Award, Best Anthology or Collection, 1991
Alone With The Horrors, Stoker Award of the Horror Writers of America, Best Collection, 1994 and World Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 1994
The Long Lost, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 1994
Liverpool Daily Post&Echo Award for Literature, 1994
Premio alla Carriera a Ramsey Campbell (Prize for the Career of Ramsey Campbell), Fantafestival, Rome, 1995
The House On Nazareth Hill, Best Novel, International Horror Guild, 1998
Grand Master Award, World Horror Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999
Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, 1999
Ghosts And Grisly Things, British Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 1999
Ramsey Campbell, Probably, Best Non-Fiction, International Horror Guild, 2002 and Stoker Award of the Horror Writers of America, Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction, 2002 and British Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 2002
Told By The Dead, British Fantasy Award, Best Collection, 2003
Howie Award of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival for Lifetime Achievement, 2006
Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild, 2007
The Grin Of The Dark, British Fantasy Award, Best Novel, 2008
Honorary Fellowship of John Moores University, Liverpool, for outstanding services to literature, 2015
Letters To Arkham, British Fantasy Award, Best Non-Fiction, 2015
Life Achievement Award, World Fantasy Awards, 2015
The Searching Dead, Children of the Night Award for Best Novel, 2016
Premio Sheridan Le Fanu for Campbell’s career, 2017 (given in Madrid)
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.
Read an Excerpt
"Hello?" It was the last word they ever spoke, but by no means the last sound they made.CHAPTER 2
"It isn't even in the paper," Emily said, and patches of her small neat face flared pink. "They don't want some people to be heard." Helen tilted her head as if her sympathetic grimace had pulled it awry, and Bill ducked towards the gap under the window of the currency desk. "Who's they?"
As his long thin face offered its habitual smile Helen retorted "Anyone who makes a joke of that kind of thing."
David felt anxious to head off an argument. "Emily, can we help?" Andrea raised her broad face as if she meant to head off any disagreement with her pointed chin. "Just by leaving it, David."
"He was on the phone, Andrea. He didn't hear," Emily said and told him "I was saying a friend of my dad's was attacked outside his house. He was punched in the face when he was only trying to defend his daughter. She was being stalked on her way home from school by a man who lives across the road in what's supposed to be a care home."
"There are too many of them out on the streets," Helen said and twirled a finger like a mime of drilling her close-cropped red-haired scalp. "Nobody cares enough."
"They blamed her and her dad and let the man off," Emily said as her face grew more thoroughly pink. "They said she should have phoned the police, and her dad's a community policeman. Only the police said it would be his word against the man's, and the man would have his social worker in court."
"Antisocial, more like," Helen said. "Working against the rest of us who know how to behave."
Andrea emitted a cough to put a full stop to the discussion and stood up to take an armful of holiday brochures to the racks. "Well, we've all got work to do," she said.
David wondered if she meant to make sure his parents weren't brought into the argument, but he suspected she was only being managerial. He might even have called it officious, since just now his and Emily's and Helen's work consisted of waiting for their phones to be answered by anything more than an automatic response. He watched Andrea file the brochures – Winter Wonders, Spring Forward, Summery Summaries, Crucial Cruises – and then unlock the door as though hoping to attract custom. All she let in was a gust of February air and the trumpeting of a busker outside the railway station down the hill. "Lucky," David murmured.
"Watch out, girls," Bill called. "You've got our Dave talking to himself."
Andrea's glance made it plain that she didn't welcome being called a girl at thirty, even if he had two decades on her. He was one ahead of Helen, and Emily was half his age, a few years short of David. "I'm just saying we're lucky to have jobs," David said, only to feel that something else had been in his mind.
He heard a living voice on his phone at last as Andrea returned to the counter. The tour operator couldn't help him except by providing another number, which offered him a trio of numbers to select from, and another and another ... Five minutes after that an advisor made it clear that David couldn't book extra leg room for his customers on the Maltese flight until next week. He called them and apologised on behalf of Frugogo, and was replacing the phone in its plastic trough when someone came into the shop.
His sharp face looked drawn taut by enthusiasm. His greying hair trailed at various lengths over the shoulders of his tweed jacket, which was equipped with shiny leather elbows that reminded David of a teacher at his old school. Before David could think why else he seemed familiar, the man came over to him. "David," he said loud enough to be addressing every listener. "Didn't know you were this close."
David's uncertainty earned him a reproachful blink to go with a vigorous handshake. "Len Kinnear," the man said like rather more than a reminder. "I gave you my bill in the street."
Andrea contributed a cough. "It didn't use to be like you to owe anything to anybody, David."
