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Jack Of All Trades
Stephen Gallagher
interviewed by Tom Matic

As the title of this article suggests, Stephen Gallagher's writing straddles both horror and SF, and encompasses novels, radio and TV. In the latter medium, he has also turned his hand to directing his own TV adaptation of Oktober, the results of which can now be seen on DVD. After coming to the attention of the BBC in the late 1970s with his radio play An Alternative To Suicide, he re-worked some elements of this for the first of his two Doctor Who scripts, Warrior's Gate (1980). This story was an eerie fantasy set in a non-space, a margin between two universes, populated by new romantic, time sensitive lion people and callous slave traders. Two years later, Gallagher then followed this with a further Doctor Who story called Terminus, the second part of another trilogy. He then adapted his first novel Chimera for ITV.
Stephen Gallagher
The premise of this tense SF thriller, reminiscent of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass stories, was the genetic hybridisation of humans with their simian cousins. It also used detailed research of police procedure to help provide an underpinning of verisimilitude to its more fantastic elements. This is a technique Gallagher has made much use of in subsequent novels, notably his second novel Valley Of Lights (1987), a truly creepy and chilling tale of possession and the living dead. Rather like the ape-man in his debut novel, Gallagher's writing is something of a 'chimera', encompassing everything from the Victorian gothic of Murder Rooms to the glossy technological thrills and spills of Bugs.

Given his versatility, what is it that marks out the author's work as distinctly 'Stephen Gallagher'? Perhaps it is this very chameleon-like quality that attracts him to stories about shape-changing characters. Is it too much to read this into his acceptance of two commissions for a sci-fi TV series about a man who can alter his physical appearance in order to escape death? Maybe not if you consider that the villain of one of his subsequent novels Valley Of Lights changes bodies in order to evade his pursuer and perpetuate his centuries-old existence. Another of his thrillers Red, Red Robin (1995) concerns a similar situation, minus the supernatural/SF elements of the previous two examples: its murderous male escort adopts a dead man's identity. This choice of plot devices reveals a theme to which Gallagher is drawn: people returning from the dead, either supernaturally as in Valley Of Lights or by such means as sheer will power as in Down River (1989). Admittedly this is a preoccupation that Gallagher shares with many horror novelists, including Bram Stoker - whose Dracula Gallagher adapted for an aborted BBC production last year. But the grave from which his revenants rise is often a watery one (that of Johnny Mays in Down River and the 'Children of the Lake' in The Boat House).

Gallagher is modest and self-deprecating about his achievements, a down-to-earth approach that also comes through in his writing, which uses wry deadpan humour to keep often-unearthly events grounded in everyday reality. This is exemplified in everything from the jars of baby food used to keep the 'zombies' half-alive in the seedy motel room in the opening chapter of Valley Of Lights. With its almost fey mysticism, Gallagher's first ever TV story Warrior's Gate seems on the face of it to be atypical of his work in this respect. On the other hand, the more fantastic and dreamlike elements of Warrior's Gate can be seen in later TV work like Oktober, with its nightmarish carousel and Jungian 'collective unconscious'. Nevertheless the more ethereal elements of Warrior's Gate work better for the hard-edged and mundane reality of Rorvik's motley crew of slave traders, who give the story much of its savage gallows humour. Rorvik deals in a species of time sensitives called Tharils, which he also uses to navigate his ship through the time lines - even he has to kill the Tharils in the process! Two menial workers, Aldo and Royce, toss a coin to bet on how long the latest victim will survive. Later we see them doing the same to decide which one gets to power-up the electrodes on another of the 'precious' sentient cargo, which they also assure their boss are as "neat as sardines" at another point in the story. We see the intergalactic slave traders knocking off for lunch in the midst of the misty other-worldliness of the rapidly shrinking void (with the Doctor reminding them that they'll all be dead "once the pickles run out"). This story also provides an early demonstration of Gallagher's ability to dramatise the simmering tensions between different ranks in the claustrophobic setting of Rorvik's ship.

