Three Things I Don’t Write About
* Gore for gore’s sake. I used to, back in the day, because I loved reading it and I loved writing it and it worked for me. But then things slowly shifted and I moved into writing quieter, darker pieces that might still feature blood and guts but not in the same, gung-ho fashion. As I’ve got older, as things in my life have changed, I’ve realised that splashing around the claret does work but it also runs the risk of being so OTT that it blands itself out. I’d much rather give you a character, make you care about them and then hurt them, rather than have a maniac running around with power tools. I do still enjoy reading it on occasion though.
* Cosmic horror. I don’t mind reading it on occasion, but it doesn’t work for me in terms of my own writing and I'm not entirely sure why. Though, of course, if I did know then it might make this point a bit more interesting.
|On rhythm, lyrics not pictured|
In my early twenties, I was in a band and wrote the lyrics for all the songs and I loved it but it was a different rhythm and process (and, besides, I haven’t written any lyrics for about fifteen years).
As a band, we weren't pop and so most of love songs tended to have a fairly dark heart to them. I wrote one about a car crashing in a snow-storm and, oddly, was the only person in the group who liked it!
Three Things I Do Write About
* Real people. Okay, not close enough that you could go to one of my friends and say “hey, weren’t you the second baddie on the left in Mark’s last short story”, but close enough that I get complimented on the believability of my characters and their dialogue. And that’s always a nice thing to have happen.
If you write within the speculative genre - and I most assuredly do - then you’re already asking the reader to take a leap of faith with you, so I think it’s essential that you give them real people to go on the journey with.
Six-foot-seven stud-muffin and male model Sven is striding through the forest when he comes across an opening in the hedge. When he gazes in with his cobalt blue eyes, his strong jaw clenched, he notices a movement. Something is coming towards him…. (and who cares? In real life, who the hell knows someone like Sven?).
My character would be a normal bloke, about my height, who works in an office or factory, be thinking about his wife or girlfriend or family and he’d be hesitant to peer into the hole, especially when he notices the movement.
Real people - and, importantly - their realistic dialogue is what grounds the reader and gives them a solid base for the weird stuff you’re going to subject them too later. Plus, of course, it’s more fun to put the bloke-next-door into peril than someone who escaped from the set of Zoolander.
* Real fears. Always. What scares you is probably going to be scary to the person next to you too and that's a recipe that never gets old for a horror writer. Whilst I have employed genre tropes before - a vampire on a couple of occasions (both in black comedies), a werewolf (which was great fun to write) and a witch (in Conjure) - mostly I focus on what makes us tick as human beings and what it is about our fragile lives and bodies that can be completely and utterly terrifying. Even worse, I write about what would happen if what we loved and needed was taken away from us (as I did with The Mill - and getting emails from readers saying that it made them cry was lovely, in an odd sort of way).
* Real places. Virtually every one of my stories - be they shorts, novellas or novels - takes place in and around the environs of Gaffney, my fictional town set in the heart of Northamptonshire. I used to set my stuff in local places I knew and understood but then it occurred to me that I might, have a villain called Mr Smith who lives in Acacia Avenue and is having an affair with his brothers wife and then receive a snotty letter from him asking how I knew all about his life.
Following the lead of Stephen King, I decided to create my own town (I wish I could remember where I got the name from, though I know it wasn't from the 'actor') and have used it ever since. A curious amalgamation of Rothwell, Kettering, Northampton and Leicester, over the years it’s grown somewhat (What Gets Left Behind, my Spectral Press chapbook, added a railway line to the town) but there’s always a bandstand on the common and the old cinema is always on Russell Street.
My nominations are romance writer Sue Fortin and horror hounds Stephen Bacon and Stuart Young.