Show Your Monsters: The Argument For Horror
5 minutes read
Matt Wesolowski, tutor on Faber Academy's Writing Darkness: Horror, Mystery and Suspense course, writes about his love for the horror genre.
I never did very well at school. In fact, I left school with one or two GCSEs, English being one of them.
Sitting in a hot classroom on a Friday afternoon whilst Wayne Creed flicked balls of chewing gum into my hair, trying to prise apart the nuance of some Shakespearean quip left me miserable, frustrated and bored.
Golding’s Lord of the Flies was decent but my days were full of the savagery of the young and it never felt like we were allowed to read the book and simply enjoy it. Going over key passages again and again, squeezing the mystique and joy from them, was arduous and tiresome.
I’ll never forget being assigned to write a book review from a text we were studying, which I hated. I can’t remember the book but I remember I felt like it was cliché-ridden, with a dull storyline, flat and soulless dialogue. I wrote as much and was awarded a D and given detention because I was ‘supposed’ to have liked it.
These formal experiences of reading were supposed to set us up to be able to analyse literature, to understand it, to give us a higher level of appreciation. Yet it was the final lines of Stephen King’s It which I read at age thirteen that became seared across my heart. A book had never done this to me before to this extent – filled me with a miasma of hope and joy and sadness all at once.
For the uninitiated, It is a story about an evil clown. But it isn’t; at least that’s only part of it. It is about childhood, about that transition between being a kid who is frightened of things that aren’t real and being an adult who has to be scared of things that are. It’s about facing up to your fears, facing the horrors in your heart with your friends behind you. It’s a story about bravery and love and the trauma we carry. For me, a book like this rose the hairs on my arms with a single passage.
I was derided by my teachers for not liking the classics – the battered Clive Barkers and James Herberts I read under the desk when I should have been appreciating the structure of how a sonnet works (I still don’t know, or care!) were described as ‘cheap’ and ‘trash’. Yet I learned more about telling stories from the books that I loved rather than the books that were forced on me.
Yet I fully believe if I didn’t have a passion for reading, I may not have got that English GCSE at all. I believe if I didn’t borrow from some of my favourite authors: Stephen King, Lauren Beukes, Maríana Enriquez, HP Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Patrick McCabe – I wouldn’t be a writer. I certainly wouldn’t be teaching a course on writing horror.
But this isn’t really a course about writing horror.
My own books are not really horror, they’re not really crime either, what they are is a nightmare for booksellers and publishers to market! Horror as a genre is most often derided, shoved into the back corner of libraries and bookshops, sometimes forced to share a single shelf with a load of hard sci-fi. I use elements of horror in my books, I tell stories about fear, about monsters, but the scariest monsters of all: the ones that dwell within ourselves. This is what I’ve taken from those years of reading horror.
The horror genre has a lot more to give than people think.
The horror genre is unafraid to reflect the darker and more unpleasant aspects of life that sometimes we’re too afraid to face. For example, The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward (if I tell you any more it’ll spoil it – just go read it!). The tenderness of a book about grief like Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley, or the multi-layered terror of racism that bleeds through Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due, or The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is testament to a genre that is far too often relegated behind empty, celebrity-penned ‘safe’ stories that might make us chuckle but won’t make us really feel in the way horror can do.
Writing and stories have, since the dawn of language, been an effective way to frame and make sense of our societal fears, and this is why utilising the techniques of the horror genre will be so effective for writers of any genre fiction.
Horror fiction has always been a genre that champions diversity and an accepting place for ‘outsiders’. The success of queer and LGBTQ+ authors such as Clive Barker, Billy Martin (formerly Poppy Z Brite), and more recently authors such as Eric LaRocca and Alison Rumfitt is testament to this.
This is why I’m delighted to be able to teach this course; to exemplify my favourite genre and show it for the array of depth, character and atmosphere that any genre writer can draw inspiration from.
I believe in horror and whilst I still might not be able to explain iambic pentameter, I can’t wait to see you unleash the darkness we will draw from in this course.
Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK.
He teaches on Faber Academy’s Writing Darkness: Horror, Mystery and Suspense course. This twelve-week course will allow you to master techniques from the darker side of fiction, delving deep into atmosphere, fear and dread.
Find out more about the course here.