Monday, December 06, 2010

12 Deaths of Christmas - A Chainsaw Gang Event

Photo from Harry Snowden's remarkable online portfolio
On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A corpse hanging from a pear tree. 

All of us here at MFB are very excited to be the first stop on the 12 Deaths of Christmas event dreamed up by the Chainsaw Gang after the recent Crystal Palace Children’s Festival.  We had the opportunity to ask the group a set of questions in the spirit of the 12 deaths of Christmas.  Well, the group IS called The Chainsaw Gang! 

Check out the varied answers to my question below. 

My question to the Chainsaw Gang:

When you first started out writing for kids did you think you would end up writing darker / horror fiction than we normally see? And tied into this question, once you were writing it, did you ever think to yourself: I can’t write that, it’s too dark / too scary or too gory for my intended audience?

John Mayhew replies:

I was inspired by traditional ballads and stories, the tale just came out very dark, I didn’t intend them to be. I’m worrying about the hideous pestilent dead things that are shuffling around my latest book and just hoping they won’t be too much. I don’t like to hear that I’ve given someone nightmares…well not much… well… okay, it does give me a tiny bit of a buzz!

William Hussey replies:

I did a bit of research into what I could get away with, and was really surprised (and delighted!) at the level of gore and violence on display! I made a conscious decision early on never to pull my punches with the horror in the Witchfinder books. Kids have very highly-tuned antennae when it comes to being talked down to or patronized. If they think you’re going easy on them because they’re kids they will never forgive you. I leave it to my editor to decide if I’ve gone too far, and I’m happy to report that she has very seldom got out the dreaded red pen!

Sarwat Chadda replies:

I think horror is fairly subjective. I’m a sucker for the old Hammer House of Horror movies that are so melodramatic and over the top that anyone born after 1980 would just laugh. I love the heightened atmosphere and the more operatic style of the best horror tales, where you are off the map and really roaming in unknown territory. I think that’s why I want to write supernatural with the monsters as the great mysterious figures they used to be, that’s what we fear, the weird, alien and unfathomable. Once we take the monsters out of the dark and shine the spot-light on them, they lose their mystery.

That said there are boundaries that I’m wary to cross. Death in stories must have meaning. I don’t write about brutal for brutal’s sake. It’s easy to write something so gross you churn the reader’s stomach but I try and avoid that. The best horror lies in the unseen, what really gets under your skin because the reader creates it himself.

Steve Feasey replies:

I did, and still do, write darker than my books eventually turn out. I also write the books for an older audience than they are aimed at. It’s during the rewrite and edit stage that I tone things down (either through a form of self-censorship, or because my publisher gets nervous about certain elements). I think I like to make myself uncomfortable, and that means I have to explore the things that make me squirm as an adult. If these are a little ‘hardcore’ for my audience, I’m happy to lighten them a bit later on. But I always start out writing ‘nasty’.

Sam Enthoven replies:

I grew up on Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected, M. R. James, Saki and SF anthologies containing weird and terrifying gems like A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber or It's a Good Life by Jerome Bixby. I loved stories that scared me and still do, so I would never hold back. Actually I don't think the question of whether to self-censor or not is the real issue: the real issue when trying to write frightening stories for young people is remembering to choose to write about things that young people find frightening. There are differences, and gore's a prime example: adults find it much more disturbing – or rather, adults tend to get disturbed that young readers don't seem to be disturbed enough by it!

Alex Bell replies:
I’ve never been too worried about the darkness or the goriness but then there’s not a huge amount of that in Lex Trent – although there is danger and death. I think my main worry was that I wouldn’t be allowed to have a teenage protagonist who was also a thief and a liar and a swindler! It sets a bad example for the kids, so I’m told.

Alexander Gordon Smith replies

When I started writing Furnace I just wanted to write something that was as exciting and as terrifying as possible. The thing I’ve always loved about horror – ever since I was a kid – is that it’s really the only genre in writing where literally anything can happen. There are no rules, or at least the rules can be broken and people are willing to suspend their disbelief. In science fiction and fantasy you have to obey the rules of the world you’re creating or it just doesn’t work, but with horror the laws of physics, religion, psychology, geography – everything – are there for you to pull apart however you like. I just started writing the book without knowing what would happen or how dark it would get, accepting that Alex’s story would be as frightening for a reader to read as it was for him to live.
I really did feel like I was just transcribing the events in Alex’s life as they happened, but yes there were definitely times in all five books where I was worried that it had gone too far. There’s a bit in Furnace 4 when somebody – I won’t say who – gets half their face blown off with a grenade, and that was the point when I thought that maybe I should try and tone it down! My editor was fine with it, though, and in the end I decided that as this is the way I’d seen the story unfold, this is the way it should be told. Kids and teenagers have seen a whole lot worse on the television, and at least Furnace has a good heart and a good reason why bad things have to happen. It’s not gore for the sake of gore.

Sarah Silverwood replies:

Because my background is as a horror novelist (and I've just sold the screenplay for a horror film) I knew that whatever I wrote it would be dark. Although The Double-Edged Sword is technically urban fantasy there are some very dark moments - and the second book gets much darker. I never think that something might be too dark for a teenage audience but I probably approach it in a different way than I would for an adult audience - which often makes it creepier. 

Edited to add:

Stephen Deas replies

Yes, I think so. My adult stories are fairly harsh and I don't think I've got it in me to rose-tint things for a younger audience, nor do I think they'd appreciate it. Add to that, The Thief-Taker's Apprentice was originally written as a single book for adults; it happened to fit well with what Gollancz were looking for for their new YA list, but in rewriting it for a YA market, I've not felt any need to change the tone or the language I was already using for adults. Certainly, when I look at what other fantasy is being matketted to the YA audience, mine seems to be much darker and morally murky. 
There was one scene in The Thief-Taker's Apprentice that I changed because it made me uncomfortable to think of my sons, maybe one day reading it, and there is a scene in The Warlock's Shadow which I would have changed for the same reason if hadn't turned out to be superfluous anyway. Both involved the use of knives.
The Gang's next stop is: Mr. Ripley's Enchanted Books.

We'd like to thank the team for these excellent answers - it's given us lots to think about and to enjoy.


Rachel Green said...

You know, my teenager watches more gore and horror than I ever could. The older I get, the less I want that stuff in my head.

Nick Cross said...

As someone who is frequently encouraged by irresponsible children's publishing professionals to put more gore into my books, I say Gore is Great! The darker my work gets, the more people seem to like it. Maybe I started out too cheery?

Candy Gourlay said...

what an exciting start to the tour! thanks for doing this you hoary old gang of bloodbusters!

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

This is very interesting. I like the way you all just write the books you want to write regardless of age range. I think that is what makes them so good.

K M Kelly said...

You can't beat a good bit of horror - my kids love it - I do too :-)

Books Glorious Books said...

Great start to the tour...I absolutely adore horror books!