Every month we feature a different author, publisher or bookseller who has earned the RLK! seal of approval! We will highlight and review their books/company as well as providing author biographies (where available) and publishing information. We hope you enjoy RLK! Spotlight On....

Author Bio:

For someone who has all the threatening presence of a grazing gazelle, Stephen Laws has brought sleepless nights and a chill down the spine to an awful lot of innocent people.

Now firmly established as one of the UK's most successful chiller-thriller writers, he's mild of manner, modest and soft spoken.

Give him a keyboard, however, and flip the switch marked dark fantasy/horror and he can give anyone in the insurance business instant grounds for mental meltdown.

His career over 10 years or so has seen him go from strength to strength since the publication of GHOST TRAIN, which was followed by stories like THE WYRM, SPECTRE, DARKFALL - now due for big-screen adaption - and GIDEON and he has a sizeable band of loyal fans both in Britain and around the world.

Stephen Laws was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, where he lives with his wife and three children and where he works as a full-time writer. He was a one-time Newcastle City Council estates department worker. He has written 10 novels - the latest of which is CHASM.



Author interview:

Reprinted from Samhain Magazine, February 97

THE RAPIST OF HORROR

Gail-Nina Anderson interviews horror novelist Stephen Laws


For a man who was once going to be promoted as "The Rapist of Horror" (well, actually it was the considerably more politically-correct title "Therapist of Horror" that was being mooted, but the spectre of inappropriate spacing soon put paid to that one) Steve Laws looks remarkably like the Suburban Dad of Terror when you meet him on his home patch. Sure, the taste for raspberry-pink silk shirts combined with leather waistcoat and black jeans worn a whole lot tighter since he shed a burgeoning beer-gut does hint at a subterranean flamboyance, but he remains a self-declared house-husband, slotting his interview in before fetching the kids from school. The domestic environment, like his writing schedule, suggests order and organisation, carefully dusted ornaments and family momentos atop bookshelves that mix contemporary horror and classic English literature. ("Don't mention the Batman and RoboCop bubble bath containers in the workroom - they were presents from my kids. Nor the broken chair - that fell apart while I was being interviewed by Simon Wady. Shall I see if I can arrange something similarly spectacular for you....?")

I wonder whether the precise, predictable setting in which he chooses to work has carried over from his years in local government?

"That was a 20 year prison sentence - no, realIy, there was an office spirit that made it bearable, but you had to be subversive to survive. I used to play stupid practical jokes, like hanging a colleague's fresh sandwiches out of the window in midwinter, until they were practically frozen solid. An eternal favorite (we were easily amused) was just waiting until someone had left the room and then hiding under their desk. The important ploy was to stay perfectly silent for a couple of minutes after their return, so they'd be feeling settled and secure - then you suddenly bit them on the leg!"

The unholy glee with which this is recounted makes one wonder how Newcastle City Council ever functioned at all with this nascent-author-cum-demented-prankster in its midst.

"Oh, it was really the perfect training ground for writing fiction, turning out minutes for the interminable meetings. Stretching truth, tarting up inaudible mutterings.... I invented a cartoon character, Desmond Dibble, for the staff magazine. As a council clerk he lives in a fog of soporific boredom, enlivened by subversive ploys for survival. This was the situation from which I got my first book GHOST TRAIN published in 1985, and for the next seven years I felt I was moon-lighting to get the writing done. Office all day, writing in the evenings, and precious little leisure time with the family. Then I made the big break, left the council offices behind, and now work full-time from home. A local paper did a `Through the Keyhole" feature on me, which is the North-Eastern equivalent of an article in Hello! magazine. Horror writer shows us his lovely home...they made the sitting room look about 60 ft. long."

I instantly feel outclasses, as I brandish a tiny yellow camera amusingly moulded to feature a smiling monkey. Also, the batteries are falling out of my tape recorder, but Steve insists that I have, anyway, already got the entire interview in my head.

SL: "Go on - you know all my stories by heart by now. You don't really want me to talk about the parachute jump again, do you?"

GN: "I note it's on all your publicity - I take it you only ever jumped once?"

SL: Twice, twice - two whole times, and the second was worse than the first because I knew what to expect. But the publisher's biographical notes do tend to emphasise every single weird thing I've ever done - well, the ones I can talk about, that is."

