Saturday 9 April 2011

H is for Horror

Somewhere, in one of the many boxes that are gradually suffering the effects of damp out in our garage, I think I still have the jotters I filled with page after page of lurid horror stories when I was about fourteen or fifteen. Most of them - such as The Reef - are very short but others - like Phantom Pregnancy - were considerably longer.

I don't know what produced this sudden rush of horror-themed creativity at that time. I think a friend had introduced me to the books of James Herbert and in that rebellious teenage way, knowing - or rather, believing - that my parents wouldn't approve, I got sucked in to reading The Dark.

Anyway, this phase passed (like so many do at that age) and when I eventually tried getting something published it was within my favoured fantasy milieu. But, horror has never really gone away.

In 2009 Evolution Expects, my fourth Ulysses Quicksilver adventure, was published. I remember my editor Jon Oliver telling me at the time 'This is definitely your horror title' (or something along those lines). But, as far as I was aware, I hadn't set out to write a horror story - that was supposed to have been Human Nature (UQ3). Certainly there are horrific elements to the story and horrific things happen to a horrific number of people in the book, but at the start of the project I didn't think I was setting out to write Horror with a capital H.

Since then, however, I'm decided that I would like to try my hand at writing horror properly. There's always been a dark side to my work, something that people still regularly comment on, and I suppose my third Warhammer novel Necromancer is pretty horrific in places, but again, as far as I was concerned this was supposed to be a fantasy adventure, dressed up in a Halloween costume, as it were.

Last year M is for Monster was published, featuring my short story Incubus. Now this was always intended to be a horror story and I wrote something unlike anything I had attempted before and that took me out of my comfort zone. (If I was worried my parents wouldn't approve of The Dark, they certainly wouldn't approve of Incubus.)

However, since then I've been invited to write stories for other collections. This year I have a story appearing in the Solaris anthology House of Fear and there's another story I should be writing at the moment for a collection about phobias. And what I'm finding now is that these stories are less 'horrific' - in terms of blood and guts being chucked about all over the place - than, say, The Dead and the Damned or Anno Frankenstein.

Blood and guts don't horrify me in fiction; it's surgical or anatomical in nature and something that, thankfully, I am highly unlikely to encounter in the real world. What scares me is the subtle implication that something isn't quite right with the everyday, that the familiar has been perverted in some indefinable way. The classic fear of the unknown and the fear born of being a parent.

I remember when my son was only days old, my wife and I would lie awake at night listening to him breathing when we were all supposed to be asleep. My wife suffered the worst. Either the sound of his baby snores kept her awake or, worse then that, if she couldn't hear him breathing she began to worry that... something wasn't quite right.

So why not pick up a copy of House of Fear when it's published later this year and see for yourself if I've managed to achieve a feeling of unease permeating my story? And, as they say, don't have nightmares...


Karen Jones Gowen said...

I've never tried horror stories. I should as an exercise if nothing else. I'm a big fan of Stephen King.

Jonathan Green said...

It's worth trying something outside your comfort zone sometimes. You never know, you might like it.

For example, I'm thinking of having a crack at a contemporary fiction-style story, heaven forbid!