Ginger Nuts of Horror
The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon
"They caught the kid doing something disgusting out under the bleachers at the high school stadium and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He’d been doing it for years."
Come with me back to 1971. I know it's a scarily long time ago, and many of you weren't even born, but picture a wee Scots lad, 13 years old, and a science fiction geek in love with Asimov, Clarke, Wells and Wyndham. That's me that is. I'd also read a few of Dennis Wheatley's books by then, and I'd been thrilled by the horror / satanic aspects of the old bigot's work, but his upper-crust characters were so far removed from my Scottish council estate life that I couldn't identify with them at all.
One day that summer I was in the local library looking for something new as I'd burned my way through my aforementioned favorite authors. A name caught my eye - Sturgeon, which I knew was a kind of fish, and thought was a strange name for a person. But it said it was science fiction on the front, so I took it home.
I quickly found out it wasn't really science fiction at all - but I was hooked after the very first paragraph anyway, so that didn't matter any more. The Dreaming Jewels isn't really science fiction. But it's not really fantasy either, or horror. It's what gets called Dark Fantasy these days. I imagine back when it was first published in 1950 they had a bit of trouble classifying it, containing as it does child abuse, sex changes, murder, infidelity and some close to the bone innuendo. It also has magic, carnivals, puppets, scenery chewing bad guys, extraterrestrial lifeforms, acts of selfless heroism, and a lovely twist ending that fits just right.
And there is definite horror along the way, including the aforementioned child abuse, and one of the best descriptions of what it means to be a frightened child I've ever come across. It's all quite Bradburyesque in some ways, but with a harder edge - less misty sentimentality for a bygone era, more down and dirty.
As for the plot - on simple reading, it too is Bradburyesque. An 8-year-old boy named Horton "Horty" Bluett, runs away from his abusive family and takes refuge among the "strange people" in a traveling circus. Carrying only a smashed jack-in-the-box named Junky, Horty is hidden away, and disguised as a girl. The owner of the carnival, Pierre Monetre has discovered intelligent extraterrestrial life in the form of crystal-like jewels and is attempting to use them to get magical powers. As it turns out, Horty is the key to Monetre's plans, and will be the only one powerful enough to stop him.
Now, that reads very pulpy, and in some respects it is, but Sturgeon knew how to put flesh on simple bones. You believe in all the characters in this book, some grotesque, some plain evil, others full of love and hate and despair all at the same time.
That first read opened my eyes to what was possible in genre fiction outside the names I mentioned earlier. It led me almost directly to Bradbury, and to Lovecraft a few months later. A couple of years after that some chap named King came along and changed everything again, but I've never forgotten the impact The Dreaming Jewels had on me.
It stands up well to rereading too. I read it again today before writing this and was drawn in all over again. It's a lovely, lovely book, and I recommend it to all horror fans.
ABOUT WILLIE MEIKLE
I'm William Meikle, a Scottish genre writer now living in Newfoundland.
Around 1991 and after being given a push by my new wife, I started to submit stories to the UK small press mags. It's been a slow but steady progression from there. I now have over thirty five professional short story sales and have twenty novels published in genre presses.
My current bestseller is the sci-fi novel THE INVASION which reached #2 in the Kindle Sci-fi charts on Amazon.com and #4 in Kindle horror.
My work covers several genres including:-
For details see the menu on the left or visit My Bibliography
I've been asked many times why I write what I do. I choose to write mainly at the pulpy end of the market, populating my stories with monsters, myths, men who like a drink and a smoke, and more monsters. People who like this sort of thing like it.
I've also been criticised for it by people who don't get it. "...the critical acclaim he receives from his peers is virtually non-existent." is only one of the responses I've had.
Now, I don't write for the critical acclaim of my peers. I couldn't give a toss what other writers think of me. I'm writing for two reasons... myself and a readership. Posterity, if there is one, can decide on whether it's any good or not. Besides, the harder I work at it making my writing accessible, the more readers I get, so I'm doing something right.
But that's still not why I do it. My pat answer has always been the same. "I like monsters."
But it goes deeper than that.
I write to escape.
I grew up on a West of Scotland council estate and I spent a lot of time alone or at my grandparent's house.
My Granddad was housebound, and a voracious reader. I got the habit from him, and through him I discovered the Pan Books of Horror and Lovecraft, but I also discovered westerns, science fiction, war novels and the likes of Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, Alistair MacLean, Dennis Wheatley, Nigel Tranter, Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. When you mix all that together with DC Comics, Tarzan, Gerry Anderson and Dr Who then, later on, Hammer and Universal movies on the BBC, you can see how the pulp became embedded in my psyche.
When I was at school these books and my guitar were all that kept me sane in a town that was going downhill fast. The steelworks shut and employment got worse. I -could- have started writing about that, but why bother? All I had to do was walk outside and I'd get it slapped in my face. That horror was all too real.
So I took up my pen and wrote. At first it was song lyrics, designed (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me closer to girls.
I tried my hand at a few short stories but had no confidence in them and hid them away. And that was that for many years.
I didn't get the urge again until I was past thirty and trapped in a very boring job. My home town had continued to stagnate and, unless I wanted to spend my whole life drinking (something I was actively considering at the time), returning there wasn't an option.
As I said before, I write to escape.
My brain needed something, and writing gave it what was required. That point, back nearly twenty years ago, was like switching on an engine, one that has been running steadily ever since.
And most of the time, the things that engine chooses to give me to write are very pulpy.
I think you have to have grown up with pulp to -get- it. A lot of writers have been told that pulp=bad plotting and that you have to have deep psychological insight in your work for it to be valid. They've also been told that pulp = bad writing, and they believe it. Whereas I remember the joy I got from early Moorcock, from Mickey Spillane and further back, A E Merritt and H Rider Haggard. I'd love to have a chance to write a Tarzan, John Carter, Allan Quartermain, Mike Hammer or Conan novel, whereas a lot of writers I know would sniff and turn their noses up at the very thought of it.
I write to escape.
I haven't managed it yet, but I'm working on it