Every Friday, we meet a member of the BFS and peer deep into their soul (or, at least, a form they filled out). Want to be featured? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Name, including preferred pronouns
Benjamin Langley (he/him)
Which region are you based in?
Genre you write
Are you drawn to any specific sub-genres?
Quiet horror; historical horror; psychological horror
Tell us about the book/film/thing that got you into horror: What was it? How old were you? What impact did it have on you?
It was the classic Hammer Horror movies – anything starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Either another take on Dracula or Frankenstein, or something else sinister such as The Creeping Flesh. I have no idea how old I was, but my brother, my sister, and I would stay up late with my mum and my nan, and we’d be thrilled by these films.
Then there was the short-lived Scream Comic which absolutely fascinated me. The serial stories were great – particularly Monster (Creepy Terry) and The Thirteenth Floor, but the stand-alone stories were also great. I looked these up recently, and it was out in 1984, so I was either 6 or 7, which seems way to young to have been reading that kind of thing.
The next huge reading phase I had was with the Fighting Fantasy books. I loved the interactivity of them and the great fantasy worlds and the fearsome creatures you have to battle. After that came Point Horror, before moving on to more grown-up horror novels. My nan used to pick up books second hand from a stall on the market. I read all sorts of things, but rarely remembered the names of the authors or the titles. I only recall that there were a few pretty shocking Shaun Hutson titles among them. This was coupled with a love of horror films, too. Growing up in the 80s, it was a golden era for the video nasties with practical effects. Not all of them have stood the test of time. I vividly recalled aspects of the House series of films, but a rewatch recently left me a little disappointed. Others are simply incredible. Tom Savini’s work in Dawn of the Dead (so many intestines), and Frank’s glistening skinless states in Hellraiser still look so much better than anything CGI can produce. Carpenter’s The Thing gets me on an entirely other level – yes, the effects are brilliant – shocking and creative, but the psychological aspect left me stunned.
How does that early influence show up in your writing now?
Something I didn’t mention earlier which is interesting – though it does tie in with the Hammer Horror classics – is that I had both series of Horror Top Trumps as a kid – most of the artwork is a total rip-off from classic movies (the Dracula is basically Christopher Lee). In my first novel, Dead Branches, the kids searching for their missing friend, John, and troubled by these cards, and think a creature from one of them may be responsible for their currently plight.
I think when things get a bit gory in my work – and it certainly does in the Guy Fawkes: Demon Hunter series, then some of the particularly gruesome moments from horror films come into my mind.
When I’m trying to draw some tension out, I often think of the blood-testing scene in The Thing. If I can get anywhere near that level of tension, I’d be thrilled.
I think influence can be a very subtle thing. When I look back at what I’ve written, there tends to be an aesthetic that echoes some of those early influences as much as anything. It’s the tone or feel of something that bleeds into my work rather than, for example, a character based upon Cushing’s version of Van Helsing.
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
So much of what I write comes from the landscape. The first three novels, Dead Branches, Is She Dead in Your Dreams?, and Normal, alongside the novella The Fen Witch of Goosefeather Split and very much products of the Fens. Dead Branches, in particular is borne from many walks along Fenland droves all the way back to my earliest years. The dilapidated farm cottage in Is She Dead in Your Dreams? looks like so many you’ll see in tiny Fenland villages. Normal brings it up to date, with a new development on an old Fenland river. History and tradition play into it, too. The Fen Witch of Goosefeather Split touches on a Fenland tradition – offer a split goose feather to a man of the Fens, and he’s duty bound to help you. King Charles is said to have offered a split goose feather while fleeing Oliver Cromwell’s men across the Fens. The story takes place in a fictional location where I claim this even took place.
While history plays a huge part in the influence, I do take umbrage at historians who claim they have all the best stories. While you’ll find great seeds for stories in history, you need to do a lot of work to craft a story from it. Leave the history as it is, and everybody’s called Thomas and it becomes confusing…
Who do you look to as a horror hero? Why?
Well, there’s a lino print of Peter Cushing looking down on me as I write this at the moment, and as he’s associated with my earliest memories of horror, he’s definitely up there.
Wes Craven is responsible for scaring me most with film. I watched A Nightmare of Elm Street when I was much too young! And when horror films weren’t doing so well in the 90s he twisted the genre with Scream.
In recent years, Adam Nevill has disposed on Stephen King as the writer whose work goes straight to the top of the TBR. He’s also responsible for the most unnerved I’ve ever been while reading – I was staying in a hotel in Derby during the UK Ghost Story Festival 2019. I was reading No One Gets Out Alive before bed. I’d not been asleep for more than 30 minutes when the fire alarm went off. Disoriented and confused, I left the room and had to descend this narrow staircase to figure out what was going on. my heart was pounding as fiction mixed with reality. I bumped into Adam the next day at the show while waiting in a corridor hiding behind a copy of his book – which he kindly offered to sign. He terrified me and delighted me within a 24-hour period, and proved to be an all round decent chap, so he’s 100% a horror hero.
