Ginger Nuts of Horror
A journalist recently asked me why it’s taken so many years and a dozen or more novels to get round to writing horror. The answer is that I never really needed to do it till now. I had a subject – the strangeness of small towns – and I needed a way of writing about it. I could have done a literary novel with a broad canvas and lots of subtle twists and turns (or at least I could have tried) – but that wouldn’t have captured the sense of threat and alienation that I feel in those places. So I tried a horror story – and that did the job. Of course people in quaint English coastal towns don’t do the disgusting, deadly and illegal things that are depicted in Grim, but I always feel as if they could.
I’ve turned my hand to a few different genres in my time – erotica, chicklit/blockbuster, literary fiction – and one thing I’ve learned is that each genre does a fundamentally different job. Erotica has one obvious purpose: to turn the reader on. Literary fiction engages the mind and the feelings through the exploration of character. Horror should scare – and, most importantly, should make the reader see the potential for strangeness and fear in apparently mundane things. That’s what I needed to do in Grim. I wanted to make people walk down the streets of small towns and think ‘Hmmm, that fat, depressed-looking goth could be a cannibal’ or ‘that sweet little gran in the teashop could be a plaything of Satan’. After spending a lot of time on the north Norfolk coast, where Grim is set, that’s how I started to feel. It’s about being a fish out of water, about feeling like a misfit in an essentially hostile environment.
The horror novels and films that I like are the ones that use fantasy and gore as a way of exploring everyday life and communities. I don’t like horror that is just violent and disgusting for its own sake, and I don’t like total fantasy. It has to be rooted in reality, and it has to acknowledge the essential ridiculousness of the paranormal stuff. That’s why I revere Stephen King, because his subject matter is always communities, not evil clowns/special powers/aliens etc. King no more believes in this stuff than I do, but he uses the genre conventions like a surgeon uses a scalpel.
Grim is about two outsiders – a widowed American archaeologist and his strange, withdrawn teenage son – who come to the fictional English seaside town of Besselham to uncover the truth about their wife/mother’s death. Along the way they get involved in a teen suicide cult, witness the emergence of a prehistoric temple from the sea bed, and do battle with a bunch of very sinister locals. By the end of the story we’ve strayed a long way from its realistic beginnings, but I hope every step down the path of madness has a gruesome logic. And I hope, if you brave the terrible train service or wiggly A-roads that are the only way of getting to north Norfolk, that you will understand the weirdness under the surface that inspired me to turn to horror in the first place.
Rupert Smith is the author of several novels and non-fiction titles.
He was born in 1960 in Washington DC, grew up in Surrey and moved to London in 1978. Where he has lived ever since. After a few years pursuing an academic career, which really wasn’t his cup of tea, he got into journalism where he stayed for over 20 years, writing for a wide variety of dailies, weeklies and monthlies in the UK and elsewhere. It was fun, he met pretty much everyone, and he learned to drink like a man.
He currently writes under three names: Rupert Smith for your literary fiction, James Lear for ‘adult entertainment’ and Rupert James, who has done some sizzling blockbusters in the manner of Sidney Sheldon.
Behind the net curtains of a neat seaside house, behind the chintz-covered sofa, there lies a headless body. Blood covers the ceramic figurines and framed photos, soaks into the doilies and cushion covers. The good people of Besselham, the holidaymakers, shopkeepers and schoolchildren, have no idea that this is the beginning of a wave of unexplained deaths that will strike terror into the heart of a prim, conservative community.
As bodies pile up in the panic-stricken town, visiting archaeologist John Russell makes a strange and sinister discovery on the beach at low tide. An ancient monument, perhaps – or evidence of a hideous blood cult rising from the distant past to engulf Besselham? John must risk everything to save his disturbed, lonely son Isaac before insatiable powers of evil claim and consume him.
GRIM is Rupert Smith’s first venture into horror, a thundering tale of supernatural terror set amidst the caravan parks and amusement arcades of an English coastal resort.
“A damned good read it is . . .”
—New York Journal of Books