Tag Archives: scary books

The Toothbrush of Terror

So, yesterday evening at around 4.45 or so, I was brushing my teeth.

Image: scienceblogs.com

Image: scienceblogs.com

Don’t ask why, all right? I have a weird life.

Anyway.

As usually happens when performing this tiny task of personal hygiene, my mind was wandering as I scrubbed. I was thinking, of course, about my latest WiP and where the story was going, and – specifically – about the last scene I’d written. I’m wandering into a new area with this latest work, you see: I’m tiptoeing, somewhat reluctantly, into the realm of scary stuff.

And I don’t really like scary stuff.

WAAAAARGH!! Image: oddities123.com

WAAAAARGH!!
Image: oddities123.com

I’d left my story at an interesting point (I try to do this every day when writing a first draft, so that I start off every morning with a bit of a pep in my step – useful tip, writer fans!) However, this particular interesting point was more interesting than most: it involved a girl, in a room, by herself, in the dark, who doesn’t manage to look closely enough to see something which is lurking in the corner like an oil slick on water… waiting.

I hadn’t actually intended to end up there. This story, so far, has really been surprising me in how it’s coming together and telling itself. Of course I realised, when I started this project, that it’d have to be a little scary, but it’s taking me further into the darkness than I thought it would. In a lot of ways it’s brilliant; in others, it’s giving me brain-melt. One thing it means is that I have to keep turning around in my office chair because the open door to the room I work in is behind me, and I keep convincing myself that there’s someone standing in it… even though there’s nobody else in the house.

Wail... Image: usatoday.com

Wail…
Image: usatoday.com

But anyway. Back to the teeth, and the cleaning thereof.

Toothbrush in hand, I was engrossed in my thoughts. I was thinking about scary things, lurking things, turning around and seeing unexpected things standing in doorways, haunted things and tormented things and things with lots of tendrils.

And then I heard the front door to my house bang closed.

Image: eofdreams.com

Image: eofdreams.com

As you might imagine, I fair near swallowed my toothbrush.

After flailing, foamy-mouthed, for a few seconds, searching the bathroom for a weapon (it’s surprising how little there is in a bathroom, actually, which you can use in an offensive manner in an emergency), I almost wept with relief when my husband yelled up the stairs: ‘Hello?’

He’d come home early from the office in order to work from home. That’s all it was. Not a marauding murderer or a poltergeist or a possessed toilet brush: just my beloved.

But for a minute, it was as if my thoughts had become reality.

If this had happened when I wasn’t lost in thought, thinking about scary things, I’m sure I would’ve reacted entirely differently – like, with smiles and cheers and a mini ticker-tape parade. I don’t generally welcome my husband home every evening with a wide-eyed, white-mouthed shriekfest at the top of the stairs. But, because my mind was completely absorbed in the weird, I found it hard to adjust quickly from one mode of thinking to another. Funnily enough, for a person who doesn’t like scary things, I find it easy to let myself get lost in them – which is probably why I don’t indulge in them too often – and, when I’m caught in a spiral of panic I go straight down the plughole of irrationality.

So. Hopefully, I can channel my deep sensitivity to scary things into what I’m writing without driving myself mad in the process, or letting things veer into farce. It’s good to write about the stuff that affects you emotionally, as a writer, and I think I can bring a lot of depth to the scarier details of the story I’m currently telling.

I’ll just have to remember to take regular ‘checking the house for monsters’ breaks – and, of course, start brushing my teeth first thing in the morning.

Are there any things you don’t like to write about because they impact you too much, on an emotional or mental level? Do you think it’s a good thing to write about the stuff that frightens you? And – most importantly – do you have any effective demon-slaying tips? Do share!

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘More Than This’

Right.

For today’s book review post, I’m going to attempt the impossible. It’s something you should definitely not try at home; I’m a trained professional, and all that.

Step back! I know what I'm doing. I think. Image: heritagefightgeardisplays.wordpress.com, picture by Phil Buckley

Step back! I know what I’m doing. I think.
Image: heritagefightgeardisplays.wordpress.com, picture by Phil Buckley

I’m going to try to write a book review without giving away any pertinent details about the story, because the book I’m reviewing is the sort of tale that you just can’t spoil. Pretty much anything you say about what happens in it may, possibly, ruin someone else’s enjoyment, and that would be A Very Bad Thing.

The book is this one, right here:

Image: jenryland.blogspot.com

Image: jenryland.blogspot.com

Patrick Ness is an author who gets my blood pumping. I adored his ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy, so much so that I simply couldn’t wait for the third book to be published in paperback, and I had to buy it in hardback; normally, I hate having two-thirds of a trilogy in one format, and the last book in another, but I made an exception for this one. As well as that, I loved his ‘A Monster Calls’ more than I can express in words. It touched my heart in ways that no other book has ever done, or ever will. ‘Chaos Walking’ and ‘A Monster Calls’ are works of genius – I don’t think that’s overstating the case – and so it might not be a surprise to learn I expected great things of ‘More Than This’.

