Paul Kane is a writer or dark fiction. His tales include twists on fairy tales as well as some contributions to the Hellraiser universe. He also writes many stand-alone tales that are just as delightful as the aforementioned pieces. If you don’t want to read his books after reading this interview you’re probably in need of psychiatric evaluation; or maybe if you DO want to read his books after… you get the point. Enjoy!
Interview by Jim Dodge
MM: You have written many books and stories that fall into the horror genre. Have you ever written something that you were embarrassed to put your real name on so you released it under a pseudonym just for the royalties?
Paul Kane: I’ve written lots of things I’m embarrassed about, especially when I was first starting out professionally over twenty years ago. Stories that didn’t make the grade. Or even before that, like my first ‘novel’ which I wrote at about age 15 called Night Beast and which had Garth Marenghi-style action scenes; people running around on the Moors with Magnums shooting up the place. But if I’m embarrassed by them, you can bet your life they’ve never seen the light of day anywhere at all. I sometimes take them out and read them for my own amusement, just to see how far I’ve come from that – hopefully – but nobody would ever pay any money for them, trust me. Having said that, I was pondering dusting off an old novel from the ’90s that I wrote and rewriting it, simply because the premise is pretty cool. It’s an old-school type horror, but I think there’s still a place for that today depending on the market.
MM: To those of us who are familiar with your work it’s well known that you work with Clive Barker on tales that involve the Hellraiser universe. How did that come about?
PK: Basically, I got to know Clive through my work at the British Fantasy Society. My then best friend and now wife Marie O’Regan – who is an exceptional writer and editor in her own right – suggested I apply for the position of Special Publications Editor there. She’d been involved with the BFS a while and they were looking for volunteers for those kinds of positions. I got the gig and my first project was a fantasy calendar based around the Green Knight legend, so we asked Clive if he might be willing to contribute the introduction for that one. Luckily, I was already on his radar because I’d been working on a book all about the Hellraiser films – The Hellraiser Films and their Legacy – so he said yes. That led to some interviews and chats. A year or so later, we brought Clive over as a Guest of Honour for the BFS’s annual FantasyCon event and I was delighted to find he was as lovely in real life as he is on the phone. And it all just went from there really, with books like Hellbound Hearts, Servants of Hell, and the recent full cast audio drama adaptation I’ve just done of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), which is getting a great response. I’m very lucky and pinch myself on a regular basis, I can tell you.
MM: Is there anything you would like to add to the Hellraiser canon that Clive won’t let you add?
PK: There hasn’t been so far. Clive’s actually extremely supportive of work that expands the universes he created. He’s very collaborative and incredibly helpful. For example, when I sent in the detailed synopsis for Servants it came back with suggestions and ways to improve it – like biting the bullet and calling the original family in it the Cottons – which I was delighted about. At the end of the day, if you’re being respectful of the source material, which I always am with whatever I do, and suggest something that fits with that mythology, then there’s usually a very positive reaction to that. And I’m talking about the fans here as well, because you have to bear them in mind too when working in a well-loved franchise. What helps there, though, is I’m a fan first and foremost and I think that comes across as well.
PK: Oh, loads! But I don’t like to name them as I’m a bit superstitious about it all. I’m inching closer to another one that’s very close to my heart, so fingers crossed. I also just recently got the chance to work in a mythology I’ve been a fan of for over thirty years, Robin of Sherwood – thanks to Spiteful Puppet and ITV. I’ve spoken about this at length in a recent blog post here so I won’t bore everyone with the details again. Suffice to say that show definitely fed my love of Robin Hood and was a massive influence on my later post-apocalyptic books, gathered together in Hooded Man. I’m glad I got the chance to tell creator Richard ‘Kip’ Carpenter that before he passed away. You can hear the audio tale, called The Red Lord and narrated by none other than The Saint, Ian Ogilvy, by clicking here
MM: In Kane’s Scary Tales Volume 1 you have compiled some of your stories that twist familiar fairy tales into modernized tales of terror that include monstrous people and actual monsters. As you mention, you also previously did a well-received take on the Robin Hood legend that ended up as an omnibus called The Hooded Man. What about these ideas appeals to you so much?
PK: I think it’s the same thing for both really, which is finding new ways to approach old ideas, and in particular giving them a modern spin. I absolutely love doing that. In the afterword to Scary Tales I talk about the impact fairy tales had on me when I was a kid – having them read to me when I was little by family members and teachers. So, it was only a matter of time when I started writing horror stories before I’d have a crack at reworking them myself. The first one was Goldilocks in a story called ‘Who’s Been…?’ which is in the collection; that came out originally back in 2005. Then, of course, I tackled Red Riding Hood with my novella RED, turning the wolf into a shapeshifter and giving the whole thing a ‘Who Goes There?’ feel. I wrote a follow-up to that, the novel Blood RED, in 2015 and have just ended the trilogy with the novel Deep RED, which is due out later this year from SST Publications. For me part of the joy is in taking elements of the tale – which are pretty much universal – and just making the whole thing your own in some way. Like I do with the ‘dwarves’ in Snow, turning them into albino cannibalistic creatures who live deep underground. To my knowledge that’s never been done before, so that gives me a bit of a kick. It’s something I’ll continue to do I think simply because the stories are just so appealing.
