Three Possible Reasons Why Famous Horror Authors Write Non-Horror Books

One of the interesting things about famous horror authors is that many of them have either written non-horror novels or they’ve moved into other genres. These non-horror stories can be really good, but this happens surprisingly often.

Whether it is Clive Barker writing several splatterpunk classics like “The Books Of Blood” and “Cabal” during the 1980s and then moving more towards fantasy and/or YA fiction (eg: the excellent “Abarat” books), whether it is when Shaun Hutson took occasional breaks from splatterpunk horror fiction during the 1990s/early 2000s to write several action/thriller novels (eg: “White Ghost”, “Exit Wounds” etc..) or whether it is when Billy Martin went from writing gothic horror and splatterpunk novels during the 1990s to writing comedy/drama/romance/food-based novels (the amazing “Liqour” series) during the 2000s, this seems to happen a lot with horror authors. Even Stephen King has apparently written several non-horror novels in various genres.

So, I thought that I’d offer some theories about possible reasons why this happens. These are just theories, based on my experiences with other types of creativity and limited experiences with writing horror fiction, but hopefully they’re at least vaguely interesting.

[Edit: Between preparing the first draft of this article and posting it, I’ve read up a bit more on the history of the horror genre and, apparently, one of the major reasons why horror authors wrote stuff in other genres during the 1990s was due to the mainstream publishing industry losing interest in the genre at the time. Still, there are other reasons why horror authors might write non-horror fiction and this article covers some of them.]

1) Inspiration: Simply put, making the same types of things too long can get dull after a while. Sometimes, in order to stay inspired, you have to make different things.

To use an art-based example, I made quite a bit of cyberpunk art last year and earlier this year. When I was making it, it was really fun to make, I felt super-inspired and produced some of what I consider to be my best paintings – like these:

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

But, after a while, I found myself drifting away from making cyberpunk art. I felt, for want of a better description, slightly bored with it. Yes, I still make cyberpunk art every now and then, and it’s still one of my favourite genres. But, if I’d have just stuck to only making cyberpunk art, then I’d probably have run out of enthusiasm for making art.

And, my guess is that the same sort of thing is probably true for famous horror authors too. As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life.

2) Emotional factors: Although I’ve dabbled with writing shorter, milder and/or more light-hearted works of horror fiction during the past few years (like these sci-fi horror stories, or this comedy horror interactive story), I once wanted to be a “proper” horror writer. And, it’s more difficult than it looks!

Simply put, writing proper genuinely scary/disturbing horror fiction can be quite hard on you emotionally if you’re doing it properly. Since you actually have to vividly imagine and plan what you write in a story, the horror is magnified considerably compared to just reading horror fiction. I mean, I remember leaving a short splatterpunk story I tried to write in 2009/10 called “Pulch” (where the narrator is slowly dissolved by a giant carnivorous plant) unfinished because I was just too grossed out by it to continue writing.

Likewise, when I wrote an unpublished horror novella in 2009 (mostly as an unofficial attempt at the “3 Day Novel” challenge), I actually found myself pulling back during one of the more grim scenes and implying, rather than showing, something horrific because I was just too horrified to keep writing the scene in question in any other way.

The thing to remember about horror fiction is that, if you’re feeling scared or grossed out when reading it, then the author probably felt those emotions even more strongly whilst writing it. As such, I can easily see why horror authors might take a break from the horror genre for the sake of their sanity.

3) Other interests: Simply put, most people have multiple interests. In fact, in order to create truly original things, you need to have multiple inspirations (and the more different they are, the more original your work will be). As such, a good horror author is probably a fan of other genres too.

So, horror authors that move away from writing horror fiction to write other types of fiction might just do this because they’re just as much of a fan of another genre as they are of the horror genre, and want to be part of that genre too. To see what their own unique interpretation of the genre would look like, and to have fun writing stories that they enjoy.

