The Horror Zine
The Special Page

One of Britain’s most acclaimed writers and editors—


—shares almost forty years of the horror and dark fantasy genre with us


Defining Horror
Graham Masterton
John Saul
Simon Clark
Ramsey Campbell
Joe R. Lansdale Part 2
Joe R. Lansdale Part 1
John Gilmore
Ryan Fleming

The Horror Zine interview with Stephen Jones

Questions asked by Jeani Rector

Q. Let’s start from the beginning. I developed my interest in horror when I was ten and stayed up late to watch the “Bob Wilkins Creature Feature” on television. What triggered your initial interest in horror?

A. My interest in horror grew out of comics. Back in the mid-1960s in Britain, most horror movies were not available to anyone under sixteen in cinemas and we had nothing like “Shock Theater” on TV at that time. So just getting to see horror film was difficult for a pre-teenager like me.

So I started collecting comics—mostly superhero stuff from DC and Marvel, and occasionally I’d pick up one of the older supernatural titles. Not the classic 1950s horror stuff, such as EC put out, you understand. Those were banned in the UK. Just early ’60s titles like Tales of Suspense or Strange Worlds with those big Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko monsters on the covers.

From them I moved on to Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which was like “forbidden fruit” to me—all those photos from movies that I was not legally allowed to see yet—and, later, the wonderful Castle of Frankenstein, which not only opened up my perception of international cinema, but also introduced me to the book review columns of Lin Carter. And so, within a few years, I was buying paperbacks every week with my pocket money and catching up with authors like H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E, Howard, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch and so on.

And from there you can say that I never looked back . . . !  

Q. You have been quoted as saying “…good horror fiction is amongst the most imaginative types of fiction there is.” Can you expand upon that thought?

A. I just believe that horror fiction—good horror fiction—can take you as a reader anywhere you want to go in your imagination. Look at that list of authors I just mentioned. Every one of them wrote horror but, in their own way, they couldn’t be more different in their approaches to horror fiction. Whether it’s Lovecraft’s dilapidated seacoast towns or Smith’s prehistoric continents; Howard’s bloody barbarian battlefields or Bradbury’s wonderful summer carnivals; Matheson’s modern-day horrors or Bloch’s Gothic monsters. Each and every one of them explored horror in a distinct way, thus giving the lucky reader a new and unique experience every time they read one of their stories.

There are not many genres in literature which have the ability to do that. We are blessed that horror—in all its myriad and marvelous forms—can take us wherever we want to go. And scare the shit out of us while it’s doing that! 

Q. How did you turn your love of the genre into becoming a successful writer, editor, and publisher? How did you begin the process?

A. I started out the same way pretty much everyone does: I went from being a reader to writing for the fanzines. Back in the early 1970s I discovered the whole fanzine culture and, before too long, I thought “I can do better than that” and started sending them off articles and artwork. I was pretty widely published and recognized as something of an artist for a while.

Then I joined the British Fantasy Society and began editing their journal, Dark Horizons. That led directly to David Sutton and I starting our own genre fiction magazine, Fantasy Tales, and that, it turn, eventually resulted in my break into professional publishing back in the late 1980s.  

Q. How has the publishing industry changed since you got your start?

A. Back then it was so much simpler. Dave and I were actually approached by a publisher at a convention to put together The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales as a hardcover anthology. I ended up laying it out in the kitchen of the publisher’s apartment! Then that led to other books and, before I knew it—and thanks to a sudden change in my employment status—I had become a full-time writer and editor.

Since then I’ve published more than 130 individual titles, but these days it’s much more difficult to get a project off the ground—not just for me, but also for the publishers. Endless rounds of meetings, costings, all sorts of bureaucracy are put in the way of getting any book published, especially an anthology, and especially in our genre. Once upon a time, I could have approached a publisher, pitched them my idea, and we’d have a deal. Now, with so many smaller imprints having been taken over by the big conglomerates, nobody is willing to make a decision simply based on their artistic judgement any longer.   

