Monday, 25 November 2013

The Book That Changed My Life

This is something I invariably talk about during my school visits, but it's something I've never bunged here. So now I am.

One book changed my life: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner.

I was on a family holiday. It was in a caravan. I've no doubt that it was raining. After all, we were in a caravan, and those blasted creations seem to have a knack of attracting bad weather (as well as not entirely in shape pensioners in pink flannelette jogging outfits, dog owners who think EVERYONE wants their dog to lick them, gangs of topless kids on bikes, and the acrid smell of sausages burned on a disposable bbq).

So, I was bored. There wasn't exactly much to do, bar eating a biscuit, playing scrabble, or listening to my parents drink EVEN MORE TEA THAN YESTERDAY (and very loudly, too), while shuffling through yet another leaflet about either a castle (a few bricks and an overpriced guidebook), an old house (rich people allow the poor people to gaze at their life of wealth and opulence), a zoo (donkey and a bird bath), or a poor attempt at family entertainment (a few farm fields filled with a couple of goats, a roundabout, a display of 'olde worlde farminge implents, and a coffee shop).

At last, the day's entertainment was decided. We would go and... (wait for it...) VISIT A VILLAGE! Yes! A VILLAGE! I was confused. We lived in a village. So why the hell had we come on holiday to go and visit one? In the rain? Back home, I could just open my bedroom window and behold! A VILLAGE! Anyway, kagools pulled on, off we were swept into the rain to look at old buildings, cobbled streets, and to then gaze in wonder at the displays in bakery windows.

We happened to pass a gift shop. The kind that sells everything from swords to hankies to taxidermy, toilet rolls, tins of beans and snow globes. It also had a few book carousels outside. The kind filled with books limp and pathetic courtesy of the elements. Books that look sad and depressed and close to just jumping off into the puddles below to end it all.

Anyway, one book grabbed my attention. Not just because the cover ROCKED (see below), but because the title was utterly mesmerising. What's not to love about "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen"? It's magnificent! So I grabbed it, bought it, and devoured it.

It's a brilliant read. Short, beautiful, dark, menacing, magical. But one section nailed it for me. The heroes are being chased through a cave. The cave gets pretty tight. And finally they end up not at a dead end, but a sump. This is where the cave is submerged. They've no idea how much of the cave is underwater. Could be a few metres. Could be a few miles. But they've no choice - they have to risk drowning to avoid capture.


Even more so for me, because I had actually drowned a few years before, and was completely terrified of water. (True story. I didn't learn to swim till I was 28.)

It was that scene (which is little more than a couple of sides of a page) that did it. Those words haunted me. That book chased me through every moment of my life, pestering me, tapping its spindly fingers against my head. It knew I wanted to do the same, use words to haunt people, tell stories, scare, encourage, frighten, excite...

So now that's what I try to do. I'm no way saying I'm Alan Garner (who's a veritable genius). But I am a writer. With books and everything. And it was his words in that book all those years ago that set me on this path. And to me, that's just astonishing.

Thanks Alan - I owe you a lot.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Why I Want Rob Zombie To Buy My Film Rights

Rob Zombie... Isn't he?

Mr Zombie is pretty damned polarising. People love him. People hate him. People are confused by him.  People wonder just why the hell he puts Sheri Moon (his wife) in everything he does...

Sheri Moon. Wowzers...

Me? I think he rocks.

I started with House of 1000 Corpses many years ago. It confused me. I didn't like it. I forgot all about it.

House of 1000 Corpses. You know you want to...

Then I watched The Devil's Rejects and I was gobsmacked. This was rock n roll awesome. It was twisted and brilliant and the sound track was superb and there were guns and insanity and crazy dialogue and...

The Devil's Rejects. Not the most tactful of posters...

Then came his Halloween duo. Liked the first a lot. The second confused me. Then I watched The Lords of Salem. Which confused me.

The Lords. Absolutely bonkers...