I wait, pen poised for the intimate unpublishable revelations of a North-Eastern lad adrift in the big bad world of horror fiction, but he jumps up to make me a cup of tea ("in a Lambton Worm mug, you'll note") and I think I've missed the moment. I'm sure he has bared his soul, in boozy late-night sessions at convention bars up and down the country, but it's in the nature of such occasions that by the next morning all memory has dissolved into a post-alcoholic haze. If there are secrets, they obviously aren't going to get repeated in the clear light of day. Instead again we wander onto the all-important issue of publicity.

SL: You know that my first big venture backfired with spectacular success, Souvenir was spending 30,000 pounds on a poster campaign for GHOST TRAIN, advertising it at main-line British Rail stations with the line 'A Journey Into Innermost Terror'. Then some wit from the Newcastle Chronicle, trying to beat up a juicy story for the local papers, phoned British Rail to ask anxiously whether this wasn't going to alarm passengers, and the next thing you know, the posters are withdrawn in case customers think they're bona fide publicity for the rail service. 'British Rail, a Journey into Innermost Terror' - what could be more likely? But while I lost posters I gained coverage throughout the national press because of the story."

After New English Library (Hodder & Stoughton) bought the paperback rights to THE FRIGHTENERS Steve's books gained a more distinctive look and presentation.

"They became really distinctive when NEL reissued my whole backlist in paperback with new covers by Steve Crisp. I was lucky enough to have a hand in that, designing and sketching out my own ideas from which Steve would then work. Hodder is now reissuing them all again with fresh designs from Jon Blake, who was first brought in to do the cover for DAEMONIC. We wanted an intense, graphic style, based on the work of Piranesi (a 17th century artist famous for his highly-detailed prints of imaginary prison interiors, the Carceri) to pick up on the Rock, the menacing edifice which dominates the novel and traps its protagonists. Hodder & Stoughton liked this dense, idiosyncratic style so much they decided to re-do the entire back list in the same mode. On the new cover for DARKFALL, the demonically-possessed office block is clearly and recognisably based on the Hodder Tower on the Euston Road."

I delicately raise the issue of the latest hardback cover, for SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF MIDNIGHT, where a figure fleeing in terror looks as though he could be Mr. Laws himself, in the days when his silhouette was slightly more rounded.

Wry smile - "Everyone thinks that, which probably spurred me on to lose some weight. No, the connect that's really interesting is that Jon Blake, who hadn't done any book covers before DAEMONIC, does design work for, er, fetish clubs..."

Once again a tacky sub-text beckons only to be swiftly side-stepped as Steve recalls that his most persuasive gem of publicity has been verbal rather than visual.

"Chris Fowler, in a Time Out review, wrote the immortal line 'Nobody sleeps when Stephen Laws writes.' What does it mean - that I've got a noisy typewriter? or a scratchy pen? But the publishers love it - it goes on everything."

I note that Mr. Laws was the model, somewhere down the line of illustrative processing, for the figure of Gideon on the cover of his eponymous novel. As this vampiric anti-hero is terminally vicious but also sexually irresistible, I take a certain pleasure in questioning the author's appearance in the role, bringing a visible flush to his manly cheek.

"Oh no, no - it was just a joke, like making a point of killing off the occasional recognisable friend in a novel. GIDEON is really my feminist book. I felt that female characters weren't getting their due in horror, so in GIDEON they're the strong, resourceful ones, the ones whose situation matters most to the narrative."

I think I enjoy Stephen best when he's being politically correct, so I swallow down any comment about GIDEON's heroines all being forced to engage in degrading acts of sexual depravity - hell, that's what gives this novel its particular sleazy charm! Instead we move on to the structural variations possible within the horror genre.

"Each novel has a different balance, the weight falls in a different place. GIDEON was about the women, DARKFALL was a police procedural novel, SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF MIDNIGHT is being officially described as a high octane thriller, but I see it as a mystery, something that sets up a scenario then deliberately overturns it, leading you to surmise possible solutions all the way through. On a personal level, it's also about grief. One character loses his wife and daughter in a car crash at the very beginning of the book, and I'm aware that my own father's recent death had been very much in my mind. Perhaps we use terrible things in fiction as a rehearsal, exploring the ways we'll come to terms with death when we meet the real thing."

Is this why he prefers gritty, realistic contemporary settings?

"Well, I don't always, I love reading the ghost stories of M.R. James, for example. But it must be said that in the 1950s and 60s horror did hit a strong new note by breaking the Gothic mould and touching reality, where fears might be more directly handled. Authors like Richard Matheson and, of course, Stephen King effectively took horror out of the haunted castle and set it in the supermarket."