"My handout, love," Kinnear said. "A flyer for my bookshop. That's We're Still Left, just up the hill. We're about empowering the people and giving them a voice."
"I should think most people have one of those," Helen said without enthusiasm.
"I'll tell you who's got one if he's let, and that's our David here."
"I didn't know anyone wasn't letting him," Andrea said.
"You'd know, would you, love?"
"If anyone here would," Bill said not quite low enough to be unheard. David was acutely aware of her silence, the kind he recognised all too well from their months together. "Anyway," Kinnear said, "remember the invite. Seven o'clock Friday above the shop."
"What's that for, David?" Emily was eager to learn.
"We aren't just a bookshop, we run a writers' group," Kinnear said. "All Write."
"All write as in you think everyone's a writer?" Helen said.
"They will be now the web's democratising it at last. That's the new culture, only some of them need to be told." When Andrea cleared her throat, a high sharp sound, Kinnear said "Just say you're coming Friday, Dave, and I'll be out of your face."
Although David knew why Kinnear wanted him, he wouldn't have called it a reason. Before he could answer Kinnear said "Give us a shot, eh? If you find you aren't for us, no bother at all."
Not least to be rid of him David said "I expect I could give it a chance."
"A glass of plonk says you won't be sorry. Now here's some real customers instead of me." Kinnear held the door open and observed "As somebody was thinking, about time."
David couldn't help feeling vindicated when the young couple came straight to him. He sold them a fortnight in Kefalonia while Andrea fixed a man up with a weekend in Prague, and then she turned to David. "I'll have to say he was right in a way," she said, "your friend."
"Right how? Not about me," David felt compelled to establish.
"We need to promote ourselves like him, however we have to. We're competing with the internet as well. Any ideas from anybody, I'll be listening."
Emily parted her pink lips, but only to say "Why does he think you're a writer, David?"
"It was just a mistake," David said. He was as ordinary as any of his colleagues – if anything, more so. He turned to his computer terminal but couldn't ignore his own thoughts. What was troubling him? Not just Andrea's oppressive interventions, not Bill's heavy humour, not the way Emily and Helen had inadvertently reminded him of the work his parents did. The busker outside the station produced a fanfare that might almost have been mocking David's inability to pin his feelings down. As the computer keys began to clack beneath his fingertips he had a sense that he'd let something out he should never have said.CHAPTER 3
Who's next? It's Mr Accident, marching back from the shops with a paper rolled up under his arm. Maybe he thinks it makes him look like a soldier with a stick. With his droopy face he reminds me of a dog that's fetched one. "Stick it in your gob," I say, but he's too busy looking for traffic before he waves me out of my drive. "Stay right where you are," I tell him.
He hitches up the paper and then lifts that arm from the elbow like a robot to shove his ear wider, though it's already big enough to poke a fist in. "Er ..."
"Don't worry about it. I'll be there before you know and then you won't need to hear."
It's the work of a moment. I've been distracted by our neighbour, who has come out of Binbag Manor to dump more garbage in her bin. He's in the middle of the road and hasn't time to dodge. I thought I was tramping on the brake, but it must have been the accelerator. I floor a pedal as the car lurches out of the drive, and it stalls inches short of Mr Accident, who staggers backwards and almost trips over the kerb. "Good God, what are you trying to do?" he cries and appeals to Mrs Rubbish. "I didn't even wave him out and he nearly ran me over."
"I'm truly sorry about that." I am that it was only nearly, and I add "I didn't mean to."
"You want to be more careful." Mrs Rubbish shuts the bin with a thump like a warning not to open until it's being emptied, and then she jerks her head back as if it's being tugged by her bun of straggly brownish hair. "Whatever have you done to your car?"
"He bumped into the gateway last week," Mr Accident says as though it wasn't because he waved at me and distracted me into waving back at him. "You can't afford to let your attention wander when you're driving. It's not safe."
She gives me a maternal look, though at least there's no love in it. "Honestly, what are you like?"
"Not like you, I hope, and the same goes for him."
She seems ready to ask what I'm muttering — she's tightened her face so much it reminds me of the bag, which wasn't much paler or more lumpy either — until she hears a groan of machinery along the road. The binmen are approaching, which is the highlight of her week. "Better move so you aren't in their way," she says.
"Time I was clearing out my gutters," Mr Accident says and marches off as she returns to the doorway of her manor, where the antique door may be all of ten years old. The dumpy house is the same as mine but desperate to look different from the neighbour that's its other half. As I drive away she's waiting to make sure the men whose lives are garbage don't strew the roadway with bins. I've seen her watching from her window in case anybody dares to drop rubbish in one of her bins, and if they try she knocks so hard on the glass I always hope it will crack.
