My recently published book, The Haunting of Charity Delafield (The Bodley Head RHCB 2011) uses troubled dreams, darkness and an eerie old house as engines of the story. However it is not a conventional Ghost or Horror story, Charity’s is a haunting of a different kind. Like most faerie stories it has at its heart the fundamentals; love and loss, fear and courage, goodness and empowerment. I am not a great expert on the current darker horror fiction for young adults. I would find it hard to pass comment on it as a genre. I have read and greatly admire Marcus Sedgwick and Sally Gardner‘s work. My own impulse is toward the lyric rather than the frightening. I find the gothic genre often to be beautiful, something I first realised when visiting the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. The architecture of the house was so well done, with an astonishing attention to detail in the stained glass and so on and the spectres and their costumes only added to the effect, which in the end was exhilaratingly romantic rather than frightening.
Having raised two sons and a daughter I know well the all powerful draw of darkness in stories, or at least the idea of darkness both literal and metaphorical. From an early age and as my children grew I shared my many Edward Gorey books, and my Charles Addams collections with them. Both artists were masters of the macabre and of a kind of understated very dark humour and my children loved them. While reading stories such as The Three Little Pigs, when my children were very young, I would act it out and actually go to answer the front door after the Wolf knocked and then I came back in to the room draped in an old overcoat as The Wolf. This was both alarmingly scary and funny, and they loved it, I had to repeat it over and over.
My sons seemed almost magnetically attracted to both the militaristic and to the dark and the horrific. This was not exclusively in book form but in the computer games they played and the films they watched. I was not over anxious about their tastes for dressing up as soldiers in camouflage fatigues etc as I remembered only too well my own 1950s childhood.
Then we had an almost endless supply of toy weaponry; Dan Dare ray guns, cowboy belts and holsters etc Westerns and WW2 were everywhere, on the nascent television service and in the cinema of both the normal grown up variety and the Saturday morning children’s matinees. Here we watched in a state bordering on hysteria exciting weekly chapter serials from the 1930s and 40s such as Batman and Flash Gordon which had their moments of real darkness and terror, such as the clay men emerging from the walls in, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. After the screenings we would run home with our gabardine school raincoats fastened around our necks in imitation of cloaks The most wonderfully dark things that I remember from my own childhood were not books or comics at all but the 1950s Quatermass serials on television written by the wonderful Nigel Kneale.
I borrowed books from my local library with a woeful but in the end I think healthy lack of discrimination. My choices often centred on books set on other worlds and the sense I took from the best of them, the sense that I still remember and cherish to this day is the sense of wonder.
I did not develop into a violent person or one overly concerned with violence because I played Flash Gordon or used toy guns or read scary comics as a child. That phase I now see partly as a kind of rehearsal of adult fears of death and power, and partly as a joyous recreation of the images and sounds which emanated from the huge cinema screen, a remaking of that special kinetic excitement.
The second of my Tom Trueheart books was called, Tom Trueheart and the Land of Dark Stories. It was set in a place where dark deeds, dark places and especially dark endings were de rigeur. The story featured immense gloomy castles, deep dungeons, hellish gold mines run by Trolls, skeleton armies, all of that and more. However given the age range of the book which is somewhere between seven and eleven, the violence and horror, although present is minimised. There is no blood and my hero Tom does not take undue pleasure in using weapons or in despatching foes although he does face them with determination and courage especially given that he is the size of a thumb throughout most of the book.
I have explored darker subjects and themes as the basis of my YA stories. Pastworld (Bloomsbury 2009) centred on some Grand Guignol aspects of Victorian London and the violence and horrors rose naturally out of the subject and the setting. Samurai (Barrington Stoke 2009) and The Hidden Kingdom (Oxford University Press 2011) both have their basis in Japanese mythologies and do contain some dark and horrific scenes, although the Prince in The Hidden Kingdom uses his lyric gift and images of beauty as a weapon rather than a sword.
~~~Huge thanks to Ian for taking the time to do this for The Book Zone. Watch this space as my review of the book will be coming soon.