SixtySecond Time

July 25, 2010 at 10:39 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my life and my writing.

Crossbones Grim says: "This is thoughtful. Consider."

Those of you who follow this blog with any regularity will know that the last year has been a good year for my writing, with various anthology acceptances as well as the release of my first collection, Lost Places. However, life outside of writing in the same period has been a bumpier ride –  as well as having a private business that started to struggle and having to go back to salaried work, I’ve had a number of minor health issues, nothing at all serious but enough be really, really irritating (fucking sciatica!). To top it all, I live in a country that saw fit to elect a government that is set to do possibly irreparable damage to the infrastructure of our education and social services which means mine (and the people I love’s) future has become a somewhat more insecure place to consider. Of course, almost everyone else is in the same boat, so this isn’t a request for sympathy blog or anything, but it’s struck me that it does affect what and how I write.

My work, I think, falls into two distinct categories: what I might call emotional horror, and pulp horror. Examples of the former are stories like ‘The Baking of Cakes’ (from Lost Places), ‘The Knitted Child’ (from Black Static #15, and due to be reprinted in the forthcoming PS collection) and ‘A Place for Feeding’ (in the forthcoming Never Again anthology), and examples of the latter include ‘A Meeting of Gemmologists’ or ‘Last Option’ (from Lost Places  and Creature Feature respectively). Of course, the emotional stuff still has to work as a story, and the pulp stuff still has to make some kind of emotional connection with the situation, or the characters, etc, so nothing I write is completely and solely in one or other of those categories and there’s always some element of crossover. At its best, I think, my work manages to find the right balance and to mix both: ‘The Church on the Island’ is a pulp horror story that tries to connect with the emotional element of horror, without which, I think, horror stories don’t work. For me, the stuff that lives in the pit isn’t the key horrific element of the story, nor the thought of it escaping. No, it’s the thought of what Charlotte (and, by extension, me) risks losing by being exposed to this new reality. All of those things that make up our life, our friendships and the things we enjoy, the gracenotes in our lives, make our existence something special and to be valued, and if the swirling terror escapes from the pit we will lose all of it and we will know what we’ve lost. And that, friends, is fucking terrifying.

So what does this have to do with anything? Stop nagging, I’m getting to it – honest! It’s like this: although I rarely set out to write one type of story or another (it tends to occur naturally, as it were), I do find the emotional stories harder to write. They tend to take more time, and to require me to at least consider some awful possibilities (how would I cope with losing my wife or child, for example) so that I can fit the feelings that those possibilities invoke into the story as effectively as possible. The pulp stuff often takes more effort to plot, but tends to be more fun to do. It’s not brainless by any sense, but it’s what I always called ‘take your brains out enjoyment’. To get to the point (at last, you say!), the reason (in case you’re wondering) that I’ve started to think about this stuff, is that the other week I was invited to contribute to an anthology – I can’t say too much about it, as the details aren’t for release yet, but the basic idea was to write a creature feature, i.e. a pulp story. I was going to say no initially, as I’m concentrating on the novel, but changed my mind because of something.

I wanted to have fun.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing the emotional stuff, because I do, or that I don’t try to put emotional stuff into the pulp writing, because I do, but the bottom line is that writing a pulp story is (more often than not) fantastic fun. My work-in-progress novel is very dark, my life outside writing is often complex and stressful (as is everyone’s – I repeat, this is not a surf for sympathy moment, nor an attempt to beat the ‘love me love for my life is so difficult’ drum), my job is enjoyable and fulfilling but tiring, and sometimes it’s fun to simply step outside it all and write something about bloody great bugs eating people. My hope is that some of the fun I had in writing those stories comes across to the reader (and, conversely, when I’ve written an emotional horror story, that it genuinely upsets people – the best feedback I’ve ever had is when people tell me that those stories I wrote to upset have made them cry or, as happened this week, that it was so involving that it stopped them eating their cheesecake). What’s particularly heartening, of course, is that the story I wrote and submitted has been accepted, which means that I must be doing something right. I hope to be able to give you more news of the anthology in the next few weeks…

So, I suppose I need ask again, what does any of this mean? Bugger all, of course, I’m just ruminating.

In other news, this week I’ve looking at the proofs of my story ‘Mami Wata’, in the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21. As ever, Steve Jones has produced another great looking book, stuffed to the gills with good stories and a great introduction. I’m in the excellent company of Simon Strantzas, Ramsey Campbell, Reggie Oliver and others and can’t wait to see the finished product…

One last thing: this week, I was sent a gift! Jason van Hollander has sent me a signed, one-off print of the full dust-jacket artwork to Lost Places! How cool is that! It’s the only piece of original, signed art that I’ve ever owned, and the fact that it’s the cover of my first book release makes it doubly or trebly special. The great man has requested that Wendy also signs the print (as she took the photo of Morecambe that underlies the cover), which I intend to do, and then I’m going to get it framed. When it’s all done, I’ll photo it and post here, but until then you’ll just need to imagine how lovely it is. Because it is lovely, trust me on this.

Right, that’s your lot, I’m off. Bye bye, Lords and Ladies, and keep well!!

1 Comment

  1. David Surface said,

    Hi, Simon. Great post on the “two sides” of horror—I believe I know what you mean.

    Many of us want to write horror that’s “deep”, that touches a real emotional/spiritual/political nerve (as you’ve certainly done). But, as you say, that kind of writing demands more from us and quite simply takes longer. (For instance, I wrote a story recently where I was completely aware that I was writing slowly simply because the next scene I had to write was too f-king painful.)

    The flip-side of this—the part you describe as the pleasure of “shutting off your brain”—is one I’m also familiar with. Although many of us want to be “serious writers” and “great artists” (nothing wrong with that, right?), I’ll fully admit that if I’m flipping through the TV channels late at night and I see there’s a deep, dark Bergman film, and, a few channels away, a Hammer vampire flick, I know without a doubt which one I’ll be clicking on (and it won’t have Swedish subtitles)!

    The important thing—again, that you point out so well—is that although we can talk about these “two kinds of horror” as though they’re separate, it’s actually impossible to wholly separate them in our minds. And that, I believe, is a good thing for horror, and a good thing for us.

    Thanks again for the great post, and the great stories.


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