The petty rivalries in the chain-of-command also provide the background to Chimera; this time in the more Earthbound setting of a village under siege. Chimera deals with the rank-and-file copper's resentment of graduate, career policemen, the loathing by both of desk bound civil servants and a turf war between the police and the army. Gallagher also puts the grubby politics of the British police force in the 1980s at the centre of Down River, involving not just the tensions within the organisation itself but the conflicts in society at large. With its delinquent kids and delinquent coppers, Down River is very much a product of the era of pickets and inner city riots. A later novel, The Boat House (1991) mentions the poll tax and uses the popular bogeyman of the mugger lying in wait for unsuspecting yuppies. But its main strength lies in setting its story of a Russian refugee, who believes she's a 'Rusalka' (a female demon from Russian folklore), amid the social undercurrents of a close-knit lakeside community.

Gallagher's fascination with death and resurrection is often linked to the theme of a limbo between these two states. This is a theme that can be traced throughout his work, via stories as widely divergent stylistically as Bugs and Oktober, but its most powerful instance is Valley Of Lights. In this novel, the living dead # intelligence that stalks its pages relies on another kind of living death. In order to prolong his existence, the creature inhabits the bodies of people it hasn't killed but has instead reduced to a catatonic state near death. The novel opens with the narrator finding a motel room full of these 'zombies', lying on couches and kept just about alive on a diet of baby food. This image haunts Gallagher's works like a recurring nightmare. Even the 'Cyberax' story in Bugs has archvillain Jean Daniel keeping a room full of comatose victims of his human computer virus. Warrior's Gate begins with a camera panning around a hold full of suspended time sensitives in suspended animation, in a ship stuck in a limbo between universes. One of his most recent small screen offerings, the 1998 TV adaptation of his novel Oktober (1988), starts with the discovery of a 'wonder drug', when a scientist jabs the arm of one of a group of comatose Russian pilots and all his comrades twitch in response. They are imprisoned in a limbo between life and death. It is a testament to the power of this idea that it is often used as the opening hook of his stories, although in the case of Oktober, this scene occurred later in the novel, but became the pre-credits sequence of the TV adaptation. As we shall see, this wasn't the only change undergone by Oktober in the transition from novel to TV serial.

Oktober country
How did you come up with the 'merry-go-round' scene in Oktober?

I've always been fascinated with fairground glitter and tacky out-of-season seaside towns. I was very affected by a cheapie independent movie called Carnival Of Souls when I first saw it in the early 1970s, and it was in my mind when I was writing the book. I visualised the collective unconscious as this great nightmarish sideshow. I remember going to the old Pollocks toy museum on Goodge Street and ferreting out places where I could get to see old automata. And Davenports' magic shop, back when it was just across from the British Museum, to look at old illusions and go through their catalogues. The carousel was an image out of that spectrum and at some point - I think it was when I actually sat down to write the scene for the book - I visualised all the riders impaled on their poles. Well, you wouldn't have to worry about falling off, would you?

After seeing that scene, I'd say falling off was the least of their problems. What other influences helped to form Oktober, for example the opening scenes of the shared reflex in the Russian pilots?

In the book those scenes took place in some distant Eastern territory based roughly on Cambodia. I think it was Brian Eastman who suggested updating them to Chechnya. The main thing is that it was a war zone. Medicine has traditionally made huge leaps in wartime - desperate measures speed up progress no end. I'd read Rupert Sheldrake's ideas on Morphic Resonance and thought them complete bollocks but metaphorically fascinating. A bit of that, a bit of Jung. Hey presto.

In the light of some of the reactions by the scientific community to Chimera and of the subject matter of Oktober, do you see your writing as a thorn in the side of the pharmaceutical and bio-technological industries?

I very much doubt that I cost them much sleep. And I'm actually a big supporter of the science - it's the business part that has such a capacity to appal. Their products do a lot of good but some of their practices are reprehensible. Right now there's a controversy over the deliberate suppression of negative studies indicating that an antidepressant was triggering a heightened number of teen suicides. They suppressed the results in order to shift more product. Kids were going to die and someone decided they could live with that. It's not even remarkable. It's the standard operating procedure of the tobacco companies.

So did researching these stories leave you feeling that real life was more gruesome than fiction could ever be? I think my main worry that was in dramatising corporate misdeeds for entertainment, I might be leaving people with the impression that the bad stuff was pure invention. It's all based in research and much of it's barely exaggerated.

