Why Do I Write Dark Stories?
By Andrea Hardaker
About two days prior to Kendall Reviews putting an appeal on Twitter asking authors to blog about why they write horror, I’d been asked a very similar question by a new member of a writing group I’m part of.
The man in question took in my appearance, which – let’s be honest, is a fairly placid-looking woman, with no distinguishing features other than a cheery disposition, and said:
“Why is your writing always so dark?”
I hesitated for a minute – perhaps a little unsure whether or not the question was laced with criticism. The stuff I write isn’t everyone’s cuppa.
And to be clear – I don’t particularly write ‘horror’. Although, I did opt to write a little ‘soft’ horror for Storgy Magazine’s fantastic #ShallowCreek competition. (KR: I found that Andrea’s contribution to Shallow Creek, The Fulmar’s Cry, was one of the strongest in a very good collection. A fantastic blend of horror, grief and loss. The imagery was superb!)
Usually what I write is simply – well dark. So why do I do it?
I think perhaps part of the reason, is inevitably, my upbringing. I grew up in a Scottish Catholic household, where wakes were just part of life and morgue-cold churches were visited weekly, if not nightly, during Lent.
If you are a child with a strong imagination and a keen sense of place, churches are sinister buildings. Dead eyes follow your every move in the form of icons and paintings – the Stations of the Cross was something I found particularly uncomfortable. Google them – you’ll understand why.
My mum never understood this. She is a very strong, independent woman – totally kick-ass and my elder sister is the same – utterly fearless. While they took the death rituals and church ceremonies we attended in their stride, something was stirring in me.
Death followed me home from those wakes. She would perch like a raven on my shoulder all day, just waiting for the moment when we were alone together. Then, she would pounce, digging sharp talons into my puppy fat, while coo-ing sweet terrors in my ears.
Her presence would force me to recall the emptiness of a loved-one stretched out in their casket, and wonder where ‘they’ had gone; what was that ‘casing’ they’d left behind which looked so alike yet unlike them and more worryingly what would happen to ‘it’ once it was buried deep in the ground? To see a ‘personless’ body was perhaps the most disturbing thing I’d ever witnesses back then.
But to be fair, long before my first wake, I’d been afraid of many things growing up; the rasp of the north wind, the fluttering wings of shadows, the hiss and spit of a stuck record, the gap beneath the bed.
Noises, in particular, gave me grave concern. Anything that dripped, ticked, scraped or creaked as well as the predatory sound of utter silence. And slowness – anything that plooooooooooodddddded or crrrrrrept gave me the heebies.
Yet, despite my terror of the ‘unknown’, the things that scared me most were real, living people. On Sunday mornings, I sat in church cowering from the veiled women in the front row who glowered from beneath the black gauze which hung over their faces. If I giggled or misbehaved they would stare disapprovingly – sometimes reaching out to slap me on the wrist – if I was unlucky enough to be sitting close to them. There was something about those veils that made the women behind them even more sinister in my mind – I mean, what were they trying to hide? Why were they praying so hard? Was it for forgiveness? If so, for what?
My sister couldn’t have cared less about those old women– she openly enjoyed their fury. But once again, I carried those angry stares all the way home from church, felt them bore into my dreams at night.
Confessional boxes were just as scary (would I ever get back out again alive? Was God waiting for me in there – or worse his unmentionable opposite?) and, for a child with my disposition, the thought of eating the ‘body’ or drinking the ‘blood’ of Christ at communion was just downright barbaric. I still can’t have a wafer without gagging.
But perhaps one of my worst ‘holy’ memories was centred around the small statue of Mary, I was gifted at my ‘first communion.’ The damn thing was luminous and shone into the night like the archetypal ‘white lady’. I was too afraid to put her in a drawer in case it was a sin. So I’d lie awake, watching Mary watching me, thinking of all the bad things I’d done that she knew about, while she glowed with silent disapproval.
To me, being Catholic, meant that every dark thought or feeling that every sprung up inside me was being ‘watched’ by some higher being and the more I tried to fight those thoughts the darker and stronger they grew.
I believe that childhood is a time when darkness is at its peak. Some young children and teens can do inexplicably awful things showing little or no remorse and I love exploring these characters in writing where I can safely contain them on a page. (Which is possibly why to this day, Lord of The Flies is one of my favourite books). These inexplicable characters remind me of the corpses I was so afraid of in my youth. They look like real, feeling people but inside there is just emptiness – nothing – no compassion, no humanity, no empathy – a terrifying thought!
And of course, as a Catholic girl, I was brought up to be ‘nice’ even when I really didn’t feel ‘nice.’ I was ‘nice’ to all sorts of people even when they weren’t particularly nice to me. Nice became the veil I wore every day, white and pure as snow. But underneath it, maggots coiled.
Being ‘nice’ meant I was a bully’s dream growing up and I attracted many destructive relationships with friends and partners. But strangely I never saw myself as a victim. For no matter how awful people were, either physically or mentally, it was nothing compared to what I was doing to them in my head. (Don’t ask…it’s not pretty).
My husband jokes (with a slightly nervous laugh) that he finds me worryingly two-faced – I can make someone I detest feel like my best friend. (Keep your friends close and enemies even closer they say). And it’s true that often when I’ve left destructive relationships, those I’ve walked away from are utterly stunned. I thought we were friends…I thought you loved me…
Unlike my elder sister who displays every feeling she has without fear of consequence, I tuck mine away, quietly seething when wronged.
Which is the real me? Probably both – the cheery happy-go-lucky woman and the merciless devil co-exist in one place as they possibly do in most people. But thankfully I pour the more sinister me out on to the page.
Who knows what would happen if the demon beneath the angel was unleashed on the real world?
Andrea Hardaker is what her granny would call a bletherin skite – someone who talks – a lot! Andrea was born and raised in Fife, Scotland, where she worked as a journalist for many years. She is possibly one of the jumpiest people you’ll ever meet and is great fun to take along to a horror movie. Plough her with soft drinks and watch her squirm to the point of sheer torture rather than visit the ladies alone. Andrea has a ridiculous amount of phobias (vinyl records being one of them). She also has an MA in Creative Writing, (Leeds Trinity Uni) and has been published in numerous magazines and independent anthologies. She won first prize in The Federation of Writer’s Scotland Vernal Equinox Flash competition 2014 and was longlisted for Storgy Magazine’s #ShallowCreek competition 2018. Her story, The Fulmar’s Cry, will be featured in their collection due out next year.
Here is her latest short story featured in Storgy Magazine – Silent Witness
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @bletherinskite
You can find out more about Andrea via her Official Website
This is the tale of a town on the fringes of fear, of ordinary people and everyday objects transformed by terror and madness, a microcosm of the world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. This is a world where the unreal is real, where the familiar and friendly lure and deceive. On the outskirts of civilisation sits this solitary town. Home to the unhinged. Oblivion to outsiders.
Shallow Creek contains twenty-one original horror stories by a chilling cast of contemporary writers, including stories by Sarah Lotz, Richard Thomas, Adrian J Walker, and Aliya Whitely. Told through a series of interconnected narratives, Shallow Creek is an epic anthology that exposes the raw human emotion and heart-pounding thrills at the genre’s core.
Welcome to Shallow Creek!