The sound of the wagon gulping down the garbage seems to have brought more rubbish into the streets. A woman runs to contribute a bag of turds to someone's bin, and she's in such a hurry that she's left a lump on the pavement — presumably her dog's, not hers. A teenager shoves a laptop deep into a bin, as if he wants to make sure nobody can find out what he's been watching, unless he's just ashamed that the computer isn't the latest model. A toddler screams while his father jams a pedal car into a bin, and the screams grow even louder as the plastic cracks. "Having fun playing dad?" I remark, not that I know much about fathers — actually nothing at all.
The wrecker doesn't seem to hear me for the screams. I'd make sure he didn't like it if he heard. I feel as if I'm swarming with unfinished business all the way to the shops. The winding roads aren't wide enough for cars to be parked opposite each other, which means a lot are on the pavements, even though they could be on a drive. That must be how the owners stake their territory, along with adding bits to their houses as though this can fool anybody into thinking they're less identical. They might as well wear masks to convince people they have souls, whatever those are. They wouldn't convince me.
The shops overlook a stretch of gritty concrete strewn with lager cans that somebody's been scrunching to demonstrate their strength. As I park the car one squashed can flattens under a wheel with a tinny clank. The shops aren't so much a parade as a token line-up — Better Bets, Ho's Traditional Fish & Chips that are mostly kebabs and pizzas and Chinese food (there are samples outside, both uneaten and the opposite), Bonus Booze ... The general store at the end says it's Open All Hours, which means just those that suit the Slowworm family, who can't even find the time to change the window display, magazines years old and packets of food no less pale with years of sun. "Is anyone alive in here?" I wonder as I let myself in.
Only Slowworm is. He's behind the counter spread with newspapers and sweets, more of which are in racks lower down for children to grab and whine about to their parents or whichever temporary version is in charge of them. "What can I get you today?" he says before I've even crossed the grimy threshold.
He's peering at me as if he can't quite make me out. He might try taking off the crumpled canvas hat he always wears. He's yanked the brim down to his overstated eyebrows, and the hat looks as though it's cramming his broad flat face together. "What's on offer?" he's goaded me to ask.
"Offer." Once the dull echo dies away he complains "Sounds like you want the supermarket. Us small shopkeepers can't afford to muck around with prices."
"I wouldn't say any of you was that small." I might add that doesn't include his brain, but instead I say "So long as you enjoy serving the public."
"Serving the public. I'd enjoy seeing a few more of them."
"More of them." I can play at echoes too, but I don't think he even notices.
I amuse myself by wanting to know "Don't you enjoy seeing me?"
"Seeing you." He can't quite echo me, and I wonder how much of his resentment has to do with that. "I'll like it when you tell me what you're getting. Words don't pay the bills."
"Let's hope you do." As his face betrays his struggle to decide how insulting this is I say "I've just come in for cigarettes."
"Cigarettes. Better stock up before they're against the law. Pretty soon they'll be something else we're not allowed to mention."
"I thought you said you don't think much of words."
"Don't think much." Before I can congratulate him on acknowledging some of the truth he says "What brand?"
The warnings on the packets behind him are bigger than the brand names. They look as if they're advertising death, which comes close to making me grin. "You don't sell Fatal Fags, then."
"Fatal Fags." When his face catches up with the notion of a joke he makes a stab at banter. "Not got those."
"Or Lumpy Lungs."
"Lumpy Lungs." If he means to sound amused it doesn't work. "Not them either."
"Poison Puffs? Ashtray Breaths? I know, C & C. That's Coughs & Cancer."
"None of those." He's growing so annoyed that he forgets to echo. "If you've just come in for a laugh —"
"I wouldn't dream of it. Give me twenty Players and I'll think of the game later."
He doesn't know if I'm still joking. His face loosens somewhat when I hand him the cash for a packet of King Size, with the chance of a free gift of a tumour big enough for a king. I'll take the consequences, except they've no chance in the world of catching up with me. I strip off the cellophane and leave it crackling like the start of a fire on top of a local newspaper that I could be in. "I'll let you have that," I tell Slowworm. "We don't want any more rubbish on the street, do we?"
I linger in the doorway to watch him pick up the cellophane and pull it off one hand with the other, then wave the fingers it has stuck to. As he starts tramping on the cellophane to dislodge it from his fingers I lose interest. I can always save him for another day, and I use my lighter on a cigarette while I head for the car. The oily taste of nicotine, the bite in the throat, the hint of dizziness — they all feel like sensations I'm remembering rather than experiencing, hints too meagre to add up to even a foretaste of satisfaction. After another ineffective drag I sprain the cigarette in the dashboard ashtray. The stuffing of tobacco that spills from the torn tube puts me in mind of a soft toy that has been ripped limb from limb. That isn't even a memory, and it leaves me more frustrated still.
