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Celebrating scary

12 November 2017

 

I was twelve years old when Jason Voorhees burst from Crystal Lake and scared me senseless. You might know the scene—it occurs at the end of Friday the 13th, where he emerges from the depths and drags the girl from the canoe. There’s no way a bunch of young kids should have ever gotten their hands on that movie, but there were contributing factors: it was a sleepover at a mate’s house, his eighteen year-old brother—who was meant to be keeping an eye on us—was absent, and stacked high on top of the VHS was a pile of horror videos.

 

I watched some of those movies. For most of them, I simply stared at a corner of the TV screen, pretending to watch. I remember eating chicken-flavoured crisps, but those frightening images did nothing for my appetite. To this day, I still can’t eat them.

 

And yet oddly, on that night, and as scared as I was, my love affair with horror movies was born. The love of books followed, mainly King and Koontz. After that, it was all things scary. While Halloween isn’t big in Australia, it has a growing foothold here, and personally, I think it’s kind of fun.

 

Not surprisingly, my first novel, ‘Eight’, draws largely on the horror genre.

 

Even for a debut novelist, there are the inevitable questions: where do you get your ideas? What inspired you? A story is a combination of elements, and ‘Eight’ is an amalgam of things that have intrigued, excited, and scared me. There’s a kind of mental junkyard, a melting pot somewhere in a writer’s subconscious where collected odds and ends are stored or jumbled together. A better metaphor, perhaps, is to suggest these bits and pieces are like ingredients in a pantry, and it’s the writer’s task to use what’s in there to serve up something palatable... or preferably, tasty.

 

Tastier, at least, than chicken-flavoured crisps.

 

For me, the ingredients are usually snippets of information: news items I’ve stumbled across, maybe something I’ve caught on TV. Not always are they horror-related—it might be some new, cutting-edge technology, or a previously unknown species of animal recently uncovered in a far-flung corner of the globe. Or it could be a new scientific theory about how the universe works (quantum physics, in particular, is fascinating, not that I understand it). Invariably, you ask yourself the usual questions: ‘What if this technology was misused?’ ‘What if this new species was dangerous, and escaped?’ ‘What if we could harness Dark Energy?’ Sure, they’ve all been asked before, but these kinds of questions are crucial to the process.

 

There are a few ‘what-if’ moments that inspired ‘Eight’.

 

To give it context, my aim was to write a big, fast-paced action-thriller involving a global menace. I wanted there to be a mysterious discovery. And maybe a Special Forces military team. Overarching that, I wanted to write something really scary, with a frightening antagonist. This last thing, perhaps, was the driver.

 

So what is scary to me?

 

Well, I’m a minor arachnophobe. Nothing major, but yeah, the sudden appearance of a scurrying huntsman gets my heart racing. I’ve always been hyper-aware of them, and I know I’m not alone. I read that at some point in human evolution, spiders likely posed a genuine threat to humans and their distinctive starburst shape was something to be wary of, something our ancestors learned to be fearful of, and this fear was encoded into us and passed on through the genes. This might explain why today, so many of us are alarmed by them. That caught my attention. An inbuilt fear? What a great thing to exploit! So I threw that into the pantry.

 

I read elsewhere that at any given moment, there’s always a spider within four feet of you, which is an unpleasant thought for someone who’s not a fan of them. Again, into the pantry.

 

You can see the ingredients combining. I won’t mention them all because I’m sure you get the picture. But now there are a few things to play around with: mysterious discoveries, terrifying species hidden from science, a fight to save humanity. A good thriller needs a good setting, and for this story, it had to be somewhere remote, where humans don’t commonly tread—a  place where things can remain undiscovered... until now. This was a no-brainer. I’ve always been fascinated with, and in awe of, the Amazon. In an ever-shrinking world, the place is as remote as you can get, it is home to lots of strange and wonderful things, and given what’s happening there with deforestation and loss of habitat, it’s also a pretty significant metaphor for what’s happening to the planet.

 

So in very general terms, there you have it. While there’s more to throw into the mix, I won’t give too much away. But these are some of the ingredients that have gone into ‘Eight’.

 

I’ve combined them, stirred them, and now dinner is served. I hope you’re hungry.

 

I went easy on the chicken-flavour.