(Interested readers can check out my earlier post on the David A Riley/Bram Stoker Awards dust-up here.)
Horror author and publisher David A Riley was gracious enough to consent to an interview, which I am posting in its entirety.
You’ve been a member of the Horror Writer’s Association for some time. You were also on the Board of Trustees. During that time, did anyone express any concerns about your political views?
No one. Several years ago, when the HWA forum was considerably livelier than now, I was a frequent participant in discussions on it, and no one so much as mentioned my political views, either what they are now or what they were in the past.
Do you have previous experience serving on an awards jury?
I served on the [Bram Stoker] awards jury for First Novels several years ago. So far as I am aware my participation was viewed satisfactory by everyone concerned and I found it easy to do what was expected to the best of my abilities. There were no complaints.
Why did you withdraw from the jury of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology?
Because, as I saw it, that was the best thing to do for the good of the HWA. There is nothing prestigious or glamorous about being a juror. It does involve a lot of unpaid, unseen, arduous work reading an enormous number of books by authors or publishers or, in the case of anthologies, editors, keen to have their books included amongst the finalists for the Stoker awards. Of course the juries cannot add more than a few books, but it does mean reading all those submitted, good, bad or indifferent. I know from when I was a juror for First Novels this can be a hell of a chore. Standing down, therefore, was easy – it saved me a lot of hard work, some of it far from enjoyable. I only put my name forward because the HWA sent out a last minute email appealing for volunteers from active members for this position. I thought I was helping the HWA by stepping forward, never realising the reaction stirred up by certain individuals, some of whom already had a personal grudge against the HWA and are not even members.
Tell us about the UK’s National Front Party. What drew you to it?
I joined in 1973. At that time it was widely viewed as a patriotic nationalist party with serious concerns about the high numbers of immigrants who were coming into the UK at the time. Amongst its members were a number of retired senior servicemen from the Armed Forces, clergymen, teachers and other professionals. The chairman of the nearest branch to me had just defected as a leading member of the Conservative Association in Blackburn. It had a pseudo-respectability in its early days which only gradually disappeared over the years. It denied being fascist, having a totally democratic internal structure, including annual elections for all officers. Splits at the top, though, happened a lot over the years, the most devastating coming only three or four months after I resigned from it. After each split many of our best members would become disillusioned and leave. The skin-headed thug was not typical by a long shot in the earlier years. Unfortunately, as violence against the party escalated over time, these became far more predominant.
I would add that I was involved in the north west of England, far from the party’s headquarters in London and the people I worked with were local. We only had intermittent involvement with anyone from the leadership and were more or less left to get on with things as we saw fit. Also, you did develop a sort of siege mentality over the years, so that exposés about the party’s leadership were generally viewed as smears, a bit like the reaction, I would imagine, goes on in groups like the Scientologists.
Are you still part of the UK National Front?
I resigned in 1983 and have not been involved since.
A lot of people have characterized you as a fascist. Would you say that’s a fair description of your politics?
No. It’s an easy label to flash around, usually by those who are fascists themselves, particularly from the left. Fascists don’t believe in free speech and try to suppress it for their opponents. I have never in my life tried to do that. They are also prepared to use physical violence against their political opponents. I was never involved in anything like that. I would add that during the time I was involved in the party any member who associated with a neo-nazi group, either in Britain or overseas, faced expulsion. This, I can confirm, was enforced.
Do you feel as though you have anything to apologize for in regard to your politics, past or present?
Who should I apologize to? To those who have been baying for my blood? Most of the people involved in this debate come from the States. Since I have never been involved in politics there I should certainly not have to apologise to them. Do I regret having spent those years that I did in the National Front? Yes. If I had my time over again I would not do it. But the early seventies were a different time. Still recovering from its loss of empire, Britain was in a poor state, with strikes, the three-day week, regular power cuts, uncollected rubbish bags piling on the streets, the danger of Militant Tendency (the extreme left) taking over the Labour Party, unprecedented numbers of people arriving from overseas and the air that something had to give, that the country was on the brink of collapse. By the time I left the National Front we had Thatcher. A year later I took part in a non-party march through Blackburn against her notorious Poll Tax.
In your professional career as a writer and publisher, has anyone questioned your competence because of your political views?
Till this recent fracas, no.
Have you ever refused to work with anyone in the writing industry because of his or her politics, race, or religion?
No, that would not make sense and I have never done it. Even when I was involved in politics I never treated anyone differently because of their politics, race or religion. As a small press publisher I have twice paid for artwork from Vincent Chong, one of my favourite artists. I am currently working with a young black British writer over publishing a collection of his stories. I mentioned this elsewhere recently and had it thrown back in my face as being the equivalent of someone saying “I have black friends therefore I am not a racist”. Take a look at how many small press publishers in the UK have books written by black authors. I have only been publishing for just over fifteen months and before this year is out at least one of my books will be by a black writer. I don’t need to do it. I could so easily have turned him down. The fact is I like his work and would be proud to publish it. Which is the only thing that matters. End of story. Re politics, a writer who happily admits to having been a member of the extreme-left wing Trotskyist group, the Socialist Workers Party, approached me for a story to be included in a charity anthology he was putting together. I sent him one and it was included. I have also helped to advertise the book. His politics, past or present, meant nothing to me and I was more than willing to help.
What would you tell a writer who is considering joining the HWA?
Weigh up the pros and cons, what the HWA can do for you, then make your decision, but study what it can do for you carefully and don’t be put off by those who seem to spend inordinate amounts of time decrying it, often for very selfish reasons. Make your own mind up from the facts. I have been a member for ten years and have not regretted it, in spite of the recent controversy. There are a lot of good people in the HWA and if you need help, particularly as a new writer, it’s there to be had.
Thank you very much for your time.
At the end of the week I’ll provide some analysis. Stay tuned.