Author, frightnerman, dreamweaver… plus actor. You may recognise Garth Marenghi as the man behind your nightmares, thanks to his decades spent working as one of Britain’s leading horror writers — or perhaps, from that one year when he wrote and starred in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace on Channel 4. Produced in the 1980s but airing in 2004, this six-episode series followed the supernatural happenings at its titular Darkplace Hospital, with Marenghi’s crack doctor, war veteran, and resident hard man, Dr. Rick Dagless M.D., being the only thing standing in the way of all hell breaking loose.
Though Darkplace was shelved for being, as Marenghi later put it, “too subversive, too dangerous [and] too damn scary,” that didn’t stop the show from attracting a die-hard cult following. Cut to 2022, and Marenghi is back in literary form, ready to help us paint our pants once more with Garth Marenghi’s TerrorTome, a new collection of three nightmarish visions that hits bookshops everywhere this November. Sitting down with Rolling Stone UK for an exclusive chat ahead of its debut, our cup literally overfloweth with questions for this giant of the horror genre. But first things first: where has he been?
“For a long time, I was on a personal odyssey of darkness and pain, during which I explored the universe and glimpsed what I now believe to have been the face of God. Which, looks-wise, was part-me, part-salamander,” Marenghi says, speaking over the phone. “Since then, I’ve done a fair chunk of astral travelling. Which is good for cultivating supernatural vision, but the downside is you’re limited physically and largely transparent, so you can’t eat out or get room service. And you can forget picking anything up in duty-free.”
Re-emerging after almost three decades, Marenghi’s return to bookshelves is long overdue, to say the least. After all this time, why did he choose this moment to grace us with his talent once more? “Well, the books were all printed, so there was no sense hanging about,” he says candidly. “The publishers — and, more importantly, me — need time to sell in order to start fielding the royalties. It’s a lot harder to scare as a horror author when you’re unpublished. I could’ve gone the eBook route but unfortunately, the ‘oeuvre’ — which is an omnibus edition of my complete works in one single book — was such a large file, it broke every eReader and tablet it was downloaded onto. Hodder [the publishing house] was going to try and rectify the situation by claiming it was a cursed book, but the truth was the formatting had been completely screwed up by my youngest daughter, who I no longer speak to.”
The world is in a much different place to when we last saw Marenghi. With war, social media division, and a new crisis emerging seemingly every day, he chose a hell of a time to speak up. Does he think it’s harder to scare people when life on Earth seems increasingly terrifying? “Look, horror is an outlet,” he says. “People need to be scared so they can stop being scared. And if nuclear armageddon cometh, I, as society’s shaman, will of course advise, counsel, portend, and rule in our post-atomic age.”
TerrorTome boasts three tales of despair, each based around Nick Steen, a notorious horror writer who stumbles across a cursed typewriter. With his dark ideas now spilling out of his brain and into reality, Steen, together with his editor Roz, must try to recapture the madness before it destroys his native Stalkford, and maybe even slightly further afield. It’s an assured horror anthology that spans serial killers and thropplegangers, leaving readers in Marenghi’s safe, level-headed, potentially clammy hands — and free from any input from meddling editors.
At this point in his career, Marenghi has his writing recipe down to a tee. He says it all starts with money, securing his advance upfront to ensure he’s covered financially while typing up his terrors. “I generally look first at the advance and then, if it’s acceptable, probably somewhere within myself for inspiration,” he says. “As a shaman, I’m blessed with the ability to glimpse beyond time, and if I have a clear head, through the fourth dimension as well. Generally, these superior perception skills are enough to start with. Then, I commence writing at the beginning and go through to what we call the ‘middle’ until I’ve reached the end of the book. Then it’s back to the advance for the follow-up.”
“For a long time, I was on a personal odyssey of darkness and pain, during which I explored the universe and glimpsed what I now believe to have been the face of God. Which, looks-wise, was part-me, part-salamander”— Garth Marenghi
When it comes to his pre-writing routines, Marenghi likes to keep things simple: “I always cut out fibre for a week beforehand. Writing is so intense that once I start, the last thing I want is regular bowel movements,” he says. “I don’t know about you, but my cack-clock is usually mid-morning, which means I miss the post as well. The only downside is that it’s highly dangerous to numb your sphincter for the duration of an entire novel so I generally have a medical team on standby in case of emergencies.” That said, his dedication to his work isn’t all strife: “What’s good is that the post-novel toilet, if not life-threatening, is a frequently cathartic — nay, euphoric — experience.”
