Welcome to day 3 of Horrror Month! I have the wonderful Chris Priestley on my blog today with a guest post about writing creepy stories! It is so interesting and defiantly check out his books-perfect for this time of year.
Why do I write creepy stories for children? Do I want to scare them? Do I want to give them the frights?
Well, the short answer is yes - yes I do. But only those who want to be scared, of course. I’m not just creeping up behind people and randomly shouting ‘Boo!” I think if someone buys a book - or borrows it from their library - and it has ‘Tales of Terror’ in the title, then I think they are looking for - and expecting - chills and thrills.
But why? Why would anyone want to scare themselves?
Well it takes all sorts. Not everyone likes creepy stories. Which is fine - there are all kinds of stories out there. But I have always loved creepy stories - or maybe more exactly, I’ve always loved uncanny, weird and strange stories. Maybe because I’m a little weird and strange myself.
I make that distinction - between creepy stories and horror stories - because so often now, the default position on horror is guts and gore. Zombies. Demons. Knife-wielding killers. You know the kind of thing. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, I hasten to add - and there is some well-placed gore in my stories and there are, on occasion, demons. But what I am mainly trying to so is quietly unsettle the reader - not shock them.
I don’t have any idea whether we are born with a liking for the creepy and weird or just get a taste for it (or not) as we grow. Whichever it is, I sought out strange stories wherever I could as soon as I was old enough to choose my own books in the library.
I still remember staring in fascination at a school library edition of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter (Shockhaired Peter) - at the gloriously grisly images of the girl who burns to death playing with matches, the thumb sucker having his thumb lopped off by giant scissors, and the extraordinarily weird cover illustration. Strange stories invite illustration. It was a great to have David Roberts illustrating my stories and fantastic to see those pictures reinstated in the new editions.
Years later the horrible image from Struwwelpeter of the scissors snipping that thumb - and the odd cover of Peter with his long curling, twig-like, fingernails - would find a mirror in my story Old Mother Tallow, in Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror.
Although I’m only just realising that now.
That’s the odd thing with writing stories. You are not always in control, as the writer, of where those ideas are coming from and why. Because I write unsettling stories, I try and unsettle myself - looking at my own fears and phobias. But mostly the ideas just loom up out of the darkness and I don’t worry too much about how or why - just about whether they are any good or not.
But my notion of what shape a chiller should have has been formed over time by stories that I have read by masters of the art - writers like M R James, Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Robert Aickman - but also by cinematic chillers such as The Innocents and The Haunting and Don’t Look Now. Television was also a big part of the mix - watching those old films for a start - but also watching things like the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas. There’s nothing quite like a creepy story, well told.
So why do I write creepy stories for children?
Because it feels natural to me. Because I write the books I would have liked to read when I was young. Because while its important that young people see themselves and their lives reflected in fiction, that’s not what I wanted when I was young. I wanted to be transported. I wanted to see other worlds and stretch my imagination. And sometimes, I wanted to dare myself to look into the shadows.
If you feel that way too, then the Tales of Terror might be for you…