Not to be confused the Roald Dahl-inspired play of the same name – currently playing at Liverpool Playhouse, until 23 April – Twisted Tales has been putting the frighteners on punters in Waterstone’s Liverpool One since 2010, playing host to the likes of Ramsey Campbell and League of Gentlemen (and Twisted Tales) writer Jeremy Dyson.
We caught up with David McWilliam, who runs Twisted Tales with co-founder Glyn Morgan, to ask what goes on at these nights, why Liverpool seems to have such a strong horror heritage and why we’re attracted to things that frighten us…
SevenStreets: How did Twisted Tales come to fruition?
David McWilliam: Twisted Tales is a project set up to promote the best of 21st century horror. Some see the genre as in decline. Well, I disagree
SevenStreets: What happens at a typical Twisted Tales event?
DM: Co-founder Glyn Morgan and I invite three authors to give a reading of twenty minutes each, either a self-contained extract from a novel or a short story. We’ve had some great discussions, particularly Graham Joyce’s comments about the challenges of writing horror videogame narrative – he was part of the team working on Doom 4.
Afterwards, there is a signing session for about 15 minutes, which gives the audience a chance to talk to the authors in relative privacy.
SevenStreets: Waterstone’s Liverpool One seem to be very supportive…
DM: I know that some people see Waterstone’s as a large, unresponsive corporation, but that hasn’t been the case with Twisted Tales. The staff have been supportive and we have creative freedom with regards to who we invite and the material they present.
Glyn runs the horror section of the shop and, again, has a great deal of autonomy when choosing what books to stock. The section is performing very well, which also helps to support the readings. Judging by the popularity of the events, I think that this is the way forward for High Street bookstores: offer an experience that Amazon can’t.
SevenStreets: What attracts people to horror?
DM: I think that horror is a broad church and it would be very difficult to give you a definitive answer. On one end of the spectrum you have the generic expectations brought by a group of friends going to see the latest horror film at the cinema on a Friday night. On the other, you have the feverish, dense written style of the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. Personally, I enjoy the full range. Horror can be disturbing, fascinating, hilarious, or all of the above.
I was attracted to horror from an early age, captivated by our mortality and the imaginative possibilities of returning from the dead. When I was six my father was stuck with a crossword puzzle and asked, “What is the name of a wizard that can raise the dead, eleven letters?” to which I replied “Necromancer”, without skipping a beat. I don’t know whether my parents were disturbed or impressed.
As an adult, I am fascinated by what drives people to break from the social contracts of their society, whether through criminality or insanity. We are too quick to disavow the people on the edges of normality (whatever that is) as aberrations.
We share a bond of humanity. I think that there are more things that link us than divide us, and am thus attracted to transgressor-centred stories. I want to gaze into the abyss and see what stares back.
We asked David to name some of his favourite horror films, television shows, short stories and novels… for the purposes of brevity it’s probably best we simply point you in the direction of the Nightmare Visions section on the Twisted Tales blog, which should be enough to keep you going for quite some time.
SevenStreets: Clive Barker. Ramsey Campbell. What is it about Liverpool and legends of the genre?
DM: I have an axe to grind on this issue, as neither Clive nor Ramsey were the focus of any events during Liverpool’s year as the Capital of Culture in 2008. Another two key figures from the hugely influential Hellraiser film series — Pete Atkins, who wrote the screenplay for Hellraiser II, III & IV, and Doug Bradley, who played Pinhead throughout the series — are also from Liverpool and were ignored.
I’m not knocking The Beatles or Liverpool FC, they have both played enormous roles in shaping the city’s cultural heritage and its landscape today, but there is far more to Liverpool than music and sport. I guess sadomasochistic demons, disturbing imagery and tormented bodies didn’t fit the bill.
SevenStreets: You sing the praises of Ramsey in particular…
DM: Ramsey (pictured above, to the right of Jeremy Dyson) has had a huge influence on some of the best horror writers working in the UK today: from Jeremy Dyson, through Adam Nevill, to Conrad Williams. He’s a positive force for the genre: from his Presidency of the British Fantasy Society to supporting local genre events.
He has attended every Twisted Tales thus far, publicised them, given advice and put us in touch with many wonderful writers. Both Glyn and I agree that the series would not have been the success story we have seen without Ramsey’s enthusiastic support.
SevenStreets: What’s up next?
DM: Glyn organized a young adult horror stories reading, called Little Terrors, at Kirkby Library in March this year. All-Saints School sent two classes along and, as the kids, authors and organizers all enjoyed it, we plan on setting up more young adult readings in the future.
Our next event will be on 19 May and will be called The Killer Inside You: Horror in Crime Fiction. The name is adapted from Jim Thompson’s influential, transgressive noir thriller The Killer Inside Me (1952).
The line-up consists of John Connolly, Steve Mosby and Charlie Williams. This event is the first in a proposed spin-off to the straight horror of Twisted Tales readings. We are inviting the authors to present examples from their crime fiction that utilise the tropes, techniques and atmospheres of horror.
The two genres have been bleeding into one another for over 100 years, but never more so than in the 21st century.
You can contact David and Twisted Tales co-founder Glyn Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Every Monday the pair upload new content, reviews and interviews to the Twisted Tales blog