Thursday, 14 February 2008

Boo!

It was a wonderfully foggy day in Cambridge yesterday. It did not lift all day and even the pinnacles on top of King's College were hidden from view as if a rather smudgy charcoal drawing was in the process of being rubbed out.

Fog is very spooky - undeniably spooky I would say. And spookiness has been on my mind a lot over the last year or two. When I began writing the stories that form Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - some of which I had roughed out many, many years ago - I set out deliberately to create an atmosphere of creepiness or spookiness; to unnerve rather than jolt or revolt. Movies do a very good job with the Boo! kind of fright. That is harder to achieve with a book.

What books are very good at doing is taking you to places you would not willingly go to. There is no shutting your eyes or hiding behind a pillow when you read a book. The process of reading is - or can be - very intimate, and there is a vulnerability there that a good writer can exploit.

I love the stories of M R James and of Saki, and of a host of other writers who have specialised or dabbled in the supernatural - writers who skillfully make your flesh creep. But I also like writers who produce something more weird and nightmarish - writers like Edgar Allen Poe or Franz Kafka. Someone once said to me, 'The trouble with you is that you read too much Kafka.' But you see the trouble with him was he didn't read enough.

Of course, the other thing that books can do is pile on the vileness in terms of revolting detail. I have been reading a book by a writer who shall remain nameless but writes gory teenage horror. It made me want to have my eyeballs decontaminated, but instead I picked up a copy of Coraline by Neil Gaimain. Two pages in and my faith in writing was restored. It is genuinely scary and unsettling in a Kafkaesque way, but more to the point it is just plain well written. And the fantastic Dave McKean illustrations are the icing on a very weird cake.

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