Martyn Waites interview: The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death

As Hammer prepares its sequel to The Woman In Black, Martyn Waites is writing the novel. Jamie-Lee spoke to him about Angel Of Death...

There are various reasons why I’m afraid of things that go bump in the night, the dark and small children, but only one reason why I will also never live by a causeway and repeatedly freak out whenever I see a woman in full Victorian costume.

An undiagnosed geek from a young age, I quickly became a fan of horror, aided by the fact that my father let me watch The Exorcist and Dawn Of The Dead before I reached primary school. Social services were not involved.

At secondary school, I came across The Woman In Black by Susan Hill. Falling in love with its gothic nature, I was taken to the theatre to see the stage adaptation. It was spectacular – a truly horrific ghost story full of suspense with fantastic acting. More than ten years later, I went to see it again; still taken in by its ghostly charms, I screamed an octave higher than I thought possible. 2011 saw the film adaptation of the 1983 novel, which not only offered a fresh approach and ending to the story, but generated new fans and, clearly, a need to know what happened next.

Working in publishing, I was delighted to hear that Hammer would be releasing new books with Random House, with novelisation tie-ins and original stories from authors such as Guy Adams, Tim Lebbon and DBC Pierre. I caught up with writer Martyn Waites to talk about his addition to the Hammer franchise with The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death…

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You’re a self-confessed Hammer addict. What were your initial thoughts when they approached you to write for them?

Yes. Just yes. My agent said it was the easiest phone call she’d ever made. Just for the thrill of it all, really. To be asked to continue something started by Susan Hill’s brilliant novel and by Hammer’s fantastic adaptation was just so exciting. To have my name mentioned in the same breath as both Susan Hill and Hammer is wonderful. I just hope the words ‘not anywhere near as good as’ aren’t applied to mine. That’s the real fear.  

What can you tell us about the new book, The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death?

Not a great deal yet. I’m sworn to secrecy about it. It’s strange, I’ve often read things where writers have said that and thought, ‘bollocks’. But it’s true. I can’t say anything. And I don’t want to. It would spoil it. All I’ll say is, we’re back at Eel Marsh House, it’s the Second World War, a group of children have been evacuated there and guess who’s woken up…?  

It’s scheduled for release in November. What can you tell us about the film adaptation of that, due for release next year?

Nothing. Honestly. I can’t say much, can I? There’ll be a casting announcement soon. I think we want the book to not only follow the film but to be able to have a separate life of its own. The way that Susan Hill’s original has. That’s the plan, anyway. It’s a huge challenge, but one that I hope I’m up to.

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You were quoted in the Guardian saying, “You thought the first one was scary? Just you wait.” Can you give us a hint of what to expect?  

Scares never work if you know about them in advance . . .

You’re an established crime writer, with some of your novels touching on horror. Is this a genre you’ve always wanted to explore? 

In some ways, yes. But in others, no. I always thought I’d just stay in the crime genre. Especially the gritty, real, noir-ish urban end. It’s where my imagination and talent lies, or so I always thought. But the Tania novels have quite a strain of Gothic horror to them. I didn’t really notice until my mate Sarah Pinborough pointed it out. I couldn’t help but notice it after that. So I embraced it. Embraced the dark side . . .

As a writer, film buff and former actor, which version of The Woman In Black is your favourite?

I couldn’t possibly say! I still haven’t seen the stage version.  I know, it’s a terrible admission to make. I plan on rectifying that soon. I used to think, when I was still an actor, that I could be in line for the young man part. Now, I’m afraid, I’d be the older one.

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You’re probably dying to tell us about your favourite Hammer films…

Too many to name! I grew up watching Hammer. I’ve got every issue of House Of Hammer magazine from the 70s. I love them. I’ve got a particular love for Plague Of The Zombies and The Reptile  – they hold fond memories for me. But then so does Vampire Circus, Hands Of The Ripper, The Vampire Lovers… not to mention The Gorgon and Captain Kronos. I do admit to a very unhealthy attachment to Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell. And of course, Curse Of Frankenstein and Dracula. Without whom…

How does it feel to be added to a list of great horror writers such as Helen Dunmore, Tim Lebbon and Mark Morris?

Not to mention Jeanette Winterson, Sophie Hannah, Melvin Burgess . . . All writing for Hammer. It feels fantastic. But again, as long as the words ‘nowhere near as good as’ aren’t applied to me in relation to them, I’ll be happy. 

Do you believe in ghosts, or are you more concerned with everyday people? 

Everyday people. They’re much more scary. For all my love of horror as a genre – a fictional one – I don’t believe in the supernatural in the slightest. I’d like to, because in a way the existence of ghosts and vampires would make me hopeful that there’s something more than this life. Even The Woman In Black. I suspect that’s why we created these myths in the first place.

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Do you have any more surprises in store for us?

Well . . . I’ve got some ideas in mind. And they’ll take me even further away from crime novels. Not that I’m abandoning crime fiction – far from it. There’ll be more Tania and hopefully more Donovan. And some other stuff I’ve got in mind, both crime and . . . otherwise.  Nothing firm yet, but, we shall see . . . And in the meantime, if anyone wants me to reboot The Avengers (the Steed and Peel one, of course), give me a call.

Martyn Waites, thank you very much.

Martyn Waites is the author of the Joe Donovan series and also writes as Tania Carver. The Woman in Black: Angel of Death will be published by Hammer, Random House in November 2013.

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