A Horror World Conversation with Gary Fry
By Steven E. Wedel


Ah, those Brits and their horror literature. They’re sort of quiet. Insidious. They sneak up on you with subdued prose that kind of put you at ease despite a certain sinister atmosphere. Then they choke you.

That’s the case with Gary Fry, a 35-year-old writer living in Bradford. Despite appearing in some prestigious publications, many people have not yet become aware of the fact he’s creeping up on them. This despite Kealan Patrick Burke’s call to band together and “… rain blows down upon the suspiciously and fiendishly talented skull of Mr. Fry.” Kealan admits to being a bit envious.

Horror World doesn’t recommend anyone take Kealan’s advice and administer violence on Gary. But we did think you might want to get to know him a little better.

Horror World: You’ve only been writing for a few years, and yet you’ve had short stories published in places that would make most new authors salivate. What’s your secret?

Gary Fry: I’m not sure I have one! I just do what I can do. I guess if I had to describe my work in a few words, I’d say the following: It’s story-driven, theme-conscious, and sensitive to characterization. And after all, those three aspects of any fiction are pretty central to the horror field. I’m thinking of Richard Matheson, maybe – a brilliant entertainer who was never afraid to deal with important matters in his stuff. I hope that’s what I try to do: never welsh on the tale – for me, that’s the heart of strong material – yet also explore contemporary concerns and aspects of psychology, etc. If you can make these three elements hang together, you’ll become an interesting writer at the least, and that’s what, in any final analysis, I’m seeking to develop. As you say, I’ve hit a few good homes: that makes me hope I’m on the right path.

HW: On your Web site, you say you believe every facet of your thought can be strung together by reading your stories. What do you mean?

GF: Simply that there’s a kind of ‘vision’ running through my pieces. I have pretty solid, (though far from fundamentalist) views on how people work, and how the social world works in which they must function. It’s become my calling card, I think – at any rate, some readers have called me a “philosophical horror writer”, including Ramsey Campbell who wrote the intro to my first collection of short stories. Funny thing is, I didn’t know that this was what I was up to. Writing is often an unreflexive task – that is, you don’t stand back and question what you’re up to, because you can’t see that as well as anyone else. But feedback has helped me to perceive this strand of thought running through my stuff, and I do believe that since each story deals with a separate element of the whole (for instance, ‘Both And’ in Gathering The Bones is about the contextual nature of choice; ‘The Impelled’ in Evermore is about the power of past experience to shape your present experience) then readers who really want to understand what I’m up to might benefit from reading the lot.

HW: The biography on your Web site says you have some kind of degree in psychology. Quickly analyze yourself and tell us why you write horror?

GF: Because I was terrified as a child, and because as I grew up I sought a descriptive vocabulary with which to deal with this primordial fear of being in the world. Education has helped – I have both a first degree and a PhD in psychology – but ultimately the world is so chaotic that for me the one form of sense-making device is horror fiction. Horror serves as metaphor, as a way of giving voice and imagery and structure to those elusive aspects of existence that elude our so-called enlightened thought. Think about, for instance, the characters of Jekyll and Hyde: they capture the duality – do-it/don’t – of everyday life, and now these names have passed into the language. That’s what literature does: provides us with a new way of thinking about a world which we sense so powerfully, yet are not always able to articulate. In any case, this is why I’ve always written and read it.

HW: Many of your short stories have now been gathered into a couple of collections. Tell us about those books.

GF: Well, only one is out so far: The Impelled and Other Head Trips. Basically, it’s a collection which, I hope, demonstrates my range. The tales go all the way from supernatural horror to very dark crime to quirky satire to experiments with narrative to embellished autobiography and more. Ramsey Campbell was good enough to write the intro and astonished me when he described me as “a master” and the book as “important”. I guess it’s the explicit philosophical stuff I’m doing that he regarded as an interesting contribution to the field. Readers will see how this approach works in the book. I think it’s pretty representative of my work to date, and the final novella particularly is my most ambitious piece. Essentially I wanted to contribute what I felt was lacking in the likes of Algernon Blackwood’s stuff: a notion of socialization. Blackwood’s amazing work deals with the interface between the human and nature; I’ve added the social into the mix, just to see what would happen. It’s a pretty grim piece. Other stuff includes most of my pro sales, and some newer hitherto unpublished stuff that I felt was very strong. It’s certainly a collection of what I believe to be my best stuff.

