The name Robin Bailes may not be immediately familiar to some. If, however, you are a fan of B-Movies and, in particular, horror films, you may be acquainted with his work on YouTube. Robin is the creative force, along with director Graham Trefler, behind Dark Corners (of this Sick World), a web series primarily focused on weekly reviews of B-Movies. The reviews are done in a mocking but loving manner and are complemented by carefully-researched specials delving into film history. If you have not seen any of their videos, I strongly recommend checking out Dark Corners. Robin is also a freelance writer and has recently been authoring a horror-themed series of books. With work on the third book just getting underway, he was kind enough to talk with me about the series.
MD: Although you have numerous writing credits, this series marks your first novels. What made you decide to become a novelist and why did you choose the horror genre?
RB: In fact, I’ve always written books and have the stack of rejections to prove it, but those were more serious ‘Novels’. About 5 years ago I started ghostwriting books for other people which showed me just how quickly I could write entertaining, popular fiction, so I decided to try it for myself and put the books out on Amazon rather than through the traditional route of agents and publishers. I partly chose horror because, through my web-series, Dark Corners Reviews, I had an instant audience, but also because I love classic horror; the atmosphere, the storytelling, the iconography. At the time Universal was planning to reboot their classics as the Dark Universe and I had a hunch I would not like the results, so I decided to do my own versions that were modern but stayed true to the spirit of the classics.
MD: You have referred to this series as the Universal Library Series. You touched on this above, but why Universal? Hailing from London, I would have thought the Hammer Horror library might have been the greater inspiration. Which way do your personal preferences lean?
RB: I have a greater affection for the Universal films, because I was introduced to them as a kid – the blood and nudity of Hammer probably dissuaded my parents from showing me their films – but Universal films also lend themselves to my preferred style. At their best Universal films are quietly tragic and they have a matchless atmosphere of creepy Gothic. As to which I prefer, Universal has the better individual films (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man etc.) but Hammer has the better body of work, pretty much all Hammer horrors are worth watching, while there are many Universal ones you can skip. More of a Hammer influence may enter the Universal Library later in the series (there was going to be a reference to them in The Werewolf of Priory Grange, but it was one element too many so I cut it).
MD: The first book in the series is The Mummy’s Quest. The Mummy is certainly a classic monster but not the first one to come to mind. Was it chosen solely to match the Dark Universe movie release or were there other reasons you wanted to start with this particular monster?
RB: I did want to match Universal’s schedule and I probably would have started wherever they did, but given the choice I might have gone with the Mummy anyway because I’m interested in Egyptology and because the Mummy feels like more of a blank slate. While there are good Mummy films, none of them have the same status as Universal’s Frankenstein or Hammer’s Dracula.
MD: Given that interest in Egyptology, did your preparation include significant real world research? Or, with the book inspired by classic films, is the story intended to exist only within the fictional Hollywood world?
RB: Bluntly; no, I did little research. On the one hand, I read a history book after The Mummy’s Quest was published and there was inevitably stuff it might have been cool to include. On the other, for a novel like this that is essentially fantastic, I think you can hurt the story by being too slavish to historical accuracy.
MD: Are the books in the Universal Library Series stand-alone stories associated by their themes and inspirations or are they direct sequels? Specifically, in The Mummy’s Quest, a couple of the characters seem destined for further adventures. Will they appear in future books?
RB: Kind of both. They do follow on from each other and characters do recur, but the stories still stand alone. My inspiration was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – it probably helps to read the Guards or the Witches stories in order, but it’s not necessary. At some point a larger story may start to emerge but I prefer to let it evolve naturally rather than plan in advance. I think one of the many problems with Universal’s recent Mummy reboot was that they went in to start a franchise rather than just to tell a good story.
MD: Good horror can run the gamut from a chilling atmosphere to sleep-with-the-lights-on terror. Where do your books fit on the horror scale?
RB: Very low. Creepy atmosphere. They’re also very tongue in cheek.
