Introduction by Shaun Hutson
Horror is one of the most popular genres in literature and always has been.
I know some of you are probably wondering how I’ve come to that conclusion as most bookshops these days don’t even have a horror section and those that do keep it tucked away somewhere as if they’re ashamed of it. When I talk of horror I am not referring to the kind of insipid dross that has invaded the shelves in the past ten years like Twilight or any other “teenage love story with a supposedly creepy background.” I am speaking of real horror. Real “scared to turn the light out, nightmare-inducing, bowel-loosening, spine-tingling” horror.
Throughout my 30 odd years of writing horror and seeing the book business from every angle imagineable, I cannot recall a situation like the one we have now. Horror is hugely popular in the cinema (much of it generic and plain poor admittedly) and has been for years but, for the first time I can remember, this trend has not spilled over into literature. Normally cinematic trends are reflected in the book business but many publishers seem resolutely determined to ignore horror if they can. I cannot understand this reluctance so it’s refreshing when someone tries to redress the balance. That has been done admirably in this collection of stories you are about to read.
Horror lends itself brilliantly to the short story medium and the authors of the tales contained in this anthology have produced work that illustrates this perfectly. Short stories are a difficult skill to master. By definition they need to be tight, punchy and to the point. You can’t spend page after page trying to convey details and characters. This all has to be done with economy and brevity and you will find that has been achieved beautifully within this collection.
My first introduction to written horror was via short stories. The Pan collections of horror stories were among some of the earliest horror stories I ever read. They were the natural successors to writers like
H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Edgar Allan Poe and M. R. James and many other well known and classic exponents of this art. And make no mistake, short story writing is an art.
You have to grab the reader as quickly as possible and you have to keep your grip on them. The worst fault an author can have, in my humble opinion, is to over-write. Stick to the point. Get your ideas across in the least amount of words possible. Don’t waffle. The short story allows a writer to do this but it also makes demands on the writer that a novel does not. You can take three or four pages in a novel to describe action or characters. You can’t take that time in a short story. Everything has to happen quicker and yet still retain that smoothness so the reader doesn’t back out of the story. It is a task that many shy away from but one that the authors of the tales in this anthology have embraced.
There is a danger that a short horror story can end up as just a prolonged sick joke and I must confess that is sometimes one of my failings when it comes to this medium. Everything builds to that one single pay-off line sometimes. If it works, it works beautifully. If it doesn’t it’s clumsy and contrived and horror should never be contrived. It should flow, straight from the mind (possibly warped and twisted) of the writer onto the page and into the consciousness of the reader.
That is what the writers of these stories have done so well. I’ve been asked many times during my writing career what the purpose of horror really is and I’ve always said the same thing. It should be to scare the hell out of the reader. People don’t pick up a horror story because they want a good laugh (not even the really bad ones!). They choose horror because they want to be scared. They want to be shocked. They want to be challenged. It’s a genre where there are no limits. No restraints on your imagination as a writer or reader. Anything goes.
You can be transported to some dingy old house, a dungeon in a faroff castle, a tomb in a long-forgotten cemetery, an abandoned hospital or prison, a menacing waxworks or some underground tunnel somewhere and you look forward to that trip. You relish the horrors the author has in store for you. You want to be forced to see things you’d never normally see outside your worst nightmares. You relish those images. You savour the horror.
And you love it because it’s all experienced from the safety of your armchair or your bed. You can put the book down when you’re finished and just forget about it. Unless the author has done a particularly good job and then that story stays with you. That image haunts you. That turn of phrase remains stuck in your brain like a splinter in your flesh. But that’s what we all want from horror. We want it to disturb us. To stay with us.
Over the years I’ve had letters from people telling me that my work has given them nightmares, forced them to sleep with the light on and even, in a few instances, caused them to throw up. I always take those comments as compliments. If I’ve got the ability to disturb someone so intently with what I’ve written then I must be doing something right. If you picked up a humorous book you’d want to laugh. If you read a romance you might want to cry so, if you pick up horror, then be prepared for whatever may come your way. It goes with the territory.
So, if you’re sitting up in the middle of the night after reading this collection of stories don’t curse the writers, thank them. They’ve done their job properly. They’ve scared you and they’ve made you think.
You might hate them a little bit for keeping you awake but what the hell. It’s a small price to pay.