So I’m sitting in Spitalfields Hawksmoor, making my way through a sirloin steak with stilton hollandaise, triple-cooked chips and creamed spinach. I’m pretty drunk because I’ve already had a Bloody Mary, a glass of white wine and most of a bottle of Malbec. It’s a Thursday lunchtime.
I’ve been taken out by a couple of people I work with as a farewell gift. I like these guys and it’s touching they’re doing more than 50p in the leaving collection and scrawling Good luck for the future on an oversized card from Funky Pigeon.
The conversation inevitably turns to my future career.
‘So you’ve got no job lined up at all,’ says one of them.
‘I’m taking the rest of the year off.’
‘So you’ll start looking for something similar in January, then?’
‘Unless my writing career skyrockets,’ I quip.
I shouldn’t have said that. Now they know. Now I’ll have to talk about it. But I’ve got a loose mouth when I’m inebriated. It probably would’ve been my downfall if had gone into espionage rather than finance.
‘So what is it you write?’
‘Thrillers,’ I lie. I want to say horror. But I can’t.
‘Military thrillers like Tom Clancy?’
‘Er … more like psychological thrillers.’
I swiftly change the subject and they order another bottle of wine. They pay the bill and I go home and pass out, fully clothed.
I wake up with one of those afternoon hangovers, and hangovers are when Im at my most contemplative, so I start thinking about why I couldn’t say horror.
Perhaps it’s because horror isn’t strictly what I do. Still, one needs these pigeonholes in order to market oneself, so horror it is. Lots of death, some blood. Supernatural shit. A sense of dread. Horror. I’m fine with that.
But why does it have such a bad reputation? I wonder whether people who aren’t into the genre believe it’s only closet psychopaths and sadists who like it. I feel as though the horror label lends an air of cheapness what you’re doing – be it film, literature, whatever. And that pisses me off.
Horror to me is about tapping in to subconscious fears, writing a story that evokes fear or unease; it’s not about severed limbs and torture.
The best example to me of this (other than perhaps Pet Sematary or The Haunting of Hill House) is the film Candyman. I’ve talked about this before, and I’ll talk about it again – the whole thing is a work of art. The psychological terror (is Helen crazy?), the imposing housing estate (Cabrini Green – not somewhere you’d get a lot of capital gain, I imagine) and the wonderful score. That’s what I talk about when I say horror. But I feel that many people just think: Paranormal Activity 2.
Here’s how Candyman starts:
So I see one of the guys the next day, and he’s obviously been thinking about my fledgling literary ‘career’.
‘So,’ he says, ‘you based any characters on people at work?’
That’s a total lie, of course. Dot Matrix is hyper-realised version of about six or seven people I’ve worked with over the years. There is even a meeting room in which the walls change from clear glass to frosted at the flick of button. The main difference is, all those people are still alive.
The next one – Property – is scarier. Bleaker. More unsettling. Less profane (sorry). I’m hoping it’ll be one of those stories people think about some time after they’ve read it and say to themselves: ‘I wish I’d never read the last line.’
But more on that later …
Anyway, horror. I’m sticking with it. Fuck ’em.