TGarth Marenghi’s TerrorTome: Book Tour
November 5th, 2022
Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham
(This article was originally published on Ginger Nuts of Horror in November 2022)
“Look, horror is an outlet. People need to be scared so they can stop being scared. And if nuclear Armageddon cometh, I, as society’s shaman, will of course advise, counsel, portend, and rule in our post-atomic age.” – Garth Marenghi
June 1976 saw the Sex Pistols play the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Despite the venue having a capacity of only 400 people, a great many more souls than that have claimed to be present for that epochal gig. The Clash gig at the Rainbow Theatre almost exactly a year later would hold the same import, with many incorrectly claiming they were there simply for the sheer kudos of being present for the West London punks history-making appearance.
There are other several seemingly trivial live events that can claim such a paradigm-altering nature – 2009’s “Chuckle Trek: The Lost Generation” at the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough featuring the slap-sticking squabbling siblings being another notable mention – but as I sat there in the Birmingham’s M.A.C., I could not help but think that history was being reshaped yet again.
Many prestigious talents have frequented The M.A.C. since its inception in 1962 – as well as Andrew Lawrence – but few could have suspected that this Midlandic shell of concrete, brick and glass would ever house the greatest living horror writer that ever greatly lived – the self-proclaimed master of the macabre known as Garth Marenghi.
In a literary event that could only have been eclipsed by the discovery of a last manuscript by F. Scott Fitzgerald (I.e. “The Great Gatsby 2: This time it’s Gatsbier”), Marenghi had emerged from the darkness (figurative darkness – in his own words he’s not a spelunker) and released his Meister work TerrorTome, a triptych of terrifying texts. This evening was one of many to promote said work, being part of a tour of obligatory-publisher-requirement proportions.
The hallowed text itself has been reviewed already on these equally hallowed pages, and I was already clutching at my copy of the ominous opus as I stepped into the comparatively mundane cinema room of the Midlands Arts Centre. I wondered to myself – and also aloud, startling an unsuspecting stranger - if any of those present were fully aware of the importance of this date. There was, however, an enthusiastic sense of anticipation amongst the gathered throng. As they thronged away to find their seats, perhaps indulging in a soft drink, catering size packet of fruit pastilles or Craft Ale, this humble soul wondered if this was what it was like as the meek gathered to watch Jesus’ sermon on the mount – or to be one of the few ITV audience members present at the moment watching Rainbow when Bungle was replaced by a slightly less terrifying Bungle.
As the Archduke O’ Darkdom girded his loins in preparation of meeting his fans, we were treated to the first episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, the seminal 1980’s horror drama cum medical procedural TV show. I was a little embarrassed on Garth’s behalf at this stage, with some of the audience failing to take this gripping ahead-of-its-time drama as seriously as they should. Dramatically moving scenes were met with derisory laughter, and I was hoped that Marenghi himself was out of earshot – hopefully in the far-off chambers of the Green Room indulging in a diet coke and perchance half of a Twix.
Watching it again with an eager audience couldn’t help but remind me of the how ground-breaking the show truly was for its time, and wonder that how – despite being banned for its radical nature and polemic content – it ended up serving as the template terrible for a great many shows to come. Without Garth’s formative fingerings breaking the mould, would shows such as Midnight Mass, Supernatural, Stranger Things or Up the Elephant and Round the Castle, et al, ever have even existed?
No. They wouldn’t. That’s the answer.
With a suitably atmospheric flourish of dry ice, Marenghi took the stage. Not literally, but in that he found a suitably positioned chair and sat in it. For a moment, it was as though he’d never been away – with a lean physical stature (muscular and compact, like corned beef) matching his gargantuan talent and intellect, he instantly dominated the room.
A short reading from the first book of TerrorTome followed, the Deacon of dread holding Court over the captivated assemblage with every uttered verb, noun, adjective and ellipsis. There was a subtle tonal shift in the room – there was a remote chance given today’s soaring fuel bills that they’d switched the heating off in the room to save a bit of cash, but there was nary a soul in that room that didn’t feel a chill creeping down their spine.
Words have power – I should know, I’ve seen Peter Andre reading excerpts from his definitely not Ghost-written biography “Peter Andre: All About Us” – and, as he carefully related the tale of the books hero Nick Steen and his erotic (horrotic?) dalliances with his cursed typewriter, you could have heard a pin drop. In fact, I did.
Garth is indeed a humbly gracious man, and any ardent fan of Marenghi’s work would have been happy with that excerpt – to hear the words spoken by the great man himself – but the evening concluded with a lengthy question and answer session.
The mystery of his longevity was revealed, with one particularly giddy fan eager to find out how a man in his thirties during the filming of Darkplace 40 years ago had barely aged – “A Pact” was the short yet elegant answer. He was also keen to clear up the rumours of any bad blood between him and Clive Barker with an honest yet elegant retort (“That’s bullshit”) and we learned not only of the reason for the failure of a number of his cinematic projects, but also of his sheer contempt hatred for editors and everything that they stand for.
With that peer behind the curtain into the life of the great man, the evening drew to an end with a signing. Armed with my copy of TerrorTome purchased earlier in the evening for the exact value stated as the recommend retail price, I eagerly approached the man who – alongside Jeremy Clarkson – I consider responsible for inspiring me to put pen to paper, a Saint Christopher of horror guiding me down the eldritch path of dark scribe.
Barely able to believe that my book was signed by those same hands that crafted the believable and horrific worlds in Slicer, Afterbirth, R.I.P.P.E.R. and Juggers, my evening – nay, life – was made. A handshake was declined – not only because of COVID concerns but because it was clear from his expression that Marenghi found me physically repulsive – but a photograph was permitted and I allowed my bare elbow to touch his clothed one, hoping that some of his talent would rub off on me. Reader, it did not.
Sadly, the mood was instantly dispelled. Tara, my wife, embarrassed not only Garth but everybody in the room by handing him a Bluray copy of the movie Possum to sign. Despite having nothing to do with Garth - being written by Matthew Holness – Marenghi obliged out of pity for her, signing it in Matthew’s name. I hastily shuffled out of the room, thoroughly ashamed by the whole exchange and that my evening had been, effectively, ruined. Divorce is a strong word, but there we are.
Was the evening life changing? Definitely. As I read this review and realise that – in comparison to Marenghi’s masterful command of our mother tongue – my own clumsy scribblings resemble nothing more than the output of a single monkey and typewriter produced in a noticeably finite amount of time. I was hoping that to have shared a room with such a genius would have been inspirational, but it has been anything but – the act only succeeding in reminding me that the likes of us mere mortals can never attain such levels of majesty.
TerrorTome is available from all good bookshops, and some merely adequate ones.
Your humble correspondent, David Courtext