So I was confused. And I don't like being confused because I like to know why I'm confused or it just gets too confusing.

So I went back to House of 1000 and this time watched it on my projector. The difference was immeasurable. Man, that film is crazy fun! Yeah, it's basically Tourist Trap with balls, but that's a good thing. Visually it's splendid. The sets, the way each shot is filled to bursting point with all manner of stuff, just the way Zombie seems to completely get how a scene should look. By the end I was converted - no more confused, lots of WOOHOO!

So I decided this week to rewatch Lords. Last time I saw it, myself and my good horror buddy sat in silence after somewhat befuddled. What had we just watched? What in tarnation was Zombie doing now? And just WHAT the HELL was that weird mutant dwarf thing with tentacles? And the sasquatch? and just who are the lords anyway? And... well, there were a lot of questions.

The rewatching didn't necessarily answer any of these questions. But it did draw me in. I loved the atmosphere and the general gentleness the film seemed to have (ignoring the completely bonkers witches scenes). Yeah, it did have a feel as though it had at points been made up on the spot, that it was a few good ideas stitched together by some nonsense, but I didn't care. Again, it was beautifully shot. That tiny corridor - how did Zombie make that such a part of what was going on? And Sheri - my god, this part was the moment she actually became something other than Zombie's Fit Wife. She was great in it, better than actually. And the supporting cast, too. The soundtrack - great. The dialogue - cracking. The everything about it - a mixed up, potion of crazy weird darkness to pour into your head and giggle and rock to.

So why do I want the man to bag my film rights? Well, I think Zombie has a certain magic to him. he gets horror. He gets metal. He gets theatre. He loves what he does. He doesn't care what folk think. he's unique. Original. Clever. Arty. Bonkers. Violent. Gifted. And I can't help wonder what he'd do with a horror for a younger audience. Think of the fun he could have...

Zombie, for all the flaws people seem keen to point out, for all the crazy, for all the confusion, is to me a seriously exciting dude behind the camera as well as on stage. Now all I've gotta do is work out a way to get him to notice my stuff...

... Goat sacrifice perhaps...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

20 Word Short Horror Story Competition

Earlier this week I tweeted a very short horror story indeed written by someone I can't remember the name of right this minute. Anyway, it went something like this: "The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door." Simple, clever, chilling. And stuff.

So I had an idea...

And that idea was to find two different types of cheese, place them in a box in the garage for three years, and see if they created an entirely NEW kind of cheese when reopened!

Then I had another, slightly more relevant, idea...

So I'm going to run a 20 Word Short Horror Story Competition. Yes! It's true! For more info, just watch the movie below, then send your submission to me at: WOOHOO! Grrr... argh... etc.

Dave "I 'heart' Suspiria" Gatward

Friday, 1 November 2013

Watch out America, the Dead are coming!

ok folks, it's happened at last - Gatward is hitting the US! woohoo! this is a huge deal for me and I'm massively excited.

So here's the info...

1 For the next 5 days you can download FOR FREE book 1, The Dead, here:

2. If you RT and FOLLOW me on twitter @davidgatward with #ShredtheDead you have a chance at winning one of 3 limited edition skateboards!

3 The other two books in the trilogy are available here:

The Dark

The Damned


Monday, 9 September 2013

So Here's The Thing...

It's taken me a while to write this, to even come to it with words, but here goes... and if it makes no sense, I apologise in advance.

So, I went to the psychic evening. I did my research and I had an open mind. Clearly that phrase 'open mind' is always a pause for thought. No one's mind is truly open. We see everything through our own version of rose-tinted spectacles. The ones we put on that we hope no one else notices.

So that was the evening. And fun it was, too. Nothing happened to me. Nothing. I observed other people affected, altered, taken up with what was going on. It was fascinating, intriguing, confusing, wonderful. And as I said, I'd go again for sure.

Next day? Well, the evening was a run in to the following day, a psychic day. And I wasn't going to let that pass me by. So with writer's head and satchel, off I went.

