Your Fears – Defined.

When someone says the word “define” to me my stomach knots. When it is followed by the ever faithful “in your own words” a bile sets into my mouth. Yet today, I was asked to do just that – to “define” horror, as a genre or otherwise, “in my own words”.

Up until that moment I had never thought of the definition of what has become throughout the course of my life one of the most influential and poignant tools to not only my writing but in turn, to my view of the world and its inhabitants.

Horror is widely perceived to offer the consumer one thing – cheap thrills. Anything deeper, or darker, than superficial (and mostly superfluous) entertainment usually brings about a completely different genre definition – Dracula for example. I would not define Dracula as horror, for the intimidating elements of Bram Stoker’s classic are not the defining characteristics of what has made it so timeless. It is erotic, thought provoking and two steps away from absurd at times. It’s the ultimate anti-hero tale that just so happens to be set against a spooky canvas with some devilish undertones.

Those of you who know me (and have read some of my rants on here) will be expecting one name to drop now – Stephen King. How you ask, can I write anything about, well anything, without somehow bringing the King into it? Well my friends, you know me well, because I am going to drop his name right now.

I do not perceive what the King writes to be “horror” in any traditional sense of the word, and those of you who are learned enough to have read beyond “It” and “Misery” will know why I say this. I can think of more books that the King has given us that have no supernatural elements whatsoever, that scarred my mind and played with my heart for longer than even his most sickly tales of textbook gore.

Three words – The Bachman Books. A compilation of stories published between 1977 and 1982 all of which are void of the standard boundaries of horror writing as we know it. (*Disclaimer – I refer to the four short stories published in the compilation The Bachman Books and do not include “Thinner” (1984) in the next series of statements (PS. Brackets inside brackets rock! :P)).

“Rage” (1977), “The Long Walk” (1979), “Roadwork” (1981) and “The Running Man” (1982) – These are my examples and if you have not read them, then you have no earthly business here so please move along, long days and pleasant nights to you J

For those of you that remain these stories are in my mind offer some of the most notable and defining characteristics of horror and still to this day haunt my mind from time to time like no others. They have no supernatural beings, no demons in hoods or inbred super humans with chainsaws – all they have is real people, in real (and some would say unthinkable) circumstances. Because at the end of if it all, is that not what we are afraid of most as human beings? The REAL horror?

We are told from the time we can remember that the things that scare us as children are A) not real or B) not threatening – or sometimes both. Therefore we starve that fear within ourselves and no longer as adults find the vampires, ghosts and ghouls of time gone by intimidating anymore. This is a double edged blade in many ways. It allows us to grow up (reasonably) well adjusted as an adult afraid of such childish notions is frowned upon – but the sharper side of that blade is that it desensitizes us to the things we SHOULD live in fear of and paints our world an shade of magnolia.

We should fear the ordinary, the mundane and the dreary that sap at our souls and eat away at our subconscious. We should fear each and everyday being the same, repetition leading to passivity. To be passive, about anything, is a disease. To be passive is to be dead on the inside, if not on the outside too. So we starve the fear of childhood and replace it with the fears of adulthood.

If you were to ask a grown man in the street which do you fear more – a dinosaur coming through your bedroom window and eating you and your wife while you sleep in your overpriced linens, OR lets say life strangling monetary debt? I cannot make any guarantees in this life, for I am not Yoda, but I would bet my breeches on the latter being more scary to anyone “normal” in this day and age.

One simple fact makes this so – debt is real, dinosaurs are not (sad face). Therefore you must ask yourself, as our fears change due to social, political, economical and a whole lot of other -cal unrest in the world, does this not in turn, change the definition of horror?

As adults we fear our cars not starting more than psychopathic clowns lurking in the bushes with razors for teeth. We fear maxing out our credit cards and then dealing with grossly inflated repayments, more so than we fear faceless monsters under our beds at night. We guard our houses with alarms and flashing lights to ward off burglars, feeling no need to have a barrage of crosses and garlic hanging by our front doors to ward off vampires.

The fear of a child is a beautiful, endearing and natural being that should be starved for the sanity of said child. As a person whom read her first King novel at the tender age of eleven, I can vouch for this. We forget that those children, whom starve their fears until they have no strength to scare them anymore, never quite have the ability to kill them completely. They therefore carry these fears into adulthood – that’s when it gets interesting.

Authors are duty bound to make you feel what they are portraying in their prose. To make someone swoon at a love story, cringe at a war crime, or feel empathy towards a lonely old spinster in a wedding dress – these emotions are easy to capture, as love, guilt, hurt, empathy – they are all emotions we are allowed to express as adults. Mummy and Daddy are however, not so easily entitled to fear as their children are.

