Literary killed the horror genre

Can you smell that? That fetid odour of decay seeping into your nostrils, coating your tongue? That’s the death of horror. And our career. Seeing as they’re linked, it’s only fitting they die together.

We used to blog regularly – once a week at least – but lately months will pass without a blog post. There are no excuses, we just have nothing to say. We’re finding it hard to keep motivated when we’re failing at the only job we love. Writing advice often tells you to enter competitions because they’re a great way to teach you to work to deadlines, they help get you noticed by agents and publishers, and they can be a great boost to your career and bank balance. But that’s if you win. We’ve been shortlisted and longlisted in various competitions and has it boosted our career at all? Has it fuck. Things is, many competitions are expensive – novel ones are easily £20 per entry. Short story ones range from £5 upwards. Poetry ones usually start at £3. Over a year, it mounts up. For this tax year, we’ve spent £285 on competition entries. One win would make that worthwhile, but when that win never comes, all you’ve done is spent money with nothing to show for it.

So we decided to change tactics and spend the next couple of months submitting to magazines instead. You don’t pay to submit and some even pay to publish your work. We’re now avoiding the ones that don’t pay. Publication is brilliant but we can’t pay vet bills with a PDF copy of a magazine. Can you imagine calling in a plumber and telling them you’re not going to pay them, but the work will be great publicity for them? You’d be left with a blocked toilet. Yet people think it’s ok to do this in the creative industry. But that’s a rant we’ll save for another post. In order to try to reduce our vast amount of rejections, we’ve been buying the latest issues of the magazines we want to submit to, to see if our style of work is suitable. And it’s left us feeling despondent and questioning why we’re bothering to write anymore. Because we’re reading these horror/dark fantasy magazines and asking:

Where is the horror?

Horror is about producing emotions – fear, unease, anticipation, an unsettling feeling that something is going to happen. Yet we’re reading these stories and the only thing we’re feeling is bored. And pissed off that we’ve spent money on this tripe. There is no horror. One story had a smidgen of horror in the final few pages, after making us wait 7000 words to get to it. By which point, we didn’t care. We’ve also noticed that some stories are told in a really detached way, so if there is any horror, this way of narrating lessens the impact of it, and makes us not care about the characters. Oh no, something may have possible happened to X, but it’s not explained and the story goes on and…nobody cares. There seems to be this new breed of ‘literary horror’ that just isn’t horror at all. (Don’t get us started on literary work. There is no good reason to leave out speech marks just to make your work ‘experimental’. Why not go really experimental and leave out the words?) It’s like arty films. All pretty cinematography and bugger all happening. This is what literary horror is. All purple prose, characters as two dimensional as a Justin Bieber cut out and about as scary as a blade of a grass in a leafy meadow.

Horror doesn’t have to be about blood and gore. That’s one sub genre of it, mostly in the slasher/spatter sub genres. There are other sub genres, such as: body horror, zombie, psychological, crypto/nature, paranormal, supernatural, gothic, etc. There are sub genres within sub genres and genre cross overs, such as sci-fi horror, (the best example being Aliens) action horror, horror comedy (Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Friggin’ genius). But their main aim is to scare or unsettle you. If they don’t, they have failed.

And yet we’re reading these magazines and wondering when did it become ok to leave horror out of horror fiction? We are rapidly running out of markets that we think would be a good fit for our work. Sadly, we’re spending money to find this out but at least our rejections will be reduced and the magazines are tax deductible. In one magazine’s guidelines it says ‘sci fi, fantasy and horror with a literary slant but if you write what is considered classic in these genres, it’s not for us.’ So do they want sci fi that has no science? Fantasy that is realistic? Horror that isn’t scary? It seems we don’t write what these magazines publish. Maybe we need to rename what we write as ‘the genre formally known as horror.’ We’re from the old school of horror – Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz before he found God. The classic films – Nightmare on Elm Street, Fiday the 13th, Snowbeast, Candyman. But magazines don’t want this. They call themselves horror magazines but don’t actually publish any horror. It would be like us setting ourselves up as window cleaners and refusing to actually clean any windows. Remember that song by Buggles? Video killed the Radio Star? Well Literary killed the Horror Genre. Sing it. The words fit.

