Today, from New Zealand, I have Tabatha Wood who talks about writing and why she finds horror important.
Witches Brew – A Recipe For Writing Horror
Why do I write horror? It is a question often asked of me, and one I have asked of myself more than a few times. To most, I appear to be a cheerful and light-hearted person, although perhaps tinged with a slightly Gothic aroma. Why do I take such delight in writing tales of the dark and the distressing? Why create stories that get under the skin of my readers, or that leave them with a nasty aftertaste?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, probably ever since I learned to hold a pen. I tried hard to write the stories that I most wanted to read, the books that I hadn’t yet found. My parents bought me a typewriter and I churned out hundreds of short stories, carefully cutting and pasting them to make books of my own. This was before the dawn of the personal computer, when cut and paste meant literally that. I’ve always believed that good work requires hard work. You have to pour a part of your soul into what you do.
Since my early teens, horror stories have been my favorites. They were the ones I could get lost in. The ones where the survival of the characters was not fully guaranteed. Absolutely anything could happen, and usually did. As a tween I started with an appetizer of Point Horror books, most notably Pike and Stein, then grew fat on a diet of King, Koontz, Barker and Hutson, enjoying every gruesome chunk of plot-twist and gore. It was female authors such as Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice and Daphne du Maurier who made me realize that writing horror was not solely a man’s game.
My early horror stories were monstrous, as in, they almost always focused on actual monsters or ghosts. I hadn’t yet had the life experience to refine my horror-writing palate. I do remember writing one in particular about my childhood toys coming to life, harboring malicious intent. Hardly an original concept, but I utterly terrified my twelve-year-old self. I tore the pages into teeny, tiny pieces and threw them into the bottom of the kitchen garbage bin. No one but me ever read that story, but I realised right then that I had the capacity to scare.
Fast forward a few years and the first books I actually got published were not horror stories; they were academic guides for professionals working in education. I was delighted to be published, but also strangely disappointed. This was not really the kind of writer I had aspired to be.
I fell into writing horror again quite by accident. Growing older, I experienced and recovered from, both mental and physical illness. I realized that horror is not always monsters hiding underneath the bed, or a slavering beast at the door. Horror is also loneliness, doubt, depression and loss. Horror can be being the new girl at the office, knowing no one and drowning in self-doubt. It can be a terminal cancer diagnosis, or the threat of losing a parent or child. For me, horror was waking up every morning with devastating chronic pain, not knowing how I would make it through the day but accepting that I must. I take these concepts and throw them headlong into nightmarish worlds, where no usual or expected rules apply, just to see what new demons emerge. Gender stereotyping tells us that women are allegedly more in touch with their emotions. If this is true, I am happy to admit I use it to my advantage, especially when I really want to chill my readers.
Good horror will leave you with a lingering feeling of unease. An itch in the brain that you can’t quite scratch, but equally you can’t ignore. It should squirm around in your head for a while, leave you still thinking about it for a few days afterwards. When I put my characters in the darkest and most terrible situations, I know that it is often what I don’t tell my readers, that will scare them the most. I recognize that, whilst it might be fun, I don’t have to write about blood and gore to elicit a visceral reaction. What is more frightening; being forced to fight a tentacled creature from Hell, or helplessly watching it steal your only child? As a mother, I know which idea scares me more.
Writing horror gives me the power to get into my reader’s heads and make them question all the things they believe. It’s a recipe I’ve worked hard to perfect. I can take an everyday experience shared by all, stir in a believable character the reader can identify or at least empathize with, add a pinch of the weird, strange, or supernatural, and serve up a truly stomach-churning meal.
Tabatha Wood lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with her husband and two boys. She spends most of her days educating her children at home, and in her free time she writes short stories, online blog articles, and the occasional poem. Her stories are mostly horror, fantasy, and suspense; while her online blog focuses more on her life and experiences in New Zealand.
Outside of writing, she has organised charity events to help promote and support equality and women’s rights; makes and sells her own jewellery; and immerses herself in the world of cosplay−often dressing up as superheroes to help fundraise for a good cause.
She started an online collective in 2017 which promotes using writing and creativity as a tool for positive mental health, and helps run a regular monthly group and workshops to support other female writers in Wellington. She enjoys writing pieces which challenge the way people think, or offer a fresh perspective on the world.
She is currently working on a collection of short horror stories: Dark Winds Over Wellington: Chilling Tales of the Weird & the Strange due to be published in March 2019 by Wild Wood Books.