When people, whether it be friends, family or casual acquaintances discover I write, I get the usual ‘what’ followed all too quickly by ‘are you the new JK Rowling’ (of course she is obviously the only famous woman writer on the planet)? But then what follows is a usually a little trickier for me to answer… what do you write, comedies, erotic fiction (toes curl at this point, knowing they’re going to mention fifty shades)? A colleague asked me just that question the other day, I kind of muttered ‘dark stuff, hmm, you know sort of horror…’ ‘I hate horror’ she exclaimed, quite dramatically, her lips curling into a snarl like a vegetarian at a barbeque. But what followed was an interesting discussion for an otherwise mundane Sunday afternoon and led me to ponder, were does my work lie and what is a horror story anyway?
Yes my stories have sometimes the traits of classic horror, I’ve done the vampire, the evil imp, the zombie. I’m currently working on a ghost story, but my style dark though it can be at times is not fully immersed fully in horror’s bloody and murky waters . Recently I’ve been reading the short stories of an American author Tim Gautreaux, not something I would have picked up usually but given to me by a friend. There is a story in there, which one wouldn’t automatically put it into the horror category, but the qualities of one is there alright, something lingering within each sentence, a gradual realisation that all is not right. Like the beginning of that classic horror Texas Chainsaw Massacre, hairs begin to stand on the back of my neck, my skin begins to prickle with perspiration … And this before any blood is actually shed. Surely this is what good horror does?
There is darkness in the most mundane of things or situations, a man boarding a bus on his way to an interview can lead to something unpleasant (yes I have written the story), a woman supposedly waiting for her boyfriend, a perfectly decent sort of person sitting in a cafe drinking a coffee. Ordinary lives are littered with sinister moments, which unsettle us for a moment or two, make us realise that our humdrum little lives can be disturbed. I know the horror of grief, or disappointment, of heartbreak, the gloom that often accompanies these very common elements of human existence are often more fearful than the zombie, or something crawling from under our bed. A quote from one of horror’s best Stephen King, in one of my favourite novels of his, ‘The Shinning’ sums up what I’m trying to convey in my writing. ‘Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters’.
I suppose that is my kind of horror. Not the gore of ripping flesh, or the scream of the victim as the monster tears her slowly apart. Instead it’s in the murky twist a seemingly ordinary road can take; that gentle unease that slowly creeps upon us until it’s too late, the subtlest ripples on supposedly still water.
The darkness that slowly envelopes until we feel we can barely take our next breath. Hopefully.