30 years of writing horror

I’m Willie Meikle, and I’ve been writing horror for 30 years now.

Not just horror. I’ve written horror, fantasy, science fiction, crime, westerns and thrillers. Plus the subgenres, like ghost stories, occult detectives, creature features, sword and sorcery etc. I don’t really think of them as being different. It’s all adventure fiction for boys who’ve grown up, but stayed boys. Like me.

I’ve always written what I want to write and then looked for someone to send it to. Chasing trends is difficult given the lag time, for what might be a trend when you start writing a novel can easily have blown itself out by the time you get yours in front of a publisher. A novel can take years from inception through writing, submitting, acceptance, editing, more editing and then, eventually publishing. Anticipating a trend that far in advance is something publishers try to do — but as a writer I think it’s counter productive.

As a creator, when I started writing, more than 30 years ago now, there was Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction. You knew where you were back then, with rigidly defined rules of doubt and uncertainty. Sure, there was some market fracturing – ghost story markets didn’t like to think of themselves as horror for example, but as a rule everybody knew where they were and writers knew where to try to fit their work, for the most part.

So I wrote – I wrote horror stories, fantasy stories and some science fiction and, for the most part, found homes for them in side-stapled A5 small press booklets that varied rather a lot in quality.

By the start of the new century that quality was improving markedly – markets became glossier, more assured, helped in no small means by the rise in sophistication of PCs, software and the WWW. And still I wrote, and I started selling to better paying markets, but I also started seeing something happen. With the rise of numbers of people online, and people actually talking to other people who shared their interests, markets started to fracture. We’d already had splatterpunk and slipstream but now we started to get steampunk, paranormal and urban fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, paranormal romance and all manner of other things that used to be classed as horror but were now something else.

This shift was also reflected in the bookstores in the UK – previously, if you wanted horror, you went to the horror shelf and found King, Koontz, Herbert, Rice, sometimes Campbell, often Laymon, and, if you were lucky, the newer UK guys like Clark, Laws and Gallagher. But slowly, that too changed. Even before vampires started to sparkle the field was fracturing, with slashers and serial killers muscling their way in. And the paranormal romance field was growing. Horror as such started to fade into the background as the fractures grew wider.

Back in the writers market itself, the fractures were growing huge and there were now a dizzying field of places to choose to place your work- and more predators to beware of, all too willing to fleece writers of rights, time and anything else they could get for free. As for myself, I started to spot not just a horizontal stratification into diverse markets, but a vertical one in the type of markets. Even as avenues for mass market paperbacks started to fade away, so Ebooks came along, and audiobooks, graphic novels, and quality high end limited edition hardcovers. Niche markets started to specialize in niche delivery methods – and I started to get openings for my own work that hadn’t been there before.

Which brings us to where we are now. Horror is a fractured market of die hard horror fans of the old school, gore fiends, steampunkers, urban fantasists, dark fantasists, old weird, new weird, just plain weird, pulp, literary and uncle Tom Cobbley and all. Some writers fit into one and prosper, Others, like me, peck away at a variety of them. Mostly, there are far more opportunities now, but they are harder to find. Finding them is also a lesson in just how far the fracturing has gone, for it only takes a few clicks of a mouse to find yourself in the steamy forests of Bigfoot or Dinosaur porn. Or both.

I’ve been lucky to find several niches in different markets, both horizontal and vertical and I’m living proof that you don’t need an agent to be a full time writer. You also don’t need to be published by the big five.

I went full time back in 2007 when we came here to Newfoundland from Scotland. Up front, I’ll reveal a plus in my favour was always that we arrived with enough cash from the house sale back in the UK to buy a property outright here, so we’ve been mortgage free during my full time writing. Which helps considerably. 

I’m proud that I’ve managed to support both my wife and myself over fifteen years now.

I make my money in a variety of ways.

– I traditionally publish novels and novellas in genre small presses that publish ebooks, paperbacks and audiobooks

– I have had boutique story collections in presses that deal with high end collector limited editions

– I place stories in pro-rate paying magazines and anthologies

– I self-publish out of print material of mine from over the years and the occasional new piece, mostly novellas

– I have, on occasion, ghost written books for up front cash

– I’ve recently started making inroads in Germany, with eight novels in print there now and a bunch more coming.

So there’s no single massive income stream, but it all adds up, in particular these days from the success of the S-Squad series.

So here I am, thirty odd years on, not quite a horror author anymore and somewhat adrift for lack of a label. I can’t exactly say what I am apart from a writer. But as long as there are niche markets out there for me to exploit, I guess I’m happy with that.


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