Christopher Fowler's highly acclaimed first novel, Roofworld hit the shelves in 1988 and since then he has gone to produce more unique and distinctive novels.
Chris's first books were not in the horror genre at all. 'I always wanted to be a writer,' he explained, 'and when I left school I annoyed my parents by not going to university to study English Literature and instead went into an advertising agency as a copywriter. I discovered that I hated advertising but loved working on films. Eventually I set up a film marketing company with a producer and we now have branches all over the world, twenty staff here, twenty staff in LA. Currently, our campaigns are behind five out of the top ten movies. Anyway, when we decided to open an LA office I went over there to head it up.
'There's something very lethargic about LA. Somebody once said that you go there when you're nineteen, you fall asleep in front of the pool, and you wake up when you're sixty-five. I didn't want that to happen to me, so I started writing. I was determined to write something that would be a surefire commercial hit, so I wrote a really stupid book called How to Impersonate Famous People. I got on all sorts of TV programmes and it was very successful both here and in the States. Following that I did another one called The Ultimate Party Book which was even sillier. By that time I had started to write short stories and I put together ten or so of them which became City Jitters. That was published by Sphere just after Clive Barker had had a major success with his The Books of Blood and the publisher was therefore keen on short stories.
'My stories were horror because I've always been a huge horror fan. I was influenced by Famous Monsters of Filmland as was everybody else; comics, massively comics; I think we all go through the same learning curve. Then I think probably Ira Levin, A Kiss Before Dying and Rosemary's Baby, and then, bless him, John Burke did all those lovely Pan adaptations of the old Hammer films. Meanwhile I was making the Aurora model kits - the Guillotine was my favourite - and just trying to see as many horror films as possible.
'The first story I wrote was Left Hand Drive which was about a guy who becomes trapped in a car park. I found the short story genre very comfortable to write in but it never occurred to me to try and get any of the stories published. Then, one day while I was working with the actor George Baker, he told me that he was giving up acting for a time to write. I asked if he had an agent and he introduced me and she is still my agent now. So armed with an agent who knew the people at Sphere, City Jitters was published. They then said that I should write a novel.
'At that time, my offices had moved to Greek Street, where we were getting burgled by people who were coming in across the roofs and that is really where the Roofworld idea came from. I really just wanted to see if I could do it and then made my life more complicated than I needed to by coming up with a multi-character, multi-level action idea.'
The strongest aspect of Roofworld is that the idea of rooftop gangs traversing London via thin cables strung between the buildings, could all be true. and Chris agrees. 'I think if you take a basic idea like that and work out all the possibilities involved and make it realistic, that's what you get. Ultimately we actually proved it when we shot the cinema commercial for Roofworld.'
To do a cinema commercial for a book was completely unheard of at the time, but Chris managed to get one agreed.
'I talked them into it, I couldn't believe I'd blagged them into doing it, I was astounded when they agreed. At the time we were doing The Making of Batman, so I got to know the Batman stunt double and he said he'd do it - he also said he'd do the movie! -so we made it on the cheap. We shot the commercial in the middle of the worst thunderstorm I have ever seen. We had a steel conning tower erected on a roof in Charing Cross Road opposite the Shaftesbury Theatre, and we had a man hanging from a steel cable in an electric storm at midnight. But he did it, he actually went across the road on a wire, building to building. One thing that shocked me was that he built up a much faster speed than I had imagined in the novel. He had to have four people to stop him at the other end.
'Another problem was that I couldn't gain access to any of the tall buildings that I needed to get into until after the book was published. When the <I>Sunday Times<D> did a piece on the book, I had one of their journalists with me and I finally got access to everywhere I wanted!'
Following the success of Roofworld, Chris next novels, Rune and Red Bride inhabited the same universe and featured some of the same characters.
'The books, together with the latest, Darkest Day, form a sort of quartet. Red Bride suddenly switches halfway through to feature Detective Hargreave from Roofworld and characters in Darkest Day are shared with Rune. Although the books all stand independently, I like to reward loyal readership as it were, and in my next collection of short stories there'll be a Hargreave story and there might also be a Bryant and May story as there was in Bureau of Lost Souls.'
