Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Ramsey Campbell

Oration

Presented by: Roger Phillips

Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Ramsey Campbell for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.

Born in Liverpool, Ramsey has lived all of his life on Merseyside and as a writer, editor and critic, he has been a creative force for over 50 years. He is described as ‘Britain’s most respected living horror writer’ in The Oxford Companion to English Literature and best-selling author Stephen King has said he is: “literate in a field that has attracted many comic book intellects, cool in a field that tends toward panting melodrama…fluid in a field where many of the best practitioners fall prey to cant.”

A precocious intellect, Ramsey was reading at two and dabbling in writing by the age of seven. It was an apparently innocuous children’s tale which first peaked his interest in horror fiction. In a Guardian interview, Ramsey explained how a Rupert Bear story called Rupert’s Christmas Tree had an unexpected effect on him. He said: “Rupert acquires a magical tree that decamps after the festivities and returns to its home in the woods...the details – the small high voice from the tree, the creaking that Rupert hears in the night, the trail of earth he follows from the tub in his house, above all the prancing silhouette that inclines towards him, the star it has in place of a head – are surely the stuff of adult supernatural fiction. I think I got my start in the field right there.”

Two key people are credited with nurturing Ramsey’s early fascination with writing – his mother and his English tutor at St Edward’s College, West Derby. His teacher, Brother Kelly, regularly asked him to read his stories to the class and Ramsey’s mother Nora, who herself had short stories published in writer's magazines, encouraged him early on to send his work to publishers.

Aged only 11 Ramsey submitted his first collection, Ghostly Tales, to a range of publishers and although it was rejected, a letter which stated: “We don’t publish ghost stories, but this is a promising start,” encouraged him to keep writing, and Ramsey continued to avidly consume the work of Lovecraft, Bierce, Kafka and the cinema of film noir.

On leaving school at 16, Ramsey worked in the Inland Revenue but continued to write in his free time, selling several of his early stories to editor August Derleth, who went on to become a friend and mentor. At the suggestion of Derleth, Ramsey rewrote many of his earliest stories, moving their settings from Massachusetts to the fictional Brichester, imagined to be near the River Severn in Gloucestershire. This change of locales led to Campbell's first professional published work, the story, The Church in High Street in 1962 and the book, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants in 1964.

Ramsey left the tax office to work in Liverpool public libraries, becoming a full time writer in 1973 after the publication of Demons by Daylight. His second hardcover collection of horror stories, The Height of the Scream, was published in 1976 as well as his first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, which he now recalls had mixed reviews but has rarely been out of print since. Just three years later this was followed by The Face that Must Die, which is still considered by many critics to be one of Campbell's finest works. 

From that point onwards Ramsey published numerous novels and short story collections, with hardly a year between publications. The majority of his work has been nominated for and has won major awards, leading to him becoming one of the world’s most decorated horror writers. He has won four World Fantasy Awards, ten British Fantasy Awards, three Bram Stoker Awards, and the Horror Writers’ Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

His passion for writing shows no sign of abating, with Ramsey continuing to write in a contemporary style with modern day references. He frequently sets his tales on Merseyside and has drawn on local history and traditions – a book of short stories and ten novels to date.

Ramsey comments that, contrary to what might be expected, the older he gets the more appealing he finds terror, saying: “Being made to feel by art is surely no bad thing – to be scared any more than to be made to weep or indeed to be amused out of one’s wits. It’s a way of engaging the imagination, and a good deal is right with that.”

Through his desire to succeed, his obvious talent and his sustained contribution to literature, Ramsey personifies the LJMU ethos to Dream, Plan, Achieve. 

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I present Ramsey Campbell, this most distinguished son of our city, for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.