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Paul Kane: Writing The Colour of Madness

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

The Colour of Madness is Paul Kane's latest collection, a folk horror movie tie-in to be released this year. The short story, "Men of the Cloth" was the inspiration for the movie, and you can read it in the collection. We wanted to talk to Paul about his folk roots, and how the transition from short story to movie, took place.

What was your first experience of Folk Horror?

Paul Kane: Ah, that would be watching The Wicker Man when I was something like nine or ten. Of course I definitely shouldn’t have been, but then again I watched a lot of stuff back when I was a kid I shouldn’t have been anywhere near – often with my parents, God bless ’em! In fact I think I watched that one with my dad, which I tended to do; we watched so many genre shows and movies together as I was growing up, because he was into all that too. To say TWM had an impact on me would be a massive understatement. From the whole premise of searching for the little girl and being blocked at every turn by a strange community, the isolated setting of Summerisle, to the performances – standouts including Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland and, naturally, Edward Woodward, who all sell the movie… It’s just a perfect film, and holy crap that ending! I’d never seen a film at that time which had such a bleak finale – even as it approaches you still think there might be hope for our hero. It’s inspired a few of my own endings, I can tell you!

Where did the inspiration for ‘Men of the Cloth’ come from?

Paul Kane: That actually came from my time teaching out in the community, back in the good old days of the 2000s when there was plenty of money for such things. I used to put creative writing and painting/drawing courses together for the local college – which coincidentally I’d been to myself about a decade before, studying art. The first thing they asked me at the interview was “Do you have a car?” because I’d be visiting these really out of the way, obscure places in the countryside to teach in community centres, village halls and the like. I was on my way to teach one such class in a really cut-off village when I happened to spot all these little scarecrows in the gardens. Some were dressed like postmen, farmers or whatever. Others were just bare. I think it must have been around the time of the well-dressings or some other celebration… But anyway, I started to think about those effigies and how creepy they could be out of context. That was the germ of the idea, and then of course I brought all the Folk Horror elements into it, weaving a mythology of my own around them. I really like doing ‘fish out of water’ tales, and I always try to appeal to both British and US readers, so what better way to kill two birds than to have an American family visit these shores and get mixed up in it all. I’ve just used the same device for my latest monster novel from PS, The Storm.

How did it come to be made as a feature film?

Paul Kane: It’s a long story, are you ready? Okay, well the first bit is that I saw a movie called The Seventeenth Kind back in 2015 or ’16 I think it was, starring Tony Curran – who gave us that marvellous turn as Vincent van Gogh in Doctor Who, back when Matt Smith was in the lead. It was a half hour short, based on a story by my good friend Michael Marshall Smith – he of The Straw Men and Intruders fame – and was made by Loose Canon Films. For quite some time now I’ve been turning my short stories into short scripts; some have even been made, like The Opportunity, The Weeping Woman and, most recently, The Torturer. But I’m always dropping production companies, producers and directors – or filmmakers in general – a line to see if they might be interested in filming any of them. That was what I did with Loose Canon, who told me that they weren’t really concentrating on shorts anymore, but were moving into making features. Indeed, they went off and made Charismata, which you can find on Amazon Prime at the moment. Fast forward to January 2018 and I got an email from Andy Collier at LC. They were hoping to get a Folk Horror movie off the ground, and remembered my name. “Do you have anything suitable?” he asked me. Of course, the answer was a big, fat yes! I had a few stories in fact, which I winged over to him – all of which are in the movie tie-in collection. He really liked ‘Men of the Cloth’ and the next thing I knew he and his co-writer/director Tor Mian wanted to have a meeting about adapting it; where else, but in a pub, where all great meetings take place! My better half Marie O’Regan came with me for moral support, but what ended up happening was everyone just had a great time drinking and chatting about all things genre – we found we had a lot of favourite shows and films in common, not to mention mates in the business. The main thing the guys wanted to know was whether I’d be okay if they changed the story for the feature script, as they were writing it together. I’m no stranger to things like that happening, for example the NBC/LionsGate episode of Fear Itself ‘New Year’s Day’ was very different to my original story ‘Dead Time’. It’s just the nature of adaptations and the original is always going to be there for people to read… So I told them they didn’t have to worry, and we signed the contracts that very week. One of the major things they wanted to change was to make it more Lovecraftian, transplanting the action from the British countryside to a cut-off Norwegian village. Also my original family included a couple of kids, a girl and a boy, and they sensibly stripped this down to a couple, making the wife pregnant instead. But they managed to do all this and retain the spirit of the story I wrote, which is no mean feat.

What was the filming process like?

Paul Kane: Once the ball was rolling, the guys managed to secure the money and also had a distribution company interested fairly early, they told me, which I’d imagine takes a lot of the pressure off. Loose Canon, working with Hyrda Films and also producers Ross Scaife and Sean Knopp – who I met later on after filming and are both great guys – went out scouting locations in early 2019. I kept seeing all these gorgeous photos of places in Norway that looked just like oil paintings. The next stage was doing the underwater filming at a facility in Essex, which involved actors like Ludovic Hughes – who plays Isaac – and Johanna Adde Dahl – as Astrid. Then there was some more principal photography, I believe, when Sophie Stevens joined them on set as the pregnant Emma, before the action moved to Norway itself over the summer of 2019. I can’t remember exactly when I was told that Barbara Crampton was definitely on board as Renate, but Andy had mentioned they were in talks with her agent when I saw him at an HWA event before filming even began. As someone who’d grown up watching films like Re-Animator and From Beyond – and had already been lucky enough to get to know Stuart Gordon – you can imagine how excited I was! That excitement only increased when I finally saw pictures of her on set, then read the reports from online horror magazines. It was a bit like being in a dream. When I met up with Andy after the shoot was over, there was just post-production to go and now we’re on the verge of the film being completely finished.

