Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Guest author Gary William Murning: Visiting an Old Friend
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" and is available here and from all good bookstores.
My first real introduction to the world of books, the one that made me want to write, occurred in the late 1970s, early 1980s when I first stumbled across horror writers like Stephen King, Peter Straub, William Peter Blatty and the lesser-known but extremely imaginative Ray Russell. These, among others, were the gentleman who fired my imagination, took me into worlds that seemed real beyond belief (in spite of their vampires and daemons), and who helped me see that writing was not something reserved for the intelligentsia—for college graduates, gentlemen with bifocals and pipes or well-read but very plain ladies in twinsets. Through their entertaining and, yes, sometimes very thought-provoking work, I discovered the compulsion to write—the driving force that hasn't left me since and which has, on the whole, taken me far beyond the horror genre into territories then unimagined.
Wherever our writing might take us, however, those initial formative encounters can't be ignored for too long. Following my early efforts at writing horror fiction—dire attempts, extremely derivative and often rejected with phrases like "you have a lot to learn about the narrative form"—I found as my ability developed a love for other forms of fiction, trying my hand at tragicomedy and realising that I was (at that time, at least) better suited to writing in other genres. Nonetheless, it was horror fiction that paved the way—and as I was recently compelled to revisit my old, much maligned friend with my latest novel The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, I thought I'd today like to talk about the value of horror/dark fiction and, briefly, why we need it.
The most idyllic childhood is often a very dark place. During daylight hours, all is often ostensibly well. The sun shines (I'm from the UK, so I use the phrase in its loosest possible sense), the world and the people around you generally do what they're supposed to and the rules seem very much well set. And then night-time comes along with its darkness and witch-finger shadows and its seemingly unending opportunity to dream …
In the imagination, not only of the child, but of adults, many daemons lurk and cackle. I'm quite sure I don't need to explore the specific natures of such forces. If we haven't experienced them ourselves, we most surely know someone who has—and perhaps the one thing that makes so many of these real-life horrors so terrifying is the struggle faced in finding some kind of resolution.
The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts it seems fair to say that this was my most important discovery (or rediscovery—because I was only articulating ideas grasped intuitively all those years ago); horror fiction often takes us into the most shocking and disturbing of places but, at its best, it offers something that in one form or another provides a kind of understanding, an order from the chaos that so often reassures. At times almost biblical in its good versus evil battle, the genre allows the reader to explore—in a safe, controlled environment—that which he or she might otherwise hide away in some dusty, repressive corner of his or her mind.
Cathartic? Maybe not—not in any obvious, clinical sense. Nevertheless, horror serves a purpose. Its heritage, with the likes of Matthew Gregory Lewis, Mary Shelley, Henry James and others all trying their hands at it at one time or another, is a fine and, I would argue, respectable one. So often tainted by its image of a genre purely associated with unthinking violence and limitless gore, it is in fact—in many cases—a creative arena of exploration and cultural analysis.
Horror is a mirror held up to the face of the societies we inhabit. The reflections may often be distorted and misty but I for one considered myself fortunate to see myself in its images, and to return—however briefly—to its analytical gaze whilst writing The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts.