Interview: Jonathan Oliver

British science fiction, fantasy and horror author and editor Jonathan Oliver is in Innsmouth to talk about his anthologies The End of the Line and House of Fear, both released by Solaris.

IFP: Hi. Welcome to Innsmouth. Can you introduce yourself to our readers in 140 characters or less?

JO: I’m Jonathan Oliver, the editor-in-chief of Solaris and Abaddon Books.

IFP: How did you come up with the idea for The End of the Line?

JO: I’ve always thought the Undeground was a terrific setting for horror; those miles of dark tunnels, echoing with the sounds of trains, the strange feeling of being the only person on a platform late at night, and also the claustrophobic edge-of-panic atmosphere you get at rush hour. Despite this, it seemed to me underserved by the genre. There are some fine examples: the movies Death Line and Creep, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but these are few and far between. Thus came the idea to invite some of my favourite writers to write on the theme.

IFP: The End of the Line features new stories of underground horror. What old stories or movies with a similar setting have caught your attention?

JO: Well, those movies and stories I’ve already mentioned. But, of course, there’s also that terrific scene in An American Werewolf in London, in which a businessman is pursued by the werewolf in the tunnels of the Underground. It’s also worth seeking out Conrad Williams’ brilliant novel, London Revenant, which features some very frightening Underground scenes.

IFP: What was your process in selecting the stories?

JO: I approached authors I really wanted to work  with, people whose fiction I’d been reading for years. It was a case of selecting my favourite writers and hoping that most of them said yes; 99% of them did.

IFP: Are anthologies more difficult to sell than novels?

JO: Hard to say. I think, as e-readers become more popular, there may be a renaissance in the popularity of short fiction, as short stories are perfect for passing time on that short journey or in your lunch break. I’ve always been a massive fan of the short story, but I’m aware that some people would rather read novels. I think that if an anthology has a strong theme, then it becomes easier to sell into the trade.
IFP: What kind of marketing did you do for this anthology?

JO: We did a big launch in London, printed fake Tube tickets and did various online promotions and magazine advertising.

IFP: This was your first time working as an anthology editor. What was the experience like and what did you learn?

JO: I’ve actually been a fiction editor the last five and a bit years, but The End of The Line was my first time as an anthology editor. The experience was a joy from beginning to end. Really, if you pick a great line-up of writers and have a strong theme, you can’t go far wrong. I knew that I was going to get excellent stories, so my job was pretty easy.

IFP: Can you tell us abour your next anthology, House of Fear?

JO: House of Fear is an anthology of haunted house stories. While we certainly have some ‘traditional’ takes on the supernatural in the anthology, there are also stories that really play with the theme; looking at what constitutes a haunting. While these are, on the whole, ghost stories, they are also very human stories. Because, at their heart, haunted house stories are about the places where we live and lives lived. I’m genuinely very proud of the diversity of this anthology.

IFP: Favourite haunted house stories or novels?

JO: Film-wise, it has to be The Haunting. I can never tire of that film and I still find it genuinely unsettling. Novel-wise, obviously, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is the greatest, but I also adore King’s The Shining, and Ramsey Campbell’s The House on Nazareth Hill is also a stunning piece of work. As for short stories, there are many that I love, but I suppose my favourites would be by M.R. James, William Hope Hodgson, H.P. Lovecraft, and also Richard Matheson.

IFP: What’s the appeal of horror for you?

JO: I think the limitlessness of horror is its great appeal. Rather than pigeonholing the kind of story you can do, I think that genre frees you up, gives you many more tools to tell a tale than maybe the more mundane types of literature do. I find myself naturally drawn to darker tales, as I feel that they can say a lot about us as humans and the strange internal lives some of us lead. I also think that, at its best, horror is also one of the most poetic of the genres, one of the more visually striking mediums to work in.

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian character or creature, who would you be and why?

JO: I’d say Cthulhu, but then, when you consider it more, you’d be stuck in R’lyeh, sitting waiting
for the end of time, which can’t be much fun. Y’golonac has mouths in its hands, thus making possible the party trick of smoking three cigarettes simultaneously; well, that would be if it had a head. I think, if we’re talking humans, being Herbert West would be fun for a while, but if we’re talking deity or creature, give me Shub-Niggurath every time. I mean, with a thousand young, you’d be able to get a lot done, right? Multitasking for the win!

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

If you like horror, then you can do no better than checking out the range of great titles available through Solaris and Abaddon Books.

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IFPInterview: Jonathan Oliver