HW: Who has influenced your writing?

GF: Ramsey Campbell – for the prose and story and, well, just about everything; Roald Dahl – for those unforgettable plots; Ruth Rendell – perfect combination of theme, story, and character; Stephen King – brilliantly readable and humane; Julian Barnes – for the music of the English language; an awful lot of films and, funnily enough, some musicals, which showed me how to work in themes without scratching the surface.

HW: What does Gary Fry do when he’s not writing?

GF: Eats. Drinks. Reads. Publishes. Watches films. Works at Leeds University as a Research Fellow. Sleeps. Thinks too much.

HW: What does your family think of your choice of subject matter?

GF: Not sure, really. My Mum’s been reading the collection and she asked me, “Would you describe what you write as horror?” “Yes,” I replied, because her understanding of the genre was based on silly slasher films and the like. My Dad and my brother are not readers, so no feedback there, but my partner Michelle reads everything I write and is a real horror nut. Basically, I think they all feel that when it’s done well, horror is like nothing else: genuinely engaging and worthy of a shudder. I’m just trying to convince them, and everyone else, that what I try to do is produce this better stuff. Encouraging feedback so far.

HW: What can you tell us about Gray Friar Press?

GF: It started about three years ago when I began publishing a magazine called Fusing Horizons. Sold 200 copies of the first issue and that encouraged me to be a tad bolder. So I announced a lunatic anthology – Poe’s Progeny. Talk about starting out paddling in the deep end! Somehow it all came together, however, and I’m proud of the book. And now I know the publishing business quite well, so I’m ploughing on and putting out more quality stuff from well-known writers such as Stephen Volk, Paul Finch and Conrad Williams, as well as newer stuff from the likes of John Probert and Gary McMahon. I like that balance. I have high hopes for the imprint. There’s certainly a market for quality dark literature, which is being sorely neglected in the high street.

HW: You’re currently submitting a mystery novel. What other projects lurk in your near future?

GF: The novel, I Witness, is a real page-flipper, but it isn’t horror. To be honest, I wrote it for a market I believed to be more buoyant, but the whole experience taught me that horror is my first love, and perhaps what I do best. So I’m currently writing an all-out terror-fest called God’s Eye View, which combines Lovecraftian horror with a small-town tale. Other projects in utero include another grand supernatural extravaganza called On The Other Side, as well as a very spooky psychological drama called The New Asylum and another piece set in a supermarket called Between Ourselves. I’ve decided to concentrate on novels now. I’ve written 85 short stories, most of which have found a home. I need to be disciplined, to set out to become a regular distance writer…

HW: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working from the UK?

GF: It’s the home of the tradition, isn’t it? Otherwise, I guess the States is where the markets are. Britain is pretty small marketwise – there’s some good stuff coming out of the independent press, but not on a scale (PS Publishing excepted) with Cemetery Dance, etc. Still, there’s a tight community, and our geographical smallness allows us all to meet up at least once a year at the British Fantasy Society. I think, basically, the advantage of working in the UK is the fact that there’s horror material all around, from ancient building to modern cities, etc. It’s a rich, beautiful, dismaying and floundering country.

HW: What should I have asked but didn’t?

GF: You might have asked me what my favourite colour and my favourite food are! Honestly, call yourself an interviewer! I’ve been rehearsing answers for those two questions all week, and what do I get? Nothing. Hopeless, mate… But seriously, I think we’ve covered where I’m at just now. I plan basically to spend the rest of my life terrorizing people. I hope readers will give me a chance to do so: I only have their worst interests at heart, after all. So come on, folk, grab a copy of The Impelled and Other Head Trips from Shocklines or some other US outlets: you may very much regret doing so…