So, a horror writer moving away from horror fiction might happen because they’re also a fan of other genres too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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“Limelight” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

‘It’s like Christmas, but better.’ Jane grinned. ‘Think about it. There are horror movies in the cinema, there’s cool-looking stuff in the shops and there are even horror movies on the telly too.’

Rachel sipped her coffee: ‘It’s better than nothing, I guess. But, look, it’s a ghost.’

‘A ghost?’ Jane glanced around the coffee shop. Her eyes fixed on a bearded man wearing an ironic Scooby Doo T-shirt. He tapped away at a smartphone, oblivious to the world around him. ‘I’d have thought zombies, or maybe robots? I don’t know what ghosts have to do with it.’

‘Think about it. When we were teenagers, a new remake of a Japanese horror movie would come out every few months. Then, in 2004, there were the “Saw” movies. Every Halloween, there would be a new one.’

Jane’s eyes widened: ‘Oh god, I remember those. Did you know, some people actually fainted during the third one?’

‘That’s exactly the point!’ Rachel took another sip of coffee. ‘People talked about them. They were popular. Horror movies were alive in those days. These days, it’s all superhero movies. And, every Halloween, they’ll trot out a remake of an old horror classic, a couple of horror-themed kids movies or a slightly edgier superhero movie. It’s like cinemas are haunted by the ghost of what horror movies once were.’

‘I never really thought of it that way before. I didn’t even notice. I mean, there are still horror movies.’

Rachel shook her head: ‘Yeah, but they’re like horror novels or heavy metal music. I mean, they’re there if you look for them. But, if you go back to the ’80s, they used to be mainstream. From everything I’ve heard, people who didn’t understand them used to moan about them all the time.’

Jane sipped her tea: ‘Well, at least people are moaning about other stuff these days. Although, does that mean no-one cares about the horror genre any more? Is it even still rebellious?

Rachel shrugged: ‘It used to be with comics. I mean, did you know that horror comics used to be a thing?’

‘Horror comics?‘ Jane laughed.

Rachel finished her coffee ‘Yeah, read some history. Back in the forties and fifties, they were the most popular type of comics. You know, Tales From The Crypt and all that.’

‘No, I don’t. Hey, wasn’t that a movie?’

‘Anyway, there was a big fuss about it back then. People howled about how they were corrupting the youth and all that nonsense. In the mid-fifties, the American comics industry introduced strict censorship rules. There were actual laws passed about it over here. And, of course, the only popular genre of comics that could survive were superhero comics.’ Rachel’s expression darkened. ‘They’ve been gloating about it ever since.’

Jane said nothing. Finally, she stuttered: ‘That’s… terrible.’

Rachel laughed: ‘You were right about Christmas though. Halloween is just like Christmas. A collection of mindless rituals that people go through just because something used to be more popular in the past.’

‘You mean, we’re like those miserable people who write to the papers every year moaning about how people have forgotten the traditional meaning of Christmas?’

‘Pretty much.’

Jane’s eyes widened. An icy chill shot down her spine. A silent scream died on her lips. Around her, no-one looked away from their smartphones.

Three Things To Do When You Can’t Make A Horror Story Too Gruesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about writing horror fiction today. This is mostly because I originally wrote this article whilst I was busy preparing last year’s Halloween stories (and this article will contain SPOILERS for the first two of them). In particular, I’ll be looking at the topic of gruesomeness.

This is mostly because, although most of my early literary influences from the horror genre were the old second-hand 1980s-90s splatterpunk novels that I read when I was a teenager, I felt somewhat wary about making last year’s Halloween stories too gory.

In part, this was because my sensibilities had changed somewhat but it was also because I wasn’t sure whether I could get away with posting ludicrously gruesome 1980s-style horror fiction here.

So, what can you do if you want to write some horror fiction but – for whatever reason – can’t make it too gory? Here are a few tips:

1) Take influence from other aspects of gruesome horror: Horror stories that focus on gore, and gore alone, often aren’t that scary.

Gruesome horror stories, movies and games that have scared you enough to be a literary influence on you will often have some other element which is just as creepy – or more creepy – than the actual gore itself.

