Today we have the AMAZING Graham Masterson with us! How great is that lovelies?! Maybe you know him from his horror stories, maybe you had the pleasure of watching The Manitou (a 1978 film adaptation of Masterton’s first horror novel, starring Tony Curtis) or maybe you have only recently come to know him through his more recent crime thrillers but regardless of when or how you know him you are in the presence of greatness. If you have never heard of Graham Masterton how about starting with the Beatrice Scarlet series of which Coven is the second book. Let’s learn a little about coven…
They say the girls were witches. But Beatrice Scarlet, the apothecary’s daughter, is sure they were innocent victims…
Beatrice Scarlet, the apothecary’s daughter, has found a position at St Mary Magdalene’s Refuge for fallen women. She enjoys the work and soon forms a close bond with her charges.
The refuge is supported by a wealthy tobacco merchant, who regularly offers the girls steady work to aid their rehabilitation. But when seven girls sent to his factory disappear, Beatrice is uneasy.
Their would-be benefactor claims they were a coven of witches, beholden only to Satan and his demonic misdeeds. But Beatrice is convinced something much darker than witchcraft is at play…
Thank you so much, Graham Masterton, for joining us today to discuss your latest creation, Coven.
Rambling Lisa: Where did your inspiration for Coven come from?
Graham Masterton: I have always been interested in the development of chemicals and medicinal cures. I suppose I must have inherited that from my grandfather Thomas Thorne Baker who was a world-renowned scientist. I have also had a long-standing interest in the role of women in history – how they were treated and how strongly they influenced social and political affairs. These two interests gave me the basic idea of writing a crime thriller set in the late 1750s, with a young woman as a kind of 18th century forensic investigator.
This was at a time when there were some major advances in medicine, although there was still a long way to go. Many of the cures were even more deadly than the diseases they were supposed to be treating. Mercury was taken for syphilis and other venereal infections, which were rife in those days, but mercury made your teeth and your hair fall out and gave you terrible sores. Arsenic was another popular ingredient, and there was a bewildering number of herbal cures. Almost everybody had lice but if you wrapped tobacco leaves around your head this often proved to be quite an effective way of killing them.
My heroine is Beatrice Scarlet, whose father was an apothecary in the city of London. He taught her everything he knew about chemicals and medicines, so that she became as qualified as him. In my first novel in the series Scarlet Widow she married a nonconformist parson and emigrated to New Hampshire, where she solved several serious crimes which almost everybody else believed had been committed by Satan. Her husband was killed, and in the second novel TheCoven she has to return to London with her young daughter.
She is offered a position by her late husband’s church as an assistant at a home for ‘refractory women’ – in other words, prostitutes. This was another subject that fascinated me. In London in 1758 there were more than 65,000 women working as prostitutes, a fifth of the female population. Some of them worked in quite high-class brothels around Covent Garden, others rented rooms in bawdy houses, while still more would offer sex in one of the unlit back alleys. James Boswell, the biographer of Dr Johnson, notoriously had sex with a young prostitute underneath Westminster Bridge.
Girls as young as 12 or 13 would cluster around Drury Lane’s theatres at the end of performances, offering themselves to any gentleman who would pay them a few shillings to have sex with them.
I was also inspired by the idea of making modern readers feel as if they were really there, back in Regency London. The smell was horrendous, because open sewers (or ‘kennels’) ran down the middle of the streets. The noise of street sellers shouting out their wares was so loud that one famous writer thought he was never going to be able to concentrate on what he was writing – it as all ‘buy my herring!’ and ‘hot pies!’ and ‘oranges!’ as well as fiddlers and flautists and singers.
Perhaps most of all, though, I wanted to illustrate the unending conflict between religion and science, between imaginary demons and empirical evidence. It’s a conflict that’s still going on today, nearly 260 years later.
RL: Who is your favourite character and why?
GM: My favourite character by far is Beatrice herself. I have worked very hard over the years to put myself in the place of several heroines, because I find the difference between male and female thinking and aspirations to be so fascinating. All of my life my best friends have always been women, and when I edited Mayfair and Penthouse magazines I spent a lot of time talking to the girls who appeared in those magazines about their ambitions and their problems. I know…they were pretty and they were naked, but there was so much more to them than their looks.
