Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Are you scared yet?

31st October - Halloween. Traditionally the scariest night of the year, when the veil between the real and the supernatural worlds is reputed to be at its thinnest. For weeks the shops have been full of masks, fancy dress, singing skeletons, biscuits with ghosts on them - you name it, they produce it. I think the most realistic looking edible thing that I have come across was a magazine recipe for severed fingers - thin sausage rolls with black olive fingernails at one end and tomato ketchup blood at the other. Now those did look quite gruesome!

Ghost and horror stories, the supernatural and the paranormal, have a long tradition in literature and drama - from Shakespeare's witches, through Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Dickens's ghosts to Susan Hill's long running play The Woman in Black - still shivering spines after twenty plus years. It seems we like to be scared. But there does appear to be a change in the nature of the scare. Vampires and werewolves used to be the inhabitants of nightmares. These days finding a vampire sitting on the end of your bed may be more likely to provoke joy than terror. I know it depends on the vampire :) Fashions change, but the unknown is always a constant fascination. And scary things can take many forms and be portrayed in many ways.

Last week I saw a performance of the RSC touring production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. A play primarily about politics and civil disturbance - yet even that has its paranormal moments - the appearance of the ghost at the end of the play and the prophetic uttering of the soothsayer - in this production a spectacular figure based on an African witch doctor, on stage for a large part of the action and managing to combine both menace and a degree of pathos. It was a memorable supernatural figure which will stay in my mind for a long time  - human, but with a special power, in touch with something fundamental and unknown.

Hands up everyone who turns to the horoscopes fairly soon after picking up a newspaper or a magazine? Yes - I thought it wasn't just me. Prediction, prophecy, fortune telling - all have a perennial attraction. The future may be the most deeply scary thing a human can confront. We KNOW that the things that go bump in the night are not real - mostly - but we don't know what tomorrow might bring. Doesn't stop us trying to find out though.

I write thrillers. I put people into difficult situations and challenge them to get out of them. And for me, that is the key - difficult situations, not impossible ones. They have to be problems that my characters can resolve from their own resources, physical and mental. Situations that you might possibly meet in real life. If you were very unlucky. I don't write the stuff that sends shivers down your spine, but I do like to put readers' hearts in their mouths.

Enjoy your Halloween - and may all your vampires be handsome ones.

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