Ginger Nuts of Horror
During my years spent in education I studied English with great interest so it was no surprise to me that I eventually wrote a book. At school I did well at my English GCSE so followed that with an A-Level and then a Degree. Throughout these years spent reading thousands of pages of prose I studied many highly regarded pieces: Hamlet, Lord of the Flies, Dubliners, Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, Great Expectations…the list goes on. And whilst I enjoyed reading and dissecting them all (admittedly some more than others) my experience after university was not one of eagerness to write my masterpiece, but one of fatigue. Whilst the careful consideration of these works of art was intriguing and the pleasure to read each one’s differing style in sentence structure and turn of phrase was fun, the entertainment value was strangled through over analysis.
The book that influenced me to write, and the style within which I would adopt was a more grimy affair than the exulted masterpieces endlessly listed by exam boards. The book was the break through novel by a master of pulp horror, Guy N Smith. That book being Night of the Crabs.
Night of the Crabs was the book that gave the prolific Guy his big break, released in the summer of 1976 and riding on the wave of popularity created by James Herbert’s Rats, it became a favourite beach time read. Or so I’ve read, as this was before I was born.
To me the history or context is not important. What’s important is the way it made me feel when I read it. And the feeling was one that had been lost over the years in education; I was entertained. I was taking on a fun packed ride with a perfect blast of horrific entertainment.
My copy is an original edition from 1976. The cover is lurid and over the top with a picture of a threatening crab holding its claws out to attack whilst trampling over a ‘Danger Keep Out’ sign. The almost visceral cover is not in anyway subtle and reminded me of the posters and art I love so much from exploitation movies of the 1970s to the early 1980s.
Just like those movies, where you can only get copies from bad transfers with grainy picture quality, my second hand book is dog eared, torn and has a biro-scribbled ‘£1’ scrawled across it. The literary equivalent of watching a 20th generation copy of Cannibal Holocaust. Before I even turned the first page I knew I had a piece of coveted pulp trash. A book that had passed through many hands and been enjoyed countless times over, but one that might not ever be given its true recognition as a genre masterpiece.
When I started reading I was immediately sucked into this world. Guy has a wonderful way of describing location and scenery, you can tell he is a man of the country at heart. He sets the scene beautifully as he describes a coastal part of Wales (yep that’s right Wales!) before we follow a couple taking an ill-fated dip. This chapter sets the scene with a hint of titillation from the description of Julie and the lusty thoughts of Ian as he tries to find a secluded cove where they might be able to have sex. This is followed by the killing of the two at the hands of those murderous crabs from the title. Here Guy paints a picture of the deaths in such a way that you can see it running through your head like a film. These are satisfying images that pack a punch without being too detailed. Like that shower scene in Psycho it’s your own imagination that fills in the gaps. The images running through your head are gory, but the actual prose is surprisingly reserved.
As the story unfolds and the crabs become braver in their attacks both the gore and sex are ramped up, giving a pleasingly sleazy tone for the book. The beginning was a startling warm up.
Cliff Davenport comes in to investigate the death of his niece Julie and manages to eventually succeed where the military fail. Although as the near invincibility of the monsters is revealed I found myself itching with tension as I questioned how these abominations where going to be stopped. Reading of the crabs rampaging through the Welsh coastal town we get some great images of tanks shooting at these near indestructible creatures. It conjures up some of my favourite scenes from those old Godzilla movies.
The combination of action and gore scenes, punctuated by moments of sex, moved the story along at such a pace that it never dragged. It was this more than anything else that I wanted to capture in my own writing. Entertainment from a book didn’t have to be soul searching, highbrow philosophising buried deep within the text. Night of the Crabs showed me that books could provide the same sleazy thrill ride as all those horror films that had kept me glued to the screen or howling with delight.
It didn’t have to be dense or complex. It could just be a bit of gruesome fun.
And I believe fun was what Guy intended when writing his horror. This book and his other works are littered with hammy lines that are so preposterous that you can’t help but smile at their own self-effacing tone. Lines like “If only we didn’t have to worry about giant crabs!” are intended at self-ridicule and keeps the tone light-hearted.
You see good writing doesn’t
have to stretch the grey matter,
good writing needs to express the scene
whilst providing the correct flow and pacing.
And Guy knew this at the time of writing. He wasn’t lost in his art thinking he was writing the next great novel. He was writing pulp horror to entertain, to thrill.
As such he made sure he didn’t out stay his welcome. Night of the Crabs is 144 pages long and can be read in one evening (recommended with a bottle of wine) or one afternoon stretched out in the sun.
So when I came to write my first novel Terror Byte, I made sure I had re-read Night of the Crabs. My opening chapter was explosive and set my stall out from the start, although I pushed it further than Guy did, maybe it’s a sign of the times, or my own deranged mind. But the fact was the template was being followed.
The pacing was kept quick, with scenes changing and cutting to keep the stimulus fresh, whilst its overall length was 165 pages. This level of brevity is a big selling point to me, and one that I intend to stick to. I’d rather produce 4 novellas a year with different plots, ideas and characters than one laborious novel that dips in the middle and takes a good month to slog through.
Such a big impact was Night of the Crabs on me that when I came to self publish Terror Byte I even took cues from the layout. Using the same order for acknowledgements, dedications etc I also took some design ideas and gave each chapter a cover page such as the outlined drawings of the crabs in Guy’s book. The design worked a treat and made the book look that more professional. I was even told by one kindle reader that the appearance of the skull chapter shocked her whilst she was engrossed in the story. A bonus, cheap scare can’t be bad for any horror writer.
So for all the Shakespearces and Dickens I had to read and write about in my formative years it wasn’t until I was in my thirties and I stumbled across a battered, old paperback in the horror section of a second hand book shop that I found the spark to ignite my passion and turn it into something other than a far off dream.
Thanks Night of the Crabs and thanks Guy N Smith. If I could inspire and entertain just one person in the same way as his output has done to me then I would consider my writing career a success.
J. R. Park biography
J. R. Park is a writer of horror fiction and is based in Bristol, UK. His inspiration is derived from the crazy world of the exploitation genre in all its many guises.
His well received debut Terror Byte was released on 23rd September 2014 and has been followed by his second book Punch, a slasher/revenge tale based on Punch and Judy, released on 15th November 2014. Both are available as an ebook or paperback via Amazon.
Street tough Detective Norton is a broken man. Still grieving the murder of his girlfriend he is called to investigate the daylight slaughter of an entire office amid rumours of a mysterious and lethal computer program. As the conspiracy unfolds the technological killer has a new target. Fighting for survival Norton must also battle his inner demons, the wrath of MI5 and a beautiful but deadly mercenary only known as Orchid. Unseen, undetectable and unstoppable. In the age of technology the most deadly weapon is a few lines of code.