“Green Tea” and The Horror of Psychological Horror

There are no monsters in real-life, right? No ghosts, vampires or werewolves?

So to avoid being laughed at some supernatural writers choose to go down the psychological route.

Like, for instance, in the short story I have just read called “Green Tea,” written by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (and greatly enjoyed – find the text here.)

In the tale – first published in Charles Dicken’s magazine All the Year Round in 1869 – Jennings, an English clergyman, is haunted by a small spectral monkey that is invisible to everyone else.

The man’s subsequent descent into terror and despair is narrated to us by a physician, Dr Hesselius, who sagely diagnoses two principal reasons as to why his patient’s downfall is possibly self-inflicted.

They are:

1) Jennings is given to excessive consumption of green tea whilst

2) obsessively reading books on paganism into the early hours.

1) The story is called “Green Tea” – indicating that substance’s central role in the tale. At the time it was published British tea-drinking had grown massively in popularity  -but there was still a mistrust of oriental tea growers and packagers – who were often accused of adulterating or contaminating the product. It’s foreign-ness makes the reverend’s favourite beverage suspiciously exotic – and dangerous.

As for 2) the pagan books – Hesselius admits he shares Jennings (at the time relatively novel) interest in non-Christian books – so it hardly seems a reason for life-destroying delusions.

So it seems Jennings hasn’t actually done anything that bad apart from drinking tea and staying up late. Certainly not enough to warrant his terrible hallucinations and torments.

It’s hard to avoid somehow blaming Jennings.

Which is one of the cruel things about this type of psychological horror. Monstrous, even.

The Word Pool

“All speech acts are goal-oriented.”

That phrase lodged itself in my brain during a linguistics lecture I once attended.

Every thing we say, every word, is to achieve some kind of goal.

I’ve found this idea particularly useful when writing dialogue.

When someone speaks there is a pool of alternative words they can to dip into to describe something.

Let’s say a character is talking about children.

They could choose use a variety of descriptions – for instance kid, brat, squirt, rugrat, tyke, urchin or munchkin.

Each choice has a different psychological effect – brat, for instance, has negative connotations – it implies a child is badly behaved.

Of course a character can choose to speak in a responsible, measured, neutral way. But if they are angry, sad or manipulative there are plenty of charged words to scoop out of the vocabulary pool.

Each choice they make is a way of achieving that goal – and laying bare their soul.

An audio version of this blog is available here:

What Our Monsters Can Tell Us

There are monsters around this time of year.

Creatures of folklore and horror fiction.

All of them presumably had creators at some point -people  who had to puzzle and make creative decisions about their monstrous imaginary progeny.

Which made me ask a few rhetorical questions to myself, starting with this one – what kind of monster would you make, if you were writing a story?

What everyday fears would it exploit in your readers?

Would you start by calculating what would scare you the most?

Did something make them a monster? A tragedy, a mistake – or were they just born bad?

Would it be male or female? Why?

Living, dead or undead?

What horrible things would the monster do to its victims?

Would they be guilt-ridden after a bad deed  – or so implacably evil they don’t care?

How does this monster kill people – maybe in the way you would be most afraid to be murdered?

Or are they human, a villain with monstrous qualities – maybe based on a person in your life who you don’t like – a bully from your childhood perhaps.

And would this villain have the surname of a teacher you didn’t like at school – or maybe an annoying work colleague?

Does this person live in a near-derelict house on the outskirts of town?  Or a white picket-fenced house in the leafy suburbs?

I’ll stop now – but you get the drift – the monsters we create in our own imagination tell us a lot about ourselves.

An audio version of this blog is available here:

 

Meet Sci Fi, Fantasy Author Henry Anderson – Interview with Maighread MacKay.

Meet Sci Fi, Fantasy Author Henry Anderson – Interview with Maighread MacKay.

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Welcome to my blog, Henry.

  1. What genre do you write or do you write more than one?

I mainly write science fiction and fantasy.

      2. Why did you choose this genre?

I  think it chose me! W hen I’m writing I’m not too constrained by thinking I’m working  in a specific genre. I don’t consider genre when I buy a book -I ask, “would I enjoy reading it?”  Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a supernatural fantasy story but that doesn’t make it any less profound. Sci fi is as good a place as any to explore life.

