Ginger Nuts of Horror
When I gaily stepped forwards waving my hands in the air in response to The Ginger Nuts of Horror’s invitation to write about the things that freaked me out in childhood, I imagined writing a clever and witty piece about the Daleks and the *shriek* giant maggots that troubled poor Jon Pertwee and his companions in the early 1970s (Dr Who, The Green Death, BBC, 1973). But when I actually paused and gave it some thought, I realised with a kind of nauseous sinking feeling that my monsters are actually much more mundane, very real, and they still scare me to tears.
Now I don’t want to get all hot and heavy, and I certainly don’t want any psycho analysing, thank you very much, but the things that frightened me to death as a freckly-faced gangly kid, are the same things that keep me awake as a pale and plump fifty-year old. They are quite simply, loss and loneliness.
As I write this I still have my parents and my older husband almost fully intact: minus a prostate or two here, and with added pacemaker there, but joy of joys, they are all alive. I lost three of my grandparents young. I was inconsolable when both my grandmothers died, Durham Nan when I was 8, and Devon Nan (who remained with us until I was 41). I’ve had several good friends taken cruelly young, but on the whole I’ve been pretty lucky where humans are concerned.
But I’m not simply talking about the loss of people I love (or even like lots). I am a product of my upbringing for sure. I was an army brat. Mum, Dad, me and my annoying terror of an even ganglier and freckled-face ginger brother (he was once a true ginger nut of horror himself, but these days he’s my hero). We moved constantly. I went to 15 different schools between the ages of 5 and 18. Every twelve months or so, sometimes less, I lost my security blanket of familiar places, familiar objects and belongings (packed up or given away), and familiar faces. We uprooted and I had to start again, and every time the fear of being new, of not being able to identify who I was in relation to my surroundings, or the people I’d befriended, bit deeply.
Very occasionally when we moved, I would find myself easing straight into school, with happy welcoming children, and I’d have a whale of a time. That made it all the more difficult when the next move brought me face-to-face with cliques and bullies. That sense of being ‘other’, ‘alien’, has stayed with me till this day. You’ll probably recognise that feeling – from when kids whisper about you behind your back and laugh, or even worse, pull your hair, or say something cruel. Jesus. It brings me out in a sweat just thinking about it.
Being bullied is something so many of us can identify with. What made it different for me, is that I managed to move away (regularly) from one set of miscreants, only to be confronted by a new batch – usually equally as imaginative as their predecessors. I can’t describe the paralysing fear I had of being the new kid, on the first day, at a new (to me) school, when all the other kids already knew each other and had friends. I would agitate endlessly about how to ingratiate myself, and go home and cry in bed. Friendless and alone. That was pretty much me till the age of 17.
I don’t like to dwell on it, but boy, I was a lonely child. I lost myself in a world of books. I was a voracious reader, and I loved to write, and when I wasn’t writing I was daydreaming and putting myself in the heart of all the stories I read or imagined. S. E. Hinton was my favourite, and Alan Garner, Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll and later at 12 or so, the Brontes, Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers, Peter Straub and Shaun Hutson. All those wonderful authors made me feel welcome. When I was reading I was among friends, I was alive, and I was safe.
Nowadays, I’m a little more settled but I’ve moved around far too much, even as an adult, to have any close friends, and loneliness haunts my nights along with the fear of losing those I love. My luck can’t hold out forever after all, and I dread it with every fibre of my being.
My monsters are very much part of my writing life. Of course they are. I have never intentionally set out to write about loss and loneliness, and in fact, initially, my short stories had traditional monsters – serial killers, witches and man-eating trees, you know the kind of thing. However, my long fiction (while still nodding to witches and man-eating trees) have loss and loneliness at their core. I didn’t really understand this until I began to plot my current project, provisionally entitled ‘Beyond the Veil’, which has three dead characters at the centre of the story. So much loss, it makes my eyes sting.
In Crone (May 2017), the protagonist, Heather, has lost her teenage son, and uncovering the truth about his death is what drives the plot forward. In The Municipality of Lost Souls (yet to be published) Amelia Fliss’s melancholy loneliness is almost a character in itself, in spite of the fact that she has a husband who is devoted to her.
Loneliness is often a state of mind, something that is deep-rooted within ourselves even when we’re in the company of others. And the dread of loss before it actually happens? It prevents us being our true selves. Somewhere along the line, I have become accustomed (although not comfortable) to being lonely, while my fear of being left alone in the world thanks to being bereaved has become irrevocably entangled in my intestines. I think my anxiety about a bleak future in my old age prevents me living my life to the full NOW. I hate it, but I can’t seem to shake these thoughts off. They live with me, gnawing away, a constant companion I don’t want, shuffling alongside me as I travel in the world, casting knowing looks my way.
And perhaps that’s what’s really scary, isn’t it?
Jeannie Wycherley leapt at the chance to write when she was made redundant from lecturing in 2012. Since then she’s been honing her craft, learning as much as she can from other writers, and scribbling short stories as Betty Gabriel. She finally took the plunge with her novel Crone in May 2017. A repackaged anthology of her short horror stories, Deadly Encounters followed in August. Her short story, ‘A Concerto for the Dead and Dying’, is included in the vampire anthology, Mrs Dracula, due for release October 13th, 2017.
Jeannie’s inspiration is largely drawn from the landscape where she lives in East Devon: rocky coast, pebble and sand beaches, winding lanes, picture perfect cottages, cliffs and forest. She lives with her husband and three dogs, make a lot of soup in her cauldron, is a terrible insomniac, and plays a lot of Runescape.
Crone is available to Purchase from Amazon
Deadly Encounters is available to purchase from Amazon
Mrs Dracula is available: to Purchase from Amazon