Anthony Steven, Why Do You Write Horror?
Then they were on him. His eyes flew open as they boiled around his petrified body and smothered him with their bloated flesh. Blue-nailed fingers fastened onto his mouth as he finally tried to throw them off, wrenching himself from side to side in the chair. But they were too strong. His scream was muffled by discoloured hands for a moment, but Nick screamed for him, long and loud, horrified – despite the fact that this man had murdered three women and then abducted Susan.
Why do I write horror? There is no easy answer to this question. I grew up in a spooky old Victorian house in the North of England in the 1960s and 70s. There was an attic at the top of the stairs that wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me into because, from an early age, I was convinced that it was haunted. I shared a room with an older brother who liked to pretend that he was changing into a werewolf at night, on a regular and unnerving basis. These fake metamorphoses took place after we’d watched old werewolf movies starring Lon Chaney Junior and also Curse of The Werewolf, featuring an impossibly young and handsome Oliver Reed. Saturday night, as I remember, featured a double-bill of horror on the BBC, normally with a Hammer film and a Hollywood movie. Particularly memorable, intriguing and terrifying to me were The Masque of The Red Death, starring Vincent Price, The Pit and the Pendulum, with Price again, and The Man with X-Ray Eyes, starring Ray Milland. I still shudder when I think about Milland, tearing his eyes out at the end of that movie and shouting with horror that he could still see!
We also had the luxury of a black and white portable TV in our room that my brother used to switch on at 10.30pm on a Monday night to watch Appointment with Fear. This was done without the knowledge of our parents, of course. AWF normally consisted of Hammer Horror movies. I was fascinated by Christopher Lee’s Dracula, but also terrified of him, and vampire films in general induced more than one sweat-drenched nightmare after all the lights were turned off. I was glad when my brother made a crucifix in his school woodwork class and brought it home to hang on our bedroom wall, I can tell you.
The love of horror fiction in book-form began with Robert E Howard’s sword and sorcery tales, especially those containing Conan The Barbarian, which featured more than enough demonic beings, sultry witches and evil sorcerers to satisfy my eager, adolescent imagination. I also loved Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series, but everything changed for me when I read Stephen King’s Carrie. From that point on, I left everything else behind and devoured not only King’s books, but all kinds of other horror writers: Herbert; Hutson, Campbell, Blatty, Koontz and many more. Recently, I’ve admired novels by Joe Hill; CJ Tudor, Jason Arnopp and Paul Tremblay. King is still knocking it out of the park though, of course, and is still my favourite.
My own fledgling attempts at writing began at sixteen with an ill-conceived sword and sorcery tale called Alar and The Black Slayer. I still have it in a box somewhere. It was hand-written, poorly constructed, and full of terrible, corny prose. The good guys were endowed with rippling biceps; flashing swords and noble ideals. The bad guys were mindlessly evil and completely one dimensional, but it was my creation and there was a dim pride in this even then. It was always at the back of my mind that I wanted to write more as life took over and filled my time initially with pubs and nightclubs, then significant relationships, work and all the other things that populate our lives. I still wrote from time to time though, normally short stories of the horror/thriller variety and I joined a writers’ club in my locale at one point, which helped me to produce many more.
Work took me to interesting places. After twenty-five plus mostly tedious years in the private sector, I retrained as a psychotherapist and have worked with a range of vulnerable adults in numerous settings. Always, though, the dream of writing remained. I joined Jericho Writers Group and attended courses that examined the craft of writing and made me think about my own style in a more critical way. I wrote a full-length horror novel called Birth-Rite. This is a homage to my own childhood as well as a story about the eternal battle of Good versus Evil. Then I wrote Catechism, a book that seemed to come from nowhere. It’s about a psychic, Nick, who is targeted by a serial killer with the power to place Nick in the bodies of people as they’re being murdered so that he experiences death on multiple occasions. Nick joins forces with DCI Kate Garvey of the Met to solve the murders and identify the killer before Nick becomes the final victim.
I now had two full-length books to add to an innumerable amount of short stories. Great. The trick now was to find an agent willing to represent me in order to get them published. As any writer knows, this is the really, really hard bit. My experience was a common one I’m sure when querying agents. Responses ranged from deathly silence to dismissive form replies, and several nuggets of encouraging praise that went a bit like… this submission was interesting…showed promise…well written…but. That terrible word at the end: “but.”
After many long months of this merry dance, I decided to publish Catechism myself. It’s been out for almost a year with what I’ve been told have been decent sales for a newbie in my situation. Getting great reviews from family and friends is one thing, but getting great reviews from total strangers is truly awesome. I’ve just followed up Catechism with Invocation, the second in my Nick Ballard series, although it’s really the Nick and Kate series when I think about it, as she strongly features as the second protagonist in the books.
Although I don’t really have the first clue where Nick and co came from, this series has also spawned two Novellas, Susan Carver, which is available for free on my website, and Rennick, which is also published on Amazon. Both characters appear in the main Nick Ballard series. There’s even a longer novella that I’ve just completed called Nick and Kate 1991. These characters just won’t stop talking to me, it seems.
There will be more Nick books I’m sure, but Birth-Rite is next on the launch pad, and really, as a novel, it’s my first love. I hope that anyone who reads it may fall in love with it too, the way I fell in love with Carrie, all those years ago as a young man. Now that would be really awesome.
KR: If you write horror, published or not, I’d love to hear Why Do You Write Horror? Please get in touch via my email and together let’s promote horror.
Talking To The Dead Is The Only Way To Stay Alive
Nick Ballard is being haunted by the ghost of his dead friend and it’s literally killing him. In London, a vicious new murderer is stalking the dark underbelly of the City, preying on lost souls.
When the bodies of multiple victims are discovered, DCI Kate Garvey reaches out to Nick in the hope that he can use his special gifts to help, not knowing that the killer is about to strike at the heart of her family.
Nick has to face his worst fear if he is to have any chance of tracking down a merciless, relentless psychopath who threatens to destroy everything he loves.
He lives in Cheshire, England, with his wife and small dog, Bailey, who loves food and cuddles.