Where in all this did the movie tie-in come into things?

Paul Kane: That was the chat with Andy I just mentioned, funnily enough. I knew the guys were back from Norway and Marie and I had a signing coming up at Forbidden Planet in London for Wonderland around late September 2019, with a Horror Writers Association pub meet afterwards, so I invited them along. Andy was the only one who could make it, though Sean came along for a few hours later in the day which was nice. We were drinking – actually a Norwegian beer, which seemed appropriate – and talking about how things had gone, and it was actually Andy who suggested I should try and bring out ‘Men of the Cloth’ to tie in with the film. Seeing as that’s only a novelette of about ten or eleven thousand words, I thought it might be an idea to put a collection together instead and include that one in it. We could even have all the stories that I pitched to Andy in the first place, along with extras like on set photos, pieces by Andy and myself about the process of ‘from page to screen’, and an extract from the script. And so the seed was planted, all we needed was a publisher willing to take it on. I’d just worked with Luna Press on The Controllers collection, which actually had a bonus section at the end complete with scans of handwritten stories and a gallery of illustrations. This tie-in would be similar in nature really, so it seemed like the perfect fit – and I mailed publishers Francesca and Rob that same week to sound them out about it. Thankfully they were interested, and the more we chatted the more they liked the sound of it, especially as we were thinking about using the poster art for the front cover. I’m very glad they agreed, as it’s worked out brilliantly.

Can you tell us about the other stories in the collection?

Paul Kane: Absolutely. Well, ‘Men of the Cloth’ you know about… Following that we have quite an early, but popular, story of mine ‘St August’s Flame’; this was part of the first batch of tales I wrote with the aim of getting them published somewhere, probably in a small press magazine at the time. It follows one man’s journey to find a mythical flame that’s supposed to be able to tell you the future. ‘Rag & Bone’ was a story that appeared in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror a while ago, and introduces what’s become quite an iconic horror figure of mine – in fact I’m in the process of trying to get that made into a movie as well, if I can. ‘Pay the Piper’ is another older piece, a zombie reworking of the Pied Piper mythos with a sting in the tail. I included ‘Thicker Than Water’ because it’s actually an Innsmouth story, so spiritually it’s definitely connected to the movie that actually ended up being made. ‘The Procession’ can be read as a ghost story, but the place where it’s set is significant too because I used to go out exploring areas like this where legends such as the procession in question are alive and well. That one also has a link to a tale of mine called ‘One for the Road’, which sees the Four Horsemen enjoying a few jars before the end of the world in the pub featured here. Finally, we have ‘Words to the Wise’ which was originally written for an anthology about phobias, edited by Dean Drinkel. The main protagonist is terrified of words, because… actually I’ll let you read about why for yourself. All folktales, mythologies, legends of my own making, just like ‘Men of the Cloth’.

What else are your working on at the moment?

Paul Kane: At time of writing, like everyone else in the arts, I’m in lockdown at home because of the virus. We would have been working on StokerCon, which was due to be happening this week and obviously isn’t now. It makes me incredibly sad, as we’d been prepping for it for two and a half years, and it would have been fantastic. But hopefully it’ll happen in some form down the line. So, I’ve been keeping myself occupied by working on admin and doing some fiction writing that I owe – a novelette to begin with and I need to continue with the third thriller for HQ/HarperCollins, which coincidentally has a folk horror element – not to mention watching lots of films and boxed sets: we just started a rewatch of Killing Eve because the new series has started, but are in the middle of Ozark, Mr Mercedes, The Witcher and various others; over Easter weekend we watched some of the comedy Marvel superhero movies, which was fun. In terms of what’s out or coming soon, as well as The Colour of Madness, there’s a short monster novel called The Storm from PS Publishing already mentioned, and my first thriller as PL Kane Her Last Secret just dropped as a paperback and audio. Our latest mass market anthology from Titan – Cursed, edited with Marie – is out now too, plus a novella called Blood Red Sky from Silver Shamrock. I’m also looking forward to the second thriller as PL, which comes out over the summer from Harper. I’ve begun working with Mark Miller and Christian Francis at Enclopocalypse as well, to bring out some of my back catalogue as audio books, including Signs of Life, Of Darkness and Light and Sleeper(s). The rest of the year is taken up with collections essentially, but more about them as and when.

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over ninety books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and 2018, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, plus Black Library Live and the UK Ghost Story Festival in 2019, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’ has just been turned into a feature by Loose Canon/Hydra Films, starring Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next). His audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to REDBlood RED & Deep RED – the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell, Before (an Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller) and Arcana. He also writes thrillers for HQ Digital/HarperCollins as PL Kane, the first of which, Her Last Secret, came out in January. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.


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