Booksquawk speaks to author and editor Johnny Mains about his anthology, Dead Funny:Horror Stories By Comedians.
Interview by Pat Black
Booksquawk: Dead Funny draws on some very big names from the world of comedy. How did the project come about, and how eager were the people involved to write horror stories?
Johnny Mains: The project first came about when my wife and I were having a chat about what horror anthology I should do next. I wanted a book that would be wholly original and had never been done before – something that in this day in age is more difficult than it seems.
We decided on horror stories by comedians because it was an expansion on what I had already done on a previous anthology, The Screaming Book of Horror, by asking Charlie Higson and Robin Ince if they would both write stories for it. People had really got behind those stories, so it made kind of sense that a whole book of stories by comedians just might work.
I asked Robin if he would come on as co-editor because I needed an ‘in’ to the comedy world, and we had known each other long enough to know that we were both heartfelt fans of the genre and that we were both dedicated and hard-working enough to pull it off. So Robin got out his contact book, I asked Charlie Higson and Reece Shearsmith if they would write me stories and everyone was very enthusiastic about the project and slowly but surely, the stories started to trickle in!
Booksquawk: Laughing in the face of death is a great taboo. Do you think black humour is a common experience for humans, or do you need a certain kind of kink in your wiring to enjoy it?
JM: I think we need black humour to survive. I know I certainly do. It’s how we stop ourselves from going hysterical and having a mental breakdown. It’s a simple defence mechanism. I have a friend who works in the funeral home, the stuff that he comes out with is so dark and so out there, but as he tells me – that without that humour to fall back on, he would never be able to cope with the job.
Booksquawk: You’re a bit of a one-man army when it comes to horror anthologies, a very noble tradition in publishing. As well as your own work in reviving the original Pan Book of Horror and your anthologies with Salt, I see signs of a strange revival all around. There is The Spectal Book of Horror Stories, and Charles Black’s anthologies (now into the 10th edition), plus several others featuring major names such as Ramsey Campbell. Do you think there’s a growing appetite for this type of anthologies - and if so, why don’t the major publishers take notice?
JM: The small press is truly thriving, but then it always has been. The big publishers don’t seem to think that horror anthologies sell, but then they haven’t given them a chance or put any real money behind them for a while. Saying that, Dead Funny is ticking along rather nicely, as has been Best British Horror – and there has also been Stephen Jones’ Best New Horror anthologies and his Zombie Apocalypse series and the excellent anthologies Jonathan Oliver is editing for Solaris.
Maybe the horror anthology will become fashionable again, who knows? When I go to my local Waterstones, there are anthologies on the shelves, but they’re mainly all from US publishers.
Booksquawk: What is it about the short story that lends itself so well to the horror genre?
JM: The horror short story is a quick fix of gruesome delight that can be had whilst on the bus, at lunch, before you go to bed. A whole formed world in as many words the author deemed fit. And you know that a horror story is bound to end horribly, so you read just to see what the pay-off is.
Booksquawk: Can we expect to see another Dead Funny anthology? And regardless, who would you like to see contribute, living or dead? (I’d like to see Mark Gatiss take a stab at it, and who knows what a Frankie Boyle horror story would produce…)
JM: I can exclusively reveal that Robin and I have agreed on principle to do another Dead Funny anthology for Salt, to be released next October. We’re working on a line-up and may ask one or two of the authors from the original if they’d like to do another story, but nothing’s set in stone.
Booksquawk: Talk to us about your upcoming projects.
JM: Next year will be taken up with writing my Pan Book of Horror Stories scrapbook (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1027049759/the-pan-book-of-horror-stories-scrapbook) which was funded through Kickstarter. Already knee-deep into it and enjoying writing it. It was the book I was born to write – no doubt about that!
Best British Horror will be out in May/June - I have a novella out in February, called The Gamekeeper, I’m appearing in Terror Tales of the Highlands in the spring, I’ve somehow written a Sherlock Holmes story for an anthology called Sherlock Holmes Abroad which is coming out in April, I’ve written another story (10k) called The Curse of the Monster which is also coming out in April, and then in October I’m hoping to see the release of my third collection. So most of the work has been done this year, and hopefully I can ease up a little bit.
Read the review of Dead Funny here.