Today the Library is thrilled to welcome another long-time friend and colleague to our 31 Days of Halloween discussions: Brian J. Showers, who just successfully pulled off the inaugural edition of the Dublin Ghost Story Festival.
But that’s far from his only achievement, his work in horror literature is plentiful and lauded, as his bio attests:
Brian has written short stories, articles, interviews, and reviews for magazines such as Rue Morgue, Supernatural Tales, Ghosts & Scholars, and Wormwood. His collection The Bleeding Horse won the Children of the Night Award in 2008. He is also the author of Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin; and, with Gary W. Crawford and Jim Rockhill, he co-edited the Stoker Award-nominated Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu. The anthology Dreams of Shadow and Smoke, co-edited with Jim Rockhill, won the Ghost Story Award for best book in 2014. Showers also edits The Green Book, a journal devoted to Irish writers of the fantastic; and runs the imprint Swan River Press, Ireland’s only publishing house dedicated to literature of the gothic, strange, and supernatural.
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31 Days of Halloween… with Brian J. Showers
Describe a time when a scene in a horror novel really unnerved you or caused you to turn on all the lights.
I don’t want to give too cliché an answer, but I think one of the most horrific scenes in all of horror literature is the dog chapter in I Am Legend (1954). Without giving away too much in case someone reading this hasn’t read the novel, Richard Matheson masterfully couches a recognisable emotion (the loss of a beloved pet) against the backdrop of a far more fantastical nightmare. The vampires never disturbed me that much, but that situation of losing a companion, a loved one, in such a bleak situation is terrifying. Matheson was expert at not allowing the honest emotional elements of his stories get lost in genre convention and window dressing. (Bonus Answer: There’s also a nifty little scene in Anne Rivers Siddon’s The House Next Door (1978), a cracking haunted house novel, in which one of the characters walks into a dark room and feels along the wall for a light switch she knows is there—she’s done it a thousand times before—but this particular time simply can’t find. It’s a wonderfully disturbing moment of uncertainty, and I love that.)
In your opinion, what is the all-time scariest horror novel or short story?
I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: I’m a devoted enthusiast of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland (1908). Where Matheson derives horror from emotional situations, in Borderland Hope Hodgson is far more detached — he diminishes emotion so as to be totally inconsequential, and the human form is hardly a smudge on the cosmic landscape. The framing story, in which a manuscript written by a weird Recluse is found by two fishermen in rural Ireland, sets a scene of eerie and quiet desolation. The first half of the manuscript is an exhilarating siege narrative, with those chthonic swine-things crawling out of the pit and attacking the house. (I’ve always wondered are they actually pig-like, or is that just a convenient short-hand description for something far more unearthly?) And then there’s the second half of the novel, the bit where the Recluse’s consciousness becomes disembodied and he is engulfed by the bigness of the cosmos and the coming of things even larger than that. I know some people don’t like this grand interplanetary vision, but I was struck by the poetry and sheer existential dread of it all. Hope Hodgson’s novel is one that’s stayed with me as a reader. I’m not sure there’s much else in literature quite like it, or at least I’ve been affected by little else in quite the same way as when I first read The House on the Borderland.
What’s the scariest scene and/or book you yourself have written?
I’m not much of a writer, being now more of a publisher of other people’s work, but I have written a few things in the past including a collection, The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories (2008), and a follow-up novella, Old Albert—An Epilogue (2012). What I tried to do with both books — which I personally found effective, but I realise that’s subjective — was create cross-echoes between stories, so that elements and themes from one story showed up in another. I wanted to create a sense of the inescapable and cyclical haunting, and I really hope I did a pretty good job with that.
What is your biggest fear?
I have a theory that there’s a Twilight Zone episode perfectly attuned to each person’s fear. For me, that would have to be the “Mirror Image” episode — that’s the one with Vera Miles in the alone in the bus station and she slowly becomes aware that that’s another version of herself lurking about the place. It’s terrifying and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it. Doppelgängers in general frighten me, so I suppose you could say my biggest fear is either loss of identity or the changing context of identity. (See also “The After Hours” — that’s the episode where Anne Francis visits a department store and ends up on a vacant floor with salespeople that look suspiciously like the mannequins. Man, I’m getting creeped out just thinking about it.)
“Obscure and metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomena. Reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained. Call it ‘parallel planes’ or just ‘insanity’. Whatever it is, you will find it in the Twilight Zone.”
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