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Halloween Meme

October 29, 2009

In New Zealand, where I grew up, Halloween wasn’t really celebrated. Perhaps it’s more of an American ritual that doesn’t translate so well over there, but mostly I think it’s simply because it occurs as spring is changing into summer. The days are longer, it’s warmer… it’s just not the right season for ghosts and ghoulies. (Incidentally, we do celebrate Guy Fawkes, but again, it’s not properly dark until really late; I just remember a whole bunch of grizzling children standing around in the half light holding sparklers, and the fireworks were always disappointing.)

I don’t think there’s too much Halloweening going on in England either, at least, we didn’t encounter much in London, except one time. We completed on the purchase of our flat on 31 October six years ago – and we picked up our little cats the same day. We had spent the day moving in, and travelling to Bow to pick up Maud and Izzie and, exhausted, collapsed on the sofas at about ten o’clock. Not long after, the doorbell rang. My husband answered it – it’s a group of youths in hoodies. ‘Trick or Treat?’ they asked. ‘But you’re not even in costume!’ Bike Boy replied.  And grumbling in a particularly teenage way, they shuffled off.

But now we’re in Sheffield, in a much more suburban area, who knows? Perhaps there will be little kids coming round on Saturday night. Bike Boy’s carved an impressive Jack O’Lantern, and we’ll going to put candles leading up to our front door so people know we’re up for some trick or treaters.

Anyway, all this is because I found a really great halloween meme on Stefanie’s So Many Books blog. There are rules – you’re supposed to leave your answers on your own blog and then tag thirteen people, but I’m feeling a bit shy about tagging people. If you want to do it, please do – and let me know so that I can read