I’ve always had something of a love affair with books, and even in these days of e-books I still prefer the tactile sensation of holding a real one. I’ve also been partial to the horror/science fiction genres ever since I was a young child, and have always done my best to stay abreast of new releases and new writers, especially those causing something of a buzz in the scene. Many, many years ago, in some British horror magazine (either Fear or The Dark-Side, I can’t remember which) I remember mention of a book called Toady by a young writer called Mark Morris, which appeared to be causing a stir. Then, shuffle forward some years, and another British writer, China Miéville, was causing much the same buzz within genre circles with his Perdido Street Station. Unfortunately, I never managed to get hold of Toady, but I did invest in Miéville’s somewhat weighty tome, and enjoyed it hugely.
Fast-forward through the years again, this time to January 20, 2012. I’m sitting in a small room, somewhere in Warwick University, waiting for a small audience to settle down so I can introduce that evening’s guests at a This Is Horror magazine event. And who are the venerable guests? They are Joseph D’Lacey (author of Meat, Garbage Man & Snake Eyes), and….the very same Mark Morris and China Miéville I’d come across years before. During those few minutes before the event proper started, I reflected on how the world turns and continually surprises. To drag out a well-worn (nay, exhausted) cliché, if anyone had mentioned that I would be standing up in front of strangers, let alone doing so to introduce and question an author I’d read some years before (and who ranks amongst my favourite writers) I would have come to the firm conclusion that they’d taken leave of their marbles. In addition, this was my very first time as being the genial host, so I was hit by a double-whammy of nerves (soothed somewhat by me drinking a whole bottle of wine to myself during proceedings – oops! Not that I do such a thing on a regular basis, I feel I should add…).
To serve up another hoary cliché, I needn’t have worried. The whole evening went smoothly, with me giving a brief introduction before each of the authors gave a reading (Joseph, a humorous story from Snake Eyes, ‘A Trespasser in Long Lofton’, about a demon crashing into a small village and its consequences, Mark Morris reading ‘Lost and Found’, a story of tragedy, regret and memories of childhood, from his Long Shadows, Nightmare Light collection and China reading a complex, mind-blowing story about the use of insects in torture called ‘The Ninth Technique’), following which was a lively Q & A session in which the audience enthusiastically joined. They were all good questions too, and none of them were of the ‘where do you get your ideas from’ type (take note: never ask an author this question). Conversation ranged over a great many topics, from musings on the literary craft itself to the meaning of horror as a literary type and thence right up to the use of social media as a means of promotion in these vastly interconnected times.
What I came away with from the event was wonder at the sheer variety on offer in the enormously wide spectrum that is called horror, from humorous through to ‘traditional’ and right on up to the highly literary, which can only mean that the genre itself is in a very good state of health. Someone in the New Yorker the other day dismissed genre fiction as being purely escapist (I’m necessarily paraphrasing here), but both Mark’s and China’s stories in particular were reminders of the fact that it has a very serious purpose at times, to make us feel uncomfortable with certain truths, that the world out there can be a nasty place and that horror literature can be anything but escapist. Joseph’s story, on the other hand, handily served to demonstrate that the genre is not all about death, bloodshed and murderous violence: it also has the ability to poke fun at the ingrained clichés and tropes of the genre, that it refuses to take itself seriously at times and that its main purpose is entertainment.
I have no hesitation in pronouncing the evening a great success, the main reason being the combination of the writers who were being showcased and the breadth of styles displayed in their writing. For my part, it was the best introduction to hosting an event as I could have wished for – and let it be said that I certainly look forward to doing more of these kinds of events in the future.
PHOTOS: JY MARQUIS