Thanks to Kendall Reviews for giving me the opportunity to discuss why I write horror. I’ve written a few articles/answered interview questions on this subject a few times now and I try to use a different angle to approach how I answer so that I’m not endlessly repeating myself. Over time influences and motivation change, so hopefully this piece casts a slightly different light on the subject and it’s useful for me to reassess what I do and how I’ve evolved as a writer and as a person.
It has been a long and difficult summer, but the plans I’ve been working on for the last couple of months are beginning to bear fruit. The heat has abated somewhat – trying to work in an airless attic in sweltering heat was almost impossible – and I’ve been writing solidly for weeks now. The Ferocious Night has been with the editors of Fearful Symmetries (Ellen Datlow’s new anthology) for some time and I’m expecting an answer one way or another in the next ten days. There will have been a massive pile of manuscripts to trawl through in the open reading period, so the chances of getting in are slim. After some further sharpening up and some ‘method writing’ involving an experiment with some chicken bones to test part of the story, From The Bones is with the editor of a British transgenre fiction magazine. The ‘nice’ story I’d written, and had so much angst about, was rejected as the story was ‘a bit too weak’. It was a fair criticism; while I think I have the style right for the magazine in question, I knew the plot was flimsy, but I needed to see how it went. I will have another go as soon as time allows – while my finances are now on a slightly better footing, there’s no room for complacency.
Widdershins has made it to a properly typed up first draft and stands at around 7700 words long. There’s more fleshing out to do in places, but the story is complete. If ever I wrote a story for younger people, then this is it. It is not a horror tale, more a darkish fantasy. Perhaps my next piece should be full-on horror, to redress the balance.
Next week I’ll be interviewing two wisewomen for Curve magazine. This is something I’m very excited about. They live in a village on the Penwith peninsular and I’ve been aware of their activities for many years. To meet them and hear about their work first hand will be a privilege. I do know someone who had a wart charmed away by a wisewoman at the other end of Cornwall. This happened around thirty years ago and it’s fascinating to know that the craft continues. The feature should appear in their December issue.
And, after trying different types of mediation over the years, I seem to have found a way that suits me, so I’m meditating most days now, mostly in silence, but accompanied by appropriate music/sounds on some occasions. It won’t stop my nightmares (and dreaming about giving the Grim Reaper a shiny, silver scythe and having him address me by name has been one of the more frightening) but nevertheless it’s having a positive effect.
*Photo by Julie, camera courtesy of Utherben. Many thanks!
To begin, a distinctly Lovecraftian dream from a few weeks ago that I can’t forget, even though I can only remember it in flashes: set at night in a large room with a bay window in a grand house, the gentleman sitting opposite me – white, well-groomed hair, big sideburns, 19th Century dress – widens his eyes and says in a sinister voice, “Dark forces!”. Whether he has conjured something up himself or is warning me, I can’t tell, but there is a terrifying but unseen Thing in the room.
As you can see, just a section remains, and this might be for the best. I certainly woke up – not sitting up, in a sweat, like they do in films – too afraid to move. Given its style and setting I can’t even use this one in a story. However, Widdershins is making decent progress. Over 3,000 words in, which is good going, bearing in mind I began with virtually nothing other than a saying of my partner’s, which she uses when she’s busy but which has always made me shiver slightly: I’ll meet myself coming back in a minute. The story, as the title would suggest, involves the supernatural and folklore. I’ve just finished reading Goose of Hermogenes by Ithell Colquhoun, artist, writer, occultist (with thanks to Matthew Shaw for pointing me in her direction and providing the music, via Fougou’s Further From The Centre of Disturbance, that has accompanied much of the writing and note-making so far) and no doubt the surreal, dream-like nature of the novel will influence the story in some way, even though Widdershins bears no relation to the book. And perhaps this is all an escape from a life that right now is more about dire poverty, illness and bereavement than the things that I would prefer to connect with. Saying that, I don’t intend the story to be either escapist or irrelevant.
