Today, authors James Dawson (Hollow Pike and Cruel Summer) and Kate Harrison (the Soul Beach trilogy) will be battling it out, answering the question that is on everyone's lips! The question - which is better: suspense or horror? Both authors are taking over the blog in two posts. James will be fighting in defence of horror (down below) and Kate will be fighting for the defence of suspense (this will be up at 1pm UK time).
So, without further ado, let James talk to you about horror.
‘Horror’ is such a dirty word at the moment. If you go into any branch of Waterstones, you’ll see that the ‘Horror Shelf’ is little more than a collection of weighty Stephen King doorstops. I think the genre got a bad name for itself during the late eighties and early nineties which saw clichés such as man-eating animals, rape, misogyny, gore and excruciating torture become commonplace.
But while the novel had a makeover and became ‘psychological thriller’, horror was doing better than ever at the cinema. Franchises such as Scream, Saw, Hostel and Paranormal Activity rake it in at the box office proving there is a hungry market for scares.
It’s simple: people want to be scared witless. The adrenaline is the same rush you’d get from a rollercoaster or work-out. There is a thrill in ducking behind your loved one’s shoulder as someone’s having their eye gouged out. What’s more, the loathsome Human Centipede went to show that if a concept is shocking and grisly enough, people will watching out of morbid fascination.
Morbid fascination, in fact, is a good way of describing what brings fans back to horror. We all have a monster inside and the creature is baying for blood. At the start of a horror film or novel, we earmark characters for death and then revel in their ultimate demise. It’s part of the agreement between the author and reader: ‘it’s OK, this is brutal, but we all know it’s fantasy so enjoy all the maiming.’ Horror is, in many ways, related to fantasy – we KNOW the contents aren’t especially real world so we can enjoy the torture in the same way we enjoy dragons and wizards.
This is why I’m confused by attacks made by censors on violence and gore, especially in YA. Katniss, for example, lives in a fantasy world and she kills people with MUTANT BEES – literally no one thinks this is non-fiction. The end of Cruel Summer is violent, I can’t deny that, but the novel isn’t set in the world of you and I – it’s YA world – the teens are glamorous and riddled with juicy secrets. The final showdown is so over the top I find it hard to believe anyone is going to think it’s a particularly real-life situation.
The horror genre, with its flesh-eating slugs steers clear of reality for our comfort. When the horrors become real – murderous sons (We Need To Talk About Kevin) or abusive relationships (Gone Girl) we refer leave the horror tag behind and call it psychological thriller. These horrors are actually too close to home – but look at the thriving market for misery memoir. I find that far, far darker than Freddie Kruger or Jason Voorhies.