I miss those days. Which is why the independent presses can be so attractive, so long as the deal is right.

Q. There are many distractions these days: cell phones, Playstations, tablets, etc. Do you feel that ebooks bring reading back into the mainstream for younger, technically-absorbed people?

A. I suppose. But I think we have to be careful: There’s a subtle difference between reading and books.

If people want to read on a tablet, or a telephone, or whatever, then that’s up to them. I don’t. Of course I realize it’s the words that are important, and whichever method an author decides to use to deliver their story to a readership doesn’t really matter. But I still love books. I got into this business because I love books. The heft of them. The design of the covers. The feel of the paper. I don’t get any of that tactile pleasure out of reading words on a screen. It’s the equivalent of watching a movie on your cell phone—you’re seeing it, but you’re not experiencing it as its creator intended. It’s the same with books. You can read the words on a screen, but you are not experiencing them as the author probably intended.

Of course, just getting anybody to read anything these days is an uphill struggle. But I don’t blame younger people for that. I blame their parents, their teachers, who have never instilled in them the love of reading—of imagining—that I was given when I was younger. We live in a world of sound bites and mundane distractions. I describe the difference between us and them as “Morlocks” and “Eloi”, and if you don’t understand that reference then you are part of the problem! We are sleepwalking future generations into lives of apathetic stupidity . . .

Q. You have been very successful with editing and producing anthologies, and one of your best-known is The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror series. Where do you seek fiction for this series, and how could an unknown writer get your attention?

A. Well, we’ve just reached volume #25 in that series (a quarter of a century!), but I have no idea what the future holds for that title at the moment—another result of my earlier comments on the state of modern publishing. Best New Horror has always been a totally open market—anybody could submit fiction so long as it had been first published somewhere in the previous year. 

I obviously read a lot of books and magazines during a year, and I have a pretty good idea who are the names I should be looking out for. It definitely helps when publishers or authors send me their stuff—there’s so much being produced these days that I still never get to see. Even after all these years.

If/when there’s a #26, I’ll announce it on my website and Facebook page.

Q. What overall advice can you give to new writers?

A. Just keep plugging away. For most people there is no easy road to success. Writers need to learn their craft—and the way they do that is writing, writing and writing some more. Some stories will of course get rejected along the way, and that’s another learning experience. But if you’re any good at all, then with a little luck and a lot of perseverance you’ll gradually start selling more and more, and all the time you’ll be refining your craft. Turning yourself into a better writer.

And can I just add that you don’t get that by self-publishing. You will never learn anything or grow as a writer if you are editing and publishing yourself. You need those other voices, those other opinions—whether you always agree with them or not—to teach you how to be better at your chosen profession. Which means you also need to be able to handle criticism and rejection from time to time!

Belief in yourself is not enough. You actually have to have something interesting to say and the skills to convey it if you want to be a successful writer. Regrettably, far too many people in the horror genre don’t have either.

Q. You have won many awards, including Lifetime Achievement awards from such notables as the World Fantasy Awards, British Fantasy Society, and the Stokers. Do you keep track of all the awards you have won over the years? Which awards are closest to your heart?

A. I do keep track, but I have to admit that I have become very, very disillusioned with awards—all awards—in recent years. I guess that the two awards that I’m most proud of are the Life Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association and the special World Fantasy Award I received some years ago for my body of work. Those make me feel that I’ve actually been able to achieve something over the years in this genre that I love. The rest just seem like random choices.

Nowadays I am not happy with the ways that most awards are decided. It used to be that the fans picked their favorites—the “first past the post” approach. Now they are left to self-appointed “juries” who invariably bring their own prejudices and agendas to the process. Who are they, this very tiny minority with debatable skills and taste, to decide who is and is not deserving of an accolade? Why should I care what they think? It’s all very arbitrary and sometimes, frankly, downright suspicious.