It was, more than the evening really, what I expected: cloth-covered tables, crystals, cards, and a fair spattering of fairy-type stuff. I at that point could've giggled and left. But that's not me, really. I wanted to just soak it up, so I did. And I got the chance to sit with a seriously well known palm reader (he's the one the celeb's go to) (and now me!) and see what happened.

So, here's the thing. Most of what he said I could, easily, say that it was generalisations, clever motivational speak, excellent reading of body language. The man is a life coach born and bred. He could change lives simply by talking, because he's clearly got a skill and talent for saying stuff not necessarily that you want to hear, but stuff that might make you think and change what you do.

But one word stood out: Troubadour.

Just a word, right? Nothing special.

Well, the trouble with this word is that it has cropped up before. My dad was sitting with an old friend. A friend in a coma. been out for weeks. It was a regular visit. Dad was doing his job as a friend and as a minister. Then this friend in a coma wakes up. Has a message he tells my dad, about his sons. Tells him. Falls back to a coma. What he said about my brother is irrelevant (accurate, as it turns out, but irrelevant). Anyway, for me, he used that one word: troubadour.

And so did the palm reader. The man stared at me and used that word. 'You're a troubadour. You can't help it. You can't do anything about it. That's what you are.'

I honestly don't know what that means. I'm not some bloke who runs around singing poetry. But I do write. And I can't help but write. It's not just something I do. It's what I am. Not for money (hahaha...) Not for fame (more of the hahaha...) It's simply something I do because if I don't I actually stop.


Troubadour though. That's a random word. It's like meeting a stranger and saying 'Castanet' and the stranger saying 'holy cow - it's the one instrument I've always wanted to play'. Or something.

I am not suggesting anything here. At all. But what I am saying is that a man who has no idea who I am, has never met me, doesn't know me, spoke to me, and used a really rather specific word, and one that's haunted me for a long, long time, to describe who I am, and what I cannot escape being.

Read in to that what you will. Something or nothing.

Intriguing though, isn't it? And that undeniable part of it all is what fascinates me. And also - as I've already said - keeps my mind open.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Keeping An Open Mind

A big part of the joy of writing is research. Frankly, while I was at college, doing either A-Levels or my degree, I thought the opposite. It was a drag, reading through books, finding quotes, doing some kind of apparently relevant experiential work to base an essay or dissertation on. I really couldn’t be bothered, but that might have more to do with my lack of interest in what I was studying, than the actual process of research.

I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘write what you know’. Like I say to many of the students at the creative writing sessions I run at schools across the country, this doesn’t mean write about your day at school, or what you had for lunch, what you saw on TV. What it means (to me at any rate) is this: DO YOUR RESEARCH.

For me, the whole process can be addictive. It’s an excuse to buy books, to scour through bizarre texts, buy random stuff off ebay. It is also a great reason to get off your arse and do something a bit different. Research has, for me, included skydiving, endless hours reading about weaponry, taking up Krav Maga so I would have a better idea of what an actual fight was like (I wrote a scene a few years back that a friend, who had a better understanding of violence than I, told me would have the main character dead within the first two sentences!) I’ve trawled my own background, drawing upon my own hobbies of archery, shooting, mountaineering. I’ve interviewed all manner of interesting folk. And, last weekend, I did something I’ve never done in my life: I went to a Psychic Night.

It would be easy to have ended that last sentence with an exclamation mark, as though to say, ‘what fun’ and ‘it’s a bit silly’ and ‘don’t worry, I didn’t take it seriously’. The fact is, if I went along thinking any of that, I’d have tainted my research. I needed an open mind, wanted to take everything in, and record it accordingly.

It was fascinating. The evening began with some relaxing music, played wonderfully on a wooden flute affair. You know that relaxing CD music you find in shops selling crystals? It was that, but considerably better. Following this, we went straight into astrology.

