Why Do I Write Horror?
The eerie, the macabre, the uncanny: their vapours curled through the aether of popular culture in the 1970s. Being born at the start of that weird decade was always likely to affect me, and a lifelong journey through horror awaited.
From my earliest years, television shows such as ‘Scooby Doo’ and ‘Goober and the Ghost Chasers’ fired my youthful imagination. The flames were stoked as I grew, by ‘Children of the Stones’, ‘Quatermass’, the magnificently enigmatic ‘Sapphire & Steel’ , and so many others .
‘Doctor Who’ was a major formative influence. Tom Baker was the Doctor and it was his more Gothic stories that thrilled my soul: a monstrous creature assembled from the body parts of dead space travellers; a murderous ventriloquist’s dummy and giant rats in the sewers of Victorian London; Egyptian mummies that were the robot servitors of an alien god imprisoned in a pyramid on Mars. Such stories burned dark and fierce in my boyhood daydreams.
An avid viewer of that programme, I became an even more avid reader of the Target novelizations that occupied entire shelves at my local public library. They sat alongside other alluring books from authors including Alan Garner and John Wyndham. And as my tastes matured, so the farther corners of the library revealed more morbid delights: the Pan Books of Horror Stories squatted there, in the revolving racks amid lurid paperbacks from authors including Stephen King and James Herbert.
Expeditions through that library excavated supernatural horror in a non-fiction guise too, in collections of purportedly true ghost stories such as Peter Moss’s superb ‘Ghosts Over Britain’. These fascinated me, and that fascination was deepened by other media. This was an age when accounts of paranormal encounters were treated with serious sobriety by the television news. I was captivated by series like ‘Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World’. When the first issue of ‘The Unexplained’ partwork magazine appeared one day in the newsagent near my house, I had to have it, and I collected every issue that followed.
By my early teens, I was also immersed in role-playing games (RPGs). I was and remain a dyed-in-the-wool geek! A player to begin with, I increasingly found myself taking on the role of Dungeon Master (or Games Master), inventing and describing fantastical settings and the fictions we lived therein. I often wrote my own RPG scenarios, not only because the official ones were expensive but also simply because I enjoyed creating them. Thankfully, the players enjoyed them too.
Then one year, when the stars were right, Chaosium published the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ RPG, and I started to run games using that system. This, of course, went hand in squamous hand with an exploration of the works of H. P. Lovecraft and, by way of those, the writings of August Derleth and company, and on to Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, etc.
Like a protagonist in so many stories by these authors, I ached to learn more about the mysterious and the occult. By the end of my teens I was a member of various societies dedicated to exploring the unknown. I was also now dabbling in writing fiction: mostly horror, usually short stories, and always primarily for my own eyes. I was in my early 20s when I started to take a more serious approach to writing – and it was at just about this time that ‘The X-Files’ opened.
Writing non-fiction offered an easier route to getting published, and in an era entranced by Mulder and Scully my knowledge of the paranormal and mythology threw up plenty of ideas for features that I could and did sell. I wrote magazine articles detailing anecdotal sightings of ghosts , considered claims of alien encounters, and collected and wrote about strange happenings from my neighbourhood and the surrounding areas in (mostly south) London. My fiction writing continued, but it was often left bubbling in a cauldron on the back burner.
More actively involved now in the aforementioned societies, I – like so many others – wanted to believe and I set out on a quest for truth. Many a long, cold night was passed in reportedly haunted houses, council flats, castles and abandoned cottages.
As I travelled through these outer suburbs of horror, I could see the path ahead diverging. One way led deeper into the enticing, whispering shadow realm of phantoms and spectres, while the other was illumined by the brilliant spotlight of intellectual scrutiny and the urge to seek answers in the domains of science.
Romantic or realist? I took the latter path. After a year or so spent brushing up my knowledge of the hard sciences, I altered tack and dedicated my spare time to studying for a degree in psychology, wanting to understand more about the strange interactions between inner perceptions and external events, between the subjective and the objective, that ever-changing nexus we experience as consciousness.
Those studies taught me a great deal. At the same time, however, they sucked away much of the mystery and wonder that had drawn me to these topics in the first place. Eventually, I found that I needed to explore that other, more shadowed, path for a while, to wander the twilight realm in which ancient myths and buried legends rule undying over the upstarts of science. In parallel with my studies, I had continued to collect local ghost stories and now these absorbed me. I delved deeper into this aspect of the weird and wonderful, publishing the tales I uncovered in several books.
To treat these tales with the understanding and respect they deserve is time-consuming, however. Moreover, the costs involved in researching the stories can be considerable, and after mid-2016 the early rumblings of a troubled economy in the UK had a devastating impact on my job and financial security. The time and resources I could devote to writing of any sort was suddenly and brutally curtailed: in future I could be either a writer or a researcher, but I could no longer be both.
Writing won. It was what I had originally intended to do, even though my subsequent journey through horror’s dark territories had taken me on wide, meandering detours. So I locked my old self in an attic, assumed a new pen name, and focused on writing nightmares as a mental escape from a world that had darkened and closed in around me.
In August 2017 I published a collection of old and new short stories under the title ‘Strangers at the Door’. A few months later, in April 2018, I published a short horror/SF novel titled ‘Artemis One-Zero-Five’. My fiction-writing skills were rusty, but that rust is starting to drop away, flaking like dried blood from an old wound.
Now, as I conclude these thoughts on why I write in this genre, it strikes me that I am in a curious sense living again in the eerie, macabre and uncanny terrain of my childhood: my WIP is a supernatural folk-horror novel set in 1970s south London. The circularity of this was not planned but it feels appropriate. It feels as if writing horror was always meant to be my final destination.
They’d said it was dead.
A lifeless rock. Spinning in space.
But life can take many forms.
Out there – embodied via the Link – it was easy to let your imagination get the better of you. Fatally easy.
All it took was a momentary lapse of concentration for Nick Scott to nearly lose his mind.
And for something to find it….
Christopher Henderson was born in Streatham in the UK more years ago than is healthy to remember, and he has haunted south London ever since. In another life, he works in publishing and has authored several non-fiction books.
In this incarnation, he writes horror as an escape from a world that is fast becoming somewhere he’d rather not be.
You can follow Christopher on Twitter @ChendersHorror
You can visit Christopher’s Official Website here