Today, I am delighted to have Steve Emmett as my guest. Here he talks about his early influences, horror and the darker side of things...
When Catherine asked me to follow Aleister Crowley I took it as something of a compliment. Yes, he was pretty unsavoury and surely gave the expression ‘neighbour from hell’ an original meaning, but he is still a big name in the World of Darkness, and it is in that world that I have chosen to spend my career as a writer. But have I ever been tempted to dabble in the occult myself?
One of my early influences was the British author Dennis Wheatley. He wasn’t exactly a pillar of the community by all accounts. He picked up women in Richmond Park and was a terrible racist and right-winger (traits which sometimes deflect the reader from his stories). He also associated with rather iffy characters like Eric Gordon Tombe, a fraudster with whom Wheatley enjoyed the playboy life, quaffing champagne and, um, picking up women (there is a lovely line, I digress by the way, in Don Giovanni where the eponymous MC puts on his finery, climbs aboard his barge and sings ‘what a wonderful night for going out looking for girls’). Tombe eventually disappeared in suspicious circumstances, leaving Wheatley to draw on his exploits when the latter began his writing career.
One of Wheatley’s other acquaintances was the Egyptian occult scholar, Rollo Ahmed. His book, The Black Art (ISBN 1 85958 048 3) was first published in 1936 by Wheatley’s own publisher as result of Wheatley’s introduction. The book indeed carries an introduction by Wheatley. The Black Art is a wonderful source of information for authors like me. It can be, sadly, hard to find and I cherish my copy. In his summing up, Ahmed says this:
‘No one should ever yield to a temptation to dabble in sorcery, even if only from curiosity or the search for a new thrill. It is impossible to involve oneself in black magic in any shape or form without becoming contaminated; it is impossible to approach it and not risk losing judgment and reason. I have personally investigated it and, speaking from experience, strongly advise no one to do likewise. There is nothing of true value to gain, and everything to lose. It does not matter how light-heartedly it may be entered into as an intriguing pastime, with a tempting spice of the forbidden, the penalty is the same.’
It is well-known that Wheatley continually gave the same warning, stressing that his own works were based on information gained from people such as Ahmed rather than his own personal experiences. And that has always been my position, drilled into me from an early age. I was sent to a Catholic school where talk of the supernatural was a sin (um, so what’s a virgin birth and rising from the dead?) and this is where my obsession – for I do think it is that – with horror and the dark side comes.
Witchcraft and devilry are the necessary and natural complements to organized religion. It has been so for over two thousand years. Organised religion is weakened, it may even cease to exist, without its dark cousin. Good and evil. The contrast of all contrasts. So when people ask how a nice person like me (you’ll have to take my word on that) can write about such bad things, that is the answer I give them. Good guys can write bad things because we experience the contrast. Hitler wrote horror, but it wasn’t fiction; neither did he see it as bad or horrific. Could he have written a decent horror novel? I doubt it.
When I wrote Diavolino I wanted to work with all these ingredients. Most of all I wanted to use the contrast between the beauty of the setting and the ugliness of the growing xenophobia to build the horror story. Naturally, Italy leaves the door wide open for the occult to raise its head alongside The Vatican. If you read Diavolino you will find goodness and beauty is everywhere, always on the surface to be seen. But evil lurks everywhere, ready to grab you when you least expect it.
Diavolino was my first novel (I have just completed my second and have two others part-complete).
|Waterstones, York. Meet Steve here in person Sat. Aug 25th|
If you live anywhere near York you might like to come along to Waterstones in that city on 25th August where I will be to sign copies purchased on the day. A big ‘thank you’ to Kirstie Lount for making the event possible! If you’d like to hear me read from Diavolino and talk about my kind of horror, I’m appearing at the Northampton booQfest on 16th September. More details on my website.
Not long ago an older friend of mine revealed that his even older brother once struck up a friendship with the ageing Wheatley. My friend’s brother maintained that despite his warnings and claims of innocence, Wheatley had, in the name of ‘research’, got rather too close to the Black Art and ‘paid the penalty’. But I’m puzzled by one thing, and I will leave you with this thought. We all agree, do we not, that dabbling in the occult is dangerous? Even the master Rollo Ahmed warned us. So does this mean that the devil, demons, ghosts, supernatural evil are all real? Because if not, if they are purely fiction and superstition, how on earth could it possibly harm us if we did give in to curiosity – just once?
(If you want to know more about Dennis Wheatley there is an excellent book by Phil Baker called The Devil is a Gentleman: ISBN 978-1907650321 published by Dedalus)
You can find Steve online here:
Society of Authors http://www.societyofauthors.org/node/45196
New York Journal of Books http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/reviewer/steve-emmett
Here are some places to buy Diavolino:
The Book Depository http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Diavolino-Steve-Emmett/9781936751945
Barnes and Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/diavolino-steve-emmett/1102267285?ean=9781936751945
If you are interested in the Northampton booQfest, here’s the website: