Category Archives: General

Alone in the Dark

Recently I was part of a discussion that has cropped up several times over the years, in relation to the Stephen King classic, ‘Salem’s Lot.’

Whether you’ve read the book, seen the film adaptation or both; one scene sticks with everyone I speak to. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s the night time vampiric visitations of the Glick boys: first Ralphie to ‘convert’ his elder brother Danny. Then Danny, to sire Mark Petrie and bring him into the fold.

The first – brother on brother – is creepy and reminiscent of the Count’s visits to his victims in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’

But it’s the second visitation that haunts readers/viewers over forty years on: eerie clouds swirling outside Mark’s bedroom window. The floating approach of his school friend, sporting evil eyes and protruding fangs. A scratching of fingernails on the glass. The vampire calling out for Mark to let him in. Then Mark vacillating between acquiescence and confrontation; culminating in the latter as he snaps a cross from his graveyard diorama to drive the creature off.

Since the 1979 film production, audiences have grown accustomed to blatant gore and vivid portrayals of demonic forces. In a desensitised world of splatter-punk eviscerations, the afore-mentioned scene might sound banal. But it isn’t. Had the vampire been some OTT special effects horror that burst through the window and drained its victim dry, that might have been shocking – for a moment. Then viewers would have forgotten all about it and probably never given the encounter a second thought.

To my mind, Danny’s visit is memorable and frightening because it utilises one of the key tools in the horror writer’s kit: ISOLATION. Stephen King wields it with masterful brilliance.

Isolation can be both blatant and/or subtle in horror. We’re all familiar with the blatant scenarios: A person/people get cut off on an island/up a mountain/in a forest. Bad things are coming to get them and nobody’s riding to the rescue. Typically there might be a chance to escape, but it will involve a perilous trip into the monster’s den to retrieve a vital item, etc. Along the way, someone will probably die.

Subtler forms of isolation often revolve around societal mores and expectations, or being a misfit in a situation. Anyone who has suffered a mental health issue, physical disability or disfigurement knows what it’s like to feel all alone in a crowded place. Even introverted, loner types like myself are still social creatures at heart, despite a need for plenty of solo downtime to recharge. Being all alone is such a common human fear, some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it.

In horror, this subtle isolation may manifest as someone who knows supernatural things are going on, but is afraid nobody else will believe them. Perhaps an entire group suspects creepy forces are at play individually, but none will discuss it collectively. If they did and banded together, maybe survival would become possible? They’re all isolated. A ‘dinner bell’ for the hungry antagonist, no doubt. Cue blood-curdling screams as it starts devouring the low hanging fruit first.

With regard to ‘Salem’s Lot,’ you have Mark Petrie as a victim of isolation. Earlier, his father rags on him for playing with magic tricks and building monster model kits. This gives us an insight into the kind of lad Mark might be: creative, imaginative, sensitive. Not a jock. An outsider from the ‘group’ in school. Someone who prefers one or two close genuine friends to a gaggle of surface relationships. In that sense he’s already isolated. Now King adds another layer of isolation, because his father instructs the boy to grow up and stop daydreaming about monsters. Great. So who’s he going to tell when his best (and probably only) friend appears at the window as a vampire?

Let’s add it all up:

He’s isolated as something of an introvert to begin with.

He’s isolated from his parents and can’t tell them about the real monster.

He’s isolated by losing his close friend to the vampire’s curse.

He’s isolated because there’s nowhere to run, nobody to tell, and the vampires could be back at his window any time they choose.

He’s isolated because he’s still a kid in an adult world.

As we know, Mark goes on to battle the creatures with the central character, Ben Mears. Even then they end up on the run, an isolated pair looking over their shoulders for those in pursuit.

Psychological fears remain scariest of all. I’ve no objection to gore – it features in my work. But sometimes it’s what you don’t show that stays with people. A scene like that can keep your audience drawing the curtains as soon as darkness descends forty years later, and not because they’re fastidious and organised…

The gift that keeps on giving…

If you’re stuck for gift ideas this Christmas, how about helping someone get a little De’Ath in their life?

All my titles are available in paperback as well as Kindle format. The good news is, the paperbacks are also enrolled in ‘Matchbook.’ This means that if you purchase one, you can also acquire the Kindle version at a decent discount. So, why not treat someone else and yourself at the same time?

Merry Christmas, Folks.

Christmas 2018 - First Two Books

Lest We Forget

This Sunday we celebrate one hundred years since the end of the First World War.

I will as usual attend the memorial service in my hometown. Both my Grandfathers endured and survived the state-sanctioned mass murder on an industrial scale that was: ‘The war to end all wars.’

My paternal grandfather became a boy seaman at The Battle of Jutland, while my maternal one lied about his age and – despite a chest condition – went through the whole show in the trenches with The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.

There are of course many beloved literary figures who wrote during that period. By far my favourite of the First World War poets has to be Wilfred Owen. At a time when many were penning verses about the glory of battle, he was one of the first to truly describe its horrors. A bold move.

Wilfred_Owen_plate_from_Poems_(1920)As an English horror novelist, I obviously admire anybody who can convey such stomach churning imagery in so economical a fashion. But we’re not talking about entertainment here. His writing makes me realise that if I were to reach down into the very darkest depths of my fertile imagination, I couldn’t create anything to rival the very real, daily horrors those people witnessed.

The onomatopoeia found in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is just one example of his literary brilliance:

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

You can almost hear the single shot rifle bolts being cocked time and again with every fatal discharge.

Wilfred Owen was killed almost a week to the hour before the armistice was declared. Tragically, his mother back home in England received the telegram on the very day the church bells finally rang again, after four years of silence.

As we pause to remember those brave souls, I’ll leave you with ‘Dulce et Decorum Est.’ It’s just one of many poems we memorised at school. But, the piece had a profound effect on the whole class and still moves me deeply to this day.

‘Dulce et Decorum Est ‘

By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.