I’m a horror guy. I don’t have a choice in the matter. It’s the same way certain people favour savoury or sweet, The Beatles or The Stones. They really don’t know why they prefer those things they just do. It’s either a pre-built thing or an accumulation of a thousand different forces and suggestions from an earlier age. But I’m not writing this to talk about why people like horror. In truth I don’t know why I am writing this or if anyone will be interested in reading it, which is usually how all writing starts. I’m just stating we don’t really have any control over our particular tastes.

Even when I was a young kid I gravitated towards the spooky side of things. Take the holidays of Christmas and Halloween, which stand side by side at the end of the year. Like any kid I loved Christmas, who doesn’t love presents, but Halloween fired my imagination like no other holiday could.

My parents were readers and I suppose that helped as they were keen on encouraging the hobby onto me. I think they just wanted something that would shut me up and calm me down for a few moments, and I don’t blame them. I was a limitless ball of energy as a kid, never content to sit still for long, always racing around imagining this or that. One second I was Batman. The next I was Alan Grant from Jurassic Park. That’s tough for any parent to keep up with, especially after a 12-hour day at work.

But like I said I gravitated to horror from an early age, not just in the pop culture I liked to consume but in my own thoughts. Things like vampires, ghosts, werewolves and zombies were never far from my daydreams. And perhaps like Danny Torrence’s Shining those thoughts worked like a GPS for the type of material that a kid like me would enjoy. I do believe that the right story will find the right person; the person that it is going to mean the most to, even to the point that it changes them in some fundamental way.

I found R.L Stine’s Goosebump series through a friend at the age of nine. Or did they find me? I don’t honestly know, but like I said, if you’re pre-disposed to like a particular thing it’s almost supernatural in how that thing finds you and sets a fire in you. When I discovered the Goosebumps books I was already writing, it was something I discovered in primary school and as my head was already filled with all things monster, I spilled it into countless notebooks and any spare pages left around.

In reading the Goosebumps series I found a direction for my writing. You see before then everything I wrote was a recreation of ideas I’d seen in movies or video games. Ideas that featured main characters that were always adults and oddly American. Goosebumps was about kids, kids that talked and thought like kids while dealing with vampires and mummies and living dolls. It was revelation to me. You mean I could write a story where my friends and I fought the zombies from Night of The Living Dead. That’s when my writing changed from writing about things, I’d seen other people do in movies to writing about my friends.

As much as I loved those Goosebumps books, I could never finish one completely. Nor could I get past four chapters in Harry Potter, or His Dark Materials, or anything else. I was still that wound up ball of energy that couldn’t sit still for very long, which meant I never read a book all the way through even though I loved it. It was the same with my own stories. I never finished them. I once sold a 45-page zombie epic to a kid who was leaving school for a five pounds (my first in the business) at eleven. What I never told him on the day that he was leaving was that it wasn’t complete. In fact, the story stopped mid-sentence. If you think I felt bad about this, I didn’t and still don’t. It’s the monster in me.

Yet, as I went from a child into my pre-teens, continuing to write horror as I did, I think it was clear to my parents I was searching for something. And perhaps that something was the joy of reading. Despite my struggles to read a book in its entirety, I still tried. That’s when my Dad suggested Stephen King. He had read his books around the age of thirteen, along with James Herbert’s, and thought they would appeal to me based on what I liked to write. He wasn’t wrong, and rarely is when it comes to recommending books, music or film.

What made me consider his suggestion even more was I had seen an entire shelf in the local bookstore stacked with dozens of books, all with the word KING written in gold on them. I think I might have even pulled one out, attracted by eerie yet captivating covers. (SEE! THE SHIT WE LIKE FINDS US). But where do you start with Stephen King. This was in 2003, which meant he had a back catalogue of over forty books. So, I did what any kid would do. I asked my Dad, the lexicon of all things pop culture in my life, at least back then. He was the internet before I knew the internet existed. When I did learn about, I thought it was only for pornography, sixteen years later I was still kind of right. He rhythm off a few he could remember Salem’s Lot, The Stand, It and The Shining. That last title stuck out, I had heard it before somewhere. There was a movie called The Shining, something the kids in the playground said was the scariest horror movie of all time, and if they said it that meant it was world famous. I hadn’t seen it yet, again didn’t know the internet existed and if I did it wasn’t the place to watch movies on.