If we're thinking about modern life, what about the influence of cinema?

"I've talked about that so much, everyone must know about my love of Hammer films in particular. I've just bought a copy of the poster for BRIDES OF DRACULA which marks my first brush with cinematic horror. I was too young to see the film - about eight years old - but I remember looking at the the poster and desperately wanting to get in. When I was 11 my dad too me to see THE GORGON and CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB and I was hooked. I'm old enough to remember the later Hammers in their original cinematic screenings. Not the vintage years, perhaps, but I felt I'd bought into the genre. In my second novel, THE WYRM, I was specifically trying to construct the story cinematically, but DAEMONIC is my biggest direct tribute. The central character is pretty obviously a distorted version of Roger Corman. Did you pick up on some of the more subtle points, though? The lightning inside the novel's great central edifice, the Rock, and the different colour schemes, were a reference to the visual mood of Mario Bava."

Movies are looming large in his own life right now.

"Yes, a local company, Chariot Productions headed by Tim Healey (of AUF WIEDERSEHEN PET fame) is setting up to make movies or TV films with a North-eastern flavour, to utilise and maintain the talent in this area. They're just like the American independents, going round businesses and putting on presentations to drum up support and investment. Their first production will be a costume drama about a Victoria athlete, THE BLACK CALLANT, then they're planning to do DARKFALL, with its Newcastle city setting. If it's successful, they're already lining up other novels for possible adaptation. THE WYRM would work well, with its rural Northern background, or possible GIDEON, if they don't mind completely destroying Newcastle's Theatre Royal. Couldn't you just imagine Timothy Dalton in the leading role?"

All too easily, alas, so before I get totally distracted we do a quick round-up of the immediate future.

"New novel in early days of preparation is CHASM, about the aftermath of a world-wide earthquake. It's a soap opera too, unfolding relationships under impossible circumstances. You know - PEYTON PLACE on stilts with monsters. Then I'd love to do a supernatural western - and there are possible TV projects in development. Lots of things are quietly happening in the back rooms of my mind."

By this time the front rooms of his mind are clearly turning to picking up the kids from nursery school, so I leave him wandering in that direction as I head for the pub. He's Mr. Nice Guy with a relentlessly professional attitude to his writing, and unquenchable love of the horror genre, and a plastic Gremlin in his study. He's also promised to annihilate me spectacularly in one of his future novels, and the suspense is killing me.


Books Published:

RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

GHOST TRAIN

Something evil is riding on the King's Cross train.

It's stalking the corridors, preying on the passengers and as soon as it has had its fill, it will leave the confines of the train and head for wider, more populated areas.

Mark Davies and Les Chadderton know it is there - and they have to stop it. Mark knows the horror first-hand - he was attacked and thrown from the train once before. Les is an ex-policeman whose own wife was killed by the thing.

Together, they know they must climb aboard one more time for an express one-way ticket to hell. Only by facing their own fears will they survive and kill the thing that haunts the Ghost Train.

Probably Laws' most famous novel and certainly one of the best. This novel really *does* run non-stop express through the story at a break-neck pace. Well worth the read and try to finish it in one sitting - it's certainly worth it. Terrific characters in a place which is, once again, every-day and all-too-real.

You'll never take public transport again! Buy a ticket now.





RATING:

Date of Release: Dec '98

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

CHASM

Edmonville is an ordinary town full of ordinary people doing their normal everyday chores.

And then the quake hits.

And it's a big one.

The biggest.

The town is rocked - buildings fall and collapse, everything is destroyed.

The few townsfolk who survive meet a terrifying and impossible sight. Almost all of the town has fallen into a huge gaping Chasm with the partly-demolished buildings that have survived the quake perched on a series of peaks, crags and pillars of stone - many separated from each other by hundreds of feet.

Below is nothing but a deep, dark perilous bottomless gulf.

The world they once knew seems to have ceased to exist. They have no electricity, no water, no heating and no communication with the outside world.

They can do nothing but wait to be rescued. So they wait.

And wait.

But no one comes.

As they begin in starve and survival instincts begin to come to the fore, something in the deep darkness below begins to stir. A dark evil that emerges from the depths to unleash its full horror on the survivors...

The is the latest novel by Laws - and some would say his best. It's true. You'll be hard pressed to find another novel so stark in its terror and so skilled in placing everyday characters in everyday situations. Gory and violent but a story with heart too. You'll have a hard time forgetting this one and you won't be able to put it down. This book comes very highly recommended indeed. If you want a great introduction to the style and brilliance of Laws, this is the one! Buy it and read it now!





