Ah yes, it's one of my favourite times of year - Halloween weekend!
My love of the scary comes from Mom who delighted in ghastly things: books, movies, and, in the 'old days' (by this I mean 1960s!), gathering around the radio to listen to that classic series The Uninvited.
Each episode began with the words that made my spine tingle: 'Have you heard them? Those fearful sounds in the dead of night? The muffled creak of a loosened board? The shuffling step of a ghostly figure? The eerie voice of The Uninvited?'
Man, let me tell you, I still recall listening to that intro and the 30-minute ghost story, sitting with Mom in the dark by the fire on a winter's night (she insisted we turn all the lights off). The unmentionable creatures of the darkness breathed their foul breath against our safe circle of orange firelight as we leaned in close to the radio. I was too scared to venture down the hall to my bedroom afterwards.
Mom used to tell a story about her earliest experience with a horror movie. It was The Mummy with Boris Karloff (made in 1932). Mom was just a little kid and the movie scared her so badly she hid under the cinema seat but saw enough from her place of safety to know that terror was delicious and she was hooked. This story taught me two things: watch horror movies from a safe place (ideally at home, on the couch, cushions piled all around to ward off the evil, back to the wall so nothing can creep up behind) and take cover when needed (watching the really horrible bits through the mesh of a baseball cap).
My sister and I had our initiation into horror as kids. Mom and Dad took us to the drive-in movies when we lived in Seattle. I specifically remember the title of one that we viewed tucked up under blankets in our pyjamas one night at the drive-in: Atom Age Vampire. Mom's love of horror and all things ghostly was lifelong and we watched more movies together than I can ever count. She was viewing scary DVDs almost up to the day she passed away.
Most of the writers I work with are not writing horror and indeed, the majority aren't fond of the genre. I can totally understand but there is an insatiable market for horror and suspense and if you're thinking of giving it a go, take inspiration from Halloween. Get into the spirit of it. There are lots of scary movies on TV right now, plenty of ads for horror books and stories - and you may well have a fresh and dynamic idea that'll be the next horror blockbuster.
I've seen plenty of movies with monsters however the ones that spook me the most are those where the everyday becomes horrid. Stephen King is probably The Master at this type of story: people are going about their everyday lives and then something happens that turns that on its head.
Take It where a little boy is floating his paper boat down a roadside gutter in the rain and can't catch his vessel before it goes down into a culvert. When he looks down into the drain what does he see? A clown. Our story begins ...
If you've always wanted to have a go at horror, now's the time. Here's an an idea to get you started: you go down to the mailbox to collect the post and there's an envelope addressed to you in a hand that looks very familiar. No, it couldn't be. Aunt Mavis died ten years ago. You open the envelope and see that the handwriting is definitely Aunt Mavis' and she's writing to tell you .... yeah I know, it's a bit lame, that's why I watch and read horror and don't write it myself! But you can see where I'm going with this: take the everyday activity, weave in something peculiar that has the potential to morph into something that'll scare the pants off people.
The neighbour's cats make themselves at home.
Often in my home.
That's the way with my two feline friends Poppy and Mr. Boy who live next door. I've written about them since they were kittens and now they're a couple of fully grown adventurers who prowl around our bush-clad properties here in Arkles Bay.
They visit me most every day, either at home or here at The Writing Place. Often Miss Poppy is at my front door in the early mornings, waiting to accompany me down the stairs to work.
Cats just walk on in. They know no boundaries. They are intensely curious, inspecting anything that has changed since the day before when they visited. They sniff, look, pat with their paws and they're alert and aware of what's going on around them. They don't miss much.
I often wonder how it would be if we behaved like that, sauntering through someone's open door, wandering about, poking our heads into cupboards, jumping onto the kitchen bench to drink water out of the sink, sniffing the rubbish bins, then, after we've investigated every private space, settling in for a good sleep on a nice handmade quilt, a priceless family heirloom.
As writers we can learn a lot from cats. Follow their lead. I wouldn't advise actually walking into someone's house but we can do so in our minds and imaginations.
Be a cat. Enter the scene.
Let's say we're conversational cats, able to understand talk between people. What are they saying?
Cats observe. What do these people look like? What can our sensitive eyes see, our superman-ears hear and our whiskers and nose detect?
Cats are intuitive. What can we sense? Is something momentous about to happen? What is the mood: argumentative with a fight looming, lots of laughter and a party in progress, sadness with crying and wailing, or a joyous reunion?
Cats make excellent narrators and lots of books have been written from a cat-ly perspective. One only needs to Google 'books where cats are narrators' and plenty of examples come up.
I've often told Poppy she should write a book as she is quite the rambler, well known for her forays into houses on our streets. However I do feel that she is an honourable holder of secrets (unlike some writers) and prefers to keep it that way.