What were the sources of your research for the stories of Chimera and Oktober?

There's never a single source or even an easily definable set of sources, but there's sometimes a key one. In the case of Chimera it was Vance Packard's book The People Shapers, a fat and wide-ranging work of futurology in which I noted a remark that a Rand Corporation study suggested that routine production of sub-humans would be possible by 2025. For Oktober it would be the publications of a small pressure group called 'Social Audit', run by Charles (son of Peter) Medawar and devoted to the holding-to-account of multinationals for their misdeeds, with special attention to food and drug producing organisations.

How did you find the location for the mountaintop citadel of the pharmaceutical company in Oktober?

The one I had in mind for the book was the observatory on top of the Jungfrau, reached by the mountain railway that featured in The Eiger Sanction. When we came to do the show, Carnival sent out a location researcher to spend a week photographing suitable places in and around the Alps. What a week that guy had. He started with the Jungfraubahn but came up with five or six really strong candidates, including the Schilthorn where they shot On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The Aiguille du Midi at Chamonix jumped out at me because you could get right up above it and get that fantastic money-shot looking down. There was no railway leading to it, so I had to fake all that with a railway further down the valley.

From your experience of making Oktober, how would you have changed other TV stories you scripted where you didn't have the opportunity of directing?

I suppose I learned not to make a scene trickier to shoot than it's dramatically worth. The time you'll spend getting it is better spent on more crucial areas. And I'm more keenly conscious now of writing for the editor. Example: two people talking at a table. One gets up, crosses the room, unlocks a cupboard, gets something out, and brings it back to the table. Simple enough to write, but on the screen it includes a big chunk of dead time where the pacing just fades away. So you write around it and include a beat that directs attention elsewhere for a moment, and in the process of doing that you give the editor a chance to jump the action forward and shorten the move.

What opportunities have you had to put the lessons you learned from Oktober into action on your TV work?

It comes into play on every script I write, now. They called me in on Murder Rooms to help them cut the budget, and as soon as I looked at it I could see a dozen things that had been budgeted for that didn't need to be shot.

From wizards to warriors
How did you approach breaking into writing?

I never really had a conscious approach. I kind of fell into it backwards. I can remember writing a prose story and sending it to The Wizard when I was about nine, and getting back an encouraging rejection note from the editor. The Wizard was the last of the story papers, a complete anachronism amongst all the picture-strip comics. Nothing much then until I wrote a short for a Science Fiction Monthly readers' competition, ten years later, and got no response at all, which felt like backwards progress. In between times I did stuff for the school magazine, wrote the teachers' Christmas panto, sent fake letters to the local papers. One was one from a local ex-Colonel complaining about the export of British-bred Arabian stallions to Saudi Arabia, a trade which existed nowhere outside my head. They printed most of them. So I suppose the basics were all there in a scattered form, but they didn't come together in any serious way until I did my first radio piece.

What advice would you give to writers starting out?

Worry about making it good; don't worry about making it to sell. If it doesn't sell, don't whinge about it - write something else. Keep doing that, and you and the market will cross paths someday.

What made you use radio drama as the first step in your writing career?

Time and place. I'd been working in the Presentation Suite at Granada TV for about three years, in a job that had me handling other people's creative material but having no creativity of my own. Other people in the same area felt the same need of an outlet. All our continuity announcers were shuttling between the TV station and the commercial radio station just up the road, where they did ads and voiceovers, and through them I was introduced to Tony Hawkins and Pete Baker who felt the same way in their own jobs. Tony ran the commercial production department, and Pete was the breakfast DJ. We formed a little co-operative to pitch and make a radio serial, and I was the writer in the team. I cannibalised that story I'd written for Science Fiction Monthly and it became a six-part serial called The Last Rose Of Summer. We sold the show all over the place because all the commercial stations in the UK were desperate for original drama that year - they needed to fulfil their franchise promises in order to secure renewal of their licenses, which were shortly due to expire. Time and place.

How did you come to be writing for Doctor Who?

