Since 1981, F Paul Wilson has chilled and terrified readers through a growing series of top-rate horror novels.
It started in 1981, when his novel The Keep was published. But the roots of Paul's addiction to writing go even further back.
"It started for me in Second Grade. I remember back when I was six or seven, there was an edition of Life magazine with dinosaurs on the cover. I was flipping through it and I came to a picture of tyrannosaurus rex standing there, fixing me with that beady little eye. Something just clicked inside me and I wanted to learn more about these things; these monsters. Dinosaurs and rocket ships, those were the two things that defined my youth.
"I have always tended to think of myself more as a story teller than a writer, in the sense that being able to capture the audience is important to me, and not just writing what I'm feeling."
As well as being a writer, Paul is a practising doctor. I wondered if he had ever considered taking up writing full-time.
"Writing is still my hobby, in a sense, although I'm earning more money from that than from being a physician. I'm a family practitioner so I'm at the bottom end of the doctor income level. For me, writing isn't 'working', but if I quit medicine it would become my job and I don't think I'd like that. I don't want to give up medicine completely as I think writing makes me a better doctor and doctoring makes me a better writer. Writing is a compulsion. I want to get up there and do it - I'm anxious to get to it. I can have been slaving away in the medical office all day but then really look forward to getting home so I can produce some more words in the evening."
Although the bulk of Paul's work is in the horror field, he initially started writing Science Fiction with Healer (1976) and Wheels Within Wheels (1978). It was with The Keep (1981), however, that Paul found his first major commercial success.
"That was my biggest seller. It sold over a million copies in America and it's been sold to almost every country you can think of. I wanted it to be horror; it's got a vampire red herring, it's set in the Transylvania Alps, features immortal beings (that's the Lovecraft influence that comes in with the cosmic horror). It came about because I read Chelsea Quinn Yarboro's Hotel Transylvania which has a sympathetic, good vampire and I said to myself that that's impossible, you can't have a good vampire. They are parasites by nature. So I started thinking about a vampire that seemed good but really wasn't, that was leading you on. Was he even a vampire? What if he wasn't afraid of the crucifix but something else that just looked like a cross? All of a sudden it hit me: the hilt of a sword!
"The novel just built from there. There were a lot of things I could play with. I liked the different levels of evil: human evil, the Nazis, all that kind of stuff."
The Keep was followed in 1984 by another horror book, this time taking a different approach, and introducing one of Paul's most endearing and memorable characters. Repairman Jack is, as the name suggests, a man who 'repairs' things, in the same way as Edward Woodwood's character 'equalised' things in the TV series of the same name. Jack is a brilliant character who shines from the pages as if he is real. The Tomb did not, however, find immediate favour with the publishers.
"My American publisher hated The Tomb and wouldn't publish it, but it was published in the UK by New English Library. It's a lot of people's favourite. I get letters all the time asking when I am going to write more about Repairman Jack. When he's ready, is the reply. I've got some short stories about him but he's not ready for another novel just yet."
Following The Tomb came The Touch which contained a dramatic change of pace from the previous two books.
"The Touch was developed out of my own frustrations in medicine. There are always things you come up against ... your whole job is supposed to be counteracting disease and so many times you can't. So much of it is tragic; the girl who comes in with bruises all over her back and she wants them cleared up in time for her prom. You do a blood count and realise that she's not actually going to live to see her prom. You're helpless. A sixteen year old girl is going to die from leukaemia and there is nothing you can do! That's where a lot of this kind of fiction comes from."
Although these three books are distinct from each other, Paul has cleverly pulled all the concepts and characters together, along with two novels which expand on the ideas laid out in The Keep - Reborn and Reprisal - into his most recent paperback horror novel, Nightworld. Paul explained that this was not intentional from the start, but that it developed towards the end of the series.
"Reborn was actually started between The Keep and The Tomb. It was quite a different book at that time but it still contained the ideas of cloning and the Antichrist story. I couldn't get it to work at that time and the Repairman Jack character was nibbling away at me and so I had to write The Tomb next.
"Reborn, Reprisal and Nightworld were all planned out at once, as one story, and I resurrected Reborn at that time. What happened was that I didn't really want to do an Antichrist story. I wanted some other evil entity for my heroine to give birth to. So I thought, what about Rasalom in The Keep? Why don't I use him?
"Then I wanted a small town near New York in which to set the book, because I could then have scenes in New York City. In The Touch, there's the close-to-New York town of Munro. Maybe, I thought, I can pull in the third book as well - and I could. There was this nice, complete little circle. So then in order to finish Reborn and tie it into Nightworld I needed a bridging book which is where Reprisal came from. So that's the way it happened and I was really amazed at the way it worked."
Nightworld, of all the six books, is unashamedly a horror novel. New York is afflicted with the opening of a bottomless pit as Rasalom engineers his re-birth. From the pit spew all manner of nasty creepy, crawly, slithery, flapping creatures which sting, bite and generally harass as many humans as they can sink their teeth, tentacles and stingers into.
"It's a nineteen fifties B movie," laughs Paul. "I had a lot of fun with it. But the underlying theme, the one that carried along all the way from The Keep is: who are you?
"That was the question Cuza had to answer in The Keep when he had his religion taken away from him. When he thought he could help against the Nazis, he became a different kind of person. Alan Bulmer becomes a different kind of person at the end of The Touch and Repairman Jack's always asking himself who he is in The Tomb.
"In Nightworld the question is posed again: in the situation of civil panic which erupts in the city, are you going to be the guy who kicks the old lady in the ribs to get to the last can of beans or are you going to be something else? Where do you stand? Which side do you fall on?"
Paul's most recent hardback, Sister Night also poses this question. The novel concerns the unusual death of a young woman, which is then investigated by her twin sister. It involves possession and uncertainty and features a startling twist in the tail.
"To me the biggest horror is being taken over, whether it be by an idea, a misconception or anything. Becoming totally out of control, someone you aren't, something less than you should and can and would be really terrifies me. Sister Night is all about loss of control. The book was actually written in the middle of my working on Reprisal; I suddenly got the last plot twist which I'd been thinking about for years, and I just had to write it.
"With regards to the twist, I'm amazed that I have apparently been able to fool a lot of other writers. Usually writers are one step ahead of each other, when you read someone else's book, you've generally tried the same tricks before, so it's so nice when someone can deliver a punchline which you don't see coming. A lot of writers have called me up and said they'd never spotted it coming. That's very rewarding."
Continuing with the theme of 'Who Am I', Paul's next novel is a medical thriller which is being published by Headline under a different name. "It's a medical school thriller called The Foundation. I submitted it under the name Colin Andrews because I was tired of my books being at the bottom of the bookcases in the shops. I also wanted it to stand on its own merits. This way I felt they would just judge the writing as they wouldn't know anything about Colin Andrews. As it happens they went crazy over it, which is great. In Britain it's going to be released as 'F Paul Wilson writing as Colin Andrews', and I can't figure out the rationale of that. Maybe they want to take me away from horror, because it's not a horror novel, it's a suspense novel. It contains a lot of threatened violence and again the theme of loss of control and an outside influence is present."