For example, one of the influences on the series of short stories (this one and this one in particular) that I wrote for last Halloween was my vague memories of a short story by Clive Barker called “The Forbidden” (from volume five of “The Books Of Blood”).

Although Barker’s story has some gruesome moments, the things that really make it memorable aren’t these parts. Instead, the creepily memorable parts of the story include things like the grimly bleak urban environments, the tension between curiosity and danger etc…

Likewise, another influence on last year’s Halloween stories was the fact that I’d re-played “Silent Hill 3” a few days before I wrote the stories.

Although the first story includes a couple of subtle “Silent Hill” references, the main inspirations that I took from the classic “Silent Hill” games weren’t to do with the series’ copious use of blood and guts. After all, the classic “Silent Hill” games are truly terrifying because of their focus on things like suspense, the visual theme of disease/decay, ominously dark environments, psychological instability, eerily malfunctioning technology etc….

To give another example, horror novels like “Audition” and “In The Miso Soup” by Ryu Murakami are shockingly horrific because they’re less gruesome than the average modern horror novel. Or, more accurtely, Murakami’s novels handle gruesome moments in a really clever way.

Many of Ryu Murakami’s horror stories only include one relatively brief grisly scene. However, these scenes are much more shocking than the average splatterpunk novel because Murakami spends almost the entire novel building up to them. So, devoting 80-90% of your story to building up suspense can be a way to make even relatively mild scenes of horror seem ten times more horrific.

So, if you can’t write a ludicrously gory horror story, then look at the ludicrously gory horror stories that have inspired you and see what else they do to scare or shock the reader.

2) Replace the gore with something else: One interesting thing that I noticed when writing the first two stories in last year’s Halloween collection was that there was something of an emphasis on bones, skulls, skeletons etc…

This was mostly because it was a way to imply that grisly events had happened, without including too much in the way of blood and guts. It also allowed me to emphasise things like the ferocity of various monsters and the passage of time too.

Plus, in the first story especially, I tried to write about the desolate and grim setting of the story in the same way that a splatterpunk writer might describe something grisly or gruesome.

For example, the story’s monster is described as having “a mouth like a slashed bin bag“. This is horrific because of the focus on decay (eg: a bag of rotting rubbish) and the implied violence (eg: slashing), but there isn’t a single drop of blood in this scene.

So, if you are worried about censorship, then you can replace the gore in your horror story with something equally grim or disturbing – but completely bloodless.

3) Implication:
This is the oldest trick in the book, but it works. If you leave the grisly events of your story to your readers’ imaginations, then your audience will probably make these scenes more horrific than you can.

For example, my second Halloween story ends when the main characters realise that they’ve entered somewhere that they probably won’t be leaving alive. The presence of a skeleton, the possible sound of a door locking and an ominous message scrawled in (what is implied to be) dried blood tell the reader that the characters are in mortal danger. But, the details of that mortal danger are at least partially left up to the readers’ imaginations.

In addition to all of this, another way to make sure that implied horrific events have an impact is through the location descriptions throughout your story. If you can fill your story with mildly creepy descriptions of everyday things (eg “dead radios”, “squealing” machinery etc..) , then this is going to put your readers in a frame of mind where they are going to imagine the worst when you don’t show something.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Basic Things That Horror Writers Can Learn From Classic Survival Horror Games

Well, although I had planned to write about webcomics (since I’m preparing a webcomic mini series for later this month), I thought that I’d talk about the horror genre again.

This is mostly because I’m still playing the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” at the time of writing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few things that classic-style survival horror games can teach horror writers.

1) Backstory: Even the less scary examples of survival horror games (eg: such as the original “Resident Evil) tend to include a lot of backstory. This backstory puts the events of the game into a larger context, in addition to being a potent source of horror in and of itself. However, backstories in survival horror games are usually relayed in brief and subtle moments – often with at least some details left chillingly mysterious.

Sometimes, the player will get to read a short document, but backstory will often be either relayed through a short comment when examining something or it will be relayed purely through background details. In other words, classic survival horror games provide plenty of examples of how to use the old “show, don’t tell” technique in a chilling way.