I’m still not sure, really, whether this book lived up to those expectations, exceeded them, or did none of the above. Reading it has put me in a spin, and I suppose that’s the point behind it. My reaction is, probably, what the author was aiming for; if so, then he achieves his writerly goals in spades.

It’s not giving anything away to say that the protagonist of this book, a seventeen-year-old boy, drowns within the first three pages. The whole point of the story is that we are reading about what happens to him after that. The description of his death is shocking and brutal – we are left in no doubt that he suffers, albeit briefly, before the cruel sea dashes him against some rocks, causing him an unsurvivably grievous injury. The opening chapter is typical of the book, employing sparse and beautiful language, with powerful and gripping imagery and characterisation. The chapters about the boy are written in the present tense, which gives them a chilling immediacy and makes the reader feel as though they are taking each step of his journey with him.

For, of course, there is a journey to be taken.

The boy wakes up in a place familiar to him, but also shockingly unfamiliar. As he puts together where he is, and why he has ended up there, we learn about his life and family, his past, and what he has suffered up to this point. The author handles all this – the boy’s thought processes, the setting, the ways in which he struggles to figure out what’s happening, the fear and isolation and crushing loneliness that start to afflict him – with sensitivity and skill, and he creates a truly sympathetic character in his protagonist. The boy wonders if he is in hell, or if he is being punished; as his story is told, we learn that he has spent many years punishing himself for something that happened when he was a child, and for a while I wondered whether this ‘hell’ was of his own making, an extension of the suffering he’d imposed upon himself all through his life.

Whenever the boy falls asleep in this weird world, he relives sections of his life. We meet his parents, his younger brother, his schoolmates. We learn of his love for one of his friends, and their tender relationship. These episodes do not feel like dreams; the boy is literally reliving these moments, and they cause him great pain. At the heart of his sorrow and grief, and his feelings of loss, the reader knows something dark and disturbing is lurking; we know there is a huge, heartrending secret – one too painful for the boy to even admit to – waiting to be uncovered.

I really can’t say much more than this about the plot. Any further detail would destroy the mystery of the book and take away from its central strength – in other words, the unknowable vacuum around which it is built. What I can do is tell you how the book made me feel.

A bit like this, sort of... Image: rgbstock.com

A bit like this, sort of…
Image: rgbstock.com

This is a thoughtful and philosophical novel. It has a teenager as its protagonist, sure, and most of the other characters we meet are also teenagers or children, but… it’s not, in so many ways, a ‘typical’ YA book. It’s a story about life, about fear, about the unknowability of another person’s mind, about hurt and loss and pain and love, and about friendship. It asks huge questions – why are we here? What’s the point of life? Why do bad things happen to good people? – and the answers it offers ask more questions than they solve. This idea, that everything we find out about ourselves or the world actually causes more problems than it explains, is a central theme in the book. Despite its subject matter, it is suffused with positivity, especially toward the end, and – like so many books I love – it shows the power of friendship and self-sacrifice, and how important the connections between people are.

Having said that, I really did feel that the book built up to a crescendo that never really happened. I was crushingly disappointed by the end, but perhaps that’s a personal thing. There were so many things I wished to have explained – and I’m not talking about ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ and ‘What happens after we die?’ because, of course, Patrick Ness knows as much about those things as I do, or as anyone does – but details within the story world, images and characters created in the book, and which could have been explained a bit more clearly. There was one image in particular, a feature of the landscape in this strange ‘other’ place, that I was convinced was full of meaning but which was left unexplored; I found that annoying.

Then, maybe what the author wants is for each reader to come to their own conclusion. If so, then that’s fine – I just wish he’d given us slightly more to go on.

I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that it might upset you if you’ve been bereaved, or if you’re particularly sensitive to reading about the sorts of thing that go in within abusive families. There are some heartrending scenes in this book, sure, and so it won’t suit everyone. However, if you want to read a book which will make you think, and ponder the reality around you, and stimulate your capacity to wonder, then maybe this is the book for you. Just be prepared to be frustrated by it, too.

The most memorable line in it, for me, is this:

Know who you are, and go in swinging.

This is excellent life advice, I think. Believe in yourself, and accept no lies. If I take nothing but this away from ‘More Than This’, then I’ll be happy.

Happy weekend! May you read well.

