Nostalgia is a funny old thing…

I can remember, way back in the mists of time, the very book that started me off on the whole horror thing: and the picture accompanying this post is THAT very book. I was about seven years old, and I think I found The Screaming Skulls and other Ghost stories: Elliott O’Donnell (published by Foursquare Horror in 1966) on one of the many bookshelves that festooned my parents’ house. I can’t even imagine why they would have had such a book (although it has to be said my father was fascinated by ghosts: in our little town in Wales there’s a ruin of an Augustinian priory on the banks of the Western Cleddau, which was reputedly haunted by the ‘Grey Monk’ – one of his ambitions was to see the spectre), so I surmise that my brother may have bought it originally. Even back then, I was always drawn to anything with skulls on it, or had to do with the unknown. or things that were emblematic of death. This book, with its promise of being ‘A collection of true and legendary ghost stories’, was tantamount to being caught in a psychic lasso, that slowly but surely drew me in.

I was always an odd child, according to my mother. I DO remember, at four years old or slightly younger, regularly badgering my father to take me round the very local cemetery just down the road from where we lived at the time, just to look at all the lovely gravestones. About twelve to thirteen years ago, not long before my mother developed Alzheimer’s, she told me about the time when, concerned for my mental wellbeing, she consulted our doctor about taking me to see a child psychologist. Why? Because, apparently, I had a habit of creating headstones out of Lego bricks and then planting them in rows in a little patch of bare earth in the back garden. She was advised by the doctor that it was quite normal for a child to ponder about death, even at that early age, and that this was just my way of exploring it.

I then graduated to a fascination with the Ancient Egyptians and their obsession with death and the afterlife. I was forever drawing pictures of Anubis, the god of mummification and the world beyond this one. Not long after that I found the Elliot O’Donnell book, and avidly read it, even taking it to school to read in my break times. It got me into trouble, as Mr. Singh, my primary school teacher, deemed it inappropriate for a child to be reading such matter. I seem to remember my parents saying very much the same thing. I don’t even remember any of the stories in it, all these years later: I just remember the title and the cover, and the effect it had on me.

My other main influence in terms of horror is HR Giger, the Swiss artist. If you’ve seen my artwork, then you’ll be aware of just how strong that influence has been.  I discovered his particular brand of bleakly stifling, overwhelmingly organic visual horror in 1978, when I bought the very first issue of Bob Guccione’s Omni magazine – Giger was a regular contributor to it. I just locked into his vision as soon as I first encountered it and that appreciation of his uniqueness has never left me and has ultimately fed into my own artistic outlook.

But, inevitably, these are the things that have shaped me. In the intervening years I have alternately embraced and rejected the horror and ghost story genres, flitting between many other topics and obsessions, but always coming back to it at some point. I have been blessed/cursed with a butterfly mind, never alighting on a subject for too long – although as I get older I find that flightiness is thankfully disappearing. My last encounter with horror happened in the late eighties and lasted throughout the nineties, with a few excursions in the noughties – and during that time I amassed a huge library of the sleaziest, goriest and (sometimes) questionable films on video I could lay my hands on (including about half the so-called video nasties). Plus, during the eighties I discovered the works of Clive Barker, who brought a literacy to horror that I found absolutely refreshing. His Imajica inspired me to try my hand at writing the kind of material he did: at that point I lacked anything remotely resembling a computer, so wrote everything (all ten pages of it) in longhand. The exercise didn’t last very long, however, especially since several friends said they couldn’t quite get their heads around what I’d written.

But here I am, once again, returning to the horror fold: hopefully this time my residency will be permanent. Certainly, I have got more out of it in six months than I ever did in two years of running my record label. It’s too tempting to say ‘I should have done this years ago’ – that would be far too cliched and far too trite. Things happen when they do and not before. This time, there’s an extra dimension – it just feels comfortable. The stars are right, to borrow a much-overused phrase from Lovecraft. I’ve already had two stories accepted for publication (plus a piece of horror-related artwork), and I only started writing in earnest sometime last year. I have also made a lot of good friends into the bargain.

This year has seen a few circles being completed: the music (see my earlier post about Current 93 and Nurse With Wound) and now my childhood love of ghosties and ghoulies and the obsession with death. Like I say, the stars do appear to be coming right for me at last. Although I’ve often expressed similar sentiments, I have a good feeling about this – only time will tell, though. Stay tuned!!

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