For a visual example of this, just take a look at this screenshot from “Alone In The Dark“:

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992).

Even if you’ve never played the game before, you can instantly tell from the pentagram on the floor that this room has something to do with magic or mysticism. Then a glance at the skull on the shelf will probably tell you that this probably isn’t a good type of magic or mysticism. The narrow corridor outside the room and the stark stone floor also imply that the room could be a hidden room (it is!). All of these details instantly tell the audience something about the room without spelling everything out to them.

So, a few short visual descriptions that subtly hint at a much larger backstory can be a great way to add some extra horror to your story.

2) Symbolism: In many classic survival horror games, the monsters are just monsters. However, the “Silent Hill” games do something really interesting, which can be instructive to horror writers. In these games, the monsters are significantly scarier because they often have some kind of underlying theme or symbolism – which allows them to tap into other sources of horror.

Whilst the symbolism of the monsters in “Silent Hill 2” can’t really be discussed without spoiling the story of that game, the monsters in “Silent Hill 3” provide a great example of how to add extra depth, meaning and horror to monster design.

One way that “Silent Hill 3” makes it’s monsters more disturbing is through disease-related symbolism. These disease-based monsters include giant spinning mosquito-like creatures, undead nurses, bandage-covered zombie dogs and creatures that look like giant sentient tumours. Even monsters that are meant to symbolise other things still have a somewhat “diseased” appearance. This allows the game to tap into a realistic source of horror (eg: diseases) whilst still being a slightly fantastical game about a nightmare-like parallel world filled with monsters.

So, one way to make your horror fiction more disturbing is to think of a disturbing theme and then find a way to subtly hint at this through the way that the main source of horror in your story is presented.

3) Atmosphere and subtle horror: The scariest parts of classic survival horror games often aren’t the parts where a monster jumps out of nowhere and attacks the player. They are either the general atmosphere of the game and/or a few relatively subtle moments that, whilst often not directly threatening to the player’s character, help to stop the player from getting too complacent.

These can include things like a phone suddenly ringing, something scrawled on a wall, a creepy piece of background music, chaotic locations, something being subtly different when the main character returns to a familiar location etc… Although subtle moments of horror aren’t extremely scary in and of themselves, they help to maintain a feeling of suspense by creating a mysteriously threatening atmosphere.

And, yes, atmosphere matters a lot in the horror genre. Leaving aside technical limitations, there’s a reason why many classic survival horror games are set in places like old mansions, derelict buildings, coldly futuristic laboratories etc…

So, subtle horror and a creepy atmosphere matter a lot more than you might initially think.

4) Vulnerability: One of the main reasons why the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot scarier than the first three “Resident Evil” games is because the main characters are presented as being more vulnerable.

Out of the five playable characters in the first three “Resident Evil” games, four are military/police characters (eg: Jill, Carlos, Chris and Leon) and one (eg: Claire) rides a motorbike and is related to one of these characters. In other words, they all seem like tough, fearless characters who are knowledgeable about handling dangerous situations. As such, these games are less scary.

The three main characters in the first three “Silent Hill” games are a lot more vulnerable. Harry from the first game is a father who is searching for his missing daughter. James from the second game is a bereaved man who has seen better days. Heather from the third game is a teenage girl who goes shopping and finds herself plunged into a series of nightmarish events. None of these characters have any military training or experience with weapons (and the combat in these games reflects this fact). As such, these games are considerably more scary.

So, the lesson here is that – if you want to make your horror story scarier – don’t make your main character a tough action hero! The more of a threat that your character is to the scary things in your story, the less scary those things will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why Things In The Horror Genre Can Be Scarier Than You Remember

Shortly before I originally wrote this article, I had a rather surprising experience. My second-hand copy of the PC port of “Silent Hill 3” had finally arrived in the post and I was eager to re-live some nostalgic memories of playing the game on my old (and sadly no longer functional) Playstation 2 when I was a teenager.

