The horror genre is one of the most popular literary forms.
When writing 'Thriller Chillers' and immersing myself in the character role, emotional empathy becomes so strong that I find it somewhat draining and frequently disturbing when the character takes over. I'm often left wondering where that chilling idea or action came from, for, nothing, nothing captures the pain that lies at the heart of human beings more than something overwhelmingly frightful, loathsome, shocking and abhorrent.
In a truly horrific experience we have no clear idea of how to react. We may freeze; or our head may snap up like an alarmed bird's and our eyes swell before all the panic, the pain and the quashed screams of one's life erupt into the air. The horror genre is constructed around such emotional and physical responses. It seeks to produce in its audience anxious fright and hair-raising chills.
Across history and culture, horror stories have served to document and illuminate the human condition. Horror lies at the very core of literature, from scary narratives in folklore and fairy tales to a long-standing tradition of fear-narration. Horror lies in the tension between the figurative and the real, the conscious and the unconscious. It is an emotional response extremely personal. An act that horrifies some will barely make an impression on others. 'Man's inhumanity to man', anger-motivated violence, murder, abuse, and the worst of all acts, the deprivation and cruelty heaped upon our children disgusts, yet provides compelling reading.
In our life time we can experience, either as an onlooker or an active participant, acts so bizarre, that extreme sensory responses activate.
It was during the 1951 Waterfront Dispute - the longest, costliest and most widespread dispute in
Zealand history - that I tasted, for the first
time, the extreme emotional forces associated with horror. Few confrontations
have divided New Zealand
and created a depth of feeling that produced bitter divisions between
neighbours, friends and families. The number of New Zealanders unaffected could
be counted on one hand during this time of great nationalism, civil
disobedience, prejudice, stubbornness, passion and anger. For five months, men,
women and children throughout the country carried the burden of these events.
It is in, Footprints in the Sands of Time, a collection of short stories recognized by the Turnbull Library as of historical significance, that I write about this experience. A story I called -
Something thwacked on the back of my neck. A small paper missile; the ones made by spitting on paper and rolling it into a tight ball, ricocheted onto my desk. I swung around and
Jackson leered. His lips
stretched taut showing the gaps in his front teeth. “Your old man’s gonna get
it today. The miners and the wharfies have something special for the pigs
today. They've got guns.”
“Leave me alone,” I whispered.
Miss Bagnall lifted her head from her marking. “Adelaide Taylor, no talking. You know the rule during silent reading.”
The class, nearly all children of the strikers, snickered as Miss Bagnall placed two fingers to her lips. “Shhhhh.”
And the class aped her reprimand.
I should have known better than to try to explain. There were hundreds of the strikers’ kids in our school. Roberta Thomas and I were the only policeman’s kids who attended Omanaki School.
The old school bell burred out, luncheon break. Four classes in the unit, eager to be free of the restraints of the classroom surged along the corridor jostled and elbowed at the narrow doorway before spilling out into the playground and freedom.
As usual, the strikers’ kids gathered at the far end of the playground. Today their mood seemed different. Ugly! I could smell it. I even thought I could taste it...'
It was during this time of unrest that I discovered Edgar Allan Poe's, 'The Tell-Tale Heart', a tale where an old man's cloudy eye incites the narrator to an act of madness.
The hook, 'True——nervous—very, very, nervous I have been and am.' captured my attention; the story as it unfolded was creepy, chilling, thrilling.
While I read, 'Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder every instant,' my own heart banged against my ribcage and my pulse played a symphony in my ears. I heard that heart beat in moments of silence, week after week.
I then tackled Poe's poetry and was mesmerised by the lyricism and the economy of words used to create a chill.
Leave my loneliness unbroken!
-quit the bust above my door
take thy beak from out my heart,
and take thy form from off my door!
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore"
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him steaming throws his shadow to the floor;
And my soul from out the shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted-nevermore
Consequently, roughly fifty years on, having immersed myself in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary Shelley and other canonised authors of horror stories, when I came to writing for adults I chose to write 'Thriller Chillers' . Works in the horror genre remain some of the best-selling and most cherished books of all time with chilling experiences that assist in providing the reader with coping strategies.
I have so many horrific acts which have never been aired in the public domain to weave into works. Books already published have a bizarre event that motivated the writing. Consequences, Tangled Web, Snatched are adult works and, Code of Silence is a work for young adults.