World of Horror: Interview with Marie O’Regan
Marie O’Regan is a multiple award-nominated author/editor based in Derbyshire. Her fiction has appeared in many genre magazines and anthologies, and she is the author of three collections (Mirror Mere, In Times of Want, and The Last Ghost and Other Stories), a novella (Bury Them Deep), and the internationally best-selling debut novel Celeste. Her genre journalism has appeared in magazines like The Dark Side, Rue Morgue, and Fortean Times, and she co-authored an interview book with prominent figures from the horror genre, Voices in the Dark. She is co-editor of the bestselling Hellbound Hearts, Mammoth Book of Body Horror, A Carnivàle of Horror– Dark Tales from the Fairground, Exit Wounds, Wonderland, Cursed, Twice Cursed, The Other Side of Never, and Trickster’s Treats #3, and sole editor of bestselling The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women and Phantoms. Marie is also Managing Editor of PS Publishing’s novella imprint, Absinthe Books. www.marieoregan.net
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I think I’ve always had quite a dark imagination—I was reading Agatha Christie novels very young, from maybe seven years old. And when I was nine I found a book in my school’s library that probably shouldn’t have been there—an anthology of classic ghost stories called Thin Air, edited by Alan C. Jenkins, including such tales as “The Monkey’s Paw”, by W.W. Jacobs, “The Open Window” by Saki, “The Signalman” by Charles Dickens, and the wonderful “A Pair of Hands” by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, to name but a few. I loved it and took it out every two weeks from then until I left primary school two years later—at which point they gave it to me. I still have it; it sits on a shelf beside me in my office. I loved the tension, the atmosphere, the feelings it invoked. As Stephen King said once, “it’s what sticks in the drain” in your mind, and for me that’s horror. I love crime, too, and dark fantasy, but horror was my first love.
Is there a horror tradition in your country, in your culture? A taste for horror, a market? Not necessarily literature; perhaps oral tradition too.
Absolutely. Some of the horror genre’s greatest storytellers have come from the UK—Charles Dickens, who wrote the classic A Christmas Carol as well as “The Signalman” I mentioned earlier; Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein; going back to Shakespeare, who routinely populated his plays with ghosts and witches. And it goes back further, too, to when stories were told or sung around a fire—I think horror fiction absolutely goes back to the oldest known times, in lots of countries, when people verbalised their fears of the unknown (the dark and what might be in it, for one) and turned them into monsters, whether they believed them to be fictional or real.
Who are some of your favorite characters in horror, internationally and/or in your own culture?
I think Frankenstein’s monster is one of my favourite characters; there’s a sadness there, it shows how we demonise the unknown, the different, and how devastating the consequences of that can be. In modern horror, I think one of my favourite characters is actually a place, from Stephen King’s Bag of Bones. It’s one of my favourite novels, set mostly in the protagonist’s lakeside cabin, Sara Laughs, and it’s a home that’s definitely a character in its own right, with a history and personality all its own.
Do you make a conscious effort to include characters and settings from your country in your writing, and if so, what do you want to portray?
When I want to write about a specific location, my writing is set in London—it’s where I was born and raised and lived for over half my life until I moved to Derbyshire. It’s what’s most familiar to me, what’s ingrained, and I still feel I know the rhythms of life there and can write it convincingly. I have written one novel set in the Peak District near me, however, although that’s not yet published. For a lot of my writing, though, I try and keep the location very vague—it could almost be anywhere, as what I’m writing about is people and family, and that’s universal, as are the obstacles and monsters (whether human or supernatural) they have to face.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
I think mainly that fear is universal. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, fear of the unknown (whether that’s an illness, a human antagonist, what’s in the dark, age, dying, or any one of a million other things) is built into us as humans. Horror fiction works as a way of dealing with those fears, of processing the emotions they spark and finding some kind of resolution, even if only for a while. And that there’s always hope.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve, both in the US and in your country?
I think horror fiction has struggled to retain the prominence it had before the crash in the ’90s, and since then there’s been an ebb and flow. At times there are signs it’s on the way back (most recently with the rise of authors such as Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Adam Nevill, Alison Littlewood, Tim Lebbon, and Thomas Olde Heuveldt, among others), but whether it’ll reach the heights it did back in the ’90s remains to be seen. What we’re seeing in bookshops has also changed—although definitely horror novels, some seem to be marketed as thrillers for the most part, which booksellers seem to feel is safer than out-and-out horror, at least in the UK. Interestingly, horror in film and TV doesn’t seem to go through the same ebb-and-flow; it’s been continually popular and we’re currently in something of a golden age for genre TV and film. There’s so much good material out there—I’m a huge fan of Mike Flanagan’s work (Absentia, The Haunting of Hill House, Gerald’s Game, Hush, Doctor Sleep, Midnight Mass), and also Ari Aster, who wrote and directed Hereditary and Midsommar—I’ve yet to see Beau is Afraid, but I’m very much looking forward to it.
Who are some international horror authors you would recommend?
Tim Lebbon, the late, great Christopher Fowler (his horror short stories are among the best I’ve ever read), Alan Baxter, Lee Murray, Paul Kane (and not just because he’s my husband—I’m a huge fan of his writing), Kim Newman, Stephen Volk, Mark Morris, Alison Littlewood, Lisa Tuttle, Thomas Olde Heuveldt, Adam Nevill, Angela Slatter, Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro—and that’s just scratching the surface, there are so many.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Firstly, read everything you can find in the genre you want to work in. Then, just write. And finish what you start. That’s the biggest thing; it’s so easy to abandon things partway through and get discouraged, but finishing a story or a novel is a huge achievement. Find your tribe—through the Horror Writers Association, or if you’re in the UK there’s the British Fantasy Society… go to events, meet your people, make friendships. That helps to feed your creativity and also to find outlets for your work; you learn who the publishers are (both indie and mainstream), who the agents are that look at what you do; and most importantly, you realise how many people just like you there are, and how much great fiction is out there.
And to the writers from your country out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Pretty much the same answer as for the last question—keep writing, keep reading; you can’t write effectively if you’re not a reader, in my opinion. Meet other writers, learn where the markets are for what you do, who else is out there. And don’t give up. A writer needs a thick skin to keep going. Not everyone will be a fan of what you do. Listen to the comments good and bad, see if you think the bad comments have any merit, and if so, learn from them, then keep going. Make your voice heard.