Plus, when I found and played a demo of the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” a couple of years ago, I’d felt nothing but wonderful nostalgia. So, I was expecting a lot more of this from the full version of the game. But, after I’d finished the introductory segment from the demo…

…The game was about ten times scarier than I remembered! I’d always thought of “Silent Hill 3” as the least scariest of the classic “Silent Hill” games, yet I could feel adrenaline coursing through my veins and an icy shard of fear in my chest. Nervously, I found myself torn between the urge to explore more of the game’s nightmarish world and the urge to just find a monster-free area and hide there because I did not expect to feel actual fear whilst playing “Silent Hill 3”.

This is a screenshot from “Silent Hill 3” (2003). A game that is scarier than you might remember it being!

This naturally made me wonder about time, nostalgia, memory and the horror genre – since this experience just didn’t make any logical sense. I’d played the whole game before when I was younger. Surely, if I was going to be scared by it, it would have happened back then. Yet, my only memories of the game were nostalgic ones of how cool I thought it was and how it was associated with rose-tinted memories of my youth.

1) Perspective and maturity: One reason things in the horror genre can be scarier when you revisit them at an older age for the simple reason that you’re more likely to actually think about them deeply. You’ll have had more life experience and be at least marginally more mature, and this will influence how you think about horror games, movies, novels etc..

I mean, when I played “Silent Hill 3” at about the age of sixteen, I probably just thought “Cool! It’s a gruesome horror game with monsters. AND it isn’t as utterly terrifying as ‘Silent Hill 2’ 🙂 “.

But, when playing the shopping centre-based parts of the game a while before writing this article, I actually found myself thinking more deeply about the events of the game and wondering what actually being in a situation like that would be like. I started thinking about it less like a “game” and more like a story.

Likewise, I also started to wonder about the parts of the game’s nightmarish “world” that aren’t shown to the player. What lurked behind the myriad locked doors that are everywhere? How did that mysterious bloodstain end up in this room I’m hiding in? Why are there monsters lurking in the shopping centre, and how creepy would it be to go shopping and suddenly find that the shopping centre was abandoned?

So, gaining the capacity to think about things more deeply can be one reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

2) Practice: Another reason why things in the horror genre can be scarier when you are older is because your tastes tend to widen with age. I mean, when I was a teenager, I was absolutely fascinated by the horror genre. I used to love reading splatterpunk novels, watching late night horror movies etc…. It was a genre that was rebellious, emotionally cathartic and considerably more “cool” than anything else.

But, as time has gone on, I’ve found other genres that interest me. And, as a result, I’ve got somewhat “out of practice” with the horror genre.

So, a relative lack of exposure to “serious” things in the horror genre over the past few years can also explain why things in the horror genre can be scarier than you remember.

3) Fan culture: If you haven’t directly experienced a particular work in the horror genre for a long time, then you can sometimes end up remembering the affectionate fan culture that surrounds it than the actual film/game/story etc… itself.

It’s easy to get dazzled by nostalgic references on the internet and adoring odes to games/films/novels etc.. from fans on the internet.

Because fan culture often tends to include a lot of humour and a lot of focus on the more stylised elements of something (eg: Freddy Krueger’s glove, the crackly voice from the “Saw” films, the mask from the “Scream” films etc..) , then it can be easy to mistake this for the actual work in question. Since fan culture exists to celebrate things, then it is going to focus on instantly-recognisable things that provoke feelings of warm affection.

So, fan culture isn’t going to reflect that moment in a horror game when you’re walking down another gloomy corridor and can hear something lurking nearby. Fan culture isn’t going to focus on that really bleak moment in a horror movie when a character realises that all hope is lost etc….

So, yes, confusing fan culture with the actual work in question can be another reason why something in the horror genre might be a lot scarier than you remember.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Basic Tips For Coming Up With Good Settings In The Horror Genre

Well, I thought that I’d talk about storytelling, settings and the horror genre today. This is mostly because I happened to re-watch an absolutely amazing horror movie recently, where a large proportion of the film’s scares come from the location that the film is set in. This reminded me of how important settings and locations can be in the horror genre.