     3. What is your latest book?

“The Mouth” is my first novel. I’m very excited it’s being published.

    4. When is it released?

It was released September, 2016.

     5. Who is your target audience?

Everyone!  I hope it appeals to adults and young adults who enjoy adventure.

     6. What do you hope your readers learn from/like about your work?4. 

I think any art, no matter how humble, has to be about something or it won’t  engage the reader. “The Mouth” explores issues like the effects of trauma and the misuse of science. Ultimately though I hope it works as an entertaining adventure story.

     7. Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m an English graduate and former journalist. I’ve always wanted to write fiction. I had cancer recently, from which I’m now in complete remission, and it spurred me into action..

     8. Do you belong to a writing circle/group?

I correspond with quite a few writers online.

     9. If so, what do you like about being in the group?

I like the camaraderie and sharing experiences.

     10. Do you have any new stories on the go?

I’m currently a few thousand words into an urban fantasy about dark secrets in a strange town.

-Thanks to author and artist Maighread MacKay!

Find her at: http://mhefferman.ca/author/my-blog

Grammar -What Is It Good For?

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the innocent, care-free days of English grammar were coming to an end. Grammarians had made strenuous efforts to “ascertain” the language and bring order to a riotous body of previously lawless syntax.

There were dissenting voices. Liberals like Joseph Priestley wrote in 1762 that it was “absurd” to set up anyone’s conversation “as the invariable rule” as “the custom of speaking is the only just standard of any language.” People, he reasonably thought, will carry on making up “what innovations they judge to be expedient and useful.”

He was a lone voice. Dr Johnson claimed his dictionary had “laboured to refine our language to grammatical purity, and to clear it from colloquial barbarisms, licentious idioms, and irregular combinations.”

By Jane Austen’s time the newly regimented language had produced a repertoire of deviant linguistic usage with which the author could occasionally satirise the failings of her characters.

By the twentieth century people were starting to question the legitimacy of grammar. Modernist avant-garde writer James Joyce famously decided to wage war on the English language. Of the 24,048 words in the final part of “Ulysses” there are only 2 full stops and 1 comma.

Writers like E.E. Cummings, William Faulkner and Samuel Becket continued to experiment.

Gertrude Stein claimed, “Punctuation is necessary only for the feeble-minded.”

Despite modernist and post-modernist experimentation a respect for grammar, syntax and punctation has remained an unavoidable part of professional writing. If, for example, a journalist makes a mistake (and a sub-editor misses it) a proportion of the readership will either write in or comment underneath the article.

Modern guides to authorship still advise learning from style books.

A manuscript submitted to a publisher that is full of playful grammatical errors runs the risk of being misunderstood – and rejected.

Many fiction writers, like Jane Austen before them, try and confine bad grammar to the reported speech of colourful characters.

It’s safer.

*If there are any grammatical errors in this blog post feel free to list them in the comments section.

Audio version on SoundCloud:

Henry Anderson interviewed by Author Lizzy Stevens

Interviewed by Amazon and Fictionwise best-selling author Lizzy Stevens.

http://lizzystevens.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/guest-blogger-henry-anderson.html

Please tell us about your latest book.

“The Mouth” is a sci fi adventure story about a teenager whose town is burned down and family killed. His only chance of survival is to travel through a dangerous device called “The Mouth” that opens doors into other worlds.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m currently writing an urban fantasy about a police officer who uncovers some secrets in a strange town. I’m hoping it might turn into a series.

How do we find out about you and your books?
A good place to start would be my website at https://henryandersonbooks.com. I’m on Twitter at https://twitter.com/handersonbooks and my Facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/henry.anderson.books. My Amazon author page is: http://author.to/henryanderson

Why did you decide to write Science Fiction?
I feel like science fiction/fantasy chose me – in the sense that it interests me. I think speculative fiction can make you look at familiar things differently.

How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?

Quite a lot. I try and smuggle experiences in so it’s not too obvious it’s autobiographical. Life events like recently surviving cancer change you as a person and consequently as a writer.

When did you first think about writing and what prompted you to submit your first ms?

They made a “Planet of the Apes” TV show when I was a kid and I was captivated by it. I wrote a story set in that world – I was about eight. I’ve written things on-and-off since then – I had some plays performed. A recent health scare spurred me into action. My first novel submission was to Solstice Publishing a few months ago.

