October – the month that we usher in the long, dark, autumn nights, culminating in the ghost and ghoul fest that is Halloween. So, you’ll not be surprised to learn that this month’s theme is all about the scary, chilling and goosebump inducing stories that we love to read and be spooked out with.
What then makes for a good spine tingling book? And why do we set out to scare ourselves witless?
My first exposure to fear in books came as a teenager with the horror novels of James Herbert, Stephen King and later Richard Laymon and Dean Koontz. My abiding memory of reading them was the frisson of fear and the thrill in the anticipation of what was on the next page. The next discovery was the early horror novels of Phil Rickman, particularly Crybbe, a great story if you can get hold of a copy. What connected all these books for me was the driving, fast pace coupled with the danger and fear in the situations, creating an impulsive need to read on to the resolution.
But not all scary stories need be fast paced with plenty of action. There are the slow burners, the ghost stories, the supernatural stories that play tricks with your mind and stick with you a long time after you close the book. Think of the classic stories of M.R. James or H.P. Lovecraft, masters of the scary, eerie story. I defy you to read them without a chill running down your back.
One strand that is common in a good scary story is that of isolation. Whether this be an isolated setting such as Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black or Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter (which brilliantly evokes the desolation of being alone just with one’s thoughts and fears) or a character in danger, alone and not knowing what is happening. Of course as a reader you feel exactly the same, experience the same emotions and fears. Once you have that you have found the compulsive hook that keeps you reading on. Graham Joyce’s 2011 novel The Silent Land perfectly portrays the paranoia of being alone and unknowing and, while I wouldn’t call it a horror novel as such, it is definitely one of those books that sticks with you for some time afterwards.
So what works for you? Are you a reader who gets their thrills out of the subtle and spooky ghost story or do you prefer the thrills and danger of the horror story complete with monsters and gore? Have you ever read a book that has left you genuinely frightened or maybe there is a book you have not been able to finish? And please do make sure you let us know your best scary reads. Let’s all get spooked out this month.
Tweet what your reading, our live twitter chat will be on Tuesday 30th October at 8p.m! #NPTscary