I, like everyone else I’m sure, has checked out their star sign. I’m not sure I’ve ever got anything for it, but I’ve always been interested in the idea that for 1000s of years the human race has pondered the stars and considered their influence on our tiny lives. The conviction of the astrologer I honestly couldn’t doubt. He was down to earth, wasn’t wearing feathers or tie-dye, and didn’t make me want to immediately punch him in the face. And his delivery was a lot of fun, too. Believe in it? That wasn’t the point – I was interested in finding out why people did, not whether I did or not. Next, we had palmistry.

If I was expecting Gypsy Rose Lee, I was way off the mark. The man in front was, it turns out, an ex-school’s inspector. He was funny, he had an address book that was a who’s-who of celebrities, and he knew his subject inside and out. There was no mysticism to what he was saying, if anything it was very matter of fact. And hearing how a person’s hand could tell a story… what’s not to love about that? Because surely our hands do, to a degree, carry scars of the lives we lead. Next came Tarot.

In much the same way, we were presented with a man who wasn’t in any way hippy-fied. He just did tarot. People in the audience picked cards, he explained them, job done. Were they looking for meaning in what he was saying? Was it generalisations? Again, I didn’t care – this was research. And it was fascinating! Then, after a break, came the moment everyone had been waiting for: mediumship!

There is something intrinsically fascinating about the notion of being able to see or contact or commune with the dead. Where would Horror be without it? What I noticed immediately the moment the medium took the stage, alongside a psychic artist she works with, was the upping of anticipation in the room. Cynic or not, everyone there wanted the medium to speak to them. Yes, even me. Why wouldn’t I? I was utterly fascinated about what she was saying to others, how she was doing it, the impact it had. Again, she was compelling and clearly believed with her whole spirit that what she did was real. As did the man on the same row as me when she handed him a painting by the psychic artist and he recognized it straight away as his own father. As did the girl who’s grandfather came through when the medium mentioned a paratrooper who liberated Belsen.

I left the evening no more convinced or otherwise in what went on, but as I said, that wasn’t the point. I had experienced something I’d never done before. I’d met people and spoken about things that were out of my comfort zone. And I’d come away with such a wonderful stack of ideas and thoughts and pictures and notes that I’m now almost at a loss as to what to do with them!

As writers, we must surely maintain an open mind. We need to see the world through the eyes of others if we are to ever actually present a true picture of a character and how the interact with it. Our role is the storyteller. We present ideas and thoughts and experiences and events and it is up to the reader to then draw their own conclusions. If we attempt to write from the perspective of a closed mind, I’m not sure we can ever do our job as truly as we want to.

I love writing. I love the research. I love finding out about stuff I would never usually consider in a normal, everyday kind of job. And I love forcing myself to keep my mind open enough to absorb something that might, some day, help me produce a book I’m proud of. Oh and yes, you bet I’d go again!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Top Five Horror Movie Snack/Drink Combinations For Troll 2!

OK, so perhaps it's not a Top Five as such, more a 'Five', but what the hey. I advise you try them all out on Troll 2 (I've bunged a link to the trailer of at the bottom). It's a challenge worthy of us all, trust me.

5. Evian and low fat flavoured crackers with low fat dips
The kind of thing you never want to eat during a horror movie. Possibly more horrifying than the actual movie itself. Unless you're watching Troll 2. However, it will impress anyone who thinks movie snacks are nothing more than heart attack building blocks.

4. Non-alcoholic wine/beer and crudités with humus
Non-alcoholic wine is horrible. Non-alcoholic beer can be passable. Crudités are wrong. And humus is little more than garlic-flavoured semolina. None of this works. At all. But consume while wearing a black polar neck, and people will take you for a famous film critic and actually listen to what you say. So annoy them with pithy comments throughout the movie - yes, even if it is Troll 2 - and enjoy them agreeing with you, even if you don't actually agree with yourself.

