Lucky me. Paul Bryers drew on his considerable experience as a film maker and writer on November 17th at the IdeaSpace in Whitechapel Road. (It's really a huge modern library near the Whitechapel tube station) His presentation was called ‘The Art of Horror’.
A range of examples, from Bram Stoker to Stephen King were combined with personal anecdotes. A sense of mischief is essential for a writer of horror, he said, referring not just to Roald Dahl’s short stories but his own childhood game of frightening himself by projecting a shadow with a torch onto his bedroom wall and then walk backwards so it loomed larger and larger.
Location plays a prime role in horror stories, typically the archetypal haunted house, but a landscape can be as eloquent as a building. EdgarAllan Poe lived for a while in nearby Stoke Newington, and projected images of the place were overlaid with quotations that summed up Poe’s feelings when he lived there:
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” He also had ‘tendency to see demons’
According Stephen King: ‘We make up imaginary horrors to help us cope with real ones’. King’s film The Shining, set in a remote hotel in the wilderness of Maine, encouraged Bryers to spend three months there on an Indian reservation whilst preparing to write his own book, a firm believer in the theory that ‘A lot of the things you write about come from places you visit’.
‘The essential of horror is coincidence’, he said mentioning the bizarre road accident that nearly killed King, when he emerged from a wood onto an almost deserted road into the path of a drunken truck driver. ‘Every moment we deal in chaos’
Paradoxically, Bram Stoker found the ingredients for his classic Count Dracula from his Summer holidays in Whitby, where he was inspired by the ruined abbey, and house that suggested the home of solicitor John Harkness, and even two women at his digs who became fictional female victims. He found the idea for his villain from a book about a Russian tyrant called Vlad the Impaler.An exploration of Charles Perrault ‘s (1628-1705) classic fairy tale, Red Riding Hood showed the potent influence of a shape-shifting wolf on writers like Angela Carter, Thomas Harris and Daphne Du Maurier.
The essential ingredients for the writer of horror stories could be summed up as: haunted locations; myths and fairy tales; evil characters; innocent/vulnerable victims; irony; predestination and coincidence; paradox; one’s own life experiences; a sense of mischief.
I’ll definitely be attending this weekend-long festival in 2014 and would recommend the talk if you see it offered elsewhere. It’s the best I’ve seen all year, and especially good for aspiring writers (like me).