“Isn’t there enough horror in the world already, without you writing it, too?”
I have heard this question asked more than once. If I am honest, I have asked it of myself and thought on it long and hard. It is true to say that people who know me well are surprised, amazed even, that I write in this genre. That is because they know that I will leave the room if a horror film comes on! Yet I am an avid reader of the genre and have been since I was around eleven or twelve years old. Why? The conclusion that I come to is this: horror, especially when supernatural or fantastical in form, is not extra to real-life horror, it is an anti-dote to it.
Horror that we as authors choose to write, or as readers choose to read, is well within our personal control. We can cover our eyes and block our ears, we can put down the book or turn off the T.V screen, we can get up and walk out of the cinema and that is an end to it. The horror is no more, nobody really got hurt and we can all carry on regardless. If only the same were true of the countless news items from across the world that we are subjected to more and more frequently it seems. That is real horror, beyond our control, out of our timing, independent of our limitations, and I suspect it is the very reason why we turn to our books and our screens.
Choosing to encounter horror is, I think, a way of processing, understanding, embracing and ultimately dealing with the grotesque and unimaginable at a safe distance, without the emotional weighing down of genuine grief, terror and psychological impact and all that those things entail. We choose to go on that roller-coaster because we know that we will always get off safely at the end of the ride.
But it is more than that. It is also perhaps an expression, however irrational, of fear. If I write this particular scene, if I read this particular book then maybe – just maybe – this dreadful thing won’t happen to me. Not dissimilar to people hanging an Evil Eye in their bedroom window. It is probably subconscious much of the time, but just think about it a moment; how many of us, when watching or reading something disturbing, ask ourselves what we would do if it was happening to us? How many of us put ourselves right in the protagonist’s shoes, just for that brief space of time? Is that not the very core from which we get our thrills? Tapping right into the heart of the fear – not the cause of it, but the effect. We might even speak it aloud; “There’s no way I would go in there!” for example, or “If I was her I would turn around now and get help.” It is a vocalization of the same thing; a deeply hidden, possibly primitive, hope of preventing it ever happening for real. It is hopeless of course and we know that too, but it is doesn’t stop us wishing otherwise.
For me, that is the Holy Grail of writing horror; being able to capture and describe in spine-chilling, goose-bump raising detail the effect of the monstrous, the appalling, the sinister, upon my characters. The source of their terror is of course important too, but it is not the be all and end all. I think that is why, for me personally, fantastical or supernatural horror is more effective than slasher movies and endless, graphic gore. But that is a matter of personal taste of course, and even I have my moments…
S P Oldham
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I currently have three Horror/Speculative and Dark Fiction books available on Amazon, and am writing a fourth. Click the images to find out more. Reviews always welcome.