This post is related to yesterday’s – Horror and the Predator within. In that post, I suggested that what we are seeking, and therefore what writers are supposed to provide, in horror stories, is an inoculation against the fear of predation. We want to play with the ancient archetypal fear of being eaten. Not too much, not too little – just enough.
I had recently written a story A Tale for Halloween – and posted it for sale on Amazon Kindle. I was rather pleased with it. I thought it was a clever little tale, but the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been dreadful. The first 2 on Kindle are 2 stars “Over in a Jiffy” and 1 star “A horrible short story.” I must admit, I was bamboozled.
This story was in fact more of “weird tale” than a horror story. I have recently been reading Robert Aickman. Aickman preferred to call his stories “strange stories” and contrasted them with horror fiction which he said, “the horror story is purely sadistic; it depends entirely upon power to shock”. I also read Lovecraft and if we look at Lovecraft, for example one of his tales I posted here, then I would say that I don’t read Lovecraft to be scared. I love his wordage and his baroque phrases (just imagine if Lovecraft met Hemmingway – what a fight there’d be, though I think Hemmingway would win.) I love the mythos and the realms Lovecraft conjures – the appeal of Lovecraft to me is not to the archetype of predation, but to the wonder that fantasy and science fiction conjure – the world building. That must appeal to another archetype, that of the explorer, but hey, let’s not digress. Angela Carter writes similarly weird stories. The weird stories can be unnerving, that’s true, but they’re not shockers or scarers, more unsettlers.
I had written A Tale for Halloween to contrast the banal, poverty stricken, grey streets that I’m familiar with, with the Gothic mist-wreathed castle – two genres – Abigail’s Party meets Hammer Horror. It probably owes something to Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, (though I am not comparing myself to the greatest novelist in British literature currently writing in any other sense). The psychic and her pal in the story are resolutely without taste, but not unappealing in a vulnerable, rough diamond sort of way, I thought. I archly mock the psychics and their crystals and auras. They get their comeuppance in the end for their everyday deceits. Can you see how clever I’m being? Maybe that’s the problem: no one likes a smart arse.
So, the readers hate it. Why, oh why? I cry to myself. Maybe it mocks the beliefs to those who read it, if they really do get comfort from the New Age. But I think it’s more about pies and somosas. Here’s the blurb for A Tale for Halloween:
Halloween in a haunted English castle. The fog rolls in from the river and the psychic mediums gather to contact the spirits. Sometimes the mediums exaggerate. Exaggeration might be considered lying by some. Lying is a sin. Sinners get punished. Especially on Halloween.
Amy is a psychic medium, but she’s not earning much money by being straight with her clients. She wants to be honest, but she needs the cash.
She gets the chance to go to a special Halloween gig at a haunted castle. The night is dark and foggy. The castle is big and old. Amy has a nasty surprise in store.
The title, and the blurb promise a big juicy scary shock story – a big greasy pork pie of horror, but instead when you read it you get a far-too-clever-for-its-own-good social critique of the New Age as practised in the grey streets of dreary towns by people barely hanging on – that’s surely a samosa. Not untasty for those who want to buy samosas, but deeply lacking in nourishment for he (or she) who has been promised a pork pie.
Then again, maybe the story’s just shit. We as writers can never really know.