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Steve & Graham Stephen Laws (left) with Graham Masterton at the launch of James Herbert's Portent, London 1992

© Caroline Forbes

When Matt Williams asked me to write an introduction to Graham Masterton's website, I thought this was going to be an easy task. After all, I was an avid horror fan when Graham's novels first came along; eagerly devouring such works as The Manitou, The Devils of D-Day and Charnel House - to name but three. Back then, in the mid-seventies, I was reading everything I could get my hands on in the genre, little realising that I was also learning about the writing process and that all of this stuff going through the Laws matrix would eventually help me to find my own voice and become a novelist in my own right (or is that write?). There were other writers whose work fired me back then. Richard Matheson (whom I pretty much discovered in retrospect but whose effect was pivotal on me, and whose themes I would later see developing further in the work of Stephen King), Nigel Kneale, Peter Straub (whose Ghost Story remains my Number One horror novel - despite the watering down of its impact by the tame film version), Ramsey Campbell, M.R. James, Dean Koontz, Charles Beaumont, John Farris - and it occurs to me now that I can just keep on listing the writers who affected me and I'll eventually reach my word limit. Then I'll be able to avoid telling you that I've drafted this article a dozen times and still come to the realisation that it's impossible to give a brief overview of Graham's output or an analysis of his themes - particularly when Matt Williams and Ray Clark's superb study of Graham's work - Manitou Man: The Worlds of Graham Masterton - is sitting there on the bookshelf behind me as I write. I can feel its presence there now, can feel the eyes on the spine of the book boring between my shoulderblades. I made the mistake of reading that book again before I started on the introduction. It was a big mistake - because there's nothing I can say that isn't covered in this volume (and in the incisive introduction by Peter James). Instead, I'd recommend the volume wholeheartedly as a definitive analysis of one of the top 'horror' names.

What can I say about Graham Masterton then? Well, we met and 'performed' at a number of conventions over the years and became good friends. Last time we met up, we got blitzed on good champagne. I remember his reaction years ago when we were talking about how long it took to write a novel. It's a recognised fact that Graham works fast - The Manitou, after all, was written in a week. When I told him that it took me a year on average to complete a book, his face became very concerned and grave - as if I'd just told him that I had a terminal illness. He took me by the elbow to the nearest bar and insisted on buying me several doubles in the hope that I'd recover from whatever ailment was troubling me. Unfortunately, my condition is incureable - and what wouldn't I give to be able to write as well as he can in the timescale he allots himself? (Although I note from Manitou Man that his novel Rich took six to nine months to complete).

Graham's noted for his work in the horror genre - but he has also written in other areas. Historical novels, epic sagas - even sex manuals. But that's all covered in depth in Manitou Man. Which of his books is my favourite? Well, I still recall the chilling effect of first reading The Manitou and Charnel House. But my favourite is The Pariah. This novel is about divers salvaging a ship wreck and discovering something nasty in the hold. And why do I like this one in particular? Well, if you take away the supernatural elements, the book still works as a thriller in its own right. The characters, the interaction, the plot. The preparation for the dive - the dive itself. All of it works like a mainstream thriller. The supernatural threat is a bonus - but take it away, and you've still got a cracking novel.

Okay, I'll try to make a serious point now. At the last British FantasyCon I was bookended on a panel, with Ramsey Campbell on my left and Graham on my right. Both big names and respected writers in the genre, both with completely different styles. During the debate, which was on the recent and spectacular decline in horror literature, an important theme emerged which I later took up with Graham and which gives pause for thought. First - a side reference that will put the following into some kind of context. Everyone knows that the movie version of The Exorcist had a spectacular effect when it first came out. It certainly had a profound effect on me. Fast-forward to the present day and its re-release on the big screen and on video (after having been restricted from public showing for so long) was greeted with a much more subdued response. In particular, I got the feeling that the younger generation of horror fans who had read so much about the film and its influence were disappointed. It may well be to do with the fact that the much-hyped special effects of the time have been well and truly superceded by modern computer technology, and the film is also much less graphic than the splatter/slasher movies that followed it in the eighties and nineties. But I think there's a much more fundamental issue - which also applies to much of Graham's work in the horror genre.

I've always felt that one of the prime components in the human psyche is a sense of the spiritual. Whoahh, I hear you cry. Laws is about to make a religious point. Well, yeah, I guess I am - and here it is. Going back to the time of The Exorcist, organised religion was feeling the crisis engendered by cultural, social and sexual revolution - but there was still a generalised underpinning of spiritual 'belief' across the board in society that allowed the film to really get under the skin. People were reacting to the movie in a gut-instinct way, since it stabbed into spiritual anxieties at a very primal level. Now, in the new Millennium - after the materialism of the eighties and nineties - that sense of spiritual awareness (and I'm not limiting this to specific religions, creeds or beliefs) has been marginalised so much that the power of the supernatural as a force to be reckoned with in fiction has also been diluted. In movies today, spectacular special effects, monstrous transformations and gruesome violence can be breath-catching and startling - but it tends not to be disturbing in the way that The Exorcist's sub-text of after-life despair, spiritual torture and cruelty was so disturbing for audiences back in 1973; moreover, a sub-text that required a sense of spiritual anxiety from its audience in the first place. Before this begins to sound like a sermon, what I'm trying to say is that religious belief and the prospect of demonic intervention has gradually lost its hold in a society that has for the most part lost its sense of the spiritual. That might account for the lessened impact of The Exorcist on its re-release, might also account for the down-turn in the fortunes of horror literature generally. And why do I put forward this suggestion? Because, returning to the discussion with Graham, it's generally acknowledged that he is the foremost exponent in the horror genre when it comes to mythology and the creation of demonic entities. There's a strong sense of religious ritual and mythos - whether it be from America, Mexico, Poland - or something entirely of his own making. And, as Graham himself told me, his books which deal with these themes still sell extremely well in those countries around the world where there is still a strong religious belief system. So there you go - a serious point, maybe worth debating.

But you're not here to read my hypotheses - even if the above arose from a discussion with the subject of this web site. You're here to read about Graham Masterton, his books, his interests, his style and his view on the writing process. The range of his work is breathtaking. My own view? Graham's books excite, thrill, horrify and involve. He does what every writer should do - he makes you want to turn the page quickly to find out what happens next. I'm also reminded of John D. MacDonald's superb introduction to Stephen King's collection, Night Shift when he talks about the writing process, declaims author intrusion and calls for: 'Story. Story. Dammit, story!' Graham Masterton is a Story Teller of the first calibre - and if this is your first introduction to the man and his work, you're in for a treat.

Stephen Laws
February 2000

Stephen Laws is the best-selling author of ten highly acclaimed horror novels, including Ghost Train, Darkfall, Gideon and, most recently, Chasm. He is currently hard at work on several horror projects.