On the Nature of Horror

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear…”
H.P. Lovecraft

It is the age old question, and yet there still seems no certain answer beyond the inference that it relates in some way to fear. This is the unifying element, linking an otherwise vast spectrum of texts under one dank, dripping roof. In the same breath as ‘horror’ we hear a hundred words used to help define different incarnations: bloody, bizarre, creepy, cosmic, apocalyptic, visceral, quiet, supernatural, literary, gothic, gory, balls-to-the-wall – the list goes on. Some are simple adjectives used to help specify the fear in question. Others are entirely separate genres, in some way combining horror elements to tell their stories. Ultimately, I think it is a question of subjectivity, and personal taste. Fear itself is uniquely personal, never mind book-tastes and literary predilections. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and all that: horror is different for everybody.

“One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses and oppresses.”
Robin Wood

I think this quote best surmises my responses to the term ‘horror’. This kind of horror is contemporary, drawing from real life and the strictures of society to give it resonance and impact. It comes down to the madness of society; the world we have made for ourselves, where we are helpless to live. It is also cathartic horror. Fiction helps me to understand the horror of the world, or if not understand it then for the few hundred words of a story’s climax tame it, and know a kind of peace. Often the path to this peace is no less fraught with horrors of its own.

My latest flash fiction, ‘Rush Hour’ (Almond Press 2013), is an example of one face of this. I use the looming prospect of an apocalypse to highlight the present state of our world. ‘Distant Shores’, another short piece, tackles the theme in a different way, using speculative personifications of the natural world to show how broken and artificial our cities are. My novel LYNNWOOD (Sparkling Books 2013) also explores this idea; the English emphasis on propriety and tradition and quiet village life driving its residents to unleash and revel in their more primitive drives, for one night a year.

These are the things that frighten me; not the unleashing and the revelling (this can be beautiful!) but the society that represses human living, forgotten for wealth and politics and commercialism. So this is the shape my writing takes; no better or worse than the horror that anyone else writes, as long as it is horror honest to them.

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