The picture above is one of the few available from my trip around the north of England; due to two cameras becoming faulty simultaneously, I found that instead of having a detailed document of the trip, I have two reels of blank negatives and a digital camera that’s now completely useless. The 35mm SLR may be fixable but that just isn’t an option at this point in time. All I have is one shot of Jhonn Balance’s memorial; the close-ups I took of the plaque, the shots around the woodland and by Bassenthwaite Lake, the magical island of Lindisfarne – all have been lost.
Recent dreams have been horrific, so much so that I’ll probably never write them down, but last night’s, though vivid, was not quite so bad: a witch was scattering the ashes of a cremated baby’s limbs over a shallow grave on unconsecrated land, a spell to stop the dead from rising. As she did this, her jaw swung open and a sound – either a laugh or a sigh – could be heard. I was there watching, approving of what she did so as not to anger her.
This will probably make it into a story at some point, and I’ll put it into my notebook before I forget the details, the atmosphere of it. Would Tessa Farmer describe her work as nightmarish? It’s all based on fairies – skeletal fairies who kill animals and play with their corpses. She says they come from a world bereft of humans, although whether she sees it as a good or a bad thing I’m not sure. But her sculptures are mind-blowing and I’ll try to get to the Millennium Gallery in St Ives before her exhibition closes on 17 July.
Pieces has finally been sent to a publisher, of a fledgling dark fantasy magazine, which sounds like it’s going to be fantastic (in all senses of the words). I can but hope. And continue with the second part of Darkworlds (still called Theophany). I also need to have a back-up piece of fiction to take to the Slip Into Something Uncomfortable event at the Penzance Lit Fest in case of lack of discussion/questions that I won’t be able to answer if I can’t remember half of what I’ve written over the years.
And I’m trying to find out whether Jhonn Balance was involved in the Zos Kia single Rape/Thank You. Since Coil used the music to Rape in Here to Here (Double Headed Secret), which appeared on one of the Unnatural History compilations, I’m assuming he was, but I can’t find confirmation.
First, a nightmare: a moorland stone circle made up of tombstones. Their inscriptions face outwards, the graves face inwards. On the far side are five demons, whispering to one another. One breaks away from the group and makes it way around the circle towards me.
Second, a mathematical dream: standing on a rooftop in the Barbican, London. Murmurations of starlings fly past, but not in their usual sweeping flocks; one flock makes the shape of a DNA double helix, its twists perfectly replicated. The other flock has taken the shape of a huge rectangular box with spiralling arms reaching out from each side. As one, the shapes split up and scatter and I am surrounded by millions of flying starlings.
I’m considering the first dream to be a warning. Not all sacred sites are ‘good’ places. Be prepared for bad energy, bad experiences, as well as positive ones. Doors open two ways. The dream ended before the demon reached me, and I woke up frightened but grateful that it had not gone further.
The second is a mystery. Flocks of starlings fly past my window at dusk each day at this time of year. I’ve seen small murmurations in Penzance harbour and a fairly large one in Liskeard, but nothing like the massive ones seen in, say, the Somerset Levels. The dream was mind-blowing, and the scientific/mathematical aspect is beyond me right now. Perhaps, if some dreams are astral-travel experiences in real places, it always will be. Or it may be somewhere I’ll go to again some night.
I’m writing a lot. Another week spent in the shadow of Brentor’s great energy not only helped me get another draft of my latest short story completed, but I also made some notes on my next story: Ravens (Darkworlds Part 2), which I’m really looking forward to writing. And whilst walking at the amazing Merrivale (stone rows, a cist, standing stone and stone circle) I found three owl pellets, each a mixture of fur and bone. I took one and it now sits in a glass jar in my bedroom.
[Listening to: Rosa Decidua by Coil. Very, very moving and quite appropriate for dream talk.]
