How Frankenstein changed my life
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first saw James Whale’s famous 1932 adaptation of Frankenstein, but I would have been in my mid teens, living on a council estate on the western edges of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I do remember the thrill of it though.
There is something about Boris Karloff’s creature that sears itself into your soul. I already knew that cadaverous face, of course. It is one of the most famous faces in the world, as well known as the Marilyn Monroe or the Mona Lisa.
It was only later that I read the novel and discovered a very different creature; one who could express his feelings and talk about his desires. I loved the arctic scenes that frame the novel and was amazed to discover that Frankenstein and his creature come to England and go to London, Oxford and the Lake District; places I knew well.
I learned of the story behind the novel - that the teenage Mary Shelley came up with the story in a Swiss villa rented by Lord Byron. Mary Godwin as she was then, was there with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley and her half-sister Claire Clairmont and Byron’s doctor John Polidori. A ghost story competition was initiated and Mary’s resulting nightmare spawned Frankenstein.
My fascination grew and grew. When I went to art college in 1976, I submitted a proposal to do a graphic novel of Frankenstein, but my tutor saw how much work was involved and talked me out of it, saying I should return to it later in my studies. I never did.
When I left college I tried making my way as an illustrator and a chance meeting in a pub on one of my visits home, led to me doing some work for a theatre company called The Dog Company. The man at the centre of this theatre company was Clive Barker and he had written a play called Frankenstein in Love for which he needed a poster.
Unbeknown to me, Clive was writing a collection of horror short stories - a collection that would be published as The Books of Blood and, thanks in part to to a famous Stephen King quote, would make his name and propel him from Crouch End to LA.
I nervously showed Clive a story I had written about my grandfather and I was thrilled to find that he immediately spoke to me as one writer to another. He made some suggestions, and even said that he knew of places who might publish it. Maybe I was a writer after all.
But I was also an illustrator and a painter and I was struggling to build my career as an artist. Wanting to be a writer as well seemed greedy. And frankly, it seemed more difficult, more unattainable.
I moved out of London to Norfolk and commuted in to work for The Economist and later The Independent, working as a cartoonist. On the long journeys home, I found myself writing again, filling notebooks with ideas and the occasional short story. And I kept reading about Mary Shelley and the Romantic poets, fascinated by their tragic, interweaving lives.
It was Chris Riddell with whom I worked at The Economist who first suggested that I write for children, and he who took the resulting story to his editor at Random House. Luckily they liked it, and though they didn’t publish that one, they published the next, and I have been a full-time writer ever since. That first book was for younger children, but my books have been getting darker ever since, my latest book follows on from a series of books exploring my fascination with Gothic horror and uncanny fction.
Mister Creecher imagines a meeting between Frankenstein’s creature and a teenage boy on New Year’s Day, 1818, the date of Frankenstein’s publication. It is the fruit of a forty year long obsession, and I fervently hope that readers of Mister Creecher will be drawn to reading Mary Shelley’s strange and thought-provoking novel.
And maybe they will begin a life-long obsession of their own.
Huge thanks to Chris for taking the time to wrote this for The Book Zone. Tomorrow Chris will continue his blog tour by be stopping off at Bart's Bookshelf.