Bryant and May are two of Chris's most endearing and memorable characters. They are two ageing London police detectives who have a somewhat unusual method of working. They have differing viewpoints and occasionally get on each other's nerves, but, as they are fond of punning, are the perfect match. They appear together in Chris's latest novel, Darkest Day, which combines a modern-day murder hunt with a Victorian secret society and mysterious Indian resurrectionists.
'I wanted to do one more massively complex, charge around London, novel. I also had this single, monumentally important, event that I wanted to hinge it around - you'll have to read the book to discover what it is!'
One of the interesting aspects of the novel concerns the operation and inner workings of London's craftsmen's Guilds - exclusive 'Masonic'-like institutions which exist for the sole benefit of their members.
'A phenomenal amount of research went into it, of which I used a minuscule amount. I think there is a great danger of becoming a research bore, so I deliberately pared it right back.
'Alison Hatfield, one of the characters, really is the curator of the Goldsmith's Guild and she really did show me the inner sanctum of the Guild and how I describe it is exactly what it looks like. She took me round there one night and showed me all the secret places that the public are normally never allowed to see. There is a real third-century stone throne to Diana in the middle of this London building which the public is not allowed in to see, which I find heartbreaking. I was very lucky to gain access to that sort of stuff in advance.
'There's also a wonderful book called The Worm in the Bud about Victorian sexuality which contains a massive amount of description about the Victorian period. I would have liked to have included more detail about the Black Hole of Calcutta and the Indian revivifiers but that would have resulted in, firstly a much longer book, and secondly a danger that Darkest Day might have been branded as a voodoo book and I didn't want that.'
As well as the novels, Chris has continued to write short stories. His most recent collection is Sharper Knives.
'I'm more pleased with Sharper Knives than any of the other books of short stories I've done because I wanted to try a lot of different formats in one book resulting in a vast range of material. I've now done my Dracula story (The Legend Of Dracula Reconsidered As A Prime Time TV Special), I've done my chinese-style ghost story (Chang-Siu And The Blade Of Grass), I've done my living dead story (The Vintage Car Table-Mat Collection Of The Living Dead): in fact I've just written another for Steve Jones' forthcoming zombie collection called Night After Night of the Living Dead. The reaction to Sharper Knives has been fabulous so I'm definitely planning another volume along similar lines.'
Chris's novels and short stories are very 'filmic' in their style and content, and there is a lot of interest in them.
'Roofworld has been sold to Landmark Entertainment and they are developing it as a project at the moment. Rune belongs to Paul Hogan, who has an eighteen month renewable option. Red Bride hasn't come out in paperback yet and you never get the option offers until it does.
'Left Hand Drive has just been filmed from my own screenplay. It's a short film, made hopefully to go out with a main feature. We finished shooting it last Christmas in Leicester Square in a car park. We blew up a BMW which was fun!
'Another short story from Bureau of Lost Souls, The Master Builder, has just aired on CBS starring Tippi Hedren. I thought it was really good and that they'd done it really well.
'Currently I'm working on a screenplay called High Tension which is a nasty little story set in London's Docklands, in the top of the Canary Wharf building. It's loosely based on a story in Bureau of Lost Souls called Hot Air, where there's a dead body stuck in an air vent. Everyone's got Sick Building Syndrome because of germs from it, and this girl ends up getting stuck in the vent too; anyway, I've expanded the story to include a lot of other things.'
Chris's next novel is also underway. 'It's called Spanky and it's really really different. It's set in California and concerns a young man who works in his father's furniture store. At the local disco he meets a very charming, very urbane Englishman dressed in twenties clothes who announces himself as a Spancephelous Lachrymosa or Spanky for short. He insists that he is a minor demon, an occult figure, and that he can give him anything he wants. He sets about showing him how to be urbane, get women, be street-smart, and generally changes his life. Then he demands payment. It's sexier, tougher and darker than my previous novels.'