A few blog posts from M*****e that I wanted to save:
6 Jul 2011: Writing Update/Scatter My Ashes Around A Stone Circle
Cross Bound has been undergoing a transformation. I was happy with the story to a reasonable extent, but after hearing a constructive, objective view I could see that it needed some work. So, to a soundtrack that includes Lustmord’s The Monstrous Soul and the mind-bending Queens of the Circulating Library by Coil, I have been pushed to think further, to take a few leaps of imagination and vastly improve the story, I think. As always, the wild Cornish weather makes a difference to what frame of mind I’m in: the wind has been buffeting my little attic, and the music is calming but induces all kinds of thoughts. It’s like not being in the world as I usually know it at all. Escape or just a different state of mind? Or both? It’s a similar feeling to Monday’s visit to Chapel Carn Brea, a sacred site near Land’s End. Some of the stones there are supposed to be a gateway to the Otherworld. The whole hill is amazing and enhanced by the house nearby, which has a huge and beautiful painting of a dragon on one side. A very special place.
3 June 2011: Jhonn Balance Memorial/Writing Update
Finally, after a ludicrous amount of search engine time, I’ve found artist Ian Johnstone’s website. Johnstone was Jhonn Balance’s partner at the time of Balance’s death and collaborated with them on various projects, including the cover to the Ape of Naples album. More than that, he seems like a really interesting bloke and chose the place where Balance’s memorial woodland will be. I’m planning a trip there, possibly not for a year or so, but it feels necessary.
The Kzine [which has accepted a story of mine] website is shaping up. It might be much later in the year when the first issue arrives, but the artwork is looking good. And now my other current stories have been finished, I can concentrate fully on The Falling Man. I’m very pleased with it so far, and it’s quite different in that the central character is male. It’s right for this story. I won’t call it a short story because it’s already over 6,000 words long. I think novelettes are just what I’m meant to do.
5 May 2011: Writing Update: ‘The World Beneath’ Sees The Light of Day
Cover of Darkness, the horror anthology from Sam’s Dot Publishing, is now out, with The World Beneath included in its large array of stories. It’s even listed on the front cover. A first, I think. I’m very pleased to see it – this was one of the stories I wrote some time ago when I lived in London and hadn’t really sent it out to editors. The tightening up has turned it into a good story, I think. It’s based on some of London’s sleazier places.
Meanwhile, I’ve barely written more than a couple of paragraphs in the last ten days due to being laid low by flu. I’m getting better now, though, and will probably take The Falling Man away with me to the Isles of Scilly when I go there next week. The islands are jammed full of cairns, entrance graves and assorted sacred sites. It will put my head into a different space so who knows what it’ll do to the story. The other tool I’ve used recently is Salt Marie Celeste by Nurse With Wound. The album is a reworking of the backdrop to an exhibition by Stephen Stapleton and David Tibet at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury in 2002, which I went to a couple of times. The whole thing was fascinating, including the gallery itself, which really used to be a horse hospital. It’s one of the few things I miss about London. Oh, and I’m talking to the local BBC radio station about a possible interview. More if/when that progresses.
And to Poly Styrene – enjoy those higher places that you’ve gone to. Your loss is greatly felt here.
14 Apr 2011: Writing Update/More Astral Dreaming/The Ape of Naples
First of all, Cross Bound has been sharpened up and is nearly ready to send to a lucky editor. I’ve started on another new story, The Falling Man, which is going well. To base a story around the great London cemeteries is quite a pleasure. For many years I lived opposite one of them and it was an awe inspiring place, a true city of the dead. At this stage I can’t say how long it will turn out to be, but it’s nearly 3,000 words now and there’s plenty more to go. Meanwhile, in dreamland, I need to check out some information I got in an e-mail that relates to the dream I had about Saturn. A few nights later I (dreamt I) was on a stone bridge over a stream, at night time at the edge of the world. In front of me, two massive spheres took up the horizon – on the left was the Sun, next to it Mars. Magma floated in the air, so hot it lit up in beautiful multicolour. Later, I walked along streets covered in cooling magma that had turned white. It was still night time.
I’ve finally heard Coil’s last album, The Ape of Naples. At first listen three of the tracks stand out – Fire Of The Mind, Tattooed Man and Going Up. Fire especially sounds like a man struggling in his death throes. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Sleazy to complete the album. I’ll try listening to it again, but it’s terribly sad and I don’t know whether I can. Then again, if he could finish it, the least I can do is listen to it.