3. Coke and crisps, with dips a plenty
There is no such thing as Too Many Crisps. Trust me on this. I have a horror mate who can consume - possibly through osmosis - at least three bags of Kettle Chips per movie. So never feel that you've turned up with too many. Crisps are a joy. A little addictive. And there's something about stopping with a huge handful only millimetres from your mouth as something truly shocking happens on screen. Like the opening credits to Troll 2. As for the coke, that'll keep you awake for that inevitable 11pm moment when you find yourself saying, yes, of course we've got time to watch another...

2. Wine and french bread, with brie/camembert
This is only at number 2 because it involves wine. And wine makes lots of things good. Even Troll 2. Apparently. Anyway, wine and bread and cheese. Sounds a bit 70s, doesn't it? What's not to love? Get out your VHS, pull out the tapes of Suspiria and Black Christmas, and get to it. Flares would add to the whole joyous event I'm sure.

1. Beer and pizza, with doughnuts
I have, as yet, found nothing to beat this combination. Beer is brilliant. Pizza is ace. Doughnuts are the greatest invention known to mankind. Pile a table high with such treats, slap on a disc of your favourite terror, and you're onto a winner. Troll 2 will even be a thing to love with this combo, I assure you.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

"You're an expert..."

A mate of mine said the funniest thing a while back. He does consultation stuff. You know, fly around the world, speak to auditoriums filled with faces, come home again. We were in a pub and he said, ‘So, how do you do what you do?’

I had no way of answering that. Literally. So I hid behind my beer. Changed the subject. Hoped I wouldn’t have to answer. But my mate is frustratingly stubborn and asked again, but this time said, “Your problem, is that you’re an expert, but you don’t know how or why.’

I’ve been bothered by that statement ever since. An expert? What an idiotic notion. I am most certainly not an expert. But the point he was trying to make was this: I’m sufficiently competent at what I do that I have an agent, publishers, and a number of books. I have people who’ve read my stuff and liked it. I have been nominated for – and even won - awards. But an expert?

I’m always shy of knowing what to do when folk ask me to have a look at their writing, to provide advice, give them some pointers. I don’t feel qualified enough, I really don’t. I can read something and like it or not, but to go further almost seems insane.

I’ve been writing for years. I’m lucky enough now to not just be writing but to have stuff out there. That is an astonishing thing. Something that never ceases to amaze me. I guess I could’ve self-published, but the thought of doing that horrifies me – the help and guidance and support I’ve received from professionals, from folk who know words and make it their living to help people like me sound better? Well, that’s invaluable.

I read lots of posts online about how to write, how to do horror, how to scare, how to sort characterisation, how to pretty much do anything and everything. I really wouldn't know where to begin. Breaking down what I do and how I do it is, it seems, in an impossible task.

An expert… I just don’t think that I am. I love to write. I honestly, truly do. I have done various exciting things in my life, such as skydive and climb. Hell, I even drowned once (not on purpose). But all this I would put below the buzz of that moment when, despite the pain and the headaches and the panic and the running-away-now and the I-need-a-drink and the giving up, you’re alone and the writing is just rockin’ and rollin’.

My name is David Gatward. I write because I love it because I have to because I have no choice. I’m no expert. I honestly don’t really understand the process that well. But I do it. And I love it.

Expert? No.

Writer? Yes.

And that's enough, for now.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

I died once...

It's a weird thing, knowing that you once died. Like properly. No messing. Gone. But now back again.

It was way back when I was around seven or eight years old I think. I was at a swimming pool. I think it was a party or something. Anyway, that doesn't matter. What does matter is that I was there. If I hadn't been, IT wouldn't have happened. And by IT, I mean THIS:


This is not something I did on purpose. I did not actively seek out the experience of drowning. And I would advise anyone against doing so. But I did it. Drowned. Properly.

Somehow (pushed, slipped, not sure) I ended up in the pool out of my depth. I was, by all accounts, dragged out by a life guard, pumped of water, and given the kiss of life. Brought back to the land of the living I guess.

