Mark Edwards on how classic horror novels inspired his latest thriller – detailing his love of horror movies and how he was inspired to add a horror twist to his new book.
My love of horror started when I was too young for such things. My mum brought home a copy of James Herbert’s The Fog from the library. The blurb on the back was irresistible: ‘For goodness sake, don’t leave this on Aunt Edna’s chair’. I sneaked off and read it. I was nine years old.
Over the next few years I secretly consumed scary films on the black and white portable TV in my room. Classic movies featuring vampire dogs (Zoltan, Hound of Dracula) and terrifying aliens (Invasion of the Bodysnatchers), which always seemed to be on BBC2. I loved The Quatermass Experiment and Day of the Triffids, along with the gory and melodramatic Hammer House of Horror TV series. When I began to write my own dark short stories as a child, they were basically rewrites of gruesome things I’d seen on TV. My teachers were surprisingly nonplussed. As a teenager, I watched hired movies like An American Werewolf in London, The Evil Dead, and some truly traumatising Italian zombie films that have stayed with me thirty-five years later. My friends and I hoovered them up in the same way kids today consume YouTube videos.
Shortly after that I discovered Stephen King. The first one I read was Salem’s Lot, quickly going on to read everything he’d written. I worked my way through James Herbert’s backlist too, along with numerous trashy pulp novels featuring killer slugs and crabs. A little later I moved on to Clive Barker, while still keeping up with the latest horror films.
When I started writing seriously in my early twenties I had tried my hand at literary fiction, and initially tried to create something ‘worthy’ and ‘serious’ to my young mind. But no matter what I wrote, darkness and horror kept creeping into my work. I could hardly go ten pages without somebody dying or at least being scared silly.
These days, I write psychological thrillers but there are still strong echoes of those early influences in my books. In my new novel, The Retreat, a horror writer (my alter ego, perhaps) visits a creepy writer’s retreat in North Wales and investigates the disappearance of a young girl. All kinds of strange events occur: the protagonist hears a child singing through the walls, birthday candles extinguish themselves, and locals talk about a witch who lives in the woods and steals children.
But, as with my other books, this is not a supernatural novel. Like the hero of The Retreat, I don’t believe in ghosts and ghoulies. I like to play with the tropes of classic horror, targeting readers’ most innate fears, but provide a rational explanation. Although I am still influenced by everything I read and watched when I was young, the horror I write is firmly rooted in the real world. In The Retreat, and my other books, the monsters in the end are not vampires or spirits or demons. They’re people, which are potentially scarier than anything else. But my main aim is to make readers feel that delicious tingle down the spine; the same feeling I got when I picked up my first horror novel all those years ago.
The Retreat by Mark Edwards is publshed by Thomas & Mercer