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

DAEMONIC

What would you do if some guys in suits came up to you, threw a suitcase stuffed with $50,000 cash on your desk, and promised you $200,000 more if you came with them? You'd go, right? I mean, you'd be mad not to!

But what if the man making the offer is more insane than you?

Jack Draegerman was the most popular horror director in the world - making the most extremely horrifying films possible. Then he became a recluse. He used all his money to build "The Rock", his towering black fortress-like skyscraper of a home which has also been his prison for the past 10 years. You see, Jack Draegerman hasn't been seen for all that time, and now he's sending out invitations to complete strangers, offering them a total of $250,000 just to visit him.

And visit him they do.

They go in, but they don't come out.

Daemonic is a truly epic novel. We follow seven people who have taken up the challenge of visiting Draegerman. They don't know it at the time, but Draegerman has made a deal with a Daemonic force that wants their lives - and will do anything to get it.

We follow our cast of characters as they flee through Draegerman's huge house - where corridors move, doors appear and disappear and where up is down. Our heroes learn much about Draegerman and his seemingly "living" home, as well as the fact that these supposedly unconnected characters have more in common than they think.

Great characterisation marks this huge novel as one of Laws' best. From page one the reader is drawn into the nightmarish world of Draegerman, his house and what lives inside it. There are twists down every corridor and enough gore to keep every horror buff happy. Only one thing is for sure - not everyone is going to get out alive.

Read it.





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

DARKFALL

It's Christmas and you can't say no to the office Christmas party.

Even with that huge storm about to hit, you can't leave early and head on home - there's a party in the building and you've just got stay.

But the storm is worse than you first think. In fact, it cuts you off from the rest of civilisation. You can't get outside, can't return home. The storm is almost alive.

Alive, can it be? No, of course not.

But then the building you're trapped in also starts to come to life - where bricks and plaster and stone turn against their maker. And thurst for death!

Can you escape? And worst still, can those sent to find you survive as well?

Can anyone survive the Darkfall?

Another terrific novel by Laws who really knows how to write about "everyday" things and objects that suddenly go haywire on humanity. Not a good book for anyone who doesn't like small cramped places, like elevators, but a terrific book none-the-less. Jack Cardiff shines through as the tough guy sent, with his squad, to find those missing - and who can't quite grasp what they have stumbled onto. First-rate thrills and chills here.





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

THE FRIGHTENERS

Some people deserve what they get.

Others seem to get away with murder.

But you rest assured knowing that one day they will get what's coming to them.

And if you get the chance to put "the frighteners" on them yourself, well...you'd jump at the opportunity.

Eddie Brinkburn knows exactly how this feels. He's stuck in jail doing time for a botched garage job that left gang-leader Sheraton's brother very very badly burned. There's nothing he can do about it from jail - and at least he's safe in his cell at night.

But Sheraton's gang strike back another way - they burn Eddie's wife and kids to death. Just when Eddie thinks that life can get no worse, the death of his wife and children show him the real meaning of the word hate.

He has to get back at them - but he doesn't know how.

And that's when he befriends the prison psycho - a guy who can transfer all his hate and power into Eddie so he can put the frighteners on Sheraton to pay him back.

And Eddie can control this power...

Or can he?

One of the best Laws novels, THE FRIGHTENERS starts at 100 miles an hour from page one. A terrific story that you won't be able to put down. Surely one of Laws' most bleakest novels - with very little good and in which even the heroes are bad guys. Excellent scares here!





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

GIDEON

Vampire books are everywhere. We're all sick to death of them - enough already!

And then you read GIDEON.

Gideon loves women - to death.

Until the day when three women disobey him. They plot together behind his back, come to him and shoot him to death for the depravity he has made them endure.

Now they are free.

But Gideon would return to seek his own vengeance on them for denying him their flesh. Death would be too good for them, it was not enough. They must pay a higher price.

Because Gideon wanted more - much, much more.

An absolutely terrific book that is one in a million. The characters and settings will stay with you for a long long time.

Interview With A Vampire meets the Marquis de Sade is the only way to explain this one. Sex and horror intertwined in this fast-paced novel of death and the undead. Laws calls this his "feminist" book with strong female lead characters who need all their wits about them to survive the depravity that Gideon puts them through.

Get your teeth sunk into this one now.





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF MIDNIGHT

Some people have really bad luck.