I have no recollection of this event. I know what happened because of witnesses, a notable one being my aunt, who's lovely and also crazy. I asked her a few months ago what it was like, what actually happened. I'm never asking again: it was clearly terrifying. Oh, my mother was there, too. But she can't remember it at all. I guess seeing your child dragged out of a pool and given mouth-to-mouth is something most folk would want to blank from their memory.

Suffice to say, from that moment onwards, I hated water. I had a serious phobia. I would panic entering leisure centres. Not the pool itself - just the place in which it was contained. At school I would do anything to get out of swimming lessons, more often than not spending an hour in the observer deck watching everyone else have a great time.

I didn't learn to swim properly until I was 29. Yeah, you read that right: 29. I was married. I would be a dad sooner rather than later. And I wasn't going to be the weirdo father who couldn't go swimming with his kids. So, by way of motivation, I gave myself a target: join the Royal Marine Reserves. And it worked. I learnt to swim. Within a couple of months, I went from abject terror to swimming a mile, fully clothed. I didn't get into the RMR, but I did learn to swim.

I look back on this and wonder if my love of horror is linked to this event in my life. I come from a church background. I struggle with what I do and don't believe. And I have, it seems, done something few people ever have - died and come back again.

I wish I had a tale to tell of that moment of death. One that contained within it tales of tunnels and spirits and entities and messages from the long dead to the living. But I don't. I have nothing. Just what I've been told and a crazy water phobia. I have wondered about investigating it further, doing some kind of regression therapy to find out what happened, but I might just leave it well alone.

Horror changes us. Through events that can be anything from mildly troubling to truly, abnormally horrific, we as people change. By engaging with what horror fiction and film has to offer, we explore all the possibilities available. We put humanity to the test, push it to the limit and beyond. We see what happens when things don't go to plan, when bad things happen to good people, when evil wins. Not because we're sick and twisted, but because we are fascinated by human nature, and amazed by its endless courage and strength in the face of impossible odds.

I died once, and that in itself is an astonishing thing. My whole life from that point on changed because I survived. I touched the void, went to the darkness and returned. Occasionally though, just occasionally, I do wonder if I brought something back with me...


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Video Shop

Having just posted on FB/Twitter the cover for 80s horror flick, 'House', I've found myself going all nostalgic. Why? Simple: getting into horror is, for me, tied up with going to The Video Shop.

A movie that has a very special place in my horror-loving heart...

Remember them? Little dust-covered shelves of huge plastic boxes, all fitted with gloriously lurid and idiotically fabulous covers? Dark corners at the backs of garages, sweet shops, newsagents, the local 7/11? We didn't have a Block Busters. We had the Texaco down the road, run by a bloke in his 30s with a pony tail, who looked like he wanted to sell you something illegal, and his dad, who looked like he was always monumentally surprised to be alive at all.

Hallowed ground...

I remember vividly, going in there with my dad to pay for petrol, and gazing longingly at those shelves. I knew the names of some of the classics, the ones spoken of in hushed tones round the playground ('Have you seen The Exterminator? It's AMAZING! This bloke goes through a MINCER!' 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre is BRILLIANT!') We knew we shouldn't watch them. How could we not? They were 'X-RATED'. And we all knew that X meant BAD. Which to us meant good.

Looking back, and having checked up on a lot of those movies that I dove into back then, most of them don't hold a match to what's on the screen now, certainly not in terms of gore and effects. I'm not talking about the classics, like DOTD, Chainsaw or whatever, but that vast sea of other movies that filled the shelves. But without them, the stuff we have now probably wouldn't exist.

The video format was made for horror. It allowed the film makers to go crazy with their covers. And there's something still so wondrously - dangerously - exciting, about opening up an old video cover. Then there were the trailers you HAD to watch, unless you wanted to risk actually using the fast-forward lever (levers, remember, not buttons!) and chewing up the tape, while at the same time breaking a finger.

I miss going to the video shop. I lament that Block Buster has gone from my local high street. I buy DVDs. I use Netflix (woeful selection though. Is it EVER updated?), Love Film, and all the rest. But nothing compares to the whole event of doing a video night. Because, from start to finish, it was an event.