I'd gone on to do some 90-minute Saturday Night Theatres for Radio 4, which was a real writing school for me. It was great. If they saw promise in your stuff, they treated you like a pro from the very beginning. One of the plays was an SF piece called An Alternative To Suicide. The producer sent it over to the Doctor Who office without telling me; and the first thing I knew about it was when I got a call to go over and talk to them.

Some elements of Alternative To Suicide were incorporated into Warrior's Gate. What were these, and how did you adapt these elements to the format of a TV science fiction show?

Mainly the setup of the crew, I think, and the bolshie tone and constant aggravation between the layers of command. The leap from radio to TV wasn't as great as you might imagine. Radio evokes great visual imagery and studio TV is quite limiting in what you can achieve in terms of staging, so the two tended to cancel out.

How much input did you have into the design and visual style of your Doctor Who story Warrior's Gate - for example did your script involve sketches of scenes and shots like Oktober?

No sketches, but I wrote the visuals in a very prescriptive way. Too prescriptive, really, because the script editor and director had to make a whittled-down version of my script before it could go to production. But I was very specific about the way I wanted it to look, and by and large it came out as described.

What elements from your original script for Warrior's Gate didn't make it to the finished product and why?

Actually, I don't think there were any that didn't make it through in some form. It was mainly details that got changed. Aldo and Waldo became Aldo and Royce. Nobody's ever been able to explain that to me. Shogun warriors became Gundan warriors. But the big ideas and images were all there.

Chimera obscura
Do you prefer writing TV scripts from scratch, such as Bugs, or adapting your own fictional work for TV, like Chimera and Oktober?

The great thing about an adaptation is that you don't have that constant angst that comes with producing something out of nothing. With adaptation you're producing something out of something. In fact everybody on the production is producing something out of something except for the writer. You have the pleasure of knowing that as soon as you've finished your work, everyone else will then line up to tell you how you should have done it.

What examples spring to mind of such hindsight-based criticisms?

No single example. How do you answer a note that says, "Do we need this scene?" when you just took the care to plan and write the damned thing?

How different was it adapting Chimera for radio and TV?

On radio I was able to stay much closer to the book. And I think the creature worked much better there. No slight on the TV effects but a monster on radio is beyond criticism.

Chimera and Oktober were both novels that you adapted for TV. What experience do you have of doing the reverse, i.e., writing TV tie-in novels based on your own TV scripts?

My first books were essentially novelisations of those early commercial radio serials. Then I did both my Doctor Whos under the name John Lydecker, and a few other bits and bobs to pay the bills in my struggling days. There's nothing much I can say about it... it's just prose production, direct translation from one form to another. The more you try to enhance it, the less the client likes it. So just write up what they give you and don't count it in with your actual work.

Would you ever consider writing original novels based on one of the TV series you have scripted, e.g., the series of Doctor Who novels published by Virgin and BBC Books since the TV series was cancelled?

No. For me that would be the least fun of any kind of writing.

I won't ask you to look at my Doctor Who novel proposal then. I take it you prefer inventing your own characters and situations, rather than working within pre-existing ones.

An unsavory vampire?
Always. Well, almost always. If they revived The Avengers I'd fight my way to the front of the queue. And I could fancy having a crack at a Bond, although there's little reason to unseat the two guys who are doing it now. I was once offered a crack at reviving The Prisoner and turned it down because it seemed like a poisoned chalice... without McGoohan and Portmeirion and the specifics of the original production design, what have you got? Although I might be a bit bolder if the chance ever came around again. I adapted Dracula for the BBC last year and they cocked up the commission spectacularly, but I really enjoyed the writing.

Some might say you've already had the opportunity to redo The Avengers with Bugs. Could you tell me about your new Avengers/ Quatermass hybrid The Eleventh Hour?

I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek when I described it that way... Eleventh Hour is a straight science/suspense show. The characters are an emeritus physics professor and his Special Branch minder whose job is to get to a science-based crisis-in-the-making ahead of the politicians. He's always starting fights that she has to finish. As for redoing The Avengers with Bugs, I never felt that remotely to be the case... someone said that the show Bugs most closely resembled was Department S, and I'd go along with that.

No doubt you've seen the forgettable Fiennes/Thurman Avengers film. How would you have done it differently?