My dustbin lies full length across my drive with its mouth gaping like a dead fish. Maybe the binmen left it like that, unless someone passing by thought it would be a hoot to tip it over, or just a way of spending a few seconds of their life. I leave the car in the middle of the road while I right the bin and trundle it behind the house, but nobody drives up for an argument. I don't need one of those for motivation. I back the car into the drive, where a scrape of paint on the gatepost would give me a reminder if I wanted one, and stroll along the road.
Mrs Rubbish has left her vigil now the weekly garbage ritual is done, and nobody else can see me either. The moans of the hungry truck are several streets away, and the streets are deserted under a sullen sky that dulls the colours the houses have been daubed with, shades like stale makeup where they aren't childishly garish. If the culprits haven't gone out to work I expect they're watching television or more likely on the internet. I feel as if I'm surrounded by an electronic mind that swarms with random thoughts. How much of my day happened as I've told it? All that matters is this will. I've reached Mr Accident's house.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Think Yourself Lucky"
Copyright © 2018 Ramsey Campbell.
Excerpted by permission of Flame Tree Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What is the book about?
David Botham just wants a quiet ordinary lifehis job at the travel agency, his relationship with his girlfriend Stephanie. The online blog that uses a title he once thought up has nothing to do with him. He has no idea who is writing it or where they get their information about a series of violent deaths in Liverpool. If they’re murders, how can the killer go unseen even by security cameras? Perhaps David won’t know until they come too close to himuntil he can’t ignore the figure from his past that is catching up with him…
What are the underlying themes?
Fundamentally, the internet as a place that sets loose our buried personalities and looses monsters on the world.
Did you base your characters on anyone you knew?
All my characters are based on observation to some extent, but a character is very rarely drawn from a single real person. It’s more a matter of assembling a new person from traits borrowed from many, and some imagined traits too. What’s most important, especially in a story such as this one that deals with the supernatural, is that the characters should behave as real people might conceivably behave.
Is there any advice you can give someone starting to write?
Don’t despair, even when your work is rejected. Keep writing, and don’t leave work unfinished. Learn to enjoy rewriting as soon as you can – every piece of work needs it, believe me. tell as much of the truth as you can. Always compose at least the first sentence before you sit down to write. Identify your most creative time to write and, if you can, work then – if not, try at least to write some of your new piece every day until it’s finished.
Where did you write?
I’m up at my desk that looks towards Liverpool across the river, and I always see the dawn when I’m working here. Some writers prefer to face a wall so as not to be distracted, but I believe I draw energy from the view, not least the ever-changing sky.
Did you find it hard to write? Or harder to edit your own work?
I haven’t plotted a novel in advance for many years – I gather material until the book feels ready to be started. I believe in letting the tale develop organically and surprise me as it does. The dark side of this is that I can find myself stranded far out in unknown territory with no idea how to proceed, but I trust the novel to rescue me – generally there’s material earlier on that proves to be the solution to where I need to go next in the story. It certainly van be hard to write, but more often it’s rewarding, even exhilarating. I’ve come to regard the first draft as a way of setting out what I need to work with. I’m increasingly ruthless at rewriting and enjoy it a good deal.
Because I’ve always loved the field. I started writing in it to pay back some of the pleasure it has given me and in the hope of adding a little of my own to it. Some of its greatest tales – Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”, Arthur Machen’s “The White People”, Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space” – ,reach towards awe, and that’s my ambition, however much I may fall short of it.
You’ve been writing horror fiction for more than half a century. Do you ever run out of material?
Not while I live and perhaps not even beyond that. I’ve notebooks full of ideas waiting for development. I believe the field is so wide I’ve by no means found its limits (by which I don’t mean excessiveness, but its ability to contain a great deal). The uncanny, the psychological, cosmic terror, social comment, comedy of paranoia, the monstrous both human and inhuman – they’re all in there, and more.
Isn’t there enough horror in the world without creating it?
Would we say there’s enough crime in the world, and enough tragedy? Yet I’ve never heard those observations used as an argument that people should stop writing crime fiction or tragedies. For that matter, since there is indeed horror in the world, how could some art not reflect that? It’s also true that much horror fiction, whether supernatural or psychological, deals with a different kind than the horror in the news, though some of the fiction does indeed confront everyday experience.
What are you writing now?
I’m completing the third volume of a supernatural trilogy that spans most of seventy years, ending up in something like the present – The Searching Dead, Born to the Dark and now The Way of the Worm.