October is almost upon us, and we all know what that means. And no, I don’t mean that there’s only around 80 or so shopping days until Christmas… although that’s also true, of course. No, what I’m talking about is the supermarkets filling up with crates of pumpkins and racks of gaudy costumes, rubber masks, and plastic meat cleavers, the cinema multiplexes being taken over by derivative, law-of-diminishing-returns horror movie sequels, and, naturally, all those writers in the horror genre preparing to step up to give of their best (or their worst) in the expectation of a welcome little seasonal bump in their sales figures.
Hallelujah, it’s Halloween.
This year, instead of standing back and nodding my head with benign approval at this frantic scramble for blood-money, I will actually be taking part in the freak-show festival by publishing not one but two books – one a collection of short horror fiction, and the other a full-blown horror-fantasy novel. It’s going to be a bit of a rush to get them finished up in time. The short story collection still needs its running order to be finalised, the TOC bookmarks and the hyperlinks to be sorted out, and last minute amendments to take place, etc., etc., etc., and the novel still needs to be proofed and properly formatted. I also need to come up with a couple of decent covers and two thoroughly engaging Product Descriptions, and it’s the latter of these two tasks that has really given me pause for thought.
It was while jotting down a few ideas of how best to describe the stories in my shorts collection that I began to get a funny feeling of doubt – are my stories really what most people would call horror? And exactly what IS horror in these days of global-warming, rogue nuclear states, suicide bombers, ethnic-cleansing, on-line beheadings, child abuse in the church, and the Kardashians? Is it really still dangling skeletons, hook-nosed witches, vampires in capes, zombie-fiends from beyond the grave, and burly guys in hockey masks wielding sharp implements? Doesn’t that rather cosy list of ghosts, ghoulies, and loonies sound far more like re-runs of Scooby Doo plots than anything else? Isn’t the real world far more horrific than anything to be found in mere fiction?
Or am I missing the point entirely?
Are the horrors to be found in popular entertainment simply reflections of their non-fiction counterparts, useful ways of coping with real-life horrors, allowing us to let off steam and ease the pressure on our fragile psyches? A way of facing up to at least some of our fears in a controlled, safe environment – to all intents and purposes a kind of public therapy, no different to 1950s American audiences facing up to the fears and anxieties raised by the perceived threat of Communism by watching science-fiction movies like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers? Is fictional horror a way of immunising us against the world’s more genuine horrors? Is that its real purpose? Its best purpose?
Whatever the truth is, I’ve decided I’ve probably got everything covered – well, more or less. My horror short stories are a little like my crime stories, I think, in that they both may be slightly atypical examples of their respective genres. My horror tales are largely about real-world people with real-world problems and faults and weaknesses – envy, and sadness, and bitterness, and vicious cruelty – and people whose best intentions unfortunately end up leading them badly astray and into the path of evil.
… they also have the occasional bloodsucking creature of the night to contend with, and inhuman monsters, and undead things from beyond the grave, and vengeful spectres and hungry wraiths, and maniacs with sharp knives and short tempers, and even – honestly, I tell no lie – supernatural rabbits.
I mean, this is Halloween, right? Ya gotta have a little fun…