Did I scare you?!
Wednesday’s sad news of the passing of author James Herbert sent me off down memory lane.
If you keep up with my blog posts (such as this one for World Book Day) you’ll know I’ve been a book-a-holic from an early age. I think my introduction to the horror genre came when I started secondary school at 11, and a new friend introduced me to Stephen King.
The first of his books I read was The Shining, and I was seriously impressed. And proper scared! What impressed me most though – and it still gives me a delightfully shivery feeling – was how he used italics, brackets, italics in brackets, italics-in-question-marks-in-brackets, capitals, bits of sentences in italics, unfinished sentences or sometimes a whole sentence with no punctuation or capital letters at all! I was astounded! Here, printed in a proper book, were things we were being told at school we were NOT ALLOWED to do. It was BAD GRAMMER! But how could it be bad when the effect was to send shivers up and down your spine, make the hair on your arms stand up, and cause goose-pimples to pop up everywhere? In short, what I learnt from Stephen King with regard to writing (amongst other things, no doubt!) was this: It’s okay to break the rules. Mind-blowing.
And that was it.
I was hooked on horror, and pocket money, birthday money and Christmas money was thereafter dedicated to horror books for a couple of years as I worked through other Stephen King books including Pet Sematary, ‘Salem’s Lot, Carrie, Christine, Night Shift, The Stand, and The Dead Zone. ‘Salem’s Lot particularly scared the pants off me – in fact I had to turn the book cover-down and push it under the bed after reading every evening, so that I didn’t accidentally wake up in the night and catch sight of those scarey faces on the cover… This soon became a habit with all horror books – along with not being able to look at windows if it was dark and the curtains were open, in case a little vampire child was staring in at me…
Alongside Stephen King came other authors – some probably bought after recommendations from friends, and others because the title or covers appealed to my scarey-bone. James Herbert’s The Rats I think was a recommendation, and it truly terrified me. It terrified me so badly that I had to buy the sequel, Lair, as soon as possible so I didn’t come down from that terrified high.
Other horror authors I devoured included Mary Higgins Clark (Where are the Children), William Pete Blatty (The Exorcist and Legion) and many more I was hoping to list here, but I’ve just been up in the loft to find them and whichever box they’re in has disappeared into L-space somewhere. Hmph.
It wasn’t just horror though – I think it was inevitable I got into horror as I’d had a fascination with the weird, creepy and wonderful from an earlier age.
Every Thursday, the Leicester Mercury ran a full page ‘stranger than fiction’ type thing of weird, spooky, unexplained occurences, which I loved. It ran for years, and even after I’d left home mum would save them for me and pop them in the post.
Then of course there were the things on telly – Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and good old Tales of the Unexpected, which we watched religiously as a family (and sang along to the theme tune – who didn’t?!). An episode that really stuck in my mind was one about flowers screaming when they were picked – such a simple idea, but for some reason the idea of that fascinated me. How did people come up with these things?! What prompted them to think of them?
I shall also raise my guilty hand as being one of the kids that badgered their parents into subscribing to The Unexplained magazine for a while (mainly because I wanted the article on spontaneous human combustion!). But wait – it gets worse! My collection got lost in the depths of time so, er, what could I do when I found a full set WITH BINDERS recently at a car boot sale?! Ahem…
So there we are, a little trip down my memory lane of horror. I don’t read too much of that genre anymore (with the odd exception – such as the excellent Tim Powers) but the need to write this post sent me up into the loft to find my horror collection, although as you now know that mission was unsuccessful. So instead I’ve popped an e-book of The Shining onto my iPad to shiver over those italics, and downloaded the audiobook of The Rats to scare myself to sleep to in random hotel rooms. And when they’re done, I’ll be exploring some of Mr Herbert’s books I’ve never read…
RIP Mr Herbert, but he will live on in all our memories for his incredible contribution to the world of fictional horror, and for scaring us all silly in our youth…
I’ve saved this ’til last – if you’re of a sensitive nature, look away now! Here’s the ‘Salems Lot cover that scared me so much…
[turns iPad face down and exits stage left screaming…]