The Special Page
Why Does a Horror Writer Write Horror? Simon Clark answers The Horror Zine: What made him plunge into these dark oceans of life as a writer of disturbing fiction?
IN THE "SPECIAL PAGE" ARCHIVES:
Love hurts, ambition hurts, life hurts. Or at least all of these cause hurt at some point. Maybe one of the lures of the horror story is that its monsters -- whether vampires, ghosts, zombies or the unnamable -- have a kind of life, or at least some form of animation, but escape the pain we experience when things go wrong or are difficult. Come to think of it, most of the monsters of horror fiction simply don’t have family ties or responsibilities. They’re liberated. But then they find human beings eternally fascinating. After all, vampires don’t go round troubling woodlice or worms. Our monsters in films and books realize that they are missing out on something. Sometimes it’s human blood or brain snacks; sometimes that lure is more recondite.
Maybe one of those things is pain. I’m not aiming to crack a whip about S&M here, but emotional and physical pain are the hurdles we must surmount in life to make progress. This is all summed up neatly by the hoary old saying: No pain, no gain.
When I was about thirteen I had experienced a flash of revelation. Suddenly, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. This happened as I took the family dog for a walk across the fields as the sun was setting. Really there should have been sweeping orchestral music as I walked back across the corn stubble with the blaze of red along the horizon. I was filled with this feeling that an important part of me had been magically transformed. A writer. That’s what I’d do with my life. So far so good. But how does a kid from rural Yorkshire with no family or friends being writers or knowing writers actually do this?
The answer is: pain. To make a sword the smith heats steel in a blazing fire, then belts it mightily with a hammer. Then repeats the process many, many times. For the next ten years I set out to do something remarkably similar to my heart/mind/soul; well, whatever that mechanism of hopes, thoughts, memories and emotion is called.
First came the pain of writing the stories. In my early teens I used my father’s portable typewriter. Typing was bloody slow. The keys jammed. My fingers would slip BETWEEN the keys where sharp pieces of metal hidden inside would rip the skin around my fingernails.
It wasn’t like this for writers in the movies! Their fingers danced over the keys as they produced plays, novels, screenplays. I typed for hours to produce a story that was a page long. At least by the end of it I had ants taking over the world and inventing little anti-gravity machines that neatly housed one anthill. Okay, Okay; maybe my imagination still needed some work.
More pain came in the shape writing late into the night. I worked my imagination to such a pitch that when I’d try to sleep I’d lay there with ideas detonating inside my head. By my late teens I’d left school. The pain of realization struck me. I couldn’t devote my days to writing. I’d have to find a day job to support my habit/craving/addiction/monomania. Yeah, writing gets its hooks into you like that.
So I’d work evenings I’d work on my stories as everyone went to the pub. When the sun shone on Saturdays and I’d hear the sound of people enjoying the fine weather I drew the curtains and typed. At work people would break for lunch to stroll round town. I’d dash to the library where I could write longhand for an hour.
There’s a poem I once heard by a farm worker who used a horse drawn plough. A line repeated at the end of every verse was: ‘Pain and Strain, Pain and Strain…’
Now, I’m not claiming that writing exerts you in the same kind of way as a guy heaving an iron plough round the fields all day but those lines would go through my mind as I started work on a few more pages of story. Even when I told myself, “OK, no writing tonight. Have a rest. Watch television. Go for a walk.” But to hell with relaxation. I’d climb the stairs to the spare bedroom then start pounding the keys. When I realized I wasn’t devoting enough time to writing I tumbled out of bed an hour earlier so I could write before catching the bus to work. Pain and Strain, Pain and Strain.
Then there’s the pain of writing stories only to have them rejected. But by this time I was beginning to understand one of Nietzsche maxims: ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’ Bloody hell, he was right. Ambition brings pain. Chasing rainbows is a sure-fire way to plunge you into the abyss of misery. BUT WAIT!
Yesterday a padded envelope arrived. Inside were two slim paperbacks. I looked at the cover depicting an apocalypse. Also on the cover were some impenetrable words in Japanese. It didn’t take me long to fathom that this was the Japanese edition of my 1995 novel Blood Crazy.
Writing Blood Crazy was a tough haul. I hadn’t sold any novels then. I didn’t have a day job. Money was near enough non-existent. Horror wasn’t the most commercial of the genres. Pain and Strain.
But horror is what I do. My compulsion didn’t drive me to write anything else. If I tried crime or a thriller it turned into horror anyway. Horror stories are my children of the night. I can’t ignore them, even if I wanted to.
But then great news. In 1994 Hodder Headline bought both Nailed By The Heart and Blood Crazy. An agent agreed to represent me. From zero to hero -- well, that’s what it felt like. The birth pains were over. So yesterday I could hold in my hands volume 1 and volume 2 of the Japanese edition of Blood Crazy. So far this book has been published throughout the English speaking world. The American edition from Leisure was a hit. Foreign language editions have appeared in Greece and Russia. So, feeling pretty pleased with myself, I placed the Japanese edition on my shelves alongside my other novels.
It was tempting to stand there and admire them for a moment and think, “Hey, Simon, you know something? Remember those dreams of a thirteen year old you? They’re all coming true.”
I could have stood there basking in warm, fuzzy thoughts of success. But I had work to do. So I sat at the computer and wrote. People are going to the pub, they’re watching television, they’re having fun. And me? I’m writing. Sometimes it’s still a source of pain… but it’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s what I want to do tomorrow, the day after that, and the year after that. As the saying goes: For me, it’s heaven on a stick.
About Simon Clark
Simon’s Website HERE
Simon Clark is the author of over twenty novels. His award-winning novel The Night of the Triffids is the authorised continuation of John Wyndham’s Sci-Fi classic The Day of the Triffids. A new edition of The Night of Triffids will be issued in paperback and as an ebook in the summer of 2014. Also out this year: Inspector Abberline & the Gods of Rome, Secrets of the Dead, and the reissue of Simon’s epic time travel novel The Fall by Telos Moonrise. Simon’s other books include Darkness Demands, Blood Crazy, On Deadly Ground, The Gravedigger’s Tale, Death’s Dominion and Sherlock’s Demon.
Simon's story "Tin House" is featured in Ellen Datlow's The Best Horror of the Year Volume Six HERE