So, I thought that I’d offer some basic tips for coming up with good settings for your horror novel, comic etc….

1) Isolation: I’ll start with the really obvious one. One easy way to make the settings in a horror story even scarier is to ensure that the main characters are cut off from the world, and therefore have to rely on their own wits to survive.

When setting horror stories in the present day, it’s also usually obligatory to point out that the setting in question has no mobile phone reception (in fact, this has been done in horror movies for almost two decades. See the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill” for an older example).

By setting your horror story somewhere isolated, you not only increase the level of danger that the characters face but you also give your story an instant sense of direction and suspense too, since the characters have to find a way to either summon help or escape the location in question.

And, yes, the horror genre is one of the few genres where running away from danger is actually realistically presented as a sensible and heroic thing to do.

2) Symbolism and/or history: The best and most memorable settings in the horror genre are not only eerily mysterious (so that the characters, and audience, don’t know what to expect) but they will often reflect a deeper symbolic and/or historical horror in some way or another.

For example, the classic horror videogame “Silent Hill 2” (major plot SPOILERS ahead!) is set in an abandoned, fog-covered town that is filled with monsters. Every now and then, an air raid siren will sound and then the town will transform itself into a much creepier version of itself – with rusty walls, gloomier lighting and even creepier monsters. These monsters include things like a giant executioner-like character called “Pyramid Head” and creepy undead nurses.

In addition to this, there are lots of other creepy, but meaningful, details scattered throughout the town – such as an abandoned shop that contains creepy graffiti on the inside of the papered-up windows (which changes, depending on when you read it) or a mannequin that is dressed like the main character’s late wife.

All of these details might initially seem like they are just there to scare the audience, but they hold a deeper meaning for the game’s main character – they are all symbolic reflections of his own feelings of guilt about ending the life of his terminally-ill wife. For example, the undead nurses symbolise (amongst other things) hospitals and illness, Pyramid Head’s executioner-like appearance symbolises the main character’s judgment of himself, the evil version of the world represents the main character’s tormented psyche etc…

But, even if the setting of a horror story isn’t a direct reflection of the main characters, it is still important to include some kind of deeper horror too. Going back to the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill”, a lot of the film’s horror comes from the fact that the film takes place in a derelict mental hospital that was run by a cruel doctor during the 1930s.

So, the additional horrors inherent in this setting include things like torture, outdated attitudes, psychological suffering etc…. Which are reflected in many of the locations within the hospital (eg: rooms containing scary-looking medical equipment that has been left to rust etc..).

The easiest way to add a deeper horror to the settings in a horror story is simply to give the location in question a creepy history. However, this alone isn’t enough. The design, style and notable features of the location must also be some kind of symbolic reflection (the more subtle, the better) of this horrifying history.

3) Unreliable locations: Another way to come up with terrifying locations for horror stories is simply to make the location itself a creepily unpredictable thing. If the main characters don’t know what to expect, or cannot even trust reality itself – then this will make the audience feel even more nervous.

The classic horror movie example of this is in “A Nightmare On Elm Street“, where almost all of the film’s horrific events take place within the main characters’ dreams. Not only does this setting give the horror a sense of chilling inevitability (since no-one can stay awake forever), but the focus on dream-like settings also means that the audience never quite knows what to expect. After all, literally anything can happen in a dream….

Likewise, a good comics-based example of this is Raven Gregory’s “Return To Wonderland”. This is an extremely disturbing (and grisly) horror comic that is based on ‘Alice In Wonderland’ (and is even creepier than a classic computer game with a vaguely similar premise called “American McGee’s Alice).

Since the main character in “Return To Wonderland” is plonked into an evil version of a familiar fictional location (Wonderland) – this comic’s setting also plays on the reader’s expectations too. Because the readers think that they know what to expect, they soon discover that can’t even trust their own memories of ‘Alice In Wonderland’ when horrific things start happening. So, the story is a lot less predictable, and a lot scarier, as a result.

