Something (Nice/Nasty*) for the Weekend...
* Delete as applicable.
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook: ‘Why do people ask if you’ve got anything nice planned for the weekend? After all, who’s going to say they’ve got something nasty planned?’
To which I replied (with a smiley emoticon): ‘Ah! You don’t know many horror writers, then!’
So many people who aren’t horror fans look at me oddly: it’s bad enough to say you like reading horror, but when you tell them you write it as well...they back away slowly, one hand reaching for the phone, the other for Shaun’s cricket bat...
Okay, I guess it was a mistake to put down ‘Writing Horror’ under ‘Interests’ on my Match.com profile. Research for a novel about a serial killer who haunts t’interweb dating sites? Nah, it’s been done. I’d imagine.
That’s the problem. With all the torture porn crap that’s come out over the last few years, if you mention the word ‘horror’ lots of non-fans will see images of grinning psychos, blood-drenched chainsaws and mouth-to-anus human centipede action, and assume that’s all there is to it...and you!
One of the reasons fictioneers give for writing horror is to explore what scares the individual writer, and that made me think. I’ve got my own fears and phobias, but do I write horror fiction to explore them? I don’t think I do. I couldn’t say why I write with dark materials, it’s just what I’m drawn to. The horror I write is more supernatural than psychological, and an extension of the fantasy worlds I used to enjoy reading about when I was younger.
It’s the story that comes first, the darkness just seems to...follow it. But where do the ideas come from? Every writer is asked that, more so in the speculative fiction genres, I guess. And what happens when the well of ideas runs dry?
Looking on Duotrope and seeing what new market calls have been announced is a big help in this instance. I look for the ‘Themed Anthology’ listings and take a peek. I see themes I’d never considered before, which gets the well running again, rising to the challenge of writing something I’d never even considered before.
Having said that, it’s rare that I run out of ideas. Firstly, because I’m getting on in years (I’ll hit the big Four-Oh in October) and have never had what you might call a career, but lots of jobs. Some quite shitty, some pleasant, but none lasting more than two years (current job excepted – because the boss of Adasantsat Storage is Mr Golien, and he’ll have you for life).
Work experience is fantastic material for stories. The shittiest job, the biggest arsehole of a boss...all these are grist to the mill. For me, one of the richest experiences was working as a collection driver for a pet crematorium: one of the worst jobs I ever had (I only lasted four weeks) but invaluable for story ideas. The Bodymen owes its existence to that time, and there’s more incidents within that work experience that I’ll be able to draw upon for future stories or characters.
Even the things associated with work can be great material. One job interview I had was for working a mobile library. One of those interviews where the supervisor has taken an instant dislike to you and you just know you’re not going to get the job. I was made to feel uncomfortable straight away with awkward questions designed to wrong-foot me.
As my patience began to fray my attention wandered, and I wondered what would happen if they began to ask me really uncomfortable things, such as: how would you feel about slicing someone to pieces? What if they asked me to prove my ability, with a practical assessment, designed to weed out those who lie on their CVs and application forms? Thus was The Interview born. As far away from delivering library books around isolated villages as you can get, but there you go.
But there’s only so much work experience I can draw on. All the childhood influences have shaped me and my tastes in fiction already. So... what else can I draw upon?
I have music playing all the time when I write, and I have certain ‘mood’ albums which help me create nasty pieces, but I didn’t realise just how much song lyrics and videos inspired me until I took a step back and looked what I’d written while ‘background music’ was playing.
The Caretakers owes its existence to the Drugstore/Thom Yorke song ‘El Presidente.’ Winter Sun came about because of The Waitresses song ‘Christmas Wrapping’ and my Rapture story Totality was inspired by the video to Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun.’
The Manic Street Preachers are always on my player at some point – and usually it’s The Holy Bible that is on repeat, and that’ll explain why my website is archivesofpain.com. (Yes, the song’s title owes its name to a work by Michel Foucault, but the album track is all their own.) My next novel Fairlight owes a hell of a lot to the Manics’ third and bleakest (although arguably greatest) album. Self destruction, self harm and nihilism – but there are fantasy elements at play with my take on these themes, and the evil is of a supernatural rather than the manmade variety. Humanity prevails.
Lyrics will inspire me with stories, but music generally I find an invaluable aid to my writing. Massive Attack’s Mezzanine album and Portishead’s Third are great mood pieces, and I’ll usually play those when scene-setting. And partying…
Just as people are surprised that horror writers are (by and large) happy people with a wicked sense of humour, downbeat albums can not only inspire but actually lift the mood. I come away from the above albums feeling quite buoyant and positive…but perhaps because they’ve been combined with writing tales of destruction, violence and terror. Sound twisted? Nasty?
Well, maybe…but that’s what I’ve got planned this weekend. Care to join me?
Adrian Chamberlin lives in South Oxfordshire and isn’t as depraved as he paints himself. (Mostly in watercolours, but occasionally oils.) His stories have appeared in American, Canadian, Australian and British anthologies, and The Caretakers was released at the 2011 World Horror Convention along with novels from fellow founders of Dark Continents Publishing. Fairlight is coming in summer 2012, along with Snareville III (with D M Youngquist) and OAZ: Old Age Zombie (with Suzanne Robb).
Come and see why Mr Golien will never let him go in the novella Archives of Pain, a free download (along with other tales) at his website http://www.archivesofpain.com