Do you have a set schedule for writing or do you just go with the flow?

I go with the flow. I take my trusty laptop with me wherever I go. I spend an unhealthy amount of time in coffee shops. I have a very low minimum word count. Some days it comes easier than others.

What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?

I took up archery a couple of years ago which makes a change from writing. I read a lot. Also I listen to audiobooks a lot.

What truly motivates you in general? In your writing?
Anger and fear. And love.

Where do your ideas come from?
I wish I knew. Somewhere in a primitive part of my brain.

Do you feel humour is important in science fiction and why?

Humour is definitely an important part of storytelling. I tend to write darkly humorous situations if not out-and-out comedy.

What kind of research do you do?

I have always enjoyed going into libraries, so I still do that a bit. The Internet is a massive resource. But, being honest, I do as little research as I can get away with.

Tell us about yourself
I’m an English graduate and former journalist. I live in a village in Kent. I like painting in oils and writing.

Do you have a favorite author? Favorite book?

The author I most enjoy reading is P.G. Wodehouse. His prose brightens up any day. Evelyn Waugh said: “The gardens of Blandings Castle are that original garden from which we are all exiled.”

My favourite book is probably “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I like adventure stories and it’s a masterpiece.

How many books have you written, how many have been published?
I’ve written a few short stories and plays. This is the first novel. I’m very excited Solstice is publishing it.

After you’ve written your book and it’s been published, do you ever buy it or read it?
I think Leonardo da Vinci said : “”Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Eventually you have to abandon it somewhere and drive off. Kind of like literary fly-tipping.

Which comes first, the story, the characters or the setting?

I usually think of a setting first – to test the characters.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

The thought that someone might actually read your stuff is pretty amazing.

Are there any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?

On bad days any writer feels despair that what they are doing might be worthless. Ignore those feelings and keep writing. Write. Write as if your life depended on it!

Lizzy Stevens links:

http://lizzystevens.blogspot.co.uk

http://twitter.com/LizzyStevens123 

 

While you’re here, why not check out my interview with author Penny Estelle:

http://pennyestelle.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/henry-anderson-stops-by-pennys-tales.html

The Nurse Who Would Not Meet My Eye

The nurse would not meet my eye. Somehow it seemed fraught with meaning.

“I am so dead,” I thought.

I stood outside the door of my oncology consultant. The waiting area behind me had a central garden and a fountain. Dozens of men and women sat patiently marking time before attending the periodic  life-or-death consultations that are the lot of a cancer patient.

Things had looked bad for a couple of months. I had a failed major surgery due to the inoperable size of a tumour in my colon. They had moved to plan B, chemotherapy. A kindly locum GP told me that some people choose to discontinue treatment if it made their last days too uncomfortable.

The nurse who ushered me into the oncology consultant’s room wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“I am so dead,” I thought.

The prognosis wasn’t good and as a grown-up in early middle-age I was just expected to cope with the fact I was dying. There was no special treatment from busy medical staff on the hospital wards. There were a lot of people in my position. Everybody dies. The best of us manage to put a brave face on it.

All through that time I kept telling myself, “Live for today. You are alive today. That’s all that matters.”

I tried to imagine death as sleeping – a harmless imbecilic sleep – an anaesthetized  blackness.

Live for today is a good mantra that works most of the time. But I imagine even the bravest of us cannot contemplate our own death without just a little fear.

I felt it as the nurse ushered me into the room without returning my gaze.

“I am so dead,” I thought.

The consultant looked very dour. It confirmed my worst suspicions.

That day it was a Spanish woman, in her late twenties I guessed.

She opened an enormous file and leafed through its pages until she got to the CT scan results.

A broad smile spread over her face.

“Excuse me a moment.”

She went out for a minute. Then she returned, still smiling broadly.

“This is very good news. You have responded extremely well.  It looks like it’s operable.”

So the nurse not meeting my eye had been utterly meaningless. A tiny, subjective human detail. She hadn’t known anything. The doctor hadn’t even read my file before I came in.

In the objective – the real – world the growth in my body had shrunk to an operable size – thanks to science, research money, and good doctoring.

The nurse looked over at me and  met my gaze. She was smiling too.


http://www.cancerresearchuk.org