Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Garth Marenghi
Nine Songs
Garth Marenghi

Garth Marenghi: Author. Dreamweaver. Titan of Terror. Actor. Shaman. Doom-sage. The cult comedy icon and Status Quo fan chronicles his most pivotal songs to Grace Easton.

28 November 2023, 19:00 | Words by Grace Easton

Former Duke of Darkness, now Arch-Duke o’ Darkdom, Garth Marenghi has put pen to panic-stricken paper with his latest volume of three novellas, Incarcerat.

I meet horror writer Garth Marenghi in the setting of his latest novel: an escape room styled as Nulltec, the shadowy research facility where Incarcerat’s protagonist Nick Steen finds himself imprisoned. Like Shakespeare, Garth Marenghi writes words. Having personally written 436 horror novels, he is one of the few authors who has written more books than he’s actually read. His latest instalment, volume two of TerrorTome, sees Steen wrestle with Dr Barbara Nullman as she experiments on his mind with terrifying consequences. Each of his nine songs drip with the melodrama of his crimson prose. Icons of trad rock are interspersed with the obscure, and, naturally, the sex bomb himself, Sir Tom Jones.

Marenghi’s mastery of the macabre frequently bleeds beyond the printed page; most notably in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, his 1980s hospital horror “dramamentary”. Around fifty episodes were made but, according to Marenghi, it was "too subversive, too dangerous, too damn scary" and was suppressed by MI-8, an organisation so secret that it is three levels above MI-5. Six episodes were recovered and aired in 2004 where Marenghi starred alongside Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry and Alice Lowe. Although we never got a second season, we were treated to a spin-off Man to Man with Marenghi’s one-time publisher Dean Learner. If you don’t snort with laughter during Dark Place Horrificata Illuminata I would venture that you yourself are probably undead.

IMG 20231120 0001

Although the soundtrack to Darkplace was credited to Stig Baasvik, it was based on melodies originally whistled by Garth Marenghi. When I ask him about his former collaborator he replies, “He’s dead I’m afraid. He died scandalously. I’m not allowed to say.” Sensing a touchy subject, I try turning the conversation to his own early musical influences. “Hmmm. Skiffle. Skiffle was around, but I didn’t like it. So that’s not an influence. I didn’t really pay much attention to music. It was only later in life that it had an influence on me and largely because it’s an aid to the writing.” He pauses to sip from a can of rhubarb lemonade. “I mean, there was music when I was in my mother’s womb I suppose. I heard certain beats that probably influenced me. I wrote my first story in there I believe. Often you need music to get your head into a certain space.”

At the end of the interview, a light fitting falls from the ceiling onto his head. “I knew this would happen," he says. "It was only a matter of time. It just goes to show that horror can indeed strike at any moment.”

"McVicar" by Roger Daltrey

The title track of “McVicar” starts with, “Don’t plead no special case for me”. It’s about the prisoner John McVicar and that’s his refrain. My new book, Incarcerat, is about being imprisoned. Nick Steen is imprisoned at Nulltec and I think this song was in my head all the way through that. What I love about it is Roger Daltrey’s delivery of those lines. It’s one of the greatest rock performances, I think, in history.

Daltrey – you may or may not know this – is lined up to play me in a biopic of my life. The issue is that because, day by day, my life story is getting longer, so it’s getting harder and harder to condense into that two or three hour epic. But at some point I hope to be able to get that into pre-production, and Daltrey has signed up.

I mean that is perfect casting. Roger Daltrey has previously admitted to resorting to physical violence to keep his bandmates in check. As a collaborator, do you rule with an iron fist?

Well, I don’t condone violence, but that’s not to say I haven’t perpetrated it on occasion. So yes, during Darkplace there were times where ire and anger got the better of me. I do think for the greater good, I think the show improved as a result. We were very limited on Darkplace. We had such limited time to get what we needed in the can, and if I had to deck a few people to get them to do what I needed to do, it would be done. Luckily, I had Dean Learner’s backing on that. If anyone threatened me back or said we’re going to take this to the authorities, he’d have a quiet word and that would be that.

The last I heard of Dean Learner, he was in prison?

He’s doing time, yes.

Are there any details you can give us-

I’m not at liberty to say.

No details as to why he’s currently incarcerated?

I know why, but I can’t say. He’s in there for a long time.

"Hells Bells" by AC/DC

I ring Hell’s bells as much as those guys do. As a horror writer, that is what I do, I’m ringing Hell's bells for people, I’m drawing them in, I’m ringing them to their doom. Every time someone picks up a Marenghi they’re hearing Hell’s bells in their head, and if they’re not, they will be by the time they’re reading the prologue.