Renting a video involved a trip out, to begin with. Not a download. You had to get out of the house, and walk or bike to the local shop. There you'd be for at least half an hour finding the most insane cover you could. Video rented (noting the due back date and the possible fine), you'd then have to sort snacks, supplies, the readies necessary to survive The Horror. Anything from crisps, to more crisps, perhaps some pop corn, more crisps, and definitely some Coke. Oh, and when we got a microwave, how our video evenings changed! Chips and burgers in an instant! It was like we were actually living inside a movie about american teenagers with everything right there whenever you wanted! The luxury! Then back home to black out the lounge and sit down to whatever hellish monstrousness was about to fall out of the TV and into your face...

I love DVD. I love being able to download. I love the quality and the convenience and the fact it doesn't mess too much with my day because it's all so instant and easy and ace. But you know what? A little part of me, that odd corner of my psyche that is still a teenager looking for the next best thing in horror, would swap all that quality and convenience for a walk to that Texaco garage all those years ago.

Friday, 21 June 2013

'It wasn't scary enough'

I, like anyone who grew up in the 70s/80s, and who was in to horror, knows Evil Dead. and by knows,  I mean this film, and at least the first of the two sequels, has a very special place in our hearts. It's essential viewing for anyone who wants to be a horror hound. When I bought a projector a couple of years back, this was the first film I watched on it. Quickly followed (in no particular order) by Suspiria, Mad Max, The Crow, Andromeda Strain, House on Haunted Hill, and so on (I was there for quite some time...) Of course, I then had to watch at least Evil Dead 2, but I still love that first film.

Evil Dead is something to love for its brilliance as well as its creakiness. It was made on a tiny budget. Essentially, by a bunch of kids. And it was made with no rules, no restrictions. They just did everything they could with the little they had to make the best damned film they could. And they did.

Evil Dead shocked. Evil Dead disgusted. Evil Dead was banned. Looking at it now, perhaps it was that  infamous scene where the girl gets strung up by the very woods themselves. But that in itself is such a moment of brilliant horror that without it the film would be missing a few teeth. As for the rest of the film, there are points, and many, where the make-up looks like little more than dyed, mashed up cornflakes, felt tip pen and paint. The acting isn't brilliant, but neither is it terrible, something which to my mind adds to it all. It's not in the vein of Blair Witch, where they (apparently) had no idea what was going on. But the actors themselves do feel as though they really are a little unsure about what to expect next. Another thing - it's pretty much a period piece. The style, the fashion, the way it's shot, the vehicle, the cabin, the colours. It takes me back to those early 80s days and I love that.

So anyway, I was chatting to someone who told me they'd seen the new Evil Dead and hated it. I asked why. Their response was 'It wasn't scary'. I asked what they meant. Their response was simply to state, again, that it wasn't scary, with a few additions like, 'it was silly', 'it wasn't realistic', and 'it made me laugh'.

I wonder now what folk want from a horror movie. For me, the Evil Dead remake was nothing short of utterly superb. I loved it. It was a Hollywood horror, and I had a blast! No way? Yes way! Woohoo! It was one of the best 80 minutes I've ever spent in a theatre. Yes, I was nervous about seeing a remake, but I had to give it a go, just had to. And for me, it didn't disappoint. It really didn't. Drag Me To Hell - now that REALLY disappointed. But this was a joy. I could be picky, I could give you things I didn't like, but then that's the same with all movies. No point though. This was a blast of a horror movie. Possibly one of the best to come out of Hollywood, period. And each and every scene bled pretty much literally with such a love for the source material and horror itself that the grin on my face didn't budge once.

Horror isn't just a one trick pony. It's not simply 101 Ways To Die Horribly. It is also suspense, weirdness, pushing boundaries, taking risks, having fun, going a bit too far, making you wince, belly laughs, screams, dread, disgust...