24 Mar 2011: Writing Update/Astral Dreaming
Cross Bound is getting there at last, although it’s now 13,000 words long (as predicted) and, since I think one of the characters needs a bit of sharpening up, it’s going to finish above that amount. I’ve done a bit of cutting some unnecessary bits and pieces out, but the whole of the story needs to be told, so major cuts are not an option. There’s some eco-awareness in the story, but mostly it’s about one of Britain’s (England’s, to be more exact) more shameful chapters coming back to haunt us. Once it’s finished, I want to have a look at one, perhaps two old stories that were never properly completed and submitted anywhere. And then it’s time to get going on more new stuff.
A few nights ago I dreamt I was looking up at the night sky. The moon was full and absolutely huge. Next to it, equal in size, was Saturn. Its rings were made, not of dust, but of a metal tube, with bizarre designs on it. The rest of the sky was crammed full of incredibly bright stars. It was one of those amazing super-dreams that almost make up for the horrific nightmares I usually have. One of those dreams where I woke up wondering whether I’d done some travelling during the night.
8 Mar 2011: Writing Update: Kimota on Kindle
The Kimota Anthology is now available from Amazon. I don’t know if there are graphics inside but the cover certainly looks good, and you get a hell of a lot of stories for your £1.71. I’ve had a quick skim through my contributor’s copy, and it seems to read okay, but I’ll proof read it properly over the next day or two. I’ll also be submitting The Ferocious Night to Aeon Press’ Box of Delights horror anthology this week.
8 Mar 2011: Unkle Sleazy Crosses The Threshold
My Internet connection’s been weird for a while, so I’ve been unable to post a message of condolence on the Threshold House website for Peter Christopherson, who died on 25 November, so here it is: so sad to hear of your passing, Sleazy. Your music has been the inspiration and backdrop for my writing for over twenty years. Thank you so much. Blessed Be.
His passing at such a young age (55), along with fellow Coil activist Jhonn Balance (42) is one of those things I wonder about. Fate? Were they both doomed to short stays here? Who knows. All I can say is that the world is a quieter, sadder place now.
25 Oct 2010:Story Accepted! And Wise Words From Genesis P-Orridge
Much excitement just now when I read an email from Tyree Campbell, accepting The World Beneath for the May 2011 magazine Cover of Darkness. Looks like it’s an issue specially dedicated to darker fiction. Go to http://www.samsdotpublishing.com for info. I am buzzing! Meanwhile, I have also managed to download a couple of PTV tracks and Coil’s Scatology. This isn’t available from Peter Christopherson or Threshold House, only on cd from greedy individuals making a fortune out of Jhonn Balance’s death. So what I’ve done is, as payment for the download and to thank Balance and Coil for their amazing and endlessly inspiring work, is make a donation to the Balance woodland memorial. Donations are payable until December, so go for it.
In the Hayward Annual 1979 there’s an interview with Genesis P-Orridge, then of Throbbing Gristle/Coum, where he talks about how he never worked alone and that to do so is arrogant and unrealistic. Other people, he said, provide ideas and interaction and are essential for any art. I started by disagreeing with this; part of the reason I write is in order to work in isolation – I used to be a musician and found working with other people impossible in the end. Perhaps Gen would say that I was simply working with the wrong people. And there could well be some truth in that. It’s a similar dilemma to the one I had when I first began describing myself as a Pagan. Could I do that whilst at the same time wanting as little to do with the human race as possible? How could that provide the balance Pagans often speak of? I still don’t have a full answer to that question, apart from the notion that the human race has sidestepped and turned its back on nature so much that we aren’t a part of it any more and don’t deserve to be (although some people are becoming a bit more enlightened and are changing a little in that respect). I feel a great connection with the sacred sites I often visit, but there are a lot of things going on in those places; the human element is just one of them. But, as far as writing goes, I don’t actually work in complete isolation. I don’t collaborate as such on fiction but many, many things influence me. Most stories come about as a result of events or dreams (which I believe can be much the same thing), certainly as a result of interaction with many things. And part of the reason I’m on Myspace is to try and connect with other writers of dark fiction (not that I’m getting very far with that, but I think that’s mostly down to my ineptitude on the site and the Internet in general). So, yes, input from other humans is important. Just at a distance.