Why am I drawn to the odd, strange, twisted and terrifying? Why did I laugh when my friend freaked out about the baby crawling across the ceiling during the withdrawal scene in Trainspotting? Not that Trainspotting is a horror movie, although it could be. Why do the weird jerky movements of the girl in The Ring fascinate me and make others shiver? Why do I spend more time wondering about how many ways a slasher can hack someone up rather than the victim get away?
Maybe it’s because my father let me watch Friday 13th when I was ten, or that I invited kids to my eleventh birthday to watch The Incredible Melting Man and some of them went home crying. Perhaps I became warped and twisted? I don’t think so, because even at ten years old, Friday 13th did not scare me. Sure I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen, but I wasn’t scared, I was excited.
Was I born with some malformed pleasure centre? No. I don’t like hurting things. I have on occasion had to put an injured animal out of its misery, or kill a rodent, but it wasn’t fun. I hate it when my cat gets a fur ball and makes all those horrid hoiking noises. I imagine she might choke to death and that does scare me.
When I was a member of a gun club, I was fine firing a 9mm Beretta at a circular target but got creeped out when my instructor changed it to a human shape and asked me to double tap it. I did, but I felt dirty, or evil like I had graduated to having permission to kill someone even if they were made of cardboard.
My father was a prison officer for thirty years, some of which were in maximum security prisons in Australia. He knew Chopper Read, in fact, I think he got an autographed copy of Chopper when the book first came out. He only once talked about his job, and that was to give me a life lesson on why young girls should be careful. It was soon after the murder of Anita Cobby and he told me some of the terrible things that had been done to her by her attackers that were not released to the press because they were too gruesome.
Have I been desensitised? No. If that was the case things that happen to real people would not fill me with disgust. It is only in fiction that my mind accepts them. My characters can lock a person in a concrete box, tied up with wire and leave them to drown, water slowly rising from a hosepipe fed in through a hole. Or kill someone and return to their body the next day to enjoy the corpse.
Where does that come from? Did something happen before I was ten years old that made me want to create horror? I found my grandfather, dead in the bottom of our garden when I was five and a half. I thought he was sleeping. I told my grandmother and she told me to poke him with a stick. I did, and nothing happened. I understood he was gone, but I don’t remember being frightened or sad, just curious. He was going on an adventure without me.
Before that I lived on a farm, things died all the time, but I don’t really remember. When my Grandfather found a centipede in the shed, I shouted, “Kill its head! Kill its head!”, because that’s what he’d taught me to do if I saw one, lest it grab me in its pincers and inject a venom my toddler body would not like. He cut its head off with a spade. The body wriggled for a while. It was the way of things.
My father once gave mouth to mouth to a newborn calf. It had been born with the membrane tight across its nose and mouth and wouldn’t breathe after it was cleared away. My father got it breathing again and my grandfather and I nursed it. I named him Calfie. I think he ended up at market. It was the way of things.
We had another farm when I was a teenager. My father and I found an abandoned lamb. We took it up to the house to try and nurse it, but it was too weak and died. We threw it over the fence for the fox. It was the way of things.
When I was sixteen, my mother died in my arms from a heart attack associated with long-term diabetes. I did CPR but knew it was hopeless. She would not have wanted to return, blind, attached to dialysis equipment, unable to walk, in constant neuropathic agony, and now with brain damage from lack of oxygen. I was a smart kid. A couple of hours previous she’d told me she’d seen her dead brother at the foot of her bed. I stopped CPR while I waited for the ambulance. We lived ten miles out of town. It was the way of things.
Several people have told me I have an old soul. Maybe I am drawn to horror and unafraid because the thing that makes me me has seen it all before and then some. Perhaps my blind mother hallucinating her dead brother hours before her own death resonated with a part of me that knew there was something more at play in the world, and all the horrible things are simply a different expression of life.
I don’t truly know why I write horror. What I have written here seems hollow and unfulfilled. They were experiences that shaped me, but they did not make me. Something else did that; endless rivers of time converging to a point where I came to be. I am not strange because I choose to delve beneath the visceral surface and see it for what it is. We are all drawn to the ‘other’, to freak shows, oddities, things that secretly make us glad we are ‘us’ and not ‘them’. Perhaps those who write horror are simply more open about it. What do you think?