As you may know, I was recently forced to withdraw a book from consideration from this year’s World Fantasy Awards because a group of self-appointed meddlers decided that the book should be placed in a different category to the one that I—as it’s creator—and the people who nominated it thought it belonged in. I tried to reason with them, to carefully explain why it belonged where it did, but they wouldn’t listen. How bloody arrogant of them to presume to tell me what my book is! I think I should know that better than anybody.

So in the end I was left with no choice but to withdraw it from consideration, as much as that disappointed me. But I stand by my decision. It was the correct thing to do, given the circumstances.

And for god’s sake, don’t get me on this ludicrous bunch of idiots who want to replace Gahan Wilson’s iconic Lovecraftian statuette with something else. They are totally pathetic and misguided. Whatever Lovecraft’s racial or political views were back when he was younger, the award honors a writer who is still a giant in the field of fantastic fiction. His detractors are pygmies—and will always be—compared with his talent and, more importantly, his influence of successive generations of authors, editors and artists.   

Q. Stephen, can you please tell us something personal about yourself? Your hobbies, favorite books, and your favorite movies?

A. You think I have time for hobbies?! I spend most of my waking hours (and sometimes the sleeping ones too!) living and breathing horror. If I do have any kind of hobby, then it’s probably collecting—artwork, books, Universal monster toys, movie memorabilia etc. eBay can be a harsh mistress sometimes! But it’s all still horror-related. I also live in a lovely little mid-1930s terrace house near London, so I also love working on that and in my back garden (which has a small pond with newts in it).

As for favorite books and movies, there would be far too many to mention here. I’ll just say that I love all the old Weird Tales writers—some of whom I knew personally—and I can always watch King Kong (1933 version), Citizen Kane, Quatermass and the Pit, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Dracula (Hammer version), The Adventures of Robin Hood, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Maltese Falcon, the classic Universal monsters, any of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes movies . . . the list just goes on and on.

Q. How do you see your role as an editor? As one editor to another, do you have any advice for me?

A. My principal role as an editor is to be a mentor—to guide writers, to make them better, to show them what it is they can achieve with a little more work or thinking about something in a slightly different way. I adore working with writers—and this is never more evident than in my Zombie Apocalypse! series of shared world volumes and novels, where I get to actually collaborate with a whole host of authors whose work I admire. I don’t think I have ever done anything in my publishing career that has given me more personal satisfaction.

Anything else is “compiling,” not “editing.” And there are plenty of people out there who only do that—tossing a bunch of stories together into a volume is not editing. Anybody can do that. Actually working with writers, being part of the creative process without imposing your views upon their creativity, is a great deal more interesting and satisfying.

However, I would never presume to give any other editor advice. Everybody has a different way of working, and that’s how it should be.

All I know is that mine has worked pretty well for me over the past forty years or so that I been involved in this genre. And that’s good enough for me.

About Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones

Photo copyright © Peter Coleborn. All rights reserved.

Stephen Jones lives in London, England. A Hugo Award nominee, he is the winner of three World Fantasy Awards, three International Horror Guild Awards, four Bram Stoker Awards, twenty-one British Fantasy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Horror Association.

One of Britain’s most acclaimed horror and dark fantasy writers and editors, he has more than 130 books to his credit, including the film books of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Stardust, The Illustrated Monster Movie Guide and The Hellraiser Chronicles, the non-fiction studies Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books (both with Kim Newman), the author collections Necronomicon and Eldritch Tales by H.P. Lovecraft, The Complete Chronicles of Conan and Conan’s Brethren by Robert E. Howard, and Curious Warnings: The Great Ghost Stories of M.R. James, plus such anthologies as Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, A Book of Horrors, The Mammoth Book of Vampires, the Zombie Apocalypse! series and twenty-five volumes of The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror.

You can visit his web site at or follow him on Facebook at Stephen Jones-Editor.

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