MM: Why did you decide to release Scary Tales through a smaller press? Were there no larger publishing companies interested?
PK: I’m lucky enough to be able to work in both the small, independent presses and with the bigger publishing houses, so I have a foot in both camps, so to speak. And collections are an almost impossible sell to a larger publisher unless you’re a massive name. The same goes for anthologies these days as well, they’re incredibly hard to get off the ground, though Marie and I still seem to be getting away with it at the moment…touch wood. She has a mass market ghost story anthology called Phantoms coming out at Halloween from Titan, featuring the likes of Joe Hill, Angela Slatter – who coincidentally did the introduction for Scary Tales – and Josh Malerman… But anyway, luckily short stories are the bread and butter of the smaller presses. It’s how I came up through them all those years ago, submitting to magazines and anthologies. It’s actually how I got to know Steve Dillon at Things in the Well, because I’d contributed some stories to his Refuge series, as well as anthologies like Between the Tracks and Beneath the Stairs. I had enough of my dark fairy tale material to warrant a collection and wanted to put all of the ones that weren’t in the RED mould – which SST had brought out – together in one place. So, along with the RED stuff, Scary Tales represents all of my work in that area so far. And it’s called Volume One, because I just know there’ll be more. I’m already having ideas for them…
MM: Other than Clive Barker and The Brothers Grimm, who are some of your other influences?
PK: Oh, again far too many to mention. I grew up reading books by the likes of King, James Herbert and Anne Rice, but also people like Tolkien in fantasy and Asimov, Clarke and Frank Herbert in SF – Dune is one of my all-time favourite books – and folk like Ian Rankin, Colin Dexter and Val McDermid in crime. Many more names have been added over the years, and some have even become friends, so once again I’m very fortunate in that respect. I’m also a student of film – my BA and MA are in Film Studies – so you can also add many directors to that list, like David Lynch, John Carpenter, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott… Another endless list.
PK: Not a lot tends to scare me in fiction or films these days, probably because I’ve been exposed to so much of it over the years. I was watching Video Nasties and reading horror books at an age when I probably shouldn’t have been. Nowadays what scares me more than anything is what’s happening in the world around us, and of course the thought of anything happening to my loved ones. That said, I’ve been massively impressed with Mike Flanagan’s output over the last few years – we got to see him at Stokercon in Long Beach last year and he’s such an enthusiastic and talented guy. I absolutely loved movies like Oculus and Before I Wake. In fiction, Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter did actually give me chills, and not just because it’s set in the arctic, and Adam Nevill is always a sure bet when it comes to disturbing horror. I was delighted that the movie of The Ritual lived up to the novel.
MM: Has being an acclaimed writer made you fabulously rich or just independently wealthy? I mean, how many yachts and summer homes do you and your wife own?
PK: Ha ha, I wish! I’m not even sure I’m that acclaimed, or at least I never really think of myself that way. I’ve been a professional writer now for 22 years, and started out in journalism, so there was always the work ethic of putting my bum on the seat and just getting on with it. I’m also from a working class background – my dad was a coal miner – so just making a living from my work is such a great feeling. And in the past I’ve taught creative writing, taken on editing jobs for money and worked in lots of different areas. I’ve scripted films and TV stuff, and most recently I’ve been dipping my toe into comics and audio dramas – as mentioned. So as well as making a living it keeps it all interesting and stops me from getting stuck in a rut. This year I’ve already written the equivalent word count of a novel by June, along with an hour audio script, so now I’m doing some non-fiction in the shape of a couple of essays about vampire films. Getting back to my roots if you like.
MM: What’s the worst thing about writing for a living? The best?
PK: Worst thing is having to keep it all going, all those plates spinning in the air to make a living. And the uncertainty about whether more work will come in or not. The best thing is easy: being able to get up at whatever time you like and even work in your pyjamas if you want. When it’s snowing outside in winter – and we have some harsh ones up here in the North of England – I feel very privileged that I don’t have to venture out to work.
PK: There aren’t plans for any at the moment, but you never know. Events and signings come in out of the blue and suddenly you can go from not having been out of the house for weeks, to not being home for the same amount of time. I’m actually quite enjoying being in the house at the moment, as the tail end of last year was crazy. We went to so many conventions and did so many signings the family forgot what we looked like! The next event in the diary at time of writing is guesting at Edge-Lit 7 in July where my next collection More Monsters – a follow-up to my British Fantasy Award-nominated collection from 2015, Monsters – is launching (you can also pre-order here). That should be fun, as I’m on a post-apocalyptic panel, as well. There are more releases on the horizon this year, but I’ll hold off on talking about those until the right time – and other than that just work, work and more work really. I’m plunging headlong into another novel soon, and really looking forward to getting stuck into that one.
Find out more about Paul Kane here