It’s Thanksgiving here in Canada and we at the Library are thankful for many things – good friends, good food, good health, good healthcare (forget that nonsense Trump spouted at last night’s debate) – but we should aim to keep things bookish, so let’s just say: Currently, we’re thankful for female horror writers and all those who work toward greater diversity in our genre, in general.
Which brings us to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween, and what better way to express the above sentiment than to share an interview with fellow Canuck and award-winning author Gemma Files?
Gemma was born in England and raised in Toronto, Canada. She’s the author of the Weird Western trilogy, the Hexslinger series (ChiZine Publications), a horror story cycle (We Will All Go Down Together: Stories of the Five-Family Coven, also from ChiZine), two collections of short horror fiction and two chapbooks of speculative poetry. Her most recent novel, Experimental Film, won both the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award and the 2015 Sunburst Award for Best Novel.
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31 Days of Halloween… with GEMMA FILES
Describe a time when a scene in a horror novel really unnerved you or caused you to turn on all the lights.
I am notoriously easy to creep out, just like I’m notoriously easy to make mist up—it’s one of the main reasons that Hollywood-style tearjerking sentiment in movies was a serious annoyance to me, back when I was a film critic. As I’ve admitted before, I also used to scare myself into fits as a child by reading the back cover copy on James Herbert novels in the supermarket line while my Mom was paying for groceries (whoever wrote the summary for The Survivor‘s original 1976 edition has a lot to answer for) and old issues of Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery from Gold Key comics, which often ended with the protagonists being converted into cartoony, transparent Haunted Mansion-style ghosts; I once lay awake for a week after watching the end of the Laurence Olivier version of Wuthering Heights. So the first scenes I remember creeping me out were quite probably ones I was half responsible for myself, stuff I made up in my head…but the thing that springs most easily to mind is a moment in L.M. Boston’s An Enemy At Green Knowe when the abominable Dr Vogel, a 17th-century tutor suspected of being a warlock, is observed gathering “herbs or moths or snakes” alone at night on the water meadows behind the titular mansion; “He was not alone,” the text assures us. “You couldn’t rightly tell what it was. It could have been a white hare larger than life. It ran in circles. It danced upright and made sudden swoops.” It’s a very M.R. James scenario, though I don’t think I’d read any James at that point. Later, however, that pride of place was definitely usurped by Stephen King, particularly in Salem’s Lot: the scene in the graveyard, where darkness overtakes the man burying Danny Glick’s coffin, or the scene in which Straker offers Ralphie Glick as a sacrifice to infernal powers (Oh my father, favour me now/I have brought you meat and drink, with my left hand I bring it…). The scene in which Mike Ryerson’s corpse reanimates is driven by a sense of sheer black awfulness, of physical reality being infected by some terrible force that makes it suddenly run backwards; it still makes me shudder just to think of it.
What’s the scariest scene and/or book you yourself have written?
I was genuinely off-put while writing down my initial notes for a short story called “That Place,” first printed in Letters to Lovecraft, an anthology of tales inspired by quotes from H.P. Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (ed. Jesse Bullington), and that feeling recurred while I was writing the piece itself. Maybe it’s because I felt as though the whole thing had been somehow dictated to me by forces beyond my control, that it had simply come trickling into my head through some weird kid of crack into a darker world. This is absolutely no guarantee that anybody who reads it will feel the same, obviously, but the whole thing sort of makes my back ruck, even now. This is definitely one of those “evil Narnia” stories I occasionally find myself stumbling over, hopefully evocative of the sort of dread I felt when reading Allan Garner’s Elidor and The Moon of Gomrath or William Sleator’s Blackbriar.
Learn more about Gemma (and buy her books!) at http://chizinepub.com/author/gemmafiles