Middlesborough-based author GARY WILLIAM MURNING discusses how watching and reading horror made him the writer he is today.
In many respects, I was fortunate to grow up during a time when horror was, arguably, at its high point — if not in terms of quality then, at least, in terms of quantity. The old black-and-white classics were shown on television in late Saturday night double bills alongside vivid Hammer horror masterpieces (with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and busty maidens galore), and new novels and films like The Exorcist were causing outrage and protest left, right and centre. It was a wonderful climate for a nine-year-old kid with a vivid imagination and a fascination for all things dark and spooky.
Like many of my peers, I found a peculiar kind of security in dark fiction. In retrospect, it helped put the at times quite scary “real world” around me in its place, and I took simple solace in the escape provided by a world where toothy, parasitical types could be fended off with a quick wave of a crucifix. For me, the scares were made all the more enjoyable because the ever reliable formulas reassured.
And so it always surprised me when, in my early teens, some adults expressed shock at the fact that I would, whilst reading To Kill a Mockingbird at school, be reading Ray Russell’s Incubus at home (a novel that Stephen King once described as “overripe”—Incubus that is, not To Kill a Mockingbird!) A novel that was terrifying in its sexual violence, it struck me as pretty bizarre that some might consider it potentially harmful! Had they read the novel—and all those others I so loved by Stephen King, Peter Straub, William Peter Blatty and, later, Clive Barker—they might just have grasped that there was so much more going on in these works than their often gaudy and gory covers suggested.
Everything else aside, horror fiction imbued me with a love of the written word that I might otherwise never have had. It took me to places that fired my imagination but also helped me better understand the world around me. Real-life horrors were given manageable forms and I didn’t feel—when lost within those pages and reels of celluloid —anywhere near the misfit I sometimes considered myself to be.
More than this, though, horror helped me become what I am today. The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, my latest novel and my first horror novel since those early efforts that were rejected many moons ago, would never have been written—but neither would my non-horror fiction. Had it not been for those Saturday night double bills, where Bela Lugosi was followed by some Hammer delight featuring Ingrid Pitt or Marie Devereaux, my latent love of storytelling may have gone undiscovered.
Harmful? A danger to a malleable young mind? No. As much as some might argue to the contrary—it didn’t do me any harm.
GARY WILLIAM MURNING lives in the north-east of England and has published three novels to date. His third novel, The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, has been described as “a complex supernatural thriller […] to be savoured”.