To make Mummy and Daddy look over their shoulder when they are walking home from work, for fear of what lurks in the sewer grates beneath their feet, to make Mummy and Daddy get into bed before turning off the light at night, for fear of what may grab their bare feet from under the bed in the process – to make Mummy and Daddy’s hearts beat in their throat until they feel as though the bastard were physically trying to climb out of their mouths – this is the power of horror, because when it comes down to it, the things we are afraid of never change, just our willingness to address them.

If as a writer you can force people to address the things inside themselves that they forget they were afraid of so long ago, to make them look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what they would do if they actually did find themselves in palaver with a clown with razors for teeth, you are in turn forcing them to question their own psyches and again, as a result – their own humanity.

To make a credit card seem small, to make a deadline at work seem frivolous, to render Christmas with the in-laws worry free, by replacing these fears with those childish notions of fright – to make an adult face that child within them – opens so many doors, the draught alone may cause a complete overhaul of that persons life. It has the power to change them.

If you are capable of doing this, then my friends you will have marked the earth for eternity, for when human beings die, they leave behind headstones but when legends pass on – they leave behind legacies, that long outlive even the stone that upon which the mere mortals of this world will all inevitably carve their epitaphs.

The Heart of a Child.

When I look back at my life as a (hopefully) old woman, I want to know that I did all the wrong things for all the right reasons. There are things I wanted five years ago that seem to me now, better left as pipe dreams, the ramblings of an over imaginative teenage mind. However, the dreams I do still possess would seem that way to most of you reading this were I to tell you what those dreams were, but in all honesty, have you achieved your dreams?

When you were a kid did you say to your friends –

I want a job where I sit behind a desk all day in a polyester uniform and fluorescent tubing illuminating the depravity of the stale magnolia room that I call my workplace. I want a nondescript dog with an equally pallid human name, because after all animals are my “babies”. I want to sit in traffic all morning listening to Traffic FM, looking out at all the other tired faces stuck in the rush. I want to mix all my liquor with lemonade because it is not acceptable in polite company to drink anything stronger than a beer without a mixer. I want to complain about how busy my life is, when in actual fact I lay awake at night with stomach cramps and tears in my throat, at the thought of how bitterly boring my life really is. I want to read nice books, watch nice films and wear nice clothes. I want to donate my three pound a month to charity and sleep better at night knowing that I am helping “the less fortunate”. I want to raise three blonde haired, blue eyed children who all end up with a degree, a car, a spouse of the opposite sex and three more identical children each, replicating the uniform of perfection for the generations to come. I want to paint my nails in neutral translucent polishes because anything other than that is garish and offensive to taste. I want to vote for the same politicians year after year because partisanship is what made this country great. I want to make love once or twice a week, always in my bed and always for a certain amount of time. I want to live for my package holidays in Spain where I can let my hair down for a couple of weeks and drink wine with my lunch. I want to drive a car that has more buttons and knobs that I know what to do with, but will turn heads when I pull up in the car park. I want to do all my shopping at farm stores and local venues, because I support my community. I want to hold my chin up high and give the youths that pass me wearing torn jeans and lip rings, my best “I’m-not-afraid-of-you” look. I want to wake up at half past five in the morning on a Sunday and trawl round car boot sales, to fill my house with other people’s unwanted shit. I don’t want to get involved in people’s problems and a fight on the street is none of my business. I want to be able to wear a Winnie The Pooh watch as a forty year old woman because Winnie The Pooh is timeless. I want the highlight of my year to be a meal round the table with the relatives that could make it, while the real pine Christmas tree sparkles in the corner of the room and no one finishes what they put on their plate. I want to live a long and happy life, knowing that I made ripples in the waters of life.

I want to be normal.

Kids never aim to do any of these things and yet the adults they evolve into seem to fall neatly into many of the beige compartments of conformity and why? Because your parents and their parents before them, know the dangers of making waves instead of ripples. They train you to reach for the stars and ignore what lies beyond it. They tell you that you need a job, a spouse and three perfectly formed children to match you perfectly formed people carrier that sits in its cradle outside your perfectly formed house. They do not train you in this way because they want you to be normal, heavens no.

They would love you to be the astronaut that occupied your vocational mind between the ages of five and six, or to actually be able to make a living from playing your twanging guitar – they would love you to be able to accomplish it because they too, would have wanted to be able to live that life. They do however, know more than you ever will, and by the time you leave home they only want one thing for you and it is not the stars, the fast cars or the endless mountains of cash – its security.

At the end of it all that’s all any parent wants for their children and if it means falling into the land of the beige and living a good, clean and honest life to achieve a low blood pressure and a calming existence then why wouldn’t a parent wish this life upon their children? I don’t care for my daughters blood pressure. I don’t care for the colour of her life. I don’t care for the money she will one day have in the bank. I don’t care if my daughter remains a rolling stone her entire life – I care about her heart.

