Ginger Nuts of Horror
In a complimentary feature to Our Festive Fifty series of articles, we are proud to bring you The Books of Their Childhood, Where authors tell us about their favourite book or books from their childhood. Today we feature contributions from Kate Harrison, Moira Fowley Doyle and Jeremey De Quidt
Kate Harrison ON Noah’s Castle by John Rowe Townsend and John Christopher's Empty World
When I read this WAY BACK in the 1980s, I didn’t know the term ‘dystopia’ or think of it as a thriller – it just seemed like a terrifyingly realistic portrayal of a world on the edge. The opening is a little slow, and the sexist attitudes of the teen protagonist’s father are pretty offensive (but not at all unrealistic for when this was published) but the vision of conflict, food shortages and the decisions people take to protect themselves, meant it could only end in a nightmare showdown. It’s a book that has stayed with me, as has Empty World by John Christopher, a short but devastating book about a boy who is one of the few survivors of a horrific ageing disease. Neither of these books is stylistically perfect, but there’s something about the fears and ideas they stimulated, that means they linger longer in my memory than lots of other books that had ghouls jumping out of the wardrobe, or bloodthirsty demons feeding on humans.
Moira Fowley-Doyle ON Rachel Klein’s Moth Diaries & Stephanie Keuhn’s Charm and Strange
My favourite kinds of scary stories are the ones that creep up on you. The ghost stories that aren’t. The ones that make you question things. The ones that give you strange dreams. The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein is a story about a vampiric teenager in a girls’ boarding school… but also it isn’t. Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn is a story about a troubled boy with werewolf-like tendencies… but also it isn’t. Probably my favourite horror-book-that-isn’t is the lush and mesmerising White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, which is about a family living in a haunted house… but also it isn’t. It has ghosts and memories and several unreliable narrators including the house itself and it’s twisted and beautiful, the way all scary stories should be. All three of these books are about monsters (vampires, werewolves, ghosts) and secrets, or monsters as secrets, or secrets as monsters, or all of the above. The fact that you can never really know for sure is part of what makes them the perfect scary read.
Jeremy de Quidt on books, the dark and childhood
Amazingly Jeremy de Quidt doesn’t read horror so instead he shares this little anecdote from when a blogger (Andy) recently asked his the same sort of question…. However, he did also tell us that he was currently reading Stephen King’s Dance Macabre, and was feeling better informed, but no wiser!
'Andy looked at me over his laptop.
“You told Beth at Reader’s Corner that you never read scary stories when you were a child because you had nightmares?”
“That’s right,” I said.
He looked at the laptop, I could see him reading the tour blog post.
“So, scary stories were never your inspiration,’ he said. “You just pour it all out of that dark ink you carry round in your head now.”
He looked up.
“Do stories scare you, now?” He asked.
“Not really,” I said. “I don’t read scary things. If I do it’s to take them apart - admire all the ropes and pulleys behind the words. See how other people do it.”
“Some stuff must scare you, though?”
“Course it does,” I said. “Fear’s not rational. Once someone lets a story into that part of their head they don’t have the key to, all the dark things in there will get up and play with it.”
He grinned, turned the lamp round so that it was pointing directly at me and said.
“So, what actually was it scared you, kicked off all those nightmares, when you were a child?”
“Specifics,” he said.
“How many do you want?” I could see we were going to be there all day if I tried to give him the whole list.
“Three,” he said.
“Ok,” I said. “Three.”
I thought about it for a moment and then held up a finger.
Because I didn’t read or want to watch scary stuff, what I just glimpsed in pictures - in photographs in newspapers and magazines, on covers of books - they were a big way to let the bad things in. Some would be awful in the way that only those pictures can be - I remember seeing a photograph of Belsen in the pages of a history book an uncle had. Others were awful in a way intended to shock and entertain - there was a series of American Civil War bubblegum cards that were all gore and death.
What they did was put the image in that unlit closed-off part of my head that I didn’t have the key to - added it to the ones that were already there - and come nighttime and darkness all the bright lights went on in there and that dark imagination of mine would feed on it and turn it into something else, much worse.”
I held up another finger. “Number two.
Being alone in the dark - bedroom light out, hall light out, dark. Especially in the dead of night.
Home is supposed to be safe, but it didn’t feel safe and when everyone else was asleep they might just as well not have been there at all. All I was left with is whatever I wanted to fill up the dark with, and I was never short of ideas for that. They came creeping across the floor, around the doorpost, down the walls from the ceiling - tapped at the glass behind the curtains, hid in folds of cloth.”
I held up a third Finger. “Number three,” I said.
“I listened too much and asked too many of the wrong questions. There’d have been a scary film on that I hadn't seen, and lamb to the slaughter I wouldn’t able to stop myself asking what it had been about. ‘What happened?’ I’d say, and even as I said it I knew that I was going to regret asking. Maybe not then, maybe not an hour later, but come the dark - come that bright light getting switched on in the locked room inside my head, boy was I going to regret it. And I did. Every time.
“Were you a timid child?” asked Andy.
“Not at all. I sawed a .410 shotgun cartridge in half on a stone step at infant’s school because I fancied the shiny brass bit at the end…”
“But you could say that was plain ignorance. And I put a .22 brass starting pistol cap in a brick wall once and hit it with a hammer and nail…”
“at infants school? A shotgun cartridge…
“And if there was anything of a bone breaking height to throw myself off or round, I was your boy. But dark imagination, that was a demon I had no hold on at all.”
I looked up at Andy and felt myself slowly smiling in what I hoped was a friendly way.
“Still don’t,” I said.'
Jeremy de Quidt's article originally appeared on Ebookwyrms Blog cave