It’s a track that’s very close to my heart because when I toured the stage version of both Fright Knight and Netherhead, which were two of my live terror shows, this was the music we would play to the audience as they came in. I think it’s important to ring Hell’s bells.

Have you ever personally heard the bells of Hell?

I’ve personally heard them and I’ve personally rung them as well. Do you know any Satanists?

Not personally.

I know three. We basically crossed into another dimension at one point where Hell’s bells were actually above us and there was a dangling rope and I actually rang Hell’s bells for real.

What did they sound like?

Kind of like a conventional bell really. A normal bell but with a slight “aaaaaaa-eeeeeeerrrrr” above the bell.

What would be your own personal vision of hell?

My next tax bill.

"Two Way Traffic" by Status Quo

I wrote “One Track Lover”, they write “Two Way Traffic”. Both equally valid messages. What I love about the Quo is that, like myself, they’re such hard workers. They’re never off, they’re always rocking. I’m always writing, they’re always rocking.

This song, I think, is profound. Correct me if I’m wrong, it’s, “Work work busy busy bang bang / Twenty five hours a day.” Now that is poetry. That is poetry. That is an appeal. The Quo, work work busy busy bang bang. I know what they’re talking about, I think most of us know what they’re talking about. That is a declaration of intent.

That work has paid off for the Quo, both have received OBEs. Would you like some royal recognition?

I don’t seek anything. Recognition is people buying my book. I don’t need it. It’d be nice to have. If it was offered, sure, I’d take it. But I’m not asking. But if you could put in a word.

"Eminence Front" by The Who

Who here has not thought about an eminence front. Who here cannot say, “I am fronting with eminence?”

So do you think you have an eminence front?

I think I have an eminence front, I think you have an eminence front. Pete certainly knew that all of us have an eminence front.

What do you think your eminence front is?

Well there you go. That is the question isn’t it.

It’s the question I’m asking you, yes.

Is it the question I’m answering though? And that itself is an eminence front. Very profound song.

Do you think Garth Marenghi is most himself on the page?

I would say it’s close. But I’m ever changing - the books are ever changing. Yes, there are dark depths in me. There has to be. There are dark depths in everyone. Yourself I would imagine?

Your dark depths seem more lucrative than my dark depths.

They are. There is no point having a dark depth unless it is lucrative. That is certainly true. I’m very fortunate that I managed to turn mine into a cash cow.

"Damnation Alley" by Hawkwind

Hawkwind were great, they did a few tracks based on my books in the early days. They based a lot of their work on the works of Michael Moorcock - this one in particular is based on Roger Zelazny's novel Damnation Alley. They were going to do a whole album based on my novel Can Water Die? That was the question posed by the novel, the answer being, no it can’t.

So what was that novel about?

Killer water. Drowning, poisoning, leaving people generally feeling a bit jippy, flooding, draught. All manifestations of evil that water can create. Hawkwind were going to do an album on it, but they didn’t.

Why didn’t they do it?

We fell out. It’s very hard to admit. We sat around and we smoked something, and after that they all became very peaceful, but I became irate and pretty violent, to be honest. It had an adverse effect on me. After that, we didn’t really see eye-to-eye.

But "Damnation Alley" still makes it into your nine songs?

It’s still in my nine songs. I’m indebted to them because I learnt a lot about myself through that experience, and I learnt I have a beast I have to control.

"Song to Comus" by Comus

Comus are very strange. It’s a very woody album - early ‘70s folk rock. It is probably the most mossy thing you’ll ever hear. Put this album on and it’s wood, it’s mud, it’s moss. It’s a wonderful, wonderful folk horror experience. I hate the phrase folk horror, but I’ll use it here.

Why do you hate the phrase folk horror?

Unfortunately, I was ripped off by a couple of students who wanted to make a folk horror of my book Prickfinder General, which was a terrifying novel set during the British civil war. It’s the story of a world turned upside down, where impregnation occurs at a 180 degree angle. So sperm burrows through the earth’s crust and impregnates Hell demons. They then come up and unleash a pack of yapping poodles on parliament, and all the while, people are hunted across the land by the terrifying Prickfinder General. Terrifying novel, terrifying premise, the guys who wanted to make the film were two students and they just ended up making tote bags.

Interesting that you mention about insemination, “Comus” is a mask by John Milton celebrating chastity. Do you think chastity helps or hinders the creative process?

I’m chaste. My wife Pam is chaste. We are loosely chaste, but there is no shortage of hedonism in our relationship. Let’s put it that way.

What form does that take?

