Monday 28 February 2011

*** Interview with Chris Priestley (author of The Tales of Terror series)

I have been a huge fan of Chris Priestley's writing ever since I first read his Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror anthology of short stories back in 2007. Since then he has gone on to write a further two volumes, as well as the brilliant The Dead of Winter, his first horror novel for young people. I was therefore really chuffed when Ian Lamb at Bloomsbury asked if I would be interested hosting a Q&A with Chris as the first stop-off in his blog tour, taking place to promote the re-issue of the three Tales of Terror books in paperback, with their fab, atmospheric new covers. Each of these new editions also comes with an additional bonus story that did not appear in the original volumes.  

How would you describe your Tales of Terror collections to potential readers?

The Tales of Terror series are collections of short creepy tales, but they are told by a different storyteller in each book.  During the course of each of the books we learn about the storyteller and about the listeners.  Each of the books is set in past – in the Victorian and Edwardian era that is the setting for so many classic English ghost stories.  

What was the original inspiration behind these terrifying tales?

There were lots of different inspirations, but more than anything they came out of my love for short uncanny fiction – ghost stores, weird tales, sci-fi, horror.  I wondered if I could write psychological chillers for a young readership.  I wanted to see if kids today would like the kind of stories I liked when I was thirteen or fourteen or so.  

You’ve added bonus stories to the back of each of the Tales of Terror that bring all three books together, were these difficult to write?

It was actually a lot of fun to return to those books and those characters after writing a couple of novels.  I am really pleased with the way the stories have worked out.  I was determined that we shouldn’t just tack a story onto the end.  I wanted the books to be better for the addition, and I think they are.  The new sections link the books together in a way that did not happen before.

The Tales of Terror series is written in a wonderfully Victorian gothic voice, was there any inspiration behind the tone?

It is not something I really had to sit down and manufacture.  I was very deliberately setting the stories in the world of Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories – as though I was borrowing the sets and costumes from those classic tales – and the voice just came very naturally from that decision.  

Which books/authors did you read as a child/teenager. How do you think they compare to the children’s/YA books available today?

I read lots of things.  I read a lot of American comics for one thing.  Like most children in the 60s and 70s I would drag home lots of books from the school library and local library, whilst owning very few myself.  I read a lot of historical fiction: Rosemary Sutcliff, Henry Treece.  There was not so much teen fiction when I was that age, so we tended to move on to shorter adult fiction and for that often meant sci-fi and horror.  I really enjoyed John Wyndham – his short stories as well as his novels.  H G Wells too.  I read all the Conan books of Robert E Howard too.  I loved those.  Sci-fi writers like Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury featured a lot.  And of course I was making my first contact through school with great writers like William Golding.  Few writers write about evil and darkness as well as Golding does.  

Do you see Uncle Montague as a creepy character? Did you have fun creating him and is he based on anyone you know?

Uncle Montague gets his name from M R James – Montague Rhodes James – but as I wrote about him I had those greats of horror movies in mind; people like Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, John Carradine and Boris Karloff.  Roald Dahl was in there too, I suppose, with his introductions to his Tales of the Unexpected television programmes.

You clearly enjoying giving people a scare. Have there ever been any books or short stories that have scared you?

Of course!  And they are not always what could be described as ‘horror’.  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is terrifying for instance.  The best of Edgar Allan Poe is very sleep-disturbing.  Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is a very scary book.  And there are countless creepy short stories that I think are effective.  W W Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw is a particular favourite.  Most great writers have had a stab at a creepy story – many of them superb.  Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw comes to mind, as does Dickens’ The Signalman.  And I have just discovered Robert Aickman.  He is seriously creepy.  I was lucky enough to hear Jeremy Dyson reading Aickman’s ‘The Inner Room’ at the Halifax Ghost Story Festival last October.

Some people think that horror writers must be a little weird to come up with their stories. Would you agree with them?

Yes.  It is weird.  But writing is a weird occupation whatever you write.  One of the strongest impulses for me to try and get published was that I kept thinking how weird it was to be keeping notebooks full of stories when I was not (then) a published writer. 

How does writing short stories compare to writing a novel?

They are very different.  Probably the main difference concerns the development of the characters.  The canvas for a novel is just much bigger and it needs more than one clever idea to carry the reader through its pages.  In a short story there simply is not time to get inside a character in the way you can and should in a novel.  It is what some people find frustrating about short fiction.  But I like – both as a writer and a reader – the way that you jump straight into (and out of) the action with a short story.  I like the discipline that entails.  A good short story is a thing of beauty.

Your next book, Mister Creecher is a twist on the Frankenstein story. Could you tell us a little bit more about it and your inspiration behind it?

Ever since I read the book in my teens, I was fascinated by the fact that Frankenstein, his friend Clerval and the creature all come to Britain, going on a tour through London and Oxford, up into the Lakes and eventually to Scotland and the Orkney Islands (where Frankenstein will build – and then destroy – a mate for his creation).  Mary Shelley whizzes through this journey in a few paragraphs, but I to wanted to zoom in on the potential of having that huge, angry, vengeful monster loose in the England of 1818.  Mister Creecher imagines a meeting between Frankenstein’s creature and a young street thief in Regency London and charts the strange and dangerous bond that develops between them as they leave London and head north.

Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of The Book Zone?

I would just like to say that I hope you have enjoyed my books if you’ve read them and that you will enjoy Mister Creecher when it comes out in October.   Thanks to The Book Zone for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.  And whatever your taste in books, please, please, please support your local library.


Huge thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer these questions. I am really looking forward to reading Mister Creecher when it is released later this year, but in the meantime I still love re-reading the Tales of Terror every now and again. You can find out where Chris is stopping off next on his blog tour on the banner at the right of this blog.


  1. His books look good. I have never read anything from him, but I think I'll have to check at least one of his books.

  2. That's good to hear. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. I am loving the sound of Mister Creecher, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Mary Shelleys Frankenstien. Thanks for the heads up :D

  4. how many books has ha written