Interviewed by The British Fantasy Society

John B. Ford arrived on the UK small press scene in 1996, his short stories appearing in almost every magazine of note at the time. His books include Dark Shadows on the Moon (Hive Press), The Evil Entwines (Hardcastle Publications), and Tales of Devilry and Doom (Rainfall Books). In 2001 Ford joined
forces with Steve Lines as co-editor of Rainfall Books, and since then they’ve turned into one of the most industrious UK publishers, most recently bringing back into print the famous Terror Tales magazine.   

1.Rainfall Books has quite a large line of titles. Presumably this means you’ve got quite a wide spread of styles from the different authors -- something for everyone?

Absolutely, although traditional horror fiction is still our first love, we’re now open to
other styles of writing in an attempt to appeal to a wider range of readers. Our interest
doesn’t end with horror either; if someone was to send us a science fiction, fantasy, or even a comedy submission that we really liked, if terms were agreed and our schedule allowed, we would publish it.  

2.You’ve built up quite a community with Terror Tales. There’s the website and message boards, not to mention the Terror Scribes meetings. Was that always your intention to bring different horror writers together?

I’ve never made any secret of the fact I suffered from agoraphobia in the mid 1990’s,
and I think my desire to bring a lot of writers out of their solitude to meet others was originally born from this fact. The state of mind caused by agoraphobia is excellent for writing introverted horror fiction, as I did on a large scale at the time, but it also made me keen to break through the mind’s invisible prison bars and meet other writers. Eventually, after a mega struggle with myself, I was able to do this and first met authors such as Derek M. Fox and Simon Clark.

All this made me realise the amount of ‘faceless’ writers and artists working in the small press, and so I set up the Terror Scribes Society to lure them out into the open. In 1997 we started having regular meetings in different cities throughout England, with lots of authors meeting more of their kind for the first time. This has continued to the present day, with many friendships being formed that will hopefully last for life. The Terror Tales website was built a few years later by Simon Logan, and this is now in the capable hands of Hertzan Chimera.

3.Terror Tales the magazine has gone through several different incarnations. Could you talk us through them?

The magazine was first published back in 1997 as a stapled A5 product which I put together on a word processor before directly pasting in the artwork. After this I drove
to Sheffield with the mastercopy and the magazine was photocopied and collated at a little shop called Starprint. From issue #3 onwards we raised the production values by having copies perfect bound with colour card covers. Terror Tales the magazine was popular then and selling well, but in the year 2000 I made the silly mistake of thinking I could do things much better by using the new technology of the internet and replacing the magazine with a website of the same name. This was true of many UK editors and around that time magazines were folding every week to be replaced by internet sites. In early 2003 I realised my mistake and together with my good friend and fellow editor Paul Kane, went about breathing life back into Terror Tales the magazine. This time we’ve really gone to town and use a large cast of big name writers alongside some of the most exciting new talent around, while the production values are stunning with full colour, glossy covers for every perfect bound issue.  

4.All the Rainfall books I’ve seen have contained very impressive illustrations. Did you feel strongly about including illustrations?

The co-owner of Rainfall Books is acclaimed UK artist Steve Lines, so I think a lot of his influence has gone into us producing visually striking covers and internal illustrations. I always think and write in a very visual way as well, so we were both determined to make the books look as good as possible.

5.You originally printed titles under the BJM banner. Why the change to Rainfall Books?

This happened after Steve published my Tales of Devilry and Doom collection through Rainfall Books. As soon as I saw how good the book looked I joined forces with Steve and kept BJM going only for a means of distribution, as we’d already established many contacts in that area of the business.    

6.How did you meet Steve Lines, your co-publisher in Rainfall Books?

We first became aware of each other back in 1996 when Steve bought one of my books and wrote to me. When I saw his artwork I was awe of it, then he said he’d love to illustrate my stories because they were so visual. Since that time I’ve worked with Steve more than any other artist, and I’ve watched him getting steadily even better. His style’s always been very much like Steven Fabian’s, and he’s now reached the stage where I think he’s become just as good as Fabian. As for meeting Steve in the flesh, so to speak, the first time I did so was at a film festival in Manchester in 2002. After ten minutes chatting with him I felt like I’d known him all my life.

7.The Terror Tales website is currently being overhauled by Mike ‘Hertzan Chimera’ Philbin. Why did you feel the need for this revamp?