MD: That leads into my next question. The series is described as horror/comedy. Can you explain a little more about the comedy aspects and from where the humour is derived? When I hear of classic horror and comedy together, I immediately think of Abbot and Costello. Should readers expect slapstick and clever patter in your books?
RB: It’s quite a dry, tongue in cheek humour. Definitely not Abbott and Costello because I don’t want to mock the genre at all. In my ideal world I’d like to do for horror what Terry Pratchett did for fantasy and Douglas Adams for science fiction – to write something that is witty and gently spoofing of the genre standards, but is also respectful and has all the imagination of those genres. Some of the comedy comes from the characters and their interactions, but also from an awareness that what’s happening to them is not normal.
MD: The title of the second book, The Werewolf of Priory Grange, has, to this North American, a very British Isles sound to it. Is there significance to the name Priory Grange?
RB: The significance of the name Priory Grange you either get or you don’t. It’s from two Sherlock Holmes stories; the Priory School and the Abbey Grange. I never set out to have so many Sherlock Holmes references in the books and I may make a conscious effort to pull back in the 3rd, but I do feel there’s a tonal link between Holmes and the Universal horror. Plus, I read them all as a kid and they are just ingrained in me to the extent that, when I try to write a mystery, there are always Holmesian comparisons.
MD: My understanding is that you have just recently begun writing the third book of the series? Can you tell us a little about your process? How long before you expect to have the new book ready for publishing?
RB: I have literally started typing the 3rd book today. Once I have an idea (and with this series I’m always looking for some unique way of approaching the characters) then I spend a very long time planning, which mostly involves walking up and down, talking to myself. I have pages of notes which I will eventually turn into a point by point breakdown of what happens. I know there are writers who go in with no idea how events will pan out but I just can’t write that way – I like to have an idea of where I’m going, but I remain flexible enough to let the story evolve in unexpected ways as I go. I hope to write through July and August, rewrites in September and publish at the beginning of October to catch the Christmas shoppers.
MD: So far you have tackled mummies and werewolves. Can you give us a hint on which classic movie monsters will be the focus of the next book?
RB: I can more than hint since I’ve now posted a picture of the opening page on Twitter revealing the title; The Vengeance of the Invisible Man. The title may change but the subject won’t.
MD: I’m going to go ahead and count that as an exclusive for Maniacs and Monsters. You heard it here…second, folks!
Earlier you mentioned that you enjoyed writing about the Mummy because it provided more of a blank slate than some of the other classic monsters. By that token, are there any classic monsters you intend to avoid because they have received too much exposure? Alternatively, might some monsters that may not be considered ‘classic’ make an appearance in the series?
RB: I very specifically didn’t want to start with Dracula or Frankenstein because it’s a crowded marketplace already and nobody’s looking for another take on either. It made more sense to build an audience before taking on those big names, also to find my own narrative voice with the less overbearing monsters so that when I come to Dracula and Frankenstein I am more confident slotting them into my world.
Technically Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde don’t fit my template because the classic version was an MGM film but I do currently intend to include them. The Golem is another I might like to include which isn’t a Universal classic but fits into my world. I don’t think there will be any other surprises, although I’m not planning too far ahead, but I might well plunder some more German silents along the way if I have a good story for them. I don’t want to be too hamstrung by saying ‘these monsters only’, but there are some (the Creature from the Black Lagoon, for example) which simply don’t fit. I want it to be a consistent world.
MD: It’s sales pitch time and the floor is yours. What would you like to say to potential readers about the Universal Library Series?
RB: If you enjoy classic horror movies with a twist that is funny but still respectful of the originals, then these are the books for you.
I would like to thank Robin for taking the time to talk with me. If, like me, you would love to see the rebirth of classic horror films but grow weary of waiting for Universal Pictures to get their act together and show respect to the legacy, relieve some of that oppression and check out Robin’s Universal Library Series.