 

All Hallows’ Eve…

Happy Hallowe’en! As I write, it’s dark as pitch outside and the rain is battering the windows. It’s the perfect setting for writing about this, the scariest time of the year. I hope you like my blog’s ‘new look’ – thanks to my wonderful husband who redesigned the colour of my banner image, and added the cutest… I mean, most terrifying bat I’ve ever seen. It’s my little celebration of the day when the worlds begin to slide into one another, and you never know what’s waiting for you around the next corner…

I’ve always loved Hallowe’en, even in the years that have passed since I grew too big for ‘trick or treating’. I didn’t have much imagination back when I was young enough to be able to get dressed up and go around terrorising the neighbours, I’m afraid to say. I was usually a witch, because there were always long skirts and spooky-looking scarves lying around at home, so it was a very easy costume. We didn’t even call it ‘trick or treating’ when I was young – I’m not completely sure whether we even had a name for it. I have a feeling it rejoiced in the name ‘going around for Hallowe’en’, which definitely has less of a ring to it! I just remember it being great fun, and I recall the frisson of terror that would run up my spine every time we rang a doorbell, particularly when we didn’t know who lived there. We would be ushered into living rooms and kitchens and urged to do a dance or a ‘recitation’ of poetry in order to get a few coins, or a handful of nuts, as a reward. It was rare that we got things like sweets or chocolate – we would be far more likely to come home with our swag-bags laden down with apples than with sugary treats. It makes sense, as Hallowe’en probably has roots in harvest festivals and celebrations relating to the goddess Pomona (the goddess of fruit and/or fruitfulness, and possibly apples – I’m not completely sure any more!), but I didn’t have this scholarly perspective when I was a kid, and I often felt short-changed as I munched through my pile of Granny Smiths. It’s funny, now, that I’m on the other side of the whole ‘trick or treating’ thing, that I make such a big deal out of it. I spent nearly an hour yesterday making up little ‘treat packs’ for our local children, ready to be handed over when we are, inevitably, deluged with visitors as soon as darkness falls. I’m really looking forward to it. Nothing is more lovely than seeing the local kids all excited and dressed up. I’m just hoping I have enough packs to cover everyone – a couple of years ago, we ran out of goodies and my husband and I had to cower in the kitchen with the lights turned out until the doorbell stopped ringing. That was fun.

I’m thinking about scary things today, of course, and I wanted to muse a bit about frightening films versus frightening books. I’m not sure if anyone else is like this, but I find that I’m completely unable to watch scary films. I have zero tolerance for them. One of the best photographs of me as a child is one that was taken during my first viewing of the movie ‘Jaws’ – I’m basically clutching a pillow to my chest and peering over the top of it, regarding the television with an expression of pure terror. ‘Jaws’ is a film I consider to be scary, but it’s not a ‘horror’ film, as such; when we get into the territory of horror, I just can’t do it. You might remember a few weeks back I mentioned that I’d watched ‘The Woman in Black’ and almost lost my life in the process – all this, despite the fact it’s generally considered a film so un-scary as to be funny. Even my mother, who normally shrieks at shadows, laughed her way through ‘TWIB’. I, however, could not sleep afterwards, and had to leave my bedroom lights on all night, much to the amusement of my family. I’ve seen ‘The Exorcist’ because a friend basically forced me to, and I watched ‘Poltergeist’ when I was younger before I really knew what I was getting myself in for. However, that’s about it for classic horror movies. I particularly can’t handle anything that involves possession, or demons, or monstrous psychopaths (Freddie Krueger, for instance), and I also can’t cope with anything that involves young children coming to harm. (Now that I think about it, I’ve also seen ‘The Others’, which nearly made me lose my mind because the little boy in it looks just like my brother did when he was young, so I can’t help but feel the movie is about my brother – yes, I’m weird).

Well, my brother was a bit less pale and strange-looking, but the general outline is similar. Anyway.

However, when it comes to scary books, I’m a different animal altogether. Scary books, I can usually handle. I’ve read all of John Connolly’s novels, which are pretty spooky, and feature not only murder but also a lot of supernatural goings-on, including ghosts and fallen angels and the lot. I can read Stephen King, but I can’t watch adaptations of his work. The book I’m currently reading, ‘Kraken’, is full of scary bits, which I have no problem with. If I even wanted to get picky about it, one of my favourite books is Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’, which is similar to ‘The Others’ in so many ways; I love the book, but can’t handle the film. I’m wondering why this is, and I think the secret lies in control. I feel, when reading a scary book, that I’m in control of the images being created in my mind – I can make them as scary as I’m able for, and if I want to, I can focus on something in the background of the scene instead. I also know I can close the book and walk away at any stage. I’m not completely sure about this logic, though, because usually when a person reads, the mental images are more intense, because they’re so extremely personal. Hmm.

It’s a puzzle, and no mistake. Has anyone else experienced this? Is there a secret trick to being able to watch frightening films that I’ve just never been exposed to?

Happy Hallowe’en – have a wonderful day, whether you’re trick or treating, or doling out the tricks and treats. And stay safe out there!