With all the publishing I was doing, I no longer had any time to spare for the website. The co-editor for the site was Paul Kane and his amount of free time was also greatly reduced when he took up a new career and became a teacher. To be honest Paul was always much more the driving force behind the site, and so at this stage the site began to rapidly stagnate. So the honourable and positive thing to do was for me to leave the site and appoint a new boss. Mike Philbin is a perfect replacement, he has boundless energy and enthusiasm, and together with Simon Logan he’s redesigning and relaunching the whole site for Christmas 2003.     

8.So far Rainfall has concentrated on publishing short story collections and anthologies. Do you have any plans for producing other formats e.g. novels or novellas?

We’ll definitely be publishing novellas in the future, in fact Steve Lines is currently illustrating one for release early in 2004. As for novels, we’re going to tread more carefully with those. It costs much more money to publish novels and when you look at how quickly other publishers such as Tanjen went out of business, you realise the danger involved. But currently Rainfall is doing very well for itself, so don’t be surprised if, in another year or two, we do test the ground and publish one or two novels.  

9.The UK small press is following the lead of the US small press with slicker production values and bound editions etc. Why do you think it took so long for this approach to become widespread within the UK scene?

It’s because the new technology available has meant digital printing becoming accessible at a much cheaper price than ever before. The US was initially ahead of us in having this technology but now we’ve caught up. One thing I’d love to see is many more UK print magazines springing up again and taking advantage of the lower prices and higher production values. The small press scene isn’t too healthy over here at the moment, due partly to the arrival of the internet, but new technology could also play a big part in the return to power of the printed word once people realise how good books and magazines can look for so little cost. I’m sure it won’t be too long before a flurry of new magazines populate the UK scene again, and it’s good to see PS Publishing already following our lead.  

10.As you’ve been concentrating your energies on establishing Rainfall you’ve presumably not had so much time to work on your own stories. Does this mean you’ll be raring to go when you next get a chance to sit down in front of your typewriter?

I keep saying to myself I’m going to sit down and write on a regular basis again, but really I just don’t have opportunity anymore. I think I’ll be concentrating almost all my time on Rainfall for the next few years and just writing when I can. I started a story called The Manipulation of Time a year ago but never had time to get beyond a few paragraphs! I’ve probably annoyed the hell out of F. Paul Wilson as well, he’s been waiting for me to finish a collaboration for the past few months.   

11.Your stories create a palpable sense of doom, oppression, and dread. Yet whenever I’ve met you you’ve always been very sunny and cheerful. Is this a case of you taking out all your frustrations in your writing?

Most of the kind of fiction you mention was written in the mid 1990’s when I was in a very dark frame of mind. I used to fall asleep at night convinced I’d never wake up, then go on to experience nightmares so potent and memorable I could easily transfer every aspect of them to paper. A nightmare can be many more times frightening than the scariest horror movie ever made because, while it’s actually taking place, the dreamer really does believe it’s happening to them: the pulse races, rapid eye movement occurs, and even blood pressure rises. So a lot of those short stories I wrote are basically first person accounts of nightmares I experienced. They’re all collected in Dark Shadows on the Moon but read like a massive overdose of doom. These days, when I’m not in my dark moods, I’m quite a happy and friendly person. 

12.What exactly is it that draws you to write about the macabre?

It’s my nature. I’m constantly questioning life and death itself. Life is the weirdest
experience ever, and yet most people are so shallow they never even think about their heart beating in their chest, as though they’re just playing a part in a movie and will never die. We’ve all been born into this life without an instruction book to help us, although some would argue the Bible is all we need. So I’m constantly questioning, what happened to all the people who died when I was young? What comes next when we fall cold? Is there a spiritual existence? Not knowing what comes next is the most frightening thing of all, and I think this fear of death and the unknown is what mainly
draws me to write about the macabre.

13.What’s the scariest horror story you’ve ever read? And what’s the scariest you’ve ever written?

I’d say it’s In the Court of the Dragon by R.W. Chambers. It concerns the destruction of soul, and what can be more frightening than that?

And the scariest story I’ve written, according to reader feedback, is The Darkest of all Healings.

14.So what next for John B. Ford and Rainfall Books?

Rainfall have another huge list of books to be published in 2004, and at the same time we’re investigating putting out anthologies on CD, with writers reading their fiction
to a variety of music and sound effects supplied by Steve Lines and his group Stormclouds.

On the personal front I have an extended version of all my collaborations The Evil Entwines due out early in 2004 from Feline Odyssey Publications. Other writers featured collaborating with me are: Simon Clark, Tim Lebbon, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Stableford, Paul Kane, Jeffrey Thomas, Paul Finch,  John Pelan, etc.  
JOHN B. FORD interview