Oh, God. Where to start? I'm told that early drafts of the script were emasculated for filming and then again in the editing, so I'd give the writer the benefit of the doubt. But the casting was inept and so was the director, who showed no grip on the character of the piece or any ability to make a movie, let alone this movie.

What was your Dracula script like, and can you tell me more about what went wrong with the commission?

I wanted to strip away all the perverse matinee-idol romanticism and get back to Stoker's nasty-minded predator, the one in the stinking old mansion haunted by the party girls from some long-dead party, the one who sets his sights on London as a place where he can break his historical ties and start the party all over again. He tells his ex-mistresses that he's capable of love, just not with them, and then proceeds to demonstrate that he isn't, not with anyone. The script was commissioned and written, and on the day of delivery a BBC Drama executive heard an exaggerated rumour about the state of a rival ITV Dracula and unilaterally cancelled the show. I didn't even get to find out for another week, during which time ITV hired a writer and, more crucially, announced to the Press. We still could have gone ahead, but because we'd been stood-down the BBC insisted on sending the finished script through the submission process all over again. That took nearly three months, at which point they decided that ITV had too big a lead. During the course of the summer, the ITV version went belly-up.

Aside from its rejection of the matinee idol model, how would your version of Dracula have differed from the 1977 Gerald Savory adaptation for the BBC?

I was aiming for a complete realism of tone. Until Dracula whispers in the dead Lucy's ear and her eyes flick open.

Music for chameleons
Could you tell me about working with Lawrence Gordon Clark on Chimera and Chillers?

I give him the stuff, he gets on with it. Perfect.

How big an influence was Nigel Kneale's Quatermass serials on Chimera (the novel and the TV serial)?

Enormous but indirect. Kneale set the pattern for British SF in the visual media and anyone exposed to his stuff in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s is going to carry his mark. His blending of the extraordinary and the everyday has been tremendously influential.

Blending the everyday and extraordinary could also be described as a hallmark of your work. How have you achieved this combination?

Quite unconsciously, I think.

How did you find working with Brian Clemens as your fellow script consultant on Bugs?

We shared onscreen credit but we worked quite separately. We'd each get sent the scripts and provide a set of comments and suggestions to the producers, some of which would agree 100 percent and the rest of which would be diametrically opposed. The producers would pick and choose from the advice we offered. I've met Brian several times outside of Bugs, of course. I consider him something of a role model... he's a consummate professional who's done memorable and long-lasting work in an otherwise ephemeral medium. It's one thing to do a Wednesday Play and have it remembered. But to write Saturday night TV that people will still love and revere some 30 or 40 years later? That's real zeitgeist stuff. I can't tell you how pleased I was when Brian agreed to write the intro for Out Of His Mind, my short story collection. It's out sometime later this year.

Could you tell us more about the Out Of His Mind collection?

It's about 200,000 words of short stories and novellas originally published in mags like F&SF and Weird Tales, and in anthologies like Charles L. Grant's Shadows. They're all strange suspense stories and we've consciously organised them like one of those old Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. It's coming out as a signed limited from PS Publishing and it would be nice if a mass-market publisher were to pick it up for a cheap edition, but that's beyond my control.

What do you find in your experience are the relative advantages and limitations of short stories as compared with novels?

If truth be told the short story is probably the superior form, because there's no getting away with anything. You get it exactly right or it doesn't work at all. The downside is that in creating a world and the characters in it, you're doing the same key groundwork that you'd do for a novel, and then taking your characters on the shortest of journeys... a bit like dressing in your top hat and spats to go to the front door and back. In a novel you put on the same gear and head on past the front door to destinations unknown, only to arrive back six months later wearing a sarong and with your head shaved and a tattoo.

Good cop, bad cop
Why did you write Valley Of Lights in the first person?

I started out to write it as a short story, and it just grew. I'd never written a first-person novel before and if I hadn't approached it in this way, I might never have had the nerve. Structurally, first-person's tricky because it deprives you of certain options, like parallel narratives and switches of viewpoint. But the gain in immediacy is enormous.

How much more difficult is it to sustain this narrative voice in a novel than a short story, and have its drawbacks discouraged you from using it since?

