Well, I’ve named the piece I was discussing last week. It’s going to be called, Scream, Pause, Play. At least, that’s the working title. These things have been known to change as the story grows. On paper (or, in my head, at least) it’s a very dark story with an interesting narrative form. It will be quite the undertaking, but I’m certainly willing to giving it a go.
I’ve also picked up a story I started a long time ago called, Talking in the Fourth. It’s a first person tale set entirely on a therapist’s couch that should probably be no longer than a couple of thousand words, so it shouldn’t outstay its welcome. I found a good ending for it a few days ago, so now it’s just a matter of writing my way towards it.
Of course, this is along with that damn monster story on the train that hasn’t quite pulled into the station yet.
But I’ll get there.
Well, not very much as it happens – certainly not as much as the first week of last year, when I was burning both ends of that candle and kicking out my final draft of Slipwater, but definitely more than I wrote in the final week of last year. I’m going to take that as a positive and move forward from there.
The short story I’m writing at the moment has been on the books for several years, and has gone through a number of name changes along the way, but I have settled for The 07.43 to Blackford Station, which is of course, subject to change.
It’s an old-fashioned monster story – something I’ve wanted to write for a long time – and is centred on five teenage friends as they take the morning train to school. I have over 3000 words down, and I’m probably looking at twice that upon completion. I know the beats I want to hit, so hopefully I can finally put my mind to it and put this story to bed once and for all. .. by the end of February.
I love horror but it’s a genre that I find myself falling out of love with quite often. Many times it seems that even those producing it are aware of how silly it can be, so they forget to scare the audience and try to make the viewers laugh instead, and if even the filmmakers aren’t going to take it seriously, why should I suspend my disbelief for their work?
But there is nothing cheesy or fun in the slightest about Sinister. There’s very little to smile about here. It’s an oppressive and unremittingly dark movie – both visually and in tone; right down to the unforgiving way that it ends – and that’s what is so damn good about it.
Sinister was the last great horror movie that I saw at the cinema, and I’ve only seen it once. I bought it on disc a few years ago but still haven’t watched it again, because I remember how bleak and depressing it was the first time round. But bleak and depressing in a way that good horror is supposed to embrace.
Sinister leaves you with a pervasive feeling of dread that is almost palpable, and makes you want to find the nearest source of sunshine… because bad things don’t happen in the light, do they?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – 1818
It’s Halloween weekend, so there’s no better novel to shine a spotlight on than Frankenstein – if not the grandaddy of the gothic horror genre, then it was certainly at the first family picnic. Not only is this story’s status as a dark masterpiece solid and well deserved, but it’s always up there in the discussion for one of the best novels I have ever read.
Mary Shelley published Frankenstein when she was twenty years old. Are you kidding me? Twenty. Just let that sink in. Completing a novel at that age is one thing; writing a very good novel at that age is another; and writing a very good novel in a genre that was still in its infancy when you sat down with your typewriter, is quite amazing!
Frankenstein is a morality tale that as well as being frightening, also has an unexpectedly good sense of humour, thanks to an extremely well developed central character who occasionally finds himself in completely inappropriate situations. The novel also possesses a surprising level of subtlety that I didn’t expect on the way in.
Shelley’s legacy would have been cemented right there, even if she had never written another word. Next year the novel will be two hundred years old, and if you can show me even half a dozen full length horror tales that are better, I’ll not only be very surprised – I’ll probably call you a liar as well.
And yes, we should all know by now…
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe – 1845
The 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.
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.
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.
The Jonah by James Herbert – 1981
Oddly, 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.