What do you hope readers will take away from your writing?
I’ve always thought that reading should be a participatory event. When I sit down to read a romance, I want to be romanced. When I sit down to read a thriller, I want to be thrilled. If genre labels are good for anything (and I’m constantly veering toward the opinion that they’re only useful as a sales tool) then genre labels are good for telling a reader what sort of response they should expect from reading a story.
This notion is implicit in erotic stories, which are written to arouse the reader: and this seems like an understandable thing to want from fiction because being sexually stimulated is a relatively pleasant thing. It also seems like a desirable feature of adventure stories, because it’s human nature to yearn for adventure. However, horror stories are less easy to understand. When someone says, “I’m reading this title to scare myself witless,” it does not sound like a sane motive.
More authoritative voices than mine have discussed society’s need for horror fiction. It likely has its roots in the same thing that has motivated audiences to watch Shakespearean tragedies, or Greek epics of misery and destruction, or grim biographies of abuse and persecution. But, regardless of the reason, horror audiences want to be horrified, which is one of the things I hope readers take away from my writing.
I also hope my readers are amused.
My personal reaction to anything scary or unpleasant is to make a joke about it. This is a facet of my personality that goes into the fiction I create. I think this can be illustrated with the passage I shared from Cursed during the blog tour for that book’s launch, and with this passage from Blackstone Towers:
He followed the line of her gaze and the wavering direction of her finger and, with the benefit of a little squinting, he finally saw the ‘fucking huge’ spider. It was a dusty black crumb with too many legs.
Huge, he thought, was something of an exaggeration. As house spiders went, he supposed it could be described as a large example, but he thought an expert would more likely describe it as medium-to-large. More likely, and he suspected it depended on the specific species of spider, Dalton thought an expert would just describe the creature as medium in size.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “There he is.” Trying to sound sympathetic to her distress he added, “He’s a chunky little fella, isn’t he?” There was a moment’s uncomfortable silence between them before Dalton asked, “Don’t you like spiders?”
“Of course I don’t fucking like spiders. No one fucking likes spiders.”
He frowned, bemused by her penchant for vulgarity. He didn’t consider himself to be a prude by any definition of the term. Some of the things he planned on doing with Sally clearly absolved him from being considered prudish. One of the reasons he didn’t have a regular girlfriend was because of his quirky tastes in the bedroom and his eagerness to explore and push through those boundaries imposed by society’s prudishness. But, for the first time in his life, he realised that he didn’t like hearing an attractive young woman swear like a barrack-room sergeant major with Tourette’s. He thought about telling Sally that Spiderman probably liked spiders, and those people who worked with spiders in zoos probably loved the little fuckers, and David Attenborough almost certainly loved them, and then he realized it would be a pointless contribution to the conversation.
Sally was clearly beyond listening.
“OK,” he said, drawing on a source of patience he hadn’t thought was within him. “If you don’t like spiders, what do you suggest I do with him?”
“Kill the fucker,” she screamed. “Kill it. Stamp on it. Destroy it.”
He frowned. “That seems a bit harsh, don’t you think?”
“It’s a spider,” she growled.
It sounded as though her fear was beginning to abate and was quickly being replaced by anger. Dalton would have thought this a good thing if her anger hadn’t been focused in his direction. One of the most painful life-lessons he had ever learnt was the simple truism that angry women don’t like to fuck the man who’s made them angry.
“It’s a spider and it needs to be destroyed,” she insisted. “If you really think we have a chance of doing something here today, you’ll fucking kill it.”
Dalton’s unassuming features puckered into a scowl.
He took his glasses off and polished them before responding. On most people, he knew, spectacles made the wearer’s normally bland face look intelligent. For Dalton, it had always been his curse that the glasses simply made his normally bland face look bland and short-sighted. As a child he had been bullied at school for his lack of distinctiveness and, although his life had changed considerably since those miserable schooldays, he still bristled at the dictatorial tone of Sally’s voice.
He didn’t like ultimatums and he particularly didn’t like being given orders to kill. He wasn’t a big lover of spiders but he supposed, given their senseless propensity for killing spiders, humans weren’t considered as particularly wonderful creatures from the perspective of those who lived in the spider world. He also thought that the notion of killing a spider because it existed in Sally’s presence was one of the worst reasons to commit murder. This was, he thought, how things like nationalism, racism and football hooliganism started.
All of which is my way of saying, what I hope readers will take from my horror fiction, is the sense of being scared that is expected in a horror story, and a sense of amusement that, no matter how dark it gets, there’s always a reason to smile.