So if competitions pick literary stories as winners and genre magazines chose literary over genre, where does that leave genre writers? How are we supposed to get published? The main piece of writing advice given is ‘write what you love’ but if nothing is publishing what you love, what are you supposed to do? Self-publishing doesn’t guarantee you’ll find readers or success, but that may be the only option left. One way of getting readers would also be to graffiti your work on random walls and buildings, but the council frown upon this form of creative expression. So if you see any form of spray painting horror writing on the streets of Cardiff, it wasn’t us.

Horror does have to evolve to stay alive, (not with sparkly vampires please, you’ve ruined it enough) but not to the point where you take the main ingredient – the emotions of fear or unease – out of it. It would be like romance stories where no-one falls in love, crime where no crime is committed, or comedies where no-one dies. No, wait, that’s horror comedy. Horror films are sticking to the right ingredient, even if it is all just remakes for profit, but at least it’s still horror. (Are you listening, Hollywood? Fucking stop it. Start paying attention to Indie films – they have imagination). Horror is finding a resurgence in TV series based on classic horror films: The Exorcist, Wolf Creek, Ash Vs The Evil Dead, Scream. And other series – American Horror Story being the most well known. However in the writing world, it’s getting harder to find horror fiction that actually contains an element of horror.

Horror isn’t dead – especially in the indie film scene – it’s like Michael Myres or Jason Voorhees. It can’t be killed. But maybe it’s waiting at the bottom of the lake, biding its time for unsuspecting campers to revive it from its watery grave. *Does stretches* Fancy a swim?

Valentine’s Day Massacre

Southcart BooksEvery year, we turn Valentine’s Day red. With blood. Last year, we released all three anti Valentine’s trilogies in print, ending our opportunity to ruin the day. We were sad. Who doesn’t love marching up to the most romantic day of the year, ripping out its heart and hoisting it aloft like a trophy? Then Scott Carter, who owns Southcart Books  in Walsall with his wife, Amy, decided to host the Valentine’s Day Massacre and asked if we’d like to read. Does Freddy Krueger love bedtime? We were glad to celebrate Valentine’s in a horror-related way. Otherwise we might end up sneaking into supermarkets and replacing roses with venus flytraps and giving teddies real hearts to hold. Reading at Southcart Books would not see us having to explain our actions in court.

Southcart Books

authors’ books

Surprisingly for us, we didn’t get lost. The journey was easy and uneventful. Well, we drove into a pedestrian zone, but everyone’s come to expect that from us, seeing as we’ve now done it four times. But we soon realised our error when we saw a paved dead end and Primark at the end. Please England, put bollards up. It takes all our self-control not to Hulk out on people on a daily basis, we can’t be expected to control ourselves around pedestrian zones too. We’re not superheroes. We hastily reversed from the pedestrian zone and found a car park easily. Only to then walk past a closer car park that was 50p cheaper. We’re still annoyed.

Southcart Books

Adam, Amy and Scott

Southcart Books

Southcart BooksSouthcart Books is an awesome independent book shop, filled with thousands of books. It was hard not to buy them all. But we were good. We only bought three. In true us form, our shyness and social awkwardness kicked in and we spent some time hiding in the storeroom. This was a technique we perfected in childhood and even though we’ll be 33 on Wednesday, it is still serving us well. We eventually emerged and lurked at the Supernatural/Occult section. We’re good at lurking. You could even say we’re natural at it. We have the awkward body language and shifty eye movements down perfectly. Even though we’ve made huge progress with the social anxiety, the shyness is innate and will never be defeated. So in social events, we will always be the people in the corner. We’ll never approach anyone. Even if it’s someone we know. Hell, we don’t even send friendship requests on Facebook. ‘Mingle’ is one of those words that incites the same panic as ‘flying spider’, ‘rabid clown’ and ‘inquisitor’s chair.’

