Exclusive Interview: Jeremy Dyson
By Andreas Charalambous - 16th October 2013
Jeremy Dyson has made a substantial contribution to the British horror genre. Amongst other works as a successful screenwriter, Jeremy made up one quarter of the BAFTA award-winning The League of Gentlemen – a deliciously dark television comedy series. With Andy Nyman, he created and co-wrote the popular (and soon to be returning) West End theatre production, Ghost Stories.
He has also found success in the world of literature with numerous publications, including his latest ghostly offering – The Haunted Book.
We spent some time with Jeremy and discussed his love for the horror genre, his inspirations for his work and valuable advice for others wanting to establish a career in writing.
WeHeartHorror: How did you first get into the horror genre?
Jeremy Dyson: I have always loved horror from a young age. It had been hardwired into my soul ever since I was a child. I’d watch Scooby Doo and read those classic old ghost and haunting books that were published for children in the 1970s. Books like Haunted Britain captured my imagination and it developed from there. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved in film and television – not necessarily as a writer at first, but I imagined being a director, or producer and in particular considered a career as a special effects artist.
Horror would be in everything that I did. I started being turned on to the idea of writing through reading Stephen King in my teenage years but it was the discovery of Ramsey Campbell (via King’s recommendation in Danse Macabre) that really lit the fuse for me. I was blown away by Ramsey’s stories and immediately thought – ‘I want to do that’ – so set out trying to copy him.
WHH: The League Of Gentlemen had some dark characters and themes. How were you inspired to create these?
JD: When writing for The League of Gentlemen, it helped that I was working with others who shared the exact same interests in horror as myself. I met Mark Gatiss who had an incredible knowledge of the most obscure horror films – which seemed to match my own. He could talk passionately about movies such as The Wicker Man – which were not common currency back then. In fact, we all bonded over our interest in horror which is quite evident when watching The League Of Gentlemen.
WHH: Moving on to your literary work – How does it differ from your experience in writing for the screen?
JD: It is very different. When writing a script, you are usually working with others and are writing a blueprint. When writing your own story, you have more control over it. You can dive deeper into the character. You can’t portray the inner monologue of the character in a television script, whereas you can when writing for a character in a piece of literature.
WHH: The Haunted Book is your latest literary offering, and as popular today as when it was first published a year ago. Can you tell us more about how you came up with the concept of the book?
JD: The hardback was published towards the end of October last year, and the paperback has just been published this Summer, and it is doing the rounds now. Coming up with the concept was a result of drawing on past influences – the ghost story books that I read as a child, for example. It was nice that , although there were certain stories in my previously published books, which had an element of horror in them, The Haunted Book was different in that it was entirely made of tales of ghosts and hauntings. Another influence on creating the concept, was the work I previously did with Andy (Nyman) in creating (theatre production) Ghost Stories.
Jeremy Dyson will be appearing for an event at Blackwell's Edinburgh on October 30th. For more information, click here.
WHH: Tell us about your “Shelf of Joy.”
JD: (Laughs) I’m looking at it as we speak! It is a shelf that I like to keep early influences on my life to remind me what’s important when I’m writing. I have all the ghost and haunting books that I’ve mentioned reading as a child, on there. There’s also The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour which had a great impact on me when I was nine or ten. I also have a Val Lewton DVD box set on the shelf. I am a big fan of his films – the way he would slowly build up the tension then give the audience a jump. These are all my memories and links to where I’ve come from. I often look at the shelf and try to picture if what I am working on has come from the right place.
WHH: What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced as a writer?
JD: Many writers think that the big challenges are getting an agent or having your work accepted by a publisher. It’s not about that really. Actually, the biggest challenge is within yourself. It’s the perseverance of keeping yourself motivated and to keep your bum on that seat and see it through. The biggest challenge is to keep believing in your own writing, even though you may have taken a few rejections. The greatest writers – writers who have changed the world - have experienced rejections. There’s the story of JK Rowling – whose writing really had changed the world – was rejected by various publishers eight or nine times before finally having her Harry Potter work accepted by Bloomsbury. David Chase was rejected by every network in the United States, until finally HBO took The Sopranos on. You have to be just sheer bloody-minded and persist with your writing. It’s easy to get your fourth rejection and start thinking that maybe they have a point, but it’s only through sheer bloody-mindedness that you will get anywhere. In Stephen King’s book On Writing – a book that I would recommend for all aspiring authors to read, by the way - he says, ”Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work”. You have to keep going. It’s the will to continue.
WHH: What’s next? Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?
JD: I’m working on a few things right now. I'm currently working on a series for Sky One called Psychobitches. The first series has been aired, and I'm working on more of that. As you may already know, Ghost Stories is returning to The Arts theatre in London’s West End in February. It is being re-cast, so there will be a new cast for those who have seen it before. Andy and I have made a few changes - some fine-tuning which we felt we couldn't do at the time. Hopefully it will be the same frightening experience for anyone seeing it for the first time, but also hopefully it will offer something new for those who have seen it before. Andy and I are also working on another script for Ghost Stories to turn it into a film. We are getting the ball rolling with that in the new year.
WHH: Our site launches just before Halloween. What will you be doing for Halloween?
JD: I will be taking my children "Trick or Treating". We have a Dalek and a Gruffalo costume lined up - although that may change!
WHH: Will you be joining them and dressing up?
JD: No. There comes a time when these things stop being about you and start being about the kids. I plan on blending into the background. I don't want to steal their thunder!
WHH: Do you have a favourite horror film?
JD: That's a very tough question. I don't think I have a favourite horror film that stands out from the rest. As I said, I am a big fan of Val Lewton's films. They are so special - the way the scares are orchestrated. You watch some modern films like Insidious and Saw, and you can see Lewton's influence in how they build up to the scares. I especially like Lewton's I Walked With A Zombie and also, Isle of the Dead.
WHH: If you weren't working as a writer, what would you be doing now? This is assuming keyboardist in Rudolf Rocker wouldn't be your day job.
JD: (Laughs) I think going back to what I said at the start, I would still be involved in film or television somehow. I guess I would still consider a career in directing, or as I mentioned already - a career in special effects. I really would have liked to pursue my interest in special effects.
Jeremy Dyson undertook some research for THE HAUNTED BOOK at Leeds Library. He decided to film the time he spent in this building, well-known for its ghostly happenings. These are those recordings