One of the strongest female characters I created was Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire, who has now appeared in 8 crime thrillers. She has to fight not only crime but modern misogyny in the Irish police. With Beatrice I wanted to see how I could develop a female character who was equally strong and determined but who was brought up in a society that was male-dominated, and in which there were daily challenges and risks for women which they no longer have to face today. She has been brought up at a time when wives were expected to be obedient and devoted to their husbands, and she is religious, too – although her scientific knowledge often makes her question her beliefs.
RL: If you could sum the Beatrice Scarlet series up in one word what would it be and why?
GM: Involving. (I hope so, anyway!) As I have said, I want my readers to feel they are living the story rather than reading it on the page (or Kindle) in front of them. I want them to taste it, smell it, touch it, and experience the same feelings that Beatrice does.
The late William Burroughs and I discussed for hours how to write fiction so that (in his words) ‘the readers can feel the wind on the back of their neck, and hear that boat whistling in a distant harbour.’ It is a way of writing that I have been working to perfect ever since I first took up a pen. The keys are simplicity and rhythm, rather like writing music (which is why I never listen to music when I’m writing…I don’t want Beethoven interfering with the cadence of my sentences!)
RL: When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
GM: I can’t remember! All I remember is being taken to see the film of Twenty Thousand LeaguesUnder The Sea with James Mason and Kirk Douglas and rushing home to write my own novel about a swashbuckling harpooner called Hans Lee who battled a giant squid. I wrote it in a sixpenny exercise book and made a cover out of cardboard which I illustrated. After that I wrote more and more books about Hans Lee and also produced my own comic called Flash with a space pilot called Don Kenyon. After Jules Verne I started reading Edgar Allan Poe stories and wrote my own short horror stories which I would read to my friends at school during breaktime. I met one of my friends years later when he was working as a City broker and he told me that one of my stories had given him nightmares for years. It was about a man with no head who walked around singing Tiptoe Through The Tulips out of his severed neck.
RL: Could you share your writing process with us?
GM: First thing, I make myself a cup of horseshoe coffee (so-called because American railroad workers said it was so strong you could float a horseshoe in it.) I answer emails and Facebook questions and then I start writing about 10:00 am. Around lunchtime I take a walk to buy a paper and get some exercise. Last year I had back trouble from sitting on my rear end for all of my working life, and I don’t want that again. Then I’ll write until maybe 5:00 or 6:00. After that, I’ll go to the pub and meet some friends or take a very pretty girl out for dinner.
RL: Do you have a target of an amount of words or pages a day or do you just write for as long as the inspiration?
GM: I don’t believe in quotas of words. I can’t believe those writers who Tweet ‘I’ve written 3,000 words today!’ You’re writing a novel, not stacking shelves in a supermarket. I have never had writer’s block. In fact I used to think writer’s block was a building in which all of these writers sat staring at blank screens and chewing the ends of their pencils. How much I write depends on the rhythm of the plot and how the story is unravelling. I never know when I start a book how it’s going to work out, or even half the incidents that are going to take place. So sometimes it’s worth taking a little thinking time after I’ve written a chapter to work out where the story’s going next. I do a lot of writing in my head when I’ve just woken up in the morning, and when I’m trudging uphill to buy my paper.
RL: Do you have a favourite genre and if so what is it and what is your favourite format?
GM: To my regret, I haven’t read any fiction since I started writing it. I have never read anything by Stephen King or any other horror writer except occasionally to look through my friends’ books to give them a complimentary quote for the book’s cover (if they deserve it!). One of the problems is that I am fiercely critical of my own work and just as fiercely critical of other writers’ work. I used to love reading fiction, especially those excellent American writers like Herman Wouk and Nelson Algren, and the best of the Beat writers like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso and of course my friend William Burroughs.
But…it’s like being a chef. If you’ve been cooking all day, the last thing you want to do is cook in the evening.
These days I read only non-fiction, and most of that for research, like the amazing book on 18th century London by Professor Jerry White, which includes everything you could ever wanted to know about Regency London and a lot that you didn’t. I like both hardback and paperback. I don’t have a Kindle.
RL: What is your favourite book of all time?
