Interview with Sanitarium Magazine editor Barry Skelhorn
When did you get into the fiction industry and what drew you toward the horror genre?
When I was young, my Granddad lent me a copy of Frankenstein – which I devoured. Soon after that he lent me Dracula and a few collections of M.R James. Over time I read more and more horror and it grew from there.
There is just something about horror and the written word, the writer leads you one way, but it is your imagination that fills in the darker gaps and that’s the beauty of it.
As an editor selecting a story for publication, what is the line that you won't cross? How much violence, even beautifully written, is too much?
Personally I think that most subjects, if they are in the correct context can add to a story. However I won’t entertain any works of fiction with any graphic sexual reference to minors.
What is your take on the standard giants of the horror genre such as King, Matheson, Laymon, Bierce, and Koontz? How do some of the indie writers of today stack up against the legends?
Everyone has to start somewhere. As the story goes; without Tabitha King picking Carrie out of the bin and giving her feedback maybe King wouldn’t be where he is now.
There are so many indie authors that are making strides in the horror genre today – it would be wrong to single a few out. I would also like to give a shout out to the small and not so small independent presses that are keeping the integrity of the business together.
When selecting a story for publication, do you tend to prefer more psychological and subtle themes or more overt and graphic tales?
The way Sanitarium works is simple – you never know what is going to be behind each case file. Each issue that we collate we try and keep a mix of sub-genres so there is an eclectic collection of tales for the reader.
I find going from (for example) one zombie story, then another and another is great. But after a while you end up comparing them and not enjoying them as much.
What direction do you see the Sanitarium Magazine taking in the future? Any major milestones coming up?
We are working on a new look that we are bringing in one piece at a time. The magazine will be offering a printed copy as payment from the start of 2015. Also we are changing the tag line so we can cover more in its pages. “Showcasing Horror Fiction, Dark Verse and Macabre Entertainment”
Which issue of Sanitarium Magazine do you consider to be the best? What sets it apart?
Cover wise I love issue 20 with Kevin Spencer’s artwork “skull” – the vibrant colours and washed effect really works for me. As for the stories, there are a few stand out ones for me but we have found everyone has their favourites and we’re happy with that.
If you could interview any horror writer, living or dead, who would it be? How do you think they would act face to face?
Sadly one of the greats we were close to interviewing with was James Herbert. We are based in the UK and he lived only a short drive away but it was not to be. I think his style of writing where it was quite close to the bone both with gore and sexual undertones struck the right balance.
I would of course love to interview Clive Barker, Stephen King.
What is the most terrifying thing you've ever read?
I think this has to be put in context. I was 16, on a family holiday in France and we were staying in a large converted farmhouse just outside of Bordeaux – I was staying in the bat house.
Whilst staying there I started to re-read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. The summer storms were a sight to be seen and the atmosphere was just right for a good scare. So with every turn of the page, the story gripped me more than it had the first time around.
Have you had any horrific experiences in your own life that you couldn't explain?
I wouldn’t say horrific but there were a couple when we stayed in the farmhouse. Whilst staying in the bat house one night I felt something hit the bedframe at the foot of the bed. Thinking nothing of it I just fell back asleep. I felt it again, this time I was jolted awake and flicked on the light. My Brother, asleep in the other bed next to mine, was sound asleep. Looking around the room, nothing seemed untoward, so hitting the light I went back to sleep.
It wasn’t until the morning when both of us awoke did we realised what had happened. My bed, which has started flush against the wall, was now a good foot from the wall.
It turns out that when they were renovating the farmhouse, they came across a soldier’s helmet with a bullet hole through it – I think I was sleeping in his snipers nest and he wasn’t best pleased.
Finally, does your love of horror branch into other media such as movie, music, art, etc.?
Most media interests me in the horror world. I have mentioned Clive Barker as a writer but I also love his style of art from “The Hellbound Heart” to “Abarat” and everything in between. If I could I would have a piece hanging in my office for inspiration. Another that I really have a lot of time for is the theatre and plays such as Danny Bolye’s Frankenstein, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. It would be interesting to work with some of the writers who have appeared in Sanitarium and put together a 3 Act show with some of the stories.