In the interest of full disclosure, I obtained my trade paper edition of Ramsey Campbell, Certainly as a runners-up prize in a contest conducted by PS Publishing. To commemorate Ramsey Campbell’s 75th birthday, the publishers invited readers to compose a limerick celebrating the author. My submission was:
Without much ado or preamble:
I simply adore Ramsey Campbell,
Throughout many years,
He's stoked all our fears,
Thus, his birthday requires some gambols.
Was I delighted to receive a copy of Ramsey Campbell, Certainly? Certainly! The book is a collection of essays and reviews written by the wry and astute horrormeister that have been published hither and yon between 2002-2017, edited and with an introduction by S.T. Joshi. Several of the subjects, such as Lovecraft for example, are discussed multiple times in the various writings. Therefore, there is some inherent overlap of topic and redundancy of theme. This in no way detracts from enjoying Campbell’s wit and wisdom but reading the essays in increments rather than blazing through nearly 600 pages makes for a more measured appreciation.
Among the many references to Lovecraft was one that I found particularly interesting. Campbell sees Lovecraftian influence in The Blair Witch Project (1999): “His use of suggestion and allusion might seem beyond the reach of most filmmakers, but I submit The Blair Witch Project as the key Lovecraftian film, not least in the documentary realism he urged upon serious writers in the field and in the inexplicitness with which it conveys, to use his phrase, dread suspense.” The article in which this passage appears is titled “Lovecraft Analysed.” It originally appeared in Morphologies: Short Story Writers on Short Story Writers, edited by Ra Page (Comma Press 2013.)
Like Lovecraft, the illustrious author M.R. James is frequently discussed in the essays. And again, I was struck by Campbell’s attention to filmic (albeit in this case on the small screen) atmosphere and its relation to the writer’s textual intent. The James short story “Lost Hearts” was translated to British television in serial format courtesy of ITV in 1969. Campbell exalts in the adaptation’s use of locations rather than soundstages and has this to say about the uniqueness of actual fog in contrast to the manufactured kind: “There’s a difference between real fog and the studio variety, and Lost Hearts demonstrates it, as does The Brides of Dracula. Here it’s palpable enough to chill the bones; it’s an essence of the landscape and, it seems, of the vengeful dead, who appear to bring it with them and whom it renders more uncanny without the need for visual tricks. I think it sums up the film: unrepentantly English, deceptively leisurely and insidious.” This evocative analysis “M.R. James’s ‘Lost Hearts’ on TV” was first published in 2014 in the booklet accompanying the BFI DVD Ghost Stories for Christmas.
Threaded throughout Ramsey Campbell, Certainly are ruminations about writing and the publishing field. Campbell’s witticism is on full display in “Setting Out to Shock,” which is slightly revised from its 2007 initial appearance in Prism under the heading “Ramsey’s Rant.” Here’s a taste: “It’s when writers claim that they themselves are on the cutting edge (or worse, that they’re pushing the envelope, something only postmen do in my experience) that I begin to have my doubts. Just like writers who describe themselves as witty, these claimants may be selling their wares so hard because they have nothing valuable to sell.” That’s a sage rant, indeed.
I was also greatly amused by his take on writers and their editors: “I’m not denigrating conciseness, and a good editor is a great boon to a writer, but that relationship should be the province of consenting adults.” This Oscar Wilde-like comment was from “Read On,” again published by Prism under the “Ramsey’s Rant” banner, in 2010.
While there are many critiques to be found in Ramsey Campbell, Certainly there are also personal anecdotes and ruminations. We learn about his parents through their letters and discover the array of talented folk he’s met and/or admired along his journey as writer. It warms the heart to see names so diverse as Thomas Tryon, T.E.D. Klein, Kirby McCauley, Joel Lane, and Adam Nevill (to whom Campbell dedicates the book) regarded with such fond affection for their literary gifts. The tome is a follow-up to Ramsey Campbell, Probably first published by PS Publishing in 2002 (subsequently revised extensively for a 2014 reprint) which won the Bram Stoker Award for non-fiction, as well as a British Fantasy Award and an International Horror Guild Award.
I feel rewarded in being able to review Ramsey Campbell, Certainly and will end with a quote from Campbell’s 2009 introduction “Spectres from Sauk,” for August Derleth’s collection The Sleepers and Other Wakeful Things, published by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box. They are words for writers to live by: “All tales are ghosts once their author dies, and that’s why good writers never really die.” I think it’s safe to say that Ramsey Campbell has already achieved literary immortality in the horror genre. Here’s to many more birthday celebrations and perhaps a Ramsey Campbell, Definitively.