As a result, Marenghi rarely struggles with writer’s block. “The only thing hard when I write is my lower half,” he says. He also refuses to be distracted by many of pop culture’s recent crazes, especially true crime. “I know what true crime is,” he says, “but I don’t know what ‘streamers’ or ‘podcasts’ are. And I don’t want to know. It usually involves the death of someone, doesn’t it? If you’re a fan of true crime, you’re potentially deranged.”
So what sort of entertainment has Marenghi been consuming recently? “Mainly a rough-cut of a show we just shot in Helsinki based on my Sting Pregnator series,” he says. “Basically, cosmic hornets swarm and take over a small scientific base somewhere in the Arctic. Unfortunately, they shot it at the wrong time of year, so everything’s just pitch black. It’s good stuff, but essentially unwatchable. I’m great in it, myself. I play the hivemind.” When talk turns to pop culture guilty pleasures, Marenghi keeps his cards close to his chest. “Oh, OK, I see what you’re doing here,” he says slyly before turning serious. “Look, if I want to watch insects procreate in human environments en masse with their swollen queen through a macro lens at varying speeds, that’s my business, OK?”
It’s hard to wonder if it gets lonely at the top, especially when you have no other contemporaries to confide in, but as far as Marenghi’s concerned, he only has time for one thing — spilling horrific truths onto the page. “I don’t have time to admire anyone. I only have 15 or so years left on this planet. Twenty, if I give up red meat, but that’s not an option,” he says. “I have no time for lesser minds and what they deem ‘work.’”
As for what the future holds for this author cursed with vision? “My local slaughterer. We’re going to pick tonight’s rump,” he explains. “Then, my personal library to re-read one of my early books, then I have to go get petrol. That’s probably what I’m doing immediately.”
The Pivot Questionnaire, with Garth Marenghi
In Inside the Actor’s Studio, host James Lipton sits down with the world’s finest actors, writers, directors, and creators to discuss their unique process and get to the crux of who they are underneath their fame. Traditionally, each show concludes with Lipton asking his guests the ‘Pivot Questionnaire’, a list of 10 questions designed to reveal a person’s creative core.
We put those same queries to Marenghi. Here’s what the author, actor, and self-confessed doomsage had to say.
What is your favourite word?
Garth Marenghi: ‘Advance’, probably. Or ‘more’.
What is your least favourite word?
Garth Marenghi: Rewrite. I never do it, but if I hear the word, I don’t like hearing it. It means nothing to me. I’m never going to act upon it but I won’t tolerate it being spoken in my presence.
What turns you on?
Garth Marenghi: Well, generally my own erotica. I often re-read my own work. There are often layers in there that I haven’t noticed before, and that applies as much to the erotic sections as it does to the more spiritual sections. Your kinks change as you go through life, so often one man’s something is another… Anyway, we’ll move on. What’s the next question?
What turns you off?
Garth Marenghi: Nothing. I won’t be silenced. Or, Alan Titchmarsh’s erotica — I don’t like that.
What sound or noise do you love?
Garth Marenghi: Hard typing. The typewriter kind. Hard clacking.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Garth Marenghi: Youthful laughter. Whether that’s hope or just mucking about — whatever it is, it’s very irritating when I’m trying to write.
What is your favourite curse word?
Garth Marenghi: ‘Shitehawk’. It’s just got a good ring to it. I’ve called all of my kids ‘Shitehawk’ at one point in their lives — with increasing frequency. It’s just one that I’ve grown to love. It’s almost like my fourth child: ‘Shitehawk’.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Garth Marenghi: I attempt nothing, I only triumph. But, probably, swordsman.
What profession would you not like to do?
Garth Marenghi: Editing, because it’s a career fraught with regular danger and frequent violence, I find.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Garth Marenghi: ‘Sorry Garth, I apologise.’ He knows what he’s done. I can’t say yet whether I’ll accept it, but an apology would be a start.
Matthew Holness’s new book Garth Marenghi’s TerrorTome is out 3 November 2022.