Leather sofas mostly. Pam is a great exponent of the form as often she looks like a leather sofa… Sorry, what was the question?

Do you think chastity helps or hinders the creative process?

It’s interesting with horror because a lot of people argue that horror is about repression. Horrotic repression. I’ve always written horrotica because that’s what draws your reader in. A lot of the readers go in because they are horrotically repressed in one way or another. And in my books, they find an outlet to that.

"Riot in Cell Block Number Nine" by Dr. Feelgood

In my book Incarcerat, consisting of three mini-novels, Nick Steen is incarcerated at Nulltec, and when I was writing this I was listening to a lot of prison-themed music.

Why did you want to write a book about someone who was in prison?

Moments of self-reflection really led to this book. I had a falling-out with my daughter. She was reading a book by Carl Sagan, she knew that would annoy me. Sagan doesn't believe in evolving mankind via superstition. I’m of the opposite opinion that mankind can only evolve through superstition and fear. That leads you to read more horror books by practitioners of the dark arts, such as myself - we lead you to a greater understanding of man’s inhumanity. So I had a big argument with her, and I didn’t like falling out. I spent two days in a hotel, a cheaper hotel than the one we were staying in. She wanted me to complain because there were eggs in the bed of the hotel we were staying in for the convention.

Eggs in the bed?

Eggs in the bed. Sacks.


We don’t know. They were there the night before and then the next morning they had evidently hatched. She wanted me to complain about it and I didn’t want to. They had done us a very good deal on curry-based catering. Anyway, big argument, I stormed out, she threw the Carl Sagan book at the back of my head. I ended up staying at a cheaper hotel, and I went slightly mad, I’ll be honest with you. I shaved myself from pate to perineum. I just existed in that hairless state for two days. My hair does grow back quite quickly, but that was a period of reflection. It was almost like I was seeing the end. I felt trapped. It was a prison.

Dr. Feelgood really helped out because Lee Brillo, the lead singer, wore the same coat for the duration of one of his tours and at the end of that it looked absolutely caked with grime, urine, alcohol. His physical state at the end of that tour was pretty much the state that I was in. I saw in him a fellow sufferer for the art.

Have you ever spent any time in prison? Any brushes with the law?

I’ve had several brushes with the law, but that was mainly when we were dobbing in Dean Learner. I kind of turned Queen’s evidence on him, but anyway, I’m not allowed to talk about it.

"Green Green Grass of Home" by Tom Jones

This track has quite a different flavour from your other picks.

I wouldn’t have added it, but I have been told by my editor that I may have written stuff in Incarcerat that might offend the Welsh. So I’ve taken the decision to include Tom Jones’ "Green Green Grass of Home" as a peace offering to the Welsh.

You’re from Romford, is there much green grass there?

Not anymore. It’s mainly concrete and crisp wrappers.

It’s a very sweet song. Behind your leather-clad exterior do you think you’re a sentimental man?

I don’t think I’m sentimental. However, I do like green, and I like grass, and I like home.

What is it in this book that you think might offend the Welsh?

A depiction of a Welshman that I put in as heartfelt, I thought I was being respectful - I am being respectful. It is only other people’s interpretation of said Welshman that has caused offence. I maintain that it is a dignified depiction.

What is the depiction?

Well you’d have to read the book to find out, but the character is called the Taffer.

"Smooth Operator" by Sade

It’s an erotic song in many respects, it’s mine and Pam’s song actually. It was my song to her rather than hers to me. Pam is a smooth operator. She can be quite harsh. She can be quite manipulative, but at the end of the day, she is a smooth operator. This is my love note to her.

That’s so sweet. I was thinking about the song in the context of Dr Rick Dagless in Darkplace - he’s such a smooth operator. Do you think the show can stand the test of time, given his treatment of women?

Yes it will stand the test of time. Whether humanity will learn its lessons in time for it to be preserved is another thing. Time may not exist for people to benefit from watching it. If we can evolve enough as a species then yes, the show will last.

Don’t you think particularly the attitudes towards women could make the show look slightly dated?

Look, I’ve always been someone who’s thought very closely and carefully about the portrayal of women in horror fiction. That’s why I have always written lady characters that are spiky, tough-talking, sultry-walking. I’ve had to be very careful because they’ll soon point out if it’s wrong. I run everything past Pam and my daughters. I know Pam, I know my four daughters, so I know five women. And now I know you, so that’s six. So I will run it past them first before I put anything on the page.

Incarcerat is out now, and tickets are on sale for his book tour dates across the UK in February & March. Find Garth Marenghi/Matthew Holness on Twitter.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next