Screenwriter, author and Patron of Humanists UK
“It seems like a contradiction that someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts should write ghost stories, but I love making the unlikely – or downright impossible – plausible. The supernatural can provide wonderful metaphors and the genre can amplify and illuminate human and moral dilemmas. I don’t squeeze any personal agenda in. In fact it’s essential for a fiction writer to leave any tub-thumping rhetoric out. The story has to tell you what the story wants to be.”
BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Stephen Volk grew up in South Wales as a fan of fantasy and science fiction. He remembers his grandmother being upset by his watching “Star Trek” and covering her ears when he talked about it because she preferred to believe “there’s nothing out there, just Heaven.”
Having been enraptured by the fiction of Poe, Doyle, M R James, and the extravaganzas of Hammer Films, as he began writing his own screenplays he became more and more interested in the human psychology behind the other-worldly – be it fakery, self-delusion or doubt. His research into Spiritualism resulted in the stage play Answering Spirits, depicting the origins of the faith as a hoax perpetrated by the Fox sisters which then spread like wildfire. (The epigraph on the script, one of his favourite quotes, was from Mark Twain: “And God made Man in his own image… I wonder whose idea that was?”)
However, he is best known as the writer/creator of the paranormal ITV drama series “Afterlife” (about the clash between a spirit medium and a sceptical psychologist) and the notorious, some say legendary, BBC TV “Halloween hoax”, starring Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene, “Ghostwatch”, in which the television audience itself is complicit in the ghost they “create”. His other screenplays include the recent feature film “The Awakening” (starring Rebecca Hall as another rationalist psychical investigator, this time in the 1920s) and Ken Russell’s conjuring of Byron and Shelley, Gothic.
His short stories have been selected for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Mammoth Book of Best New Horror and Best British Mysteries, and he has been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, British Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award. His latest books are the acclaimed novella “Whitstable”, which features the movie star Peter Cushing (Spectral Press) and Monsters in the Heart, his second short story collection (Gray Friar Press).
He writes a regular non-fiction column for the magazine Black Static in which he often conveys his humanist viewpoint (e.g. concern for human rights, freedom of expression), as a counterpoint to the lazy assumption that writers in the so-called “horror” genre are closet sadists or serial killers:
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost without exception my writer friends in the genre are humanist, liberal, and questioning – especially questioning of organized religion. We might write about vampires, zombies or aliens but it doesn’t mean we think they’re real. Walt Disney didn’t believe mice wore trousers with big buttons just because he drew Mickey Mouse.”
Parapsychology and anomalous phenomena often find their way into his writing and he likes to keep up with research and new ideas. He is a member of the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) and engages with the idea that the paranormal is largely a cultural construct – but the fact that people experience things they can’t explain, and the way they do, fascinates him.
See also www.stephenvolk.net