You’re stuck in an elevator for 60 seconds with that hero, and they want you to describe your work. Give us the pitch.
Take the most notorious figure in British history, throw in the aesthetic of the Evil Dead and what have you got? Guy Fawkes: Demon Hunter – a blood-soaked, demon-infested alternative history extravaganza. It’s a blast!
(Pictured: the author in costume)
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the early stages of a tale of resistance against the drainage of the Fens. The working title is The Eel-catcher’s Lament. It starts with a young girl making a pilgrimage to Ely Cathedral to pray for God’s help to rid her land of the strangers who wish to wreck her family’s way of life. When God doesn’t listen, she seeks the help of darker forces.
Thinking about all of your stories, which one sticks out most in your mind? Why?
Maybe because it was my debut, and perhaps because there are a few elements from my own young life, Dead branches stands out. I’m so glad Crystal Lake Publishing rescued it from the plight it was in and rereleased it. I only received new copies in the last few weeks, and it looks great with the Crystal Lake logo and the glossy cover. It probably also sticks in my mind because I learned so much from the process. I wrote it as part of my MA in Creative Writing. I scrapped the first 10000 words. The modern-day thread started as being the key part, then got lost, then came back weaved throughout the narrative. The journey to publishing was quite the ordeal too. So many encouraging comments from agents, but ultimately rejected (closest was something along the lines of we really like it but we’ve just signed something so similar we’d be competing with ourselves). When Dead Branches was picked up by an indie I couldn’t believe it. Then the day came when I saw it in print. That will always stick with me!
Where and when do you write?
Mostly at home, on the laptop with books around me. Last summer, as result of the deadlines to get the third book in the Guy Fawkes: Demon Hunter series finished I found myself writing everywhere, including in the back of a converted van while Mrs Langley was taking part in a chainsaw carving competition.
(Pictured: Ben at the Innsmouth Literary Festival)
What’s the best advice you’ve received about creativity?
Don’t get it right, get it written. In terms of trying to get the first draft down, don’t lose that spark of the story by trying to perfect every scene. Get it down while the inspiration is there. You can plug the gaps and shape the rest once you’ve got a discernible whole. There’s little point in having a well-polished chapter one if you’ve then lost sight of where the rest is going.
What’s your writing soundtrack?
For each work it’s been different. Most recently it has been random movie or video game soundtracks – anything suitably epic and without lyrics. I don’t always go lyric-free though. The working title of Is She Dead in Your Dreams? was Black Mirror (after a witch’s scrying mirror). Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible (first song, Black Mirror’) had the right kind of sound to match the mood, dark, with gloomy church organs.
The (horrorific) quickfire round
Stephen King or Ramsey Campbell?
I’m cheating – King for novels, Campbell for shorts. (Pictured: Campbell, with King on the shelf)
Gothic or slasher?
Vampire or werewolf?
Creeping dread or noisy bloodfest?
That’s unfair! Creeping dread is in my heart though.
Strict lines or genre blend?
Awards or bestseller?
Fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry or prose?
Plotter or pantser?
Plotter (increasingly so the more I write).
Reading or listening?
Notebook or computer?
Notebook for research. Computer for all drafting.
Favourite horror book of all time?
I Am Legend.
Last horror book you read?
Dave Jeffrey’s The Devil Device. It’s a YA occult horror about 4 alien creatures disguised as teens who bring chaos and confusion to the community of Dorsal Finn. I really enjoyed it.
Any horror author on auto-buy?
Adam Nevill, as mentioned previously. I’m currently reading Tracy Fahey’s They Shut Me Up. Tracy’s work is so well-constructed with such interesting ideas that I’m always going to grab that as soon as it’s available. Tim Lebbon has been on such great form for a while now, so I’m not going to leave anything of his on the shelf too long either.
The Tiny Bookcase – stories and interviews. It’s so entertaining.
What scares you?
Being unable to protect the people I care about from harm. And spiders.
What’s the best thing about being a horror writer?
It’s like having all these other worlds going on in your head, only there you’ve got the power to fix the problems and punish the villains.
Time to plug your stuff! Where can we find you and your work? What have you got coming up? Consider this your advertising space.
All of my releases are detailed on my website benjaminlangley.co.uk, where I also post the odd review, musings about horror stuff, details of events I’m attending or have been to.
The next novel, the Eel-catcher’s Lament, is a long way off. It’s possible a folk horror novella might make it to print before that.
I’ve been working on some ridiculous puzzle books – the latest H.P. Lovecraft at the Movies contains 8 of Lovecraft’s tales combined with a variety of word puzzles, mazes, and other such activities. These have been great fun to compile alongside my Guy Fawkes: Demon Hunter Annual and the Unofficial and Authorised Nicolas Cage Puzzle Book.
Another project in the pipeline is a horror book that looks like Teletext/Ceefax.
While waiting for those to materialise, this year has seen the final book in the Guy Fawkes: Demon Hunter trilogy released – A Diabolical Plot, and the rerelease of two of my novels through Crystal Lake Publishing – Dead Branchesand Normal. I’d really appreciate anyone picking them up and checking them out.