“Why do you write scary stories?”
That was a question I was asked during a recent school visit. It’s a good question too. Why do I?
Well, I think it’s because when I was growing up I liked being scared – at least while reading books. I loved monster books. The scarier the better. Mythological monsters. Gothic monsters. Even silly monsters. In fact, one of my favourite comics was Monster Fun, packed full of gigglesome ghosts and manic monstrosities.
Oh, and of course, there was Doctor Who. How could I be a fan of the good Doctor without loving monsters?
Is it really that surprising that I wanted to tell scary stories when I became a writer?
But there’s another question that I think we should ask – why do people like being scared? Why do we read scary stories or watch scary films?
I think there are a number of reasons. Scary stories are exciting, they keep you turning those pages. They make your heart beat that little bit faster, your eyes wide, waiting for the next thrill. There’s an addictive quality there, as well as a familiarity. You want the scares to be bigger every time, the chills spookier. You start to think to recognise the signs, think that you know where the scares are going to come, and the writer surprises you, making you jump when you least expect it.
But above all, I think we like scary stories because they help us deal with being scared. It’s why we ride rollercoasters too. They push us to the limit, and we scream our heads off, but we’re strapped in, safe and sound. Nothing bad is going to happen to us, not really, even though it feels like it might.
Scary stories show us that it’s all right to be frightened, and teach us how to deal with it. They’re the nightmares we choose to experience, the terrors we choose to embrace. And then they finish, and we close the book, or walk out of the cinema, or switch off the telly. We know they’re not real, but they help us cope with what scares us in everyday life.
Oh, and the monsters are usually kind of cool too.