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Interview: Brian Lumley

By Paula Guran
Written 08.28.05
Published: CFQ-October 2005 Issue

"[Lovecraft] was like the Frank Sinatra of weird stories: he was central in his own world, while the rest of us, imitators and admirers alike, were just stumbling around on the edge of it..."

[Note: You might also be interested in the 1999 HorrorOnline interview Brian Lumley: His Vampires Do a Lot More Than Just Suck.]

Prolific British author Brian Lumley is world renown for his "Necroscope" series featuring Harry Keogh, the Necroscope -- a man who speaks to the dead -- and the Wamphyri, a race of vampires from another world. But after 13 books and millions of copies sold worldwide there will be, according to the author, no more Wamphyri. A Necroscope, however, will return in the summer 2006 in a final volume in the series, Necroscope: The Touch. "I promise -- or at least I think I promise -- it is the last of the series," Says Lumley. "And you heard me correctly: nary a vampire insight in what will be another big fat volume. But there will be something just as unpleasant. The Nordri Three are..." Lumley won't divulge the details, but promises, "Well, as Monty Python might put it, 'And now for something entirely different.'"

Brian Lumley Writing a long-running series can be challenging. "With the first five books -- that's Necroscope through Deadspawn --nothing was difficult. The stories just came and kept right oncoming," says Lumley. "But with the next three, the Vampire World Trilogy -- oh, there were problems galore: swapping between Earth and Sunside/Starside, the difference in the way the Wamphyri think and speak and the way we do, the motivation of my lead characters, the depth and complications of the Wamphyri 'nature', and histories of their world. But if I thought that was difficult, then came the Lost Years Series in two volumes. Here it was the timelines: how not to end up with two of these vampire 'Lords' bumping into each other in the ancient world one thousand or fifteen hundred years ago. It wasn't easy."

Not easy, but -- "Worth it? You bet! Necroscope [the first book in the series] was written all of twenty-one years ago and the series is still being published (and reprinted) in thirteen countries. It's more than enough of a reward to know that so many people have loved and still love these books." [Necroscope is also scheduled for a definitive limited edition illustrated by Bob Eggleton from Subterranean Press. Subterreanean is also doing Screaming Science Fiction, a collection of Lumley's science fiction.]

A fan of horror and fantasy fiction since his teens, Lumley began writing in 1967 while serving as a Royal Military Policeman in Berlin. At the time, he never dreamed of fame and fortune. "I really wrote those early stories for myself, to break the boredom. Getting them published was a bonus, that's all. After all, I was a soldier and that's what paid my wages. There's noway I could have lived on my earnings as a writer at that time. But later, as I approached the end of my 22 years in the military, that's when I decided to give it a try -- and even then I knew it was going to he tough going. As it turned out, not so tough. I guess I've been lucky."

Lumley's earliest work borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft's work is taking a respectable place in the American literary canon these days, but Lumley doesn't see such canonization ruining Lovecraft. "I don't think you can 'ruin' what is already accepted as -- and in fact long has been -- a 'class act.' Lovecraft's mythos is a sub-genre and has been for at least thirty years and probably a lot longer." Lumley stops and corrects himself. " No, not probably, definitely! It was even a literary bauble in his own lifetime: it got tossed around, played with, by all the members of his circle. Clark Ashton Smith had a go at it, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Bob Bloch, several of Lovecraft's revision clients, and so on. Since then just about any- and everyone who has ever 'done' anything with weird fiction has at least considered 'doing a Lovecraft.'

"But as for ruining Lovecraft: well, let's face it, all of the poor imitations, the so-called 'pastiches,' the (all too often) crappy fanzines -- and there have been way too many of them -- and even the odd bad Lovecraftian story by professional writers, myself included...by now if HPL was going to be ruined he would have been. But he hasn't been. The guy was like the Frank Sinatra of weird stories: he was central in his own world, while the rest of us, imitators and admirers alike, were just stumbling around on the edge of it..."

Tor has just re-issued Lumley's The House of Cthulhu: Volume 1 of the Primal Land Trilogy, in hardback with a cover by Bob Eggleton and an interior map of the Primal Lands by Dave Kendall. "It's a small book as my books go," says Lumley, "but it looks absolutely gorgeous and I'm truly delighted with it."

"It's possible -- even probable -- that in the USA a good many folks will be unfamiliar with The House of Cthulhu as a book,but quite a few will remember it as a story." The title story, written in November of 1971,has been reprinted many times. "It would take me a while to remember them all, but it was the first story in Stuart Schiff's Whispers, one of only a handful of truly classic semi-prozines,and was chosen for both The Year's Best Fantasy and The Year's Best Horror anthologies."

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Despite its Lovecraftian title, Lumley sees the Primal Lands series as "probably inspired by Jack Vance, who was himself inspired by Clark Ashton Smith. But where Vance wrote of a Dying Earth, set in the future when the sun is about to blink out, I wrote of a Primal Land way back at the beginning, long before Atlantis. These tales are fantasy, of course, with more than a dash of horror thrown in for good measure: a collection of tales of monsters and fair (and foul!) maidens, of adventurers and barbarians, of wizards and warriors. I think if August Derleth had lived to see it, it would probably have become my fourth Arkham House hook. As it happened Paul Ganley published the book as an outsize Weirdbook Press volume, one of his fastest selling productions. It was done in both paper and hardback editions, and some nine or ten years ago, when I was at a Providence convention with Paul, what should we see but a copy of the latter on sale for $150.00...and I have just one copy!" [Tarra Khash: Hrossak! Tales of the Primal Land will be published by Tor in March 2006.]

Lumley's work has inspired games, music, and Necroscope has recently been optioned for film. Lumley's popularity has resulted in a guide to his work (The Brian Lumley Companion, co-edited by the author and Stanley Wiater) and a small but intense annual gathering, KeoghCon. The fifth annual installment of the Lumlian mini-con took place on September 24 in Torquay, UK "in a small but excellent hotel with fabulous views out across Torbay," Says Lumley. "We fill the rooms, sothe place is really ours for the entire weekend. We have panels and readings. This year's Guests of Honor included, among others, such people as Nick Austin, my London-based editor for the last 25 years; award-winning artist Allen Koszowski; and my German publisher Frank Festa. We schmooze a lot,too, and we drink...since the proprietor is a personal friend of mine, the bar stays open as long as there are people drinking, which has often meant all night! Generally, we enjoy.

"And the best bit is the KeoghCon raffle; I throw a lot of books and other Necroscope-related items on the table, along with bits and pieces that the members and GoHs bring along from time to time, and we raffle them off. Proceeds pay some of the expenses of our guests, or go behind the bar, or towards items for the next raffle."

As with most authors, Lumley might have written something else if history and audience expectation had differed. Lumley thinks, "I would love to have written James Bond, or, funnily enough (no pun intended) Inspector Clouseau stories. I think I could have done both of these justice in their time. They have my kind of action, my sense of humour. But no longer. Despite his millions of fans I can't help but think that poor old Bond should have retired long ago, and as for Clouseau: well the French -- like the British, and mainly our politicians -- suffer enough ridicule without me adding to their displeasure. I often wonder ifthe Pink Panther movies get shown in France..."

It may be too late for Bond or Clouseau, but Brian Lumley -- with more than 40 books to his credit already -- is still definitely on a roll.

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Brian Lumley's Web Site.