It was the summer of 2003, I had money saved from cutting grass so rather than spend it on sweets and movie tickets I walked down to my local bookstore and bought The Shining. And while it was a hot summer, in which, my parents took us to the coast for two weeks I spent it with the Torrance’s, locked away inside The Overlook Hotel as the snow piled higher and higher outside, entrapping us inside a thing of nightmares.

Danny Torrence was my best friend that summer, even though he was much younger. Like the kids in the Goosebumps books Danny acted, talked and thought like a kid, though having reread it recently I realise he reads like a very intelligent kid, perhaps too much so. But wait he couldn’t single handedly defeat the haunted hotel, even with his psychic powers. He struggled because of his age to understand and articulate things to his parents that were beyond him. And because of his age he was disregarded by his parents and most adults until it’s too late, despite the fact that he knows more than anyone else. I empathised with him, with his frustrations and his love for his parents. What the hell am I reading?

Jack Torrence was the bad guy, an alcoholic, abuser who becomes possessed by the Hotel. But he loved his wife and child. He was flawed and struggling with those flaws to better himself as well as trying to provide for his family. I liked him … but he was the bad guy. What the hell am I reading?

Wendy Torrence was a mother and wife wound to breaking point with worry. She was a woman with her own faults and past. She loved her husband and son. She also loved playing with her son, spending time with her husband, she even loved having sex with him. What the hell am I reading?

And then there was the Overlook itself. I had read haunted hotel/house stories before, even written a few but not like this. The Overlook enforced a slow descent into madness, feeding off of the Torrence’s fears and Danny’s shine, as the weather isolated them further and further. Yes, there were ghosts. The Woman in 217 being the one most people know, but also hedge animals, reanimated wasps, elevators that move in the night filled with confetti and nothing else, blood soaked walls, fire hoses that might be snakes and ghosts from every decade of the hotels existence. These weren’t the blood and guts type of monsters that jump out to feast themselves upon you. These were monsters that wanted to break apart the minds of the novels three characters piece by piece then amalgamate them with the hotels’ other captured spirits. This novel wasn’t just horror, but art of the finest kind. For days after I carried the finished book around with me as if it held some talismanic value. You see I was confused by what I had-just read. I had simply wanted to be entertained, which, I was but I was also challenged in my believes of what is good and what is evil. I also cared about the Torrence’s, enough that Jack Torrence’s final sacrifice saddened me, a feeling that stayed for days. It was a reading experience unlike any other I had had until that point. And I wanted more of it, not just to read. I wanted to write something like this.

I’ve had that experience many times again from novels in multiple different genres but the horror genre is one I always return to. Despite, the gruesome things that sometimes swim in the genre it’s waters have always been the most sweet and satisfying to me. But that’s to be explored another time.

I went back to the bookstore and bought Carrie then Salem’s Lot. When I bought The Stand, unafraid by its 1000 something pages, I realised I had finally become a reader. As well as that I was reading an author whose work was an example of what can be achieved in the telling of a story. Stories were no longer something that were just fun, they held truth as well.

In reading The Shining, in walking into Room 217, I was introduced to the power that the horror story can have. Instead of running, screaming from that room I plunked myself down in a chair and took notes. There’s plenty more in the genre over than King such as Shirley Jackson, Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum to name a few. All with their own unique stories, their truth’s to tell. Whether these stories found me or I found them doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we met because in that meeting my life changed. It began with my writing, of wanting not to recreate stories I liked but tell my own stories while reaching that higher level that The Shining achieved. As my writing changed, my properties in life changed. I had a focus that I never known. I was no longer a ball of energy bouncing randomly from idea to idea but dedicated to writing my own stories that could sit beside those that are the masters of the genre. I wanted to learn, to finish the stories I started and do better next time. I entered into Room 217 at thirteen years old, I haven’t left since.

Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart

Author

Jamie Stewart started writing stories at the age of nine inspired by R.L Stein's Goosebumps series and the Resident Evil franchise that he was far too young to play in hindsight. He is the author of I Hear the Clattering of the Keys and Other Fever Dreams, a collection of horror stories, and Mr. Jones, a coming-age-novel.  He is also the co-editor of Welcome to the Funhouse, a horror anthology for Blood Rites Horror.  He has also self-published four horror novelette’s that have all peaked at Number 1 on Amazon's Best Seller's List and have been reviewed by the Night Worms team.  He has published short stories in SPINE magazine as well as had audio versions made for various podcast such as Into the Gloom and Horror Oasis. 

He can be found on Instagram @jamie.stewart.33 where he reviews and promotes books.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.