Ginger Nuts of Horror
This is a tricky one because the writer in me was technically “made” by both a short story and a novel. Thanks to my mom’s offbeat taste in bedtime stories, the story was “The Tell-Tale Heart”. I’d always loved dark things and ghost stories and I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who had no qualms about taking their 8-year-old daughter to see Alien and Friday the 13th in the cinema (you can do that in the States). I loved being scared and movies were a safe way to get that fix. And while Friday the 13th certainly scared me, it didn’t traumatise me the way that Alien did. I’d never been so terrified in my life! But of course, as soon as the ensuing sleepless night was over, in the bright light of morning, I wanted to see it again. So went my strange love affair with horror.
Hardly surprising, then, that my mom would think I’d like “The Tell-Tale Heart”. She read it to me from the book of Poe stories she gave me for my 9th birthday. And that old man’s “vulture eye” haunted my dreams, as did the “seven long nights” during which the narrator peered into the old man’s room, waiting for the right moment to kill him. It was probably my first experience of simultaneously empathising with both victim and tormentor. (After all, what kid can’t relate to the fear of getting caught?) It scared me and thrilled me in equal measure and I could never get enough of it. She must have read that story to me more than any other. It was the beating of that “hideous heart” that first made me want to be a writer.
Fast-forward a few years. Sometime in the 80s, somewhere in the States, 13-year-old me found a battered paperback horror novel in a secondhand shop. The cover showed a creepy little girl in flames and it was called The Nameless. It was by someone I'd never heard of - a British author named Ramsey Campbell. I devoured it in two days, scared and disturbed by its dark, unhappy ending. I was an instant fan and I spent the next few years seeking out and reading everything I could by him.
I still wanted to write, but it never really occurred to me that I should (or even could) write horror. Weirdly enough, I spent most of my formative writing years on embarrassing sci-fi sagas, in particular a rambling, post-apocalyptic Star Trek / Blake’s 7 / Robotech ripoff. There was always horror in there, like in an episode called “Lemmings”, wherein the entire population of a planet threw themselves into a chasm. (A nice bit of cryptomnesia there, as I was convinced I’d never read James Herbert’s The Fog until many years later!)
Anyway, I read far more than I wrote and never really believed in myself enough to try publishing anything. I didn’t specifically want to scare people; what I wanted to do was write down the things that scared me, and if they happened to scare others too, well, that was cool. It wasn’t until I revisited The Nameless as an adult (had it really been that scary? Oh yes!) that I decided to try and write proper horror myself. So while “The Tell-Tale Heart” planted the seed, I think I owe most of my dark flowering imagination to The Nameless.
And I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I’d be signing copies of a book alongside my writer hero, much less that I would count him (and his wife Jenny) amongst my dearest friends. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Ramsey Campbell, I might never have met the love of my life. How perfectly poetic. He drew me in with an unhappy ending only to help me find a happy one.
Thana Niveau lives in a crumbling gothic tower in Wicker Man country. She shares her life with fellow horror scribe John Llewellyn Probert, in a Victorian library filled with arcane books and curiosities.All her life Thana has been drawn to (some might say obsessed with) the darker aspects of life. She was a fearful child, plagued by nightmares and anxiety. Horror saved her. Scary films gave her an outlet for all that darkness and fear became her friend. Jason and Freddy were her childhood companions. On the literary side, Poe was her first great horror love, followed swiftly by Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. Their stories frightened her while at the same time inspiring her. She still had nightmares, but now they were more like visits from a slightly sadistic muse. Writing all the scary stuff down turned it from a curse into a blessing.
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