Tag Archives: horror

Friday Fiction Fixes #18…

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe – 1845

hqdefaultThe Raven is the most well known poem penned by Poe, and quite probably the most famous poem in all of horror. It’s quite a lengthy piece – certainly much longer than the five line limericks I was quite partial to writing when I was at school – but it has a good, consistent rhythm and quite the creepy atmosphere.

Now, hands up: I’m not much of a poetry professor. I know some of it rhymes and some of it doesn’t. But if you’re the kind of person who gets excited about iambic pentameter and the differences between a haiku and a tanka, you’ll likely have a better time talking to someone else.

Poe was one of the founding fathers of the horror genre – a guy you would be hard pressed not to put on your Mount Rushmore of that particular field – but as synonymous as his name is with the genre, Poe only completed one novel in his life. It’s very impressive to have made such a lasting impression based on short stories and poetry exclusively, and The Raven is a piece that will be talked about for years to come.

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This is What’s Under the Bed…

I’ve written hundreds of stories in my life, over a million words (you’ll have to trust me on that one). I’ve written comedies and thrillers. I’ve written romance and drama. I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve written westerns and stuff for kids. I’ve even penned some erotica (much to my mother’s embarrassment), but what I’m writing now is possibly the first real monster story I’ve tried… well, ever.

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I mention this only because for the longest time – in my head – I was a horror writer. I think somewhere in there I still am. I read horror and that’s what I wrote, or so I thought. But looking back over those hundreds of titles and those million words, it turns out that very little of it would actually fit in the boundaries of the genre. Maybe ten percent; fifteen at a push.

I’ve always wanted to write a pure, no-nonsense monster tale – one that doesn’t necessarily live in the real world, and doesn’t feel the need to apologise or explain itself either. Sometimes horror just is and creatures just are.

This may just be my first time.

Friday Fiction Fixes #17…

The Jonah by James Herbert – 1981

herbertjonahOddly, it was my dad – who I would never say was a big reader – who became my first point of contact with the works of James Herbert. He was possibly the only author my dad made any time for. Back in the mid eighties I was far too young to read anything by the dark master of British horror, but that always stuck with me and when I was old enough I got through a bunch of Herbert’s novels.

The Jonah is the last Herbert novel I read, but it’s unfortunately one of his lesser offerings. It’s about a detective who has had misfortune follow him throughout his life. Despite the author’s history, it’s a dark police thriller which can only very loosely be described as horror.

The writing is fine and the narrative is moderately entertaining, but Herbert’s penchant for shoehorning in an obligatory sex scene rears its head again in a somewhat unrealistic romantic sub-plot which is signposted from miles away. However, The Jonah – for its shortcomings – is quite a short novel, so it’s not something that you will have to wade through for too long.

James Herbert was absolutely capable of producing great stuff and he produced a number of classics throughout his career. The Jonah is certainly not bad, but a classic it is not. If you want a good entry-point to his work, there are far better places to jump into the water.

Friday Fiction Fixes #11…

Dracula by Bram Stoker – 1897

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Probably not Stoker’s original vision.

I have spent a fair portion of my life writing dark fiction, but somewhat surprisingly I was a little late to the party with this one, and I didn’t read Dracula – the grand-daddy of horror literature – until I was thirty. Perhaps it’s because vampires have never really done it for me as a sub-genre. Then again, if you want to be a film director, you watch Hitchcock movies. If you want a career in porn, Ron Jeremy’s your man… well, you know, so I’ve heard.

Literature of such vintage is often stigmatised by its stagnant use of language, but although Dracula is now one hundred and twenty years old, it still feels quite fresh and accessible. The narrative takes the non-traditional form of letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles, but despite this often clunky way of storytelling, it’s still a much easier read than you may expect going in – testament to how well the story is told.

Is it worthy of being held in such high regard? Possibly. It’s difficult to be objective with a property as ubiquitous as Dracula. It’s certainly not the greatest horror novel I have read – I’ve had more fun with stories published both before and after – but cinema has been in love with the character for decades, so there’s something to be said about the reach of the chilling and iconic Count.