If my daughter wakes up in the morning with a smile on her face, goes to bed at night with the same expression and does exactly what she wants to do in between I can honestly say I would sleep content in my old age knowing that she never gave in. I want her to bleed, to cry, to push and to writhe with want. I want her to want something that bad that she never gives up, that she keeps pushing through the mind numbing boredom of the beige compartments until she gets it. I don’t want her to settle for anything less than her childish notions of happiness, because at the end of it all – isn’t that when we are at our best?

Being an adult is an amazing time of life and the responsibilities that come with being an adult do nothing but enrich our outlook on the world. But if you can maintain the childish qualities of dream keeping and balance it with the adult duty of book keeping, if you can still comfortably climb a tree without fearing what other parents in the playground may think of you, if you can still build a fort in the living room on a Saturday morning with Pokemon on the television, eating toast wrapped in blankets without pausing for a moment to worry about what might stain and what might crease – then you have achieved as close to nirvana as one would dare to find in this century.

When push comes to shove all we want is to be happy and in turn its all we want for our children, but happiness does not come from a catalogue or in a pay cheque. True, unadulterated, fiercely beautiful happiness comes from one overlooked and underrated place within ourselves. It is a place that most forget is even contained inside us. There are people in the world who would kill to have this place etched out in their histories and in their blood and bone beings. It is the place that so many people before us fought and died to preserve and it is the only place that will bring you any real joy.

There is a place inside you that holds your freedom. Your freedom to do what you please, when you please and how you want to do it. See the world through your adult eyes – assess risks, pay bills, go to work, remember birthdays – but feel the world with a child’s heart. In between these places you will find yourself truly free and in return inexplicably and fundamentally happy.

When my daughter asks me what I want her to be when she grows up I will smile and touch her soft, curly brown hair. She will look at me like I have officially lost the last of my marbles when I respond –

“You.” If I have done my job correctly, she will understand exactly what I mean. I may even get a hug.

Her Song.

As a child, I had a lot of friends. Now looking back on it I don’t think that this was an accident. My parents made it impossible for me not to have friends. I started school a year early, when I was three as opposed to the accustomed four, as I was the fifth of the six children and the gap between my younger brother and I stands at just two years. So the head teacher, a man named Mr Jones whom I still hold in high regard, suggested starting little Veronika a year early to let my Ma have some time at home with my brother Phillip who would have been one at the time.

So I went to school before anyone else and watched at the end of that first year as the friends I had made went up into “big school” and I stayed behind in the nursery block waiting to see who I would get to make the journey with. I grew to have a close group of seven or eight friends, the majority male as I preferred wrestling to hair braiding. I also kept some friends in the year above me and therefore, aside from the teachers knowing me and my family well simply for the expanse of Harper children that they had educated, I had a pretty sociable start in life.

I went to Brownies every Monday and made my way through the ranks, even had my own special badge made for me as there was no badge for girls who attended Brownie camp three times (my birthday is in August, so I managed to squeeze that third time out before they booted me up to Guides!) and Brown Owl, a lovely lady by the name of Margot who used to spread brown sauce on her toast in the mornings at camp, cried when I eventually left. I had some really wonderful times there, and made plenty of friends.

Sunday school on a Sunday, Bible club on a Wednesday, swimming, camping, later art clubs and science clubs (and more Bible clubs!) even landing me with a Crest award at the age of eleven (they used to matter, now people don’t know what they are!). I was head of the debate team my first year of secondary school and I headed up many other bits and bobs through out my early adolescence, all safe in the knowledge that I was confident, reasonably popular in the more unpopular places, and that I had friends that had known me since I still had baby teeth.

Then something changed. My parents got divorced and I, along with my little brother now ten years old, was ripped from the bosom of my socially exalted little town in Hertfordshire and plonked rather randomly in a leafy suburb of Surrey, known as Weybridge. And I didn’t know a soul.

It didn’t take me long to realise that maybe, just maybe, this loneliness wasn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed having the time to myself with no clubs or concerts or choirs to participate in. I liked the fact that when I walked into my new school, no body needed to know that I was head of the Bible club or that my Ma had a rather fancy looking Crest award hanging in her hallway with my name on it. I could be whomever I liked, because unlike the little town I was socialised in, this town didn’t have a clue who I was, or who my family was. I was allowed then to either fade into the distance with a novel in my hand or set fire to the system with, er, well, a novel in my hand. Books are friends for life.

