I was going to write a light and fluffy piece this week, but my sciatica’s playing up and I’m in a certain amount of pain, which has made me think about what we write and how it makes us feel. My friend Gary McMahon said the other week that most of what he writes hurts him in some ways or other (if you not read Gary’s stuff, you should, but be warned: it’s very bleak), and this pain certainly ends up on the page. I get the impression (although I may not be right) that Gary uses his writing to keep control of his own darkness, and to maybe lance the boils of his own anger and disgust and dismay at the world and to face his own fears head on. I’ve spent a bit of time wondering, Do I do the same thing?
My initial reaction is to say no, but I’m wrong about that. When I look at the stories in Lost Places, a number of them clearly deal with the key fears in my life: that my wife and child are at risk, that the relationship I have with them is at risk, that the world in which we’re trying to survive begins to threaten us, to change and shift about us. I would have said, without thinking, that I never struggled to write them in the sense of being upset by their content, and have always enjoyed the process of writing. Had to fight to find the right words, certainly; struggled to find the right tone or rhythm or length or plot structure, damn straight, but upset by them? No.
Well, mostly not. ‘When the World Goes Quiet’, perhaps the bleakest story in Lost Places, caused my throat to feel a little tight as I typed the final paragraph, and ‘The Baking of Cakes’ (the only non-supernatural story in the collection, if memory serves) is about a part of mine and Wendy’s life that wasn’t so good, and I remember that the only way I could comfortably write it was to use a stylistic trick to distance myself from its contents, and even then writing the last sentence upset me. The purpose of this ramble is, I think, to try to work out something that I’ve been wondering about for a bit: why, exactly, do I write what I write? Clearly, I want to scare and entertain, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to upset people: I do. There’s genuinely nothing better than being told that one of my stories has made someone cry, or made them realise just how fragile their own life or relationships are, and I do that by utilising my own concerns and terrors and making them work for me. If the reader get upset, it means I’ve made the right connection at some level or other. It’s also clearly a way of addressing my own concerns, of working them out and massaging them into shapes that I can cope with, a fact which I suspect is true of most of the authors I know (to some degree or other, anyway). I honestly think that’s why most of the horror authors I know are such nice, well-adjusted people: they work some of their griefs and neuroses out on the page, so they don’t stay bubbling away inside them, fucking them up. Gary M, for example, is not the depressive in real life that his writing might make you think he’s going to be – he’s actually a great bloke who appears to laugh most of the time, and to genuinely enjoy his life. One of the nicest things I’ve heard about this world of authors that I’ve found myself in was something Wendy said: that (as a group) we’re one of the friendliest bunch of people she’s met. And you know what? It’s true, and I’m proud to be a part of it all.
Plus, of course, the bottom line is, we like horror stories and we write what we like!
Okay, reflective bit over. This week, I’ve really kicked in to the first draft of the novel – I’m about 8500 words in and it’s flowing well. It’ll need a lot of work to get from first draft to final version, but I’m pleased with what’s happening so far. The story is unfolding nicely, I think I’m finding the right balance between plot and description and characterisation, and the unpleasant scenes of death and demon-inflicted brutality are good fun. Hurrah! I also took a break in the middle of it to write a very short short story (150 words!) for the Campaign for Real Fear, which I’m sure won’t get anywhere in the competition but which was fun to do, and to write a longer story (1400 words) about the lifts at Borough tube station that I’m quite pleased with. Dunno what I’m going to do with it yet, but I’ll think of something…
Other news: my copy of Best Horror of the Year 2 turned up, and yes, I’m definitely listed in the book’s Honourable Mentions. Thanks, Ellen! She also calls my story ‘Mami Wata’ “terrific” (along with a few other stories from Exotic Gothic 3, so well done all of us!). Also, two anthologies I’m in, Exotic Gothic 3 and Lovecraft Unbound, have been nominated for a Shirley Jackson award for best anthology, which is great. I have friends nominated in other categories, including Stephen Volk for best novella (for ‘Vardoger’) and Rob Shearman for his collection Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical – it goes without saying that I hope they both win and I’m rooting for them.
I’ve been invited to contribute to three another anthologies (not sure if they’re secret or not, so I won’t say which ones until I’ve clarified that), which is fun and which I’ll certainly do. Looks like I’m going to be busy…
Right, I’m going. This sciatica needs a talking to, and my back needs a stretch. Later, Lords and Ladies.