They're just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On a hot summer's night on a lonely stretch of highway just somewhere south of Midnight, something unidentified collides head-on with the southbound traffic. Terrible carnage ensues and it leaves eighty-seven people dead.

And only 7 survivors.

And, by the end of the book, the survivors will wish that they had died too. Because, even though they emerge unscathed from the catastrophe, they have also acquired an amazing power. Soon they find that with a simple touch, they have the power to heal.

But they also have the power to destroy.

One of Laws' more intriguing novels, SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF MIDNIGHT deals with the Messiah-complex. If you had the power to heal or destroy, would you use it? And if you did, could you stop yourself going mad?

An excellent novel that, while a bit slower than his others, is still well worth the read.





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

MACABRE

More people die at four in the morning than any other time.

It's an established fact - 4 a.m. is a popular pop-off time.

Not that Cabbie Tony Dandridge is aware of this. It just happens that he works the night shift.

It just happens to be 3:30 a.m.

It's starting to rain.

And Tony begins to realise that there's a hell of a lot of people on the streets at this time of night. Many more than there used to be. And they are all trudging around, wandering the alleys and sleeping in doorways.

It's almost 4 a.m.

A desperate young woman and her baby flag him down.

It's the first fare of his shift.

And it's about to be his last.

This book has everything! Horror, thrills, crime, violence, depravity, mystery - gees, you could go on and on. There's urban terror, paranoia, supernatural dark fantasy and more in MACABRE which makes it a hell of a read.

For anyone who ever wondered what happens to the homeless on the streets or where missing persons disappear to - this is the book for you. Totally nightmarish and yet so real. An excellent story.





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

SPECTRE

We all did things in our childhood that we regret.

Other things we don't.

Richard Eden was in a gang when he was younger - the Byker Chapter they called themselves - six boys and one girl who were inseparable and who grew up together in the back streets of Newcastle.

But that was long ago - and all Richard has is his memories and one special photograph that reminds him of the good times...and the bad.

And then something strange begins to happen.

One by one, the images of the people in the photograph begin to fade. Slowly, they begin to disappear as if they had never existed.

And his friends are turning up dead. Hunted down by something evil, something that wants to see every member of the Chapter dead. Soon all the images will be gone - soon only Richard's will remain - and then the thing will come hunting for him.

No matter where they hide - the hideous spectre from their past will hunt them down.

If ever a Stephen Laws book was to be made into a film - this is the one that should be. Shorter than his other novels, but by no means any less intense, this is a great thriller-cum-horror ride that has to be read to be believed.

Great characters and a great plot makes the SPECTRE on the the best Laws books around.





RATING:

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (hb),
New English Library (pb)

Review Source:

THE WYRM

Shillingham is a quiet little place.

Nothing much happens there.

Until the workmen start to move the old gibbet from the crossroads. Suddenly everyone feels afraid and the local children seem to be drawn, all of a sudden, to the gibbet - as if being called to it by some supernatural force.

As the fog around the village begins to thicken, crazy old Frank Warwick begins shooting at the workmen, trying to stop them moving the gibbet.

The fog gets stronger, cutting the villagers off from the outside world. And soon, any wildlife touched by the fog begins to die.

The bulldozers continue and suddenly unleash a terrible evil that has been trapped beneath the gibbet for centuries. Slowly it awakes, ready to take its revenge against the residents of Shillingham - and the world.

HE WYRM is the weakest of Laws' books to date. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good read - and those people who delight in the eerie fog shrouded world of other British writers like James Herbert will probably love this novel.

But sadly, I am not one of those people and reading THE WYRM just made me feel that, in my opinion, Laws was trying to write a Herbert-Horror piece. Lots of fog, strange people, ancient rites and tales...been there, done that. Still, the characters are well defined and the story holds your attention - but it just doesn't work on the same level as his other novels. Laws tries very hard to pull it off - but in the end, it just doesn't work. THE WYRM is probably only for the Laws or Herbert enthusiast. Read the others first!




Websites:

Stephen Laws does not currently have a web site. But be sure to check out another interview with the author at the MASTERS OF TERROR website.


Where to buy:

Availability:   

For those who order online, try:

Amazon UK!   Buy Laymon & Others Here!   




 RLK! Spotlight On...
Past Features

 April: Gemma O'Connor, Author Click here to view.
 March: Simon Clark, Author Click here to view.
 February: Obsidian Books, Publisher Click here to view.
 January: John Case, Author Click here to view.

 A new Feature added monthly so check here often...



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