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1986 was a very important year for me.

At the suggestion of Ramsey Campbell, who I’d been corresponding with for a while, I attended my first British Fantasy Convention in the September of that year. This was at a time when horror was booming, and when US horror authors like Dennis Etchison, Karl Edward Wagner, Tom Monteleone, Joe Lansdale and – yes – Charlie Grant made regular visits to the UK.

When I turned up at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham for my first ever convention, I didn’t know anyone. I was a young, nervous, would-be writer, clutching a handful of stories. I was also a big fan of Charlie’s Shadows anthologies, and from what I remember the batch of four or five stories I’d brought with me – we’re talking a sizeable pile of paper here, maybe 80 pages or so – were intended solely for him.

I can’t remember at what point during that weekend I managed to catch Charlie on his own and/or pluck up the courage to speak to him, but what I do remember is that he was kind and gracious, and that he took all my proffered stories (all of them, and that alone, having now edited anthologies myself and been bombarded with submissions, astonishes me) with the promise that he would take them back to the States, read them and get back to me.

Buzzing from the experience of attending my first convention, and from meeting and speaking to writers whose work I’d adored from afar, I returned to my Leeds bedsit, hoping it wouldn’t be too long before I heard from Charlie again. But two months passed, then three. Christmas came and went. I wrote to Charlie and got no reply. I wrote again. Still nothing. By February, when it was so cold in my bedsit that ice regularly formed on the inside of my windows, and I was spending my days in bed with my duvet wrapped around me, and my old portable typewriter propped up on my knees, I’d despaired of ever hearing from Charlie again. I’d convinced myself that he thought my stories were so awful he was too embarrassed to get back to me.

Then one night, just as my now-wife Nel and I were about to watch Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan on my portable black and white telly, there came a knock on my door. When I opened it one of the other residents was standing there – an overseas student from China who lived on the ground floor. In broken English she informed me that I had a phone call downstairs.

I was pissed off. I’d never seen The Wrath of Khan before and didn’t want to get embroiled in a long conversation with a relative who’d just rung for a chat. And besides, the downstairs hallway, where the telephone was, was freezing. I knew that within minutes my fingers and toes would be like icicles and my breath would be emerging from my mouth as steam.

As soon as I heard the voice on the other end of the phone, though, my resentment and my discomfort vanished. In a soft, gravelly US drawl, the caller enquired, “Is that Mark Morris?”

“Yes,” I said uncertainly.

Instantly the voice perked up. Its owner now greeted me like an old friend. “Hey, Mark! This is Charlie Grant, calling from the States. How you doing?”

grant8I don’t remember much of the conversation that followed, to be honest. I do remember that Charlie was apologetic for not having got back to me sooner, and that we chatted for about forty-five minutes. What I remember most of all, though, was him telling me he’d read and enjoyed all the stories I’d given him, and that he wanted to buy one of them, Against the Skin, for Shadows 11 (which was eventually published under the title Final Shadows). I couldn’t believe it! My first professional sale! When I told Charlie that, he was delighted. He was a huge fan of the genre in which he worked, and he loved encouraging new writers.

He certainly encouraged me. I floated back up the stairs after our conversation, far too excited now to settle down and watch The Wrath of Khan. I remember Nel and I clinging to each other and jumping up and down on my bed like kids. I remember feeling weightless with sheer glee. I remember thinking that the dream I’d yearned for for so long – to be a published writer – was finally, impossibly about to come true.

Charlie made me realise that I could be a writer, that I was good enough, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. I’ve had many novels and short stories published in the thirty or so years since then, of course, but that phone call from Charlie, in that draughty hallway, on that winter’s evening in 1986, has remained – and will forever remain – one of the most cherished memories of my career.

(C) Mark Morris 2016

Mark Morris is one of the one of the finest horror writers working today (ask Clive Barker). His books include TOADY, STITCH, THE IMMACULATE, as well as novels for the BBC Doctor Who range. His novella ALBION FAY is out later this year from Snow Book, as is THE WRAITHS OF WAR the final book in the Obsidian Heart Trilogy.
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