RICHARD LAYMON. THE KING

Posted: September 19, 2015 in Uncategorized
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RICHARD LAYMON. THE KING.

Just about anybody who knows me, interacts regularly with me, follows or keeps up to date with what I’m doing, or even just has a casual interest in what I write, will be quite aware that I am a massive Richard Laymon fanatic.

After all, I’ve made mention probably forty or fifty times that he is my greatest inspiration and influence in writing, and there’s every chance I’ll say it at least forty or fifty times more. So, with that being said I’m going to talk a little here about the late, great Laymon, the influence he had on me and the impact discovering his work had, not just how I wrote, but how I viewed horror fiction in general. And potentially some random gibberish. We’ll see.

I discovered Richard Laymon’s books in the early 90s. A voracious reader of horror fiction, I was already well versed in the works of King, Koontz, Masterton, Herbert, McCammon, Barker, Simmons, Hutson, Strieber, Miller, Straub as well as the likes of John Saul, John Farris, Michael Slade, Gary Brandner and multitudes of others, whether they had a number of books or were just one hit wonders, at that stage and I read anything and everything by all the above. I came across these authors and others by either being intrigued by book covers or synopsis’s, or through other books.

For those who are unfortunate enough to never experience it, with this day and age being ruled by Kindles and ebook formats, back in the day many publishers and imprints used to include blurbs and teasers of other horror books by either the same author or different ones (,some still do and a lot don’t), and I would go through this and make lists of prospective horror authors to check out. For Kindle enthusiasts, or just for something to use as a comparison to the technology of an ebook replacing a paperback, think of it as akin to the Amazon ‘Customers also bought items by these authors‘ feature on an authors Amazon profile.

In any case, one of these blurbs was a book by Richard Laymon (I’m pretty sure the synopsis I first read there was for The Woods Are Dark), so that name went on my list with a host of others to investigate next time I was near a book store or library. The first Laymon book I ever came across was a 1991 Headline first edition paperback of Darkness, Tell Us. I still have the very same copy I first picked up and read; along with a copy of Clive Barker’s ‘Cabal’ and a poetry book with two of my favourite poems (and others)-Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and T.S Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’-it is one of the few books that I’ve managed to hang onto the same copy I originally read. Check it out below.

Snapshot_20150919

I’d picked up a few other (non-Laymon) books along with this, but the cover art and the synopsis had me intrigued, so ‘Darkness, Tell Us’ was the first one I delved into. From that point on, I was hooked. I had to find and read all the other books he’d written. At this point, there was around fifteen or so other titles, which meant I had plenty to choose from and it was also at a stage where he was writing and releasing new books, so there was still loads of Laymon to be found in brick and mortar book stores, even department store book sections, as well as abundant older titles in second-hand book shops. I scoured and ransacked anywhere they were likely to be available to snap up anything Laymon I could find. Blood Games was the second one I read, and along with Darkness, Tell Us, still remains a sentimental favourite. I’ve heard a few folk say that neither of these are among his better, or stronger, books, but that’s a matter of opinion and everybody has differing ones. Personally, I love them both in different ways and initially, the next few Laymon’s I read, didn’t quite resonate the same with me. These were Beware, Night Show and All Hallow’s Eve. In retrospect, I suppose I was probably judging them against the earlier couple I’d read rather than on their own merits, so consequently, when I picked all of these up again and re-read them many years later, I enjoyed them much more the second time around,

It was in 2001 that Laymon sadly passed away, so between then and when I first discovered his work, there were ten glorious years of not just tracking down and collecting all the books he’d already written, but that excitement of waiting for a new release to come out, or knowing that one was coming, about to hit the bookshelves. Alarums, the ferocity of Endless Night (perhaps his most brutal work, along with Beware), the unique perspective of Savage, In the Dark, Body Rides, as soon as they all came out, I was getting my paws on them. For the most part it was a matter of between one or two Laymon novels released a year in that time-frame. Down in Australia, we had the UK Headline editions released, which to this day are still my favourite ones. These days, I will grab any Laymon I come across, whatever publisher it might be through, or whatever the cover art may be, but primarily I am an avid collector of the Headline editions, as I was back in the beginning.

To me, the cover art done by Steve Crisp and Mark Taylor, who between them, had a fairly even split of covers for these Headline editions, was almost as fascinating as the stories themselves, and were a big part of the attraction in collecting them all, and I spent plenty of time just perusing the artwork and examining each one. The one outsider of the bunch was the cover for what happened to be one of my all time favourite Laymon books, that of Funland. This Headline cover was done not by Crisp or Taylor, but by Dave Eastbury, It’s an iconic cover as it is, though there was an unpublished one for Funland which was done by Taylor. Check it out below, as well as the Eastbury one and see which you have a preference for.