This anonymity and the power that came with it got me into a lot of hot water, that’s for sure. But at the end of it all when I look back with a daughter of my own, whom like her mother, hasn’t had the very best of anything in life and a few curve balls thrown for her tiny hands to catch even in her short life, I wonder whether or not I did the right thing by not sending to her nursery or forcing her into baby groups and the like. Because I didn’t. Oh no, Molly has been with me since the day she was born (barring work of course) and if I knew how to divide anything by anything, I would have home-schooled her for sure. But we need maths apparently. Numbers aren’t my strong point, so I couldn’t tell you why we need them exactly.

Anyway it was the idea of Molly becoming a member of society, a number and a name on a register, a child on the books so to speak, before she even knew where her nose was that sat unsteady with me. And like I’ve said, I was a very sociable child and I did all the things back in the early nineties that babies and toddlers and young children still do now – the clubs, the contests, the camaraderie – but I didn’t choose to do it. This is where I kept coming unstuck with my own child when it came to putting her out there, into the big, bad world.

The vast majority of friends in my life – I’ve never chosen. They have been lumped with me because they had the misfortune of being put next to me in a seating plan or deemed a suitable friend because I met them in a club that loosely grouped together a general plethora of freaks and geeks, all with vaguely similar interests. None of my friends liked Bryan Adams or Elvis Presley, and the amount of times I got asked who “the fat man” was on my walls still angers me today. (It was Meatloaf by the way.) Most of them didn’t read the books I read, if they read at all, and almost none of them knew what it was like to grow up in a tragically dysfunctional family that was full of love, and laughter, and anger (passion, as my Ma would say). None of them knew me.

I look back on it now as an adult who can and does choose her friends, wondering now whether or not I would have picked the friends I had as a kid, now that I am older and realise that friends are, for the most part, more work than they’re worth. Let’s just face it shall we? We’re all grown ups here and most of us usually end up with one real, solid friend that carries over from school into real adult life. One. Out of the thirty or so you amass by the end of your time in that bastard place. One.

And you know why that is? It’s because you didn’t choose them. The system gave you those friends, the years aligned and made sure that you would in the same class, year group, school as them. You weren’t friends in the sense of the word now that you pay taxes and buy your own cigarettes instead of pinching them form your parents. They were friends born out of necessity. The necessity not to be alone.

But where is it written that we can’t be alone? We’re born into a house full of people, we see them everywhere – in the street, on the television, in magazines and newspapers, our neighbours, our teachers, our parents, our siblings, our distant and immediate families, and the friends of those who already have them – we’re not (or at least I hope not) locked in boxes the second we dance ourselves out of the womb and only allowed out when there is a baby group about to socialise us in. There are peopleeverywhere and there always will be.

So why do we feel the need to build these social constructs for our children so early in life? How does it possibly make sense to expose children to opinion before they have learned fact? To show them how horrible people are before they can comprehend how good they can be? And how does it make sense to hand your baby, toddler, child over to a group of complete strangers (barring when you have to work of course) so you can saunter down to the café and complain about the world with similarly like minded “friends” that you have collected over cups of horrid coffee whilst your children wonder where the hell their mother has gone? To me, none of it makes a whole heap of sense. And I am speaking as a “socialised” child.

I wasn’t locked in a box, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather have been at home with my Ma and my brothers and sisters when I was spending time at a friends house. I’d also be lying if I didn’t state now and in no uncertain terms, that I didn’t have a child to give her away at the first available opportunity. I had a child because God has a cruel sense of humour and decided to test me with the most impossible yet amazing little person I have ever met. She is not the worlds to teach. She is mine to teach. How can I raise her with any other view point of the world other than my own when in the end, I only have my eyes to see it with and my experience to draw from?

I don’t care if my daughter grows up socially awkward and introvert, and to be frank, I don’t care if I get blamed for not “socialising” her when she was smaller, because at the end of the it all, when you strip away all the shoulds and coulds of parenting you are left with one overwhelming fact of nature, that my Ma learned herself the hard way. And that is that it doesn’t matter what you do and how hard you try to make a child be a certain way, their personalities regardless of their upbringings, will end up winning in the end.

I have had hundreds of friends in my life due to these social activities and the like. And now, in my twenties and a mother myself, I can count on one hand the people who remember my birthday or know what my favourite colour is. And three of them are my Ma, my sister and my brother. I didn’t even need to leave the house for some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

And another of these best of friends is my daughter who is a living, breathing testament to how she’s been raised, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer. And however she turns out, angry and angst ridden, or calm and confident, I will know, as will she, that she is the person she was meant to be and I will be able to sleep well as an old lady knowing that my daughter knew exactly who she was long before she was told who she was.

And when she feels it just to make her stand, I know she will do it on her own two feet and not propped up by a world of fools that in hindsight will seem like bad dreams. And she’ll know her song well, before she starts singing.

And maybe, just maybe, she’ll skip the horror of hitting puberty and not knowing who the hell she is. Because she’ll already know. From the start.