Hammer Horror goes Literary

Helen Dunmore, Jeanette Winterson and Melvin Burgess: not the first people you’d imagine signing up to write for publishing imprint Hammer Horror, home to bloodcurdling shrieks and helpless virgins. But sign up they have, and Dunmore, whose ghost story The Greatcoat is out in February, couldn’t be prouder. Horror, it seems, is going literary.

“I love telling people about it. They’re always very surprised,” says Dunmore, a former winner of the Orange prize and National Poetry Competition. “Hammer approached me, asking if I would like to write a genre piece. I was very captivated by the idea.”

Dunmore’s story is set in the winter of 1952, as young wife Isabel moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire. With her doctor husband out on call, she spends most of her time alone – until she is woken one night, freezing. She finds an old RAF greatcoat in the cupboard and sleeps beneath it for warmth; there is a knock at the window and a pilot, Alec, stands outside. “It’s a story of possession and it’s very creepy,” Dunmore says, citing The Turn of the Screw as her favourite ghost story. “I wanted my readers to be ensnared by the world that’s been created for Isabel, but to have doubts as well.”

Writing it was a challenge. “It’s very tight, because of the need to plot it in a certain way. I was writing at full stretch, using all my literary devices.”

Not so schlock horror after all, then. The Hammer imprint, part of Random House, launched last spring, but has so far largely published novelisations of classic films; the literary strand is new.

Meanwhile, Winterson’s 17th-century-set novella about the Pendle witches is due in August, and Burgess’s story of teenagers and ghouls is out in early 2013. “The interesting fiction at the moment is playing with genres, slipping between them,” says Hammer publisher Selina Walker. “So we’re approaching all the literary or established greats to see whether they would like to write something with a paranormal twist. It’s entirely up to them how they interpret that.”

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