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Ramsey Campbell
Ramsey Campbell
Vital statistics
Occupation Author
Gender Male
Birth Date January 4, 1946
Birth Location Liverpool, England
Death Date
Death Location
Notable Works The Hungry Moon
Cold Print
Ancient Images

John Ramsey Campbell (born January 4, 1946 in Liverpool) is an English horror fiction author, editor and critic.

Campbell's childhood and adolescence were marked by the rift between his parents and his mother's developing schizophrenia, an experience he has discussed in detail in the introduction and afterword to the restored text of The Face That Must Die. Although both parents lived in the same house, Campbell states, "I didn't see my father face to face for nearly twenty years, and that was when he was dying." Other autobiographical pieces regarding Campbell's life are available in Section V, "On Ramsey Campbell" in his essay collection Ramsey Campbell, Probably: 30 Years of Essays and Articles (ed. S. T. Joshi) Hornsea, UK: PS Publishing, 2002.

Campbell had already been attracted to the weird field before he read H. P. Lovecraft. His earliest stories, written in 1957-58, when Campbell was but eleven years of age, comprised a collection called Ghostly Tales. (This collection of juvenilia was eventually published as a special issue of Crypt of Cthulhu magazine titled- Ghostly Tales- Crypt of Cthulhu 6, No 8, whole number 50, Michaelmas 1987, edited by Robert M. Price). Another issue of this magazine - Crypt of Cthulhu No 43 (Hallowmas 1983), titled The Tomb-Herd and Others collects various early stories including some early drafts of tales later published revised in Campbell's first book, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (Arkham House, 1964).

However, his concept of what was possible in the weird genre changed radically when he discovered Lovecraft's work. Campbell sold various of his early stories to editors including August Derleth and Robert A.W. Lowndes. His first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, is a volume of Cthulhu Mythos stories published by Arkham House in 1964. At the suggestion of August Derleth, he rewrote many of his earliest stories, which he had originally set in the Massachusetts locales of Arkham, Dunwich and Innsmouth, and relocated them to English settings in and around the fictional Gloucestershire city of Brichester, near the River Severn, creating his own Severn Valley milieu for Lovecraftian horrors. The invented locale of Brichester was deeply influenced by Campbell's native Liverpool, and much of his later work is set in the real locales of Liverpool and Merseyside. In particular, his 2005 novel Secret Stories (published in the U.S. in an abridged edition as Secret Story (2006)) both exemplifies and satirizes Liverpudlian speech, characters, humor, and culture.

With the collection Demons by Daylight (1973), Campbell set out to be as unlike Lovecraft as possible. Having discovered writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and Robert Aickman, he became interested in expanding the stylistic possibilities of his work. In 1969, he had written "Lovecraft in Retrospect", an essay for the fanzine Shadow, "condemning [Lovecraft's] work outright." However, in his 1985 book Cold Print, which collects his Lovecraftian stories, Campbell disavowed the opinions expressed in the article, stating: "I believe Lovecraft is one of the most important writers in the field"[8] and "the first book of Lovecraft's I read made me into a writer." Demons by Daylight includes "The Franklyn Paragraphs", which uses Lovecraft's documentary narrative technique without slipping into parody of his writing style. Other tales, such as "The End of a Summer's Day" and "Concussion", show the emergence of Campbell's highly distinctive mature style, of which S. T. Joshi has written:

Certainly much of the power of his work derives purely from his prose style, one of the most fluid, dense and evocative in all modern literature.... His eye for the details and resonances of even the most mundane objects, and his ability to express them crisply and almost prose-poetically, give to his work at once a clarity and a dreamlike nebulousness that is difficult to describe but easy to sense.

Subsequently, Campbell has published a number of other collections; many of his most popular stories can be found in the 1993 collection Alone with the Horrors.

Campbell has written many novels, both supernatural and non-supernatural. They include The Face That Must Die (cut by the publisher on its first release in 1979 and issued complete in 1983), the story of a homophobic serial killer told largely from the killer's point of view. A more sympathetic serial murderer appears in the later novel The Count of Eleven (1991), which displays Campbell's gift for word play, and which the author has said is disturbing "because it doesn't stop being funny when you think it should". Other non-supernatural novels, such as The One Safe Place (1995), use a highly charged thriller narrative to examine social problems such as the deprivation and abuse of children.

Campbell's supernatural horror novels include Incarnate (1983), in which the boundaries between dream and reality are gradually broken down; and Midnight Sun (1990), in which an alien entity apparently seeks entry to the world through the mind of a children's writer. In its fusion of horror with awe, Midnight Sun shows the influence of Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen as well as Lovecraft. Having spent a number of months working full-time in a Borders store, he wrote The Overnight (2004), about bookshop staff trapped in their hellish workplace during an overnight shelf-filling shift. Also notable is the novella Needing Ghosts, a nightmarish work that blends the horrific and the comic.

A lifelong enthusiast of film (old movies feature prominently in two of his novels, Ancient Images and The Grin of the Dark), Campbell wrote three novelisations of Universal horror films in 1976. They were published under the house name Carl Dreadstone. It should be noted that three further novelisations which appeared under this house name were not by Campbell but written by other authors. Campbell also contributed numerous articles on horror cinema to The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986) He reviewed films and DVDs weekly for BBC Radio Merseyside until 2007. He writes a monthly film column, "Ramsey´s Ramblings", for Video Watchdog magazine.

Outside the world of horror, he has written a series of fantasy stories starring Ryre the Swordsman, an original creation. Many of these stories were published in the collection Far Away & Never. In 1976 he "completed" three of Robert E. Howard's unfinished Solomon Kane stories, "Hawk of Basti", "The Castle of the Devil" and "The Children of Asshur". He has also written a few works of science fiction, such as the novella Medusa (1973) and the short story "Slow" (collected in Told by the Dead), but has stated that his science fiction "tried to deal with Themes, too consciously, I feel".

Campbell has also edited a number of anthologies, including New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1980), New Terrors (1980) and (with Stephen Jones) the first five volumes of the annual Best New Horror series (1990–1994). His 1992 anthology Uncanny Banquet was notable for including the first ever reprint of the obscure 1914 horror novel The Hole of the Pit by Adrian Ross.

Ramsey Campbell, Probably, a collection of Campbell's book reviews, film reviews, autobiographical writings and other nonfiction, was published in 2002. The book included reminiscences and appreciations of authors such as John Brunner, Bob Shaw and K. W. Jeter and an extensive, negative critique of Shaun Hutson's Heathen, parodying Hutson's style.

He married Jenny Chandler, daughter of A. Bertram Chandler, on 1 January 1971; has two children, Tamsin (born 1978) and Matthew (born 1981); and still lives on Merseyside.

He is the Lifetime President of the British Fantasy Society.


  • Peter Straub"The world Ramsey Campbell takes for granted is the world of our darkest nightmares."
  • T. E. D. Klein"Campbell reigns supreme in the field today"
  • S. T. Joshi"future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood."
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