GM: It used to be The Process by Brion Gysin, which he gave me in 1970. It is the story of a black professor crossing the Sahara, and it is so exquisitely written that I have never got past page 23. He describes how a box of matches ‘chuckles’ and the way he evokes the rippling desert sand is extraordinary. Brion was probably the laziest man I ever met, but so creative.
Now my very favourite book is Diviner by Dawn Harris. I’ve read an advance copy but it’s going to be published by Telos Books in March next year. It’s the story of a young woman who has an amazing ability to be able to see people’s true personalities in their faces, but it’s also a story of a young woman falling in love with the wrong kind of man, and what that can lead to.
RL: Have you any secret talents?
GM: My great-grandfather who escaped from Poland in the 1880s was a theatrical agent who managed (among others) Queen Victoria’s favourite music-hall comedian Dan Leno. If I hadn’t been a writer, I would have loved to have been a comedian. I wrote regularly for the now-defunct humour magazine Punch, and for three years I wrote a humorous sex column for Men Only called World of Nookie, under the nom-de-plume of Ed Knox.
I can sing music-hall songs like A Mother’s Lament (Your Baby Has Gone Down The Plug’ole), as well as When It Starts Raining Banana Skins I’ll Come Sliding Back To You and I’ll Meet You At The Pawnshop And Kiss You Under The Balls.
I am also a tolerable cartoonist.
RL: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
GM: Never try to copy anybody else’s ideas. Be totally original and take everybody by surprise. My first horror novel The Manitou was about Native American magic and hardly anybody had ever written about that before, with the possible exception of Algernon Blackwood’s great short story about The Wendigo.
The Manitou sold 50,000 copies in the first six months and was made into a movie with Tony Curtis playing the lead character.
So…if you’re a horror writer forget about vampires and zombies and werewolves. The mythology of every country in the world is heaving with unusual and very scary threats. I have just finished a new horror novel myself called Ghost Virus, which is about second-hand clothes passing on the malevolent spirits of the people who originally owned them.
One more tip: if you’re sitting in front of a computer screen all day, squinching your eyes up, use moisturiser.
I want to thank Graham for taking the time to answer these questions and show us a little peek into his mind.
Graham Masterton was born in Edinburgh in 1946. His grandfather was Thomas Thorne Baker, the eminent scientist who invented DayGlo and was the first man to transmit news photographs by wireless. After training as a newspaper reporter, Graham went on to edit the new British men’s magazine Mayfair, where he encouraged William Burroughs to develop a series of scientific and philosophical articles which eventually became Burroughsi novel The Wild Boys. At the age of 24, Graham was appointed executive editor of both Penthouse and Penthouse Forum magazines. At this time he started to write a bestselling series of sex ‘how-to’ books including How To Drive Your Man Wild In Bed which has sold over 3 million copies worldwide. His latest, Wild Sex For New Lovers is published by Penguin Putnam in January, 2001. He is a regular contributor to Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Woman, Woman’s Own and other mass-market self-improvement magazines.
Graham Masterton’s debut as a horror author began with The Manitou in 1976, a chilling tale of a Native American medicine man reborn in the present day to exact his revenge on the white man. It became an instant bestseller and was filmed with Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Burgess Meredith, Michael Ansara, Stella Stevens and Ann Sothern.
Altogether Graham has written more than a hundred novels ranging from thrillers (The Sweetman Curve, Ikon) to disaster novels (Plague, Famine) to historical sagas (Rich and Maiden Voyage – both appeared in the New York Times bestseller list). He has published four collections of short stories, Fortnight of Fear, Flights of Fear, Faces of Fear and Feelings of Fear.
He has also written horror novels for children (House of Bones, Hair-Raiser) and has just finished the fifth volume in a very popular series for young adults, Rook, based on the adventures of an idiosyncratic remedial English teacher in a Los Angeles community college who has the facility to see ghosts.
Since then Graham has published more than 35 horror novels, including Charnel House, which was awarded a Special Edgar by Mystery Writers of America; Mirror, which was awarded a Silver Medal by West Coast Review of Books; and Family Portrait, an update of Oscar Wilde’s tale, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was the only non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger in France.
He and his wife Wiescka live in a Gothic Victorian mansion high above the River Lee in Cork, Ireland.