So was Evil Dead scary or not? I'm not sure that's the point. I don't find - and neither do I seek to - all horror films or books scary. Suspiria doesn't scare me, but I love each and every frame of that movie. House on Haunted Hill is genuinely creepy, but that it's black and white would probably rule it out for those who only see horror as an experience in getting sliced and diced. Hit List is still one I struggle with because on the one hand it was brilliant, and on the other I just didn't enjoy it. Martyrs is one of the best horrors I've ever seen. It is equally one of the most violent, disturbing and bleak films I've ever witnessed. Then there's books. The scariest book I've ever read is probably Susan Hill's The Woman In Black, a wondrous piece of creepy, haunted prose that I adore. Then there's The Hell Bound Heart by Clive Barker, a violent trip to hell written with such an annoying command of the English language that ever time I read it I learn something new. There's a chapter in Neil Shusterman's Unwind, a teen book, that to this day is the most disturbing, upsetting pieces of work I've ever survived. Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist was so beautiful I read it in two days. Stephen King's Full Dark No Stars contained some absolute gems. And pretty much anything by Jack Ketchum is enough to keep me interested.

Horror is not just about being scared. It is not just about blood. It is not just about vampires or werewolves or chainsaws or ghosts or murderers or psychos or insane children or cults or cannibals or any other of a thousand things. It is all of these and none of them. It is, above all, a genre that at its heart can speak to all people, wherever they are, show them what real darkness is, take them down paths they never thought even existed, hold their hand through the strange and the weird, make them think, make them question, and ultimately change them, even if only in a small way, and also allow them to survive.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

It's not just about the words

Read, read, read…

That's what I’ve been told all my life (it’s also what I tell anyone who asks me how they can write better) if I want to improve my writing: read, read, read, and I take this advice so seriously that I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because frankly I'd rather be reading than proofing. Don't get me wrong, proofing is vital, but that comes later. First, love what you do, love the words, then later spare a little time to get the mechanics right. Odds are, if you've read enough (and written enough), you've probably got it nailed anyway. But it's always nice to be able to sound like you know what you're talking about, right?

So, the whole 'read, read, read' thing. It makes sense. Take musical instruments. If you want to learn to play the guitar, it’s not just about practicing every day, learning to read tab or music or both. It’s about listening to other guitarists, exploring different styles, getting to know everything from jazz to blues to metal to folk. It’s about falling in love with the way certain people play, trying to emulate a Peter Green lick, or something by Joe Satriani.

Writing’s like this. You get better at it by reading how other people do it. You learn new turns of phrase, unique styles, descriptions. And by trying different genres you find out more about what you can do with words, how to use them. But there’s something else I’m going to start saying now, too…

Watch… watch… watch…

Some of the best (and some of the worst) writing around is on the screen, big or small. It’s a world where words become visual. Where they stand up, shout out, and beg to be seen. Which is what we want our writing to do too, right?

I love horror (no surprise there). But it’s not just from the books I read that I learn and develop. It’s from the films I love, too. Horror is a genre I just can’t escape from. Most other types of film don’t really do it for me. I’ve never enjoyed gangster movies. Thrillers are okay, but only if they tread a dark path. Comedies are rarely that funny. I could go on, but I don’t need to. Horror is my go-to choice, book or film. Hell, even music (check out ‘Doomed’ on!)

The stuff that slips into my subconscious can be anything from the haunting simplicity of House on Haunted Hill (Vincent Price!), through the surreal technicolour fairytale brilliance of Suspiria, on past the devastatingly bleak ending of The Beyond, and into the ferocious visceral assault of Frontiers and Martyrs.

So that’s my advice I guess. Yes, read. Read like books are dying, and the more you read, the more you save. But watch also. Dive headfirst into film, in to TV, and immerse yourself in dialogue, in how writers’ visions have been made real. Then use that to fuel your own writing, to turn it into something so dangerously volatile that it explodes in the mind of your reader and never lets them forget the journey they had down the path your words led them.