Friday Fiction Fixes #5…

The Ash-Tree by MR James – 1904

MRJames1900It’s very difficult to read stories of this vintage – even those written by a deity of the supernatural genre such as MR James – after spending any length of time with modern authors. It takes a while to acclimatise to the differences in language and the way that the story itself has been put together, but stick with it – it’s a worthwhile excursion.

In some regards it is an unfair comparison, because it’s apples and oranges. MR James was writing at a time when readers did not have the attention span of a gnat. The Ash-Tree – about an inherited English estate with a cursed history – is only 5400 words, but James, one of the most atmospheric writers of his generation, manages to pack more in to that word count than many twenty-first century authors could do with four times the length.

The Ash-Tree was published in 1904 in James’ first collection of shorts, Ghost Stories if an Antiquary, and the full text is available to read for free online here, if you want to give it a look.

Friday Fiction Fixes #2…

Superstitious by RL Stine – 1995

Superstitious is a great Stevie Wonder song, but it’s also the single most terrible novel I have ever read. In fact, a novel written by Stevie Wonder about the song would be much better.

Memories of a darker time.

Superstitious was released in 1995 and I read it shortly thereafter. It was curiosity more than anything else, because Stine was being billed on the cover as “The World’s Bestselling Horror Writer”, but I had never read any of his fiction, and I was only vaguely familiar with his name.

Of course, the reason my knowledge of his work was limited was because – until this release – his audience had been children. This was his first story for grown-ups… and boy does it show.

The novel belonged to my future brother-in-law, so the silver lining is that he was the one who paid for the book. He read it first and recommended I read it as well. I guess he didn’t want to be the only one with a sour taste in his mouth. We were (and are) both writers, and we both would have been embarrassed if this was our work.

I can remember writing a list of all the terrible phrases, sentences, and unintentionally funny moments, and wondering why this guy had a publishing contract and I didn’t. Unfortunately I don’t have the list any longer, but I’ll offer you this, the opening to Superstitious, exactly as it is presented to the reader. And trust me, it gets a lot worse from here.

Charlotte Wilson stares up at the ceiling. Pale yellow light from the street filters through the venetian blinds, spreading a shadow pattern of lines over her head. Bars, Charlotte thinks, prison bars. The guy beside her stirs. She hears him muffle a burp. His after-dinner burp, Charlotte thinks bitterly. I was dinner.

After we were done ripping it apart figuratively we decided to rip it apart literally… so we took turns using it as a surfboard to slide down his staircase. Okay, it was silly and disrespectful, but I promise you, it was a thousand times more fun than reading it.

Monday Movie Mentions #2…

House (1986)

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“Say your prayers.” Roger’s ex-wife gets a makeover.

Horror and comedy are polar opposites, and although a lot of movies have tried to marry the two genres, only a select few have managed to create something worthwhile.

House was released in 1986 and was the first in a disjointed quadrilogy of films. The series was somewhat unique in that there was no uniformity or overarching tone. But don’t bother with the others, and don’t let the generic title fool you – do yourself a favour and just watch this one.

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A great scene featuring former Miss World, Mary Stavin, in a bathing suit.

The special effects may be cheap and rubbery, but that’s because the movie never takes itself too seriously, and that’s okay. Horror doesn’t have to be realistic evicerations and computer-assisted effects that are indistinguishable from real life. Sometimes it’s all right for horror to just be a little bit of mindless fun.

The premise is simple. After his aunt commits suicide, divorced horror author Roger Cobb moves in to the house where his young son disappeared. Struggling to come to terms with that as he writes his next book about his experience in the Vietnam War, things start to go bump in the night.

Harold: Hey, it’s great to have a new neighbor. Woman lived here before you was nuts. Biggest bitch under the sun. Just a senile old hag really. Wouldn’t be surprised if someone just got fed up and offed her. Know what I mean?
Roger: She was my aunt.
Harold: Heart of gold though. Just uh, a saint really. And uh such a beautiful woman, for her age.

House is an underappreciated movie that has never been given the love it deserves, and you’ll probably have to speak to a lot of people before you find someone else who has seen it, but give this low budget gem a chance – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.