Recently I was joking around with a friend of mine and made reference to the movie Se7en. Although an accomplished geek in many respects, this friend expressed a total bewilderment as to what I was on about. When I tried to explain, he held up a hand to stop me and said, “Oh, I don’t like horror. I wouldn’t know about that.”
Now, for complicated reasons, this friend happened to have no idea that I’ve spent the last seven years of my life doing nothing but write horror novels. That I have devoted my life to a genre which he wrote off in a single gesture.
I considered taking offense. Yet in the end I couldn’t, because the “horror” of Se7en is only remotely related to the kind of stuff I do. Until he described it as such, I had never even considered Se7en to be a horror movie. Se7en is a grittily realistic police procedural about a pair of cops hunting down a self-righteous serial killer. It’s a gruesome exploration of what one human being can do to another once morality is discarded, or, in this case, distorted into insanity. On the other hand, I write books about supernatural horrors – zombies, vampires, and now werewolves. Monsters, in the classic sense of the term, elaborate archetypes drawn from folklore and ancient myth, creatures beyond the realm of science or the real.
The distinction is an important one to me, because in truth I don’t like the other kind of horror either. I’m especially uninterested in horror that serves only to display scenes of carnage and gore for their own sake. Serial killers don’t frighten me, so much as nauseate me, and why would I want to be nauseated? I like the kind of supernatural horror that is half fantasy, the kind that is in fact often referred to (by those smugly in the know) as dark fantasy. A world where impossible things can exist and they want to eat you. For me the Gothic trappings and the sense of wonder that comes with the preternatural are far more important than getting the color of the blood exactly right or making sure the exposed spleen has the right texture.
Such different kinds of stories … and yet we have only one real name for both genres, and we find them on the same bookshelves, and at conventions I find myself on the same panels as the purveyors of that extreme opposite pole, the creators of “torture porn”, “snuff lit” and even “video nasties”. Maybe, I thought, I should take offense at that conglomeration, at being lumped in with the crowd of authors with the manic grins and the black t-shirts and the extensive collection of forbidden Japanese autopsy videos.
Or maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I’m the one who gets this wrong. My friend wouldn’t draw the distinction at all. Most people wouldn’t.
There’s a good reason for that, of course. Let’s take my books Cursed and Ravaged for example, shall we? Why not? They're out from Piatkus in September and October respectively, so you’ll have an easy time finding it in your local Waterstone’s or whatever bookseller you favor. It’s the first two books of my werewolf series, a gripping yarn of a woman beset by lycanthropes in the Canadian arctic, a tale of loss and betrayal, isolation and madness. There are plenty of dark fantasy elements in it – the werewolves themselves, of course, are centre stage, but there are also elements of Canadian First Nations folklore clashing with European myths and legends. It’s an exciting romp, if I say so myself, and the focus is on the monsters. And yet …
There’s also plenty of the red stuff here. People get attacked by the werewolves and it’s not like being slobbered on by a corgi. There’s death and dismemberment and yes, plenty of gore. I like to pride myself on the fact that it’s not exploitative, nor does it fetishize the violence, but I had to be true to my subject matter when writing it. This is a book about werewolves who want nothing more than to rip, rend, and tear anything human that crosses their path. Not everyone is going to get out unscathed.
Which means, of course, that if I insisted my friend read my books – if I promised him they weren't at all like Se7en, I’d be doing him a real disservice. He has good reason to stay away from this sort of thing. It’s not for everybody. It’s not for people who are afraid of losing sleep. It’s not for people who value their manicure over a nail-biting story of terror and desperation. It’s definitely not for people who think that wolves are spiritually evolved creatures who have much to teach us about the balance of nature and why we should all love each other and get along.
It’s not for my friend. Oh, most definitely not.
But maybe it’s for you, dear reader. Maybe you should give it a try, and see why I find monsters so compelling. Maybe you should take a look, and see if you enjoy the thrill of getting goose-flesh up and down your arms, and that delightful shiver down your spine. Maybe. If you dare …
As for my friend, I chose not to take offense after all. For one thing, no offense was meant, of course, and for another he’s really a decent fellow whose company I enjoy, as long as we stick to safe topics of conversation, and pretend that the world is a well-lit and comfortable place, and that dark things aren’t waiting in the margins even now, slavering and plotting and wondering how we taste. Yes, as long as we avoid that topic, he and I will continue to get along just fine.
David Wellington's novel Cursed is available to buy now and his next book, Ravaged, is out in October.
Here's a selection of keyword-matched articles that you might also find interesting: