Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Was it really that gory?

At the weekend, I set up an photo album on my Facebook account, which showed the covers of various magazines/anthologies that my work has appeared in. One example was “Tourniquet Heart” (featuring my story “Up For Anything”), as edited by Chris Teague and he wrote, in the comments, “I do recall Paul Finch squirming during your reading at a Terror Tales gig in Birmingham, Mark; I think it was the tampon-scene.”

He was right, it was the tampon scene. “Up For Anything” was written in 1999 and was my attempt to get a story into “Nasty Piece Of Work”, a superb small press zine at the time. Essentially, it details a young woman’s willing descent into a BDSM relationship that she tries to continue with new partners after her lover dies. It’s not badly written (if I do say so myself) and subsequently appeared in my collection, but nobody is ever going to accuse it of being coy. Anyway, it never made its intended market, Nasty shuffled off this mortal coil and then Chris picked up the story. Cut to 2002 and TH makes its debut (at the Terror Tales Gathering in the Britannia Hotel in Birmingham) and several of its writers are in the audience, so it makes sense for them to read their stories aloud. Right? As I stood there, in front of perhaps 100 or so people who were all waiting for me to start reading loud and clear and concisely, all I could see was the word tampon (I won’t explain why this sequence elicits reactions, you’ll have to read the collection or ask me to see the story via email). I cracked on, reading through and as I got to the scene in question, I was aware of both Mr Finch squirming and then Simon Bestwick made an ‘urgh’ noise. Job done, eh?

Back to this week. Chris followed up his comment with “Do you think you could write such a visceral story now?” and, you know, I’m not sure that I could. In 1999, I was 30 years old and on top of the world and I wanted to push boundaries, I wanted to write to push the envelope. Does “Up For Anything” do that? Yes, it does. Am I proud of it? Yes, I am - I’m proud of every story that I’ve ever had published. Would I write it again? Yes, but with reservations.

Maybe it’s the two big family changes since then - losing my sister and becoming a Dad - but my writing style has definitely changed. It’s got darker, for one thing, a lot darker and that often detracts from the gore. “The Mill” is probably one of the bleakest things I’ve ever written and it works because of that, because it doesn’t allow the splat scene to detract from the pain and loneliness and horror of the protagonists. “Come See My House In The Pretty Town” is a ‘nasty’ story but, again, there’s no gore in it and it works all the better for that (in my opinion). As much as the quick release of an “urgh” is great fun (and trust me, eliciting one from Simon Bestwick made my day), now I find that I’m not aiming for that, I’m aiming for the lingering cloud in the readers head as they finish the story and realise that things, sometimes, don’t get better in the end.

Speaking of which, I’m currently reading and critiquing Gary McMahon’s forthcoming novel “Dead Bad Things” (from Angry Robot) and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that it’s the darkest thing I’ve ever read to be published by a mainstream house. Seriously. My God, it’s dark.

In other news, still no writing done on ZoQuNo (yay me, the writer who’s moving away from gore and yet is just about to start a zombie novel!), but plenty more sequences are coming to light.

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