Adam Millard

Adam Millard

The event was hosted by Adam Millard, who was hilarious and the perfect choice to host it. We loved his stories about stalking and robots. They appealed to our sense of humour. They were absolutely fantastic and we wanted him to read for longer! We’re glad we were on before him – had we been reading after him, we might have locked ourselves in the storeroom and refused to come out. We bought two of his books afterwards and can’t wait to read them. We met at Bristol Horror Con in October but didn’t get a chance to buy his work then.

First up was Kerry Hadley, reading from her book The Black Country, about a separating couple who accidentally run someone over, but when they return to look for him, he’s nowhere to be found. That act then binds them together. She did a great job.

Kerry Hadley

Kerry Hadley

Southcart Books

Photo by Craig Beas

Then it was us. Everyone else was so confident and seemed really comfortable doing the reading. Natural, like they’d been doing it for years. There was us, hiding in the storeroom beforehand! And we have been doing readings for a few years! We read from Romance is Dead, our aforementioned horror comedy anti-Valentine’s trilogies. We read a short extract from all 10 stories. By ‘short extract’, each one was about 90 seconds. We were paranoid if we read longer than that for each story that people might get bored and leave! If anyone’s going to leave, we’d rather it was because they were frightened of our twisted minds, not because of boredom. Yes, we filmed our reading, complete with nerves and cock-ups. We only picked the extracts last week and the lack of preparation shows.

Southcart Books

Photo by Craig Beas

Jessica Law

Jessica Law

Next it was Jessica Law, who sang three songs whilst playing the ukele and told funny anecdotes about her relationships, most notably featuring biscuits. She sang about an impolite housemate and a love song between Jekyll and Hyde. She also makes octokitties (kittens with tentacles) and has written a gothic novel. It was refreshing to hear about someone else who has disastrous social encounters, though she managed to make hers sound sweet and funny. Ours are just embarrassing.

Ash Hartwell

Ash Hartwell

Following her was Ash Hartwell, who read a story about a murderous snowman who was obsessed with a female ghost hunter. She can’t understand why there are puddles in her house until she sees him watching her. Always knew snowmen were creepy.

Antony N Britt

Antony N Britt

Antony N Britt read a brilliantly funny story about revenge. An old womanshows up at her meeting to find all the others dead – poisoned by cake. As she examines the bodies, her sister walks in and reveals a terrible secret. It was one of our favourite stories of the day.

Jon Hartless

Jon Hartless

Following him was Jon Hartless, who writes under many pseudonyms, including Ora Le Brocq. He read a funny story written under his paranormal romance pseudonym, about a fairy who was meant to convert a human but ends up falling for him.

Ken Preston

Ken Preston

Then it was Ken Preston, who read two stories. One was from his Joe Coffin series about gangsters and vampires and the other was about two friends on a double date night with their girlfriends. One of the girls challenges the driver to perform dangerous driving while blindfolded, which later destroys the friendships and many years later, has serious consequences for another driver.

Daniel Oram

Daniel Oram

And finally it was Daniel Oram, who read a letter from a vampire, complete with bloody fingerprints, and the opening of his novel about a goth girl who turns into a werewolf.

It was a fantastic event, which proved really popular. All the authors read really well and were very entertaining. Southcart Books host many author events, so if you’re ever around, they’re well worth visiting, as is the shop. It’s great that they really care about the authors as well as books and are happy to stock local and unknown authors who normally wouldn’t get their work into bookshops. We had to resist from spending all our money. There were some beautiful editions that we were tempted by, even though we already own those books. It’s everything an independent book shop should be and we’d love to go back.

book shop selfie!

book shop selfie!