This is Taylor’s

funland-unpub-c

And of course, the one most of us (at least in Australia or the UK) know best

funland

As I mentioned I was fanatical about collecting the Headline ones and hanging out waiting for the newest release, both for the story itself as well as checking out the latest cover art, and once upon a time my collection was entirely comprised of Headline editions, bar an obscure cover for Beware which I’ve never seen anywhere else around. I can’t even recall what publisher that was through, it wasn’t a Headline job; it was one I picked up in a cluttered little second-hand book store in Coffs Harbour. Unfortunately, I lost a vast majority of my collection (aside from several, including that prized Darkness, Tell Us) and have had to rebuild it all again. That’s a story for another time, but while my collection still remains largely Headline editions, there are a handful of titles from other presses in there too. Like I said, I grab any Laymon I encounter, in book stores of any variety that might have one sitting around, so Headline snobbery is not rife here. Any Laymon is a good Laymon, and that goes for all the stories themselves, regardless of whether it is one his books where he was on his A-game, or one of those less favoured by Laymonites.

There have been some interesting covers conjured up for the various other presses, along the American releases, but for me, nothing compared to those classic Headline covers. I’d be hard pressed trying to pick out any particular favourite, I dug them all, but here’s a handful of selections.

one rainy night

dark mountain

the-woods-are-dark

bloodgam

Essentially, I could post the lot of them. Endless Night, Quake, Island, they were all equally captivating to me, but anyway, moving on.

I’d already been writing for many years, before I even discovered Laymon, since I started conjuring up stories not too long after I learned to read and along with a handful of horror stories, I’d also written a novel. This entity, revolving around a high school being captured in the thrall of a bizarre blizzard and having the entire school population trapped inside for the storm’s duration, which led to the emergence of malevolent spirits, creatures and all kinds of things, was principally inspired by those authors I was deeply into at the time. Consequently, it was pretty derivative of all of them, a reasonable story I suppose, but not something that I will ever seek to get published in any shape or form.

Reading Laymon for the first time, not only blew my mind, but it completely tipped the concept of horror up on it’s head for me. It also helped to alter the way I wrote myself, it assisted in honing my writing and it showed me that trying to emulate the way others wrote (as I’d largely done with the ill-fated Spiritstorm) wasn’t a plan. So from that point on, I wrote the way I wanted, the types of stories that I personally love to read, without seeking to follow any preconceived notions or strict formulas, or ideas about what, or how, I should be writing. The second novel I ever completed, and a book I still one day have plans to get published, ‘In The Darkest Hour’, turned out to be a far better representation of the way I love to write, as opposed to trying to cobble together stylistic approaches others have made their own.

Laymon isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, that’s for damn sure and as is inevitable, his work has had its detractors, but the bottom line for me is that he was a master storyteller. As opposed to latter day shock merchants who might hurl blood, gore, violence and sexual content at the pages just in some garish, tawdry fashion to elicit shock or repulsion, completely sacrificing any semblance of a story-line, Laymon was a storyteller. He had story-lines, and characters, and while, shit you might have hated some of those more repugnant examples of characters in those books, you certainly felt something for them. He possessed the ability to make you care, one way or another, about certain characters and their fates, and while he didn’t shy away from sex and bloody violence that launched off the pages in lurid technicolour, those things weren’t just in there for the sake of shock value; these elements were aspects befitting of the stories and the pysches of the characters themselves.

His writing was pared down and lean, and for the most part, the pacing was snappy and quick. Stories weren’t an endless slog of brainless gore, or a constant parade of violence without meaning; they successfully married brutality with humour, poignancy with fear, and all in all, the aspects came together in a way to create a solid story. Laymon had his favourite recurring themes crop up throughout many of his books, but one thing was guaranteed; each book was going to be different. Bar the Beast House series, which of course all revolves around the same themes, no Laymon book is a cut and paste job with rehashed characters running through the same trials and tribulations experienced in another.

Ultimately, Laymon was a splatterpunk master and remains the number one, in my book. He may never have scaled the lofty peaks like Stephen King himself and others, but nobody else’s work has inspired me more, and if not for his tragic, untimely passing, perhaps he might have reached those levels, or even surpassed them, maybe still churning out books and still having the likes of me getting amped with excitement for that new opus to drop.

In his homeland of the States, he wasn’t as big as he probably should have been until after his passing, for an assortment of reasons (the original editing botch job on The Woods Are Dark springs to mind), but he was revered in the UK and downunder, and still is.

There have been many emulators, and indeed there are loads of excellent writers out there who could be heir to Laymon’s crown, but for now he remains the king.

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Comments
  1. Jasper Bark says:

    Great post Jim, straight from the heart. I’d like to hear that story of the lost Laymon collection sometime. In the meantime, you’ve made me want to go and dig out some unread Laymon from my shelves.

  2. Michael says:

    Awesome post. I agree Laymon was the king.

  3. Being from the states it’s fairly easy to find leisure titles, unfortunately I have an slight undiagnosed OCD problem lol. I have a couple of Leisures but my collection is 99% headline. You’re right Jim …there’s just something about them.

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