So, the less predictable a location is, the creepier it will be. If the main characters cannot even trust the world around them, then your story or comic will be a lot scarier.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Short Story: “Blank” By C.A.Brown

Note: This will be the last short story in the series. Stay tuned for a series retrospective tomorrow evening 🙂

The snow outside the window looked as pristine as the computer screen sitting in front of Phoebe. She let out a deep sigh and reached for the crumpled tube of biscuits on the edge of the desk. There were only three left. No, forget that, there were only two left.

Phoebe sighed again. She had to write something. Her publisher had said as much in their e-mail. But, putting words on the screen seemed almost as sacrilegious as leaving a trail of dark footsteps across the perfectly iced ground outside the window.

A smile crossed her face. Hadn’t there been an art gallery somewhere that had shown off canvases that were just covered with white paint? Hadn’t people paid millions for them?

Phoebe remembered a comedy book that one of her uncles had bought during the 1990s. It had been titled “Everything Politicians Know About Real People” and it consisted of two hundred empty pages.

For a second, she wondered whether she could get away with changing the title and adding a few extra pages. But, she remembered that her uncle’s old book had already been re-badged as a four hundred page tome called “Good Pop Music 2010-18: A Definitive Guide” that she’d seen on the internet a few nights ago.

Phoebe opened up her document folder and looked at the titles of her previous books. “Beneath Dark Spires”,”Post-Mortem” and “Spectral Signs“‘. She ate another biscuit. Why was this kind of horror fiction so popular these days? She ate the final biscuit. When did horror become so… sophisticated?

Of course, she knew that horror fiction had always been like this. Whether it was that copy of “Dracula” she’d never got round to finishing, or those hilariously formal Dennis Wheatley books that she’d found in a charity shop when she was a teenager, the natural state of horror fiction was one of sophistication. The horror fiction that she really loved had been an anomaly, a mutation, an aberration.

There wasn’t much history to go on, of course. But, when she was growing up, she would always see these books on market stalls, in charity shops and in the kind of second-hand bookshops where you can still smell the dust. They would have midnight black covers with wonderfully realistic paintings of skeletons, zombies and creatures. They read like music. Great crashing crescendos of blood and guts, counterpointed with gentle bucolic descriptions and functional dialogue between functional characters.

It took Phoebe a surprisingly long time to work out that if lots of these crumpled, dog-eared paperbacks were being sold second-hand, they must have been new once. Sure enough, on the internet, she had seen mention of a “horror boom” during the 1980s and 1990s. Apparently, lots of shiny new copies of these books used to festoon newsagents, motorway service station book racks and other quality literary venues.

It just wasn’t fair, dammit! By the time Phoebe had read enough of these books to want to write a horror novel of her own, the only new horror novels were sophisticated ghost stories, clinical police procedurals, gothic vampire stories and Stephen King. Lots of Stephen King. Well, at least some things remained the same.

So, with a heavy heart, she had written a tragic vampiric tale of lost love and eternal mourning. Then she’d written a clinical police procedural. Then a sophisticated ghost story. Everyone loved them. She’d even got good reviews from the critics in the broadsheet papers. She still felt guilty about that. Good horror, she thought, should disgust and appall pompous critics.

And now, with the three popular commercial genres used up, she found herself staring at a blank computer screen. Her eyes drifted to the perfect snow outside once again.

Then, without even thinking about it, her fingers flew across the keyboard “Crimson splashed the unholy altar. Gary’s agonised screams tore the sepulchral air. Above the splashing and screaming, the robed men kept chanting. Like an amateur production of Julius Caesar, they raised their dripping daggers in unison..

She stopped. She blinked. It was the best thing she’d written in three years. She kept writing. A smile crossed her face. She finished the prologue in less than an hour. Her computer pinged at her. Another e-mail from her publisher. With a heavy sigh, she started the first chapter: “In the pristine laboratory at New Scotland Yard, D.I. Stevenson carefully examined the body for forensic evidence..