Sustaining the voice is no problem; it's keeping the plot credibly airborne when all information has to be run through one person's point of view. I've used it in White Bizango and The Spirit Box.

How did you achieve the authentically American voice of the cop narrator in Valley Of Lights?

Mostly by writing in the plainest of plain English and only 'going American' with certain choices that would otherwise betray a British voice. The worst thing is to affect the accent. A dead giveaway.

What happened about the proposed film of Valley Of Lights?

At the risk of dodging the question and doing an ad, I've written a longish essay on this for the Telos Classics edition that's due out next year. The short answer is that it went all around Hollywood and fell at the last financing hurdle, after which there was a rash of body-hopping crime thrillers that took away its novelty.

Apart from the linguistic aspects of the task, what research did you undertake to achieve this authenticity?

After I left my Granada job in 1980, we went to the States and stayed there until the Chimera money ran out. Most of the time was spent in Phoenix. I amassed loads of research material for a project I later abandoned. When I came up with the idea for Valley I had everything there ready.

When researching 'police procedural' novels like Valley Of Lights and Down River, do you travel around with the cops like Ed McBain, or do you use less direct methods of research?

I get as close to the source as I can. It's easier in America, where all you have to do is ask. You approach the Public Affairs department and speak to someone who'll arrange for you to meet whoever you need. I've done rides; I've done everything. In Britain you have to be less head-on, and find your way in through personal contact. If you make an official approach the answer's almost always 'no'.

How did you use your experience of 'police procedural' stories to illuminate Conan Doyle's life in Murder Rooms, and what historical research did you need to do for this?
Most of that came from the deep background I'd been doing for the un-produced Victorian Gothic, allied to my love of The Lost World and my reading of Doyle's autobiography and a couple of biographies by other hands. Chuck it all in the mix, forget what you've read, and start to dream.

Big themes and baby food
How much of your success do you owe to your ability to master different forms (fiction and TV) and genres (e.g., working elements of crime fiction into fantasy and SF)?

I'm not sure if it's the secret of my success, or my undoing. I can just as easily be construed as a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

On the other hand, there are certain themes and preoccupations in your work that make it distinctive. There is one recurring image in particular I have noticed. In Valley Of Lights, I was struck by the opening scene of the 'zombies' fed on baby food for the deathless villain to inhabit. I then realised that there was something similar cropping up in a number of apparently dissimilar stories and settings: the time sensitive slaves kept in suspended animation on Rorvik's ship, the comatose Cyberax carriers in Bugs, the Russian pilots in Oktober. You mentioned Carnival Of Souls as an influence on Oktober, with its images of a limbo between life and death, something also echoed in Warrior's Gate, set in a limbo between universes. Would you say that Carnival is also the source of the preoccupation with drowning and people returning from watery graves in Down River and The Boat House? But all your 'big themes' can't be traced to one B-movie. So where does this recurring image come from - a recurring nightmare?

I wouldn't underestimate the power of a single image to take root and influence your own vision, but it probably only does that by relating to imaginative structures that are already in place and waiting. I can remember overhearing a vivid recounting by my uncle, who worked on Manchester docks, of how he'd watched a bloated body being fished from the river that morning. And scenes in Tarzan And The Leopard Men of the Leopard Men's victims having their limbs broken and then being tethered in the river up to their necks to tenderise their meat. I don't think I've ever had a recurring nightmare, unless you count the one where I have to go back to school because there's been an administrative error. And I kept having that one until I was 35.

What is the source of much of your work's preoccupation with death and resurrection, and states of limbo between life and death?

I suppose the simplest answer is that I'd prefer not to die but I will, and I find no way to engage with that through religion, which has to cheat by requiring a factual acceptance of the supernatural. Things started to come together for me when I first encountered medieval literature and that whole worldview in which every interacting event in the narratives of our lives is a subtle expression of the cosmic and the eternal. They had materially spare existences that were supercharged with metaphor and meaning. They lived in houses with dirt floors and they built cathedrals. It wasn't a conscious thing but I think I brought away the notion that the 'big themes' weren't just the prerogative of high art, but that they had a place in all art, and that to make them central to what you might call 'common entertainment' was to create something rare and special. We were talking in the pub only the other night about how, for a short period just after the Second World War, the British film industry was able to hold a place in the world market with low-budget domestic product by tapping into those greater narratives. Ice Cold In Alex is nominally about four people and a truck but it's also an epic journey against insuperable odds. Tiger In The Smoke, Brighton Rock... crime narratives that turn on the very notions of Good and Evil. Unfortunately the current signature of the British film is the disposable rom-com.

Magic mushrooms and hepatitis
How important is a sense of place to your stories?

I do find that my imagination needs something to feed on. And I think stories work best when their roots go deep. After I start with an idea and I've got the broad sense of how I want it to play out, I do some conscious thinking about where I want it to play out and then I look at my locales with the story very much in mind. They become a further source of inspiration and atmosphere, and at a later stage I'll go back to them and make notes like a reporter, treating the story as something that really happened and happened right here.

Is this approach derived from journalistic training?

No, I never had any. It's just a method I developed for simulating a broader experience than my own.

Have you ever watched 2001, while under the influence of magic mushrooms?

No. It's a movie I love, and I take it neat.

Did you originally intend The Boat House to have more overtly supernatural elements?

From this side of the process I have very little memory of what I intended for The Boat House. When I went over to Leningrad (as it then was) to do the research, I fell prey to some very shaky food hygiene and spent the next six months semi-delirious with hepatitis. During that same time I ploughed my way through the first draft, which was barely coherent but had some wonderful imagery in it. The next six months were spent reworking it into a proper narrative. I've a special affection for the book because it's got this naturalistic surface with all kinds of stuff boiling away in the depths, and it would never have been that way had it not been for the way it was produced.

What made you use the present tense for the italicised sections in The Boat House?

I'd be lying if I said I could remember...

The Boat House (1991), Chimera (1982), Down River (1989), Follower (1984), Journeyman: The Art Of Chris Moore (2000), Nightmare, With Angel (1992), Oktober (1988), Out Of His Mind (collection, forthcoming), Rain (1990), Red, Red Robin (1995), Valley Of Lights (1987), White Bizango (2002)

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Down River


Stephen Gallagher

review by Neil Clark

Gallagher is an accomplished thriller writer, as this and his previous novels testify. RAIN is a book of the sort not usually covered by genre reviewers, as it does not belong under the headings of SF, fantasy or horror.

As a thriller though, it is suitably thrilling. The plot is well thought out, full of complicity and red herrings. The occasional references to violence could be termed horrific, but are not true horror, while the conversations with the dead are the imagined ramblings of a tortured mind, rather than any aspect of necromancy. With clever use of words, Gallagher feeds the power of suggestion, rather than enter into any graphic details that some readers may find distasteful; this is particularly noticeable in the sexual undercurrents.

Humour, for me at least, was provided by the many similes used throughout, and I found some of the one-liners hilarious.

The Boat House

Stephen Gallagher

review by Paul Broome

Pete McCarthy knew nothing about the strange Russian girl that he picked up at the motorway diner, except her name, Alina. She had nowhere to go, so he offered her the spare room in his house on the outskirts of Three Oaks Bay. Little did he know that on introducing Alina to a new community, he was also releasing an ancient evil whose power stems from a half-forgotten folk tale...

Gallagher's story draws upon the same Russian folklore as C.J. Cherryh's fantasy RUSALKA, and so will inevitably be compared to it. The similarities, however, can be taken no further than the basics - as, while Cherryh's tale concerns itself with warriors, wizards and spirits - Gallagher's book is a fast-moving contemporary thriller.

Not being widely read in the works of Gallagher, I was happily surprised not only with the pace of THE BOAT HOUSE, but also with the characterisation and the attention given to its modern setting. The community of Three Oaks Bay is detailed in careful yet economical manner, while not being too deeply involving. We are cleverly introduced to a host of characters without interrupting or slowing the development of the story..

An excellent addition to what, I suspect, is becoming one of the finest literary portfolios in British dark fantasy.

Nightmare, With Angel

Red, Red Robin

White Bizango

Reviews of RAIN and THE
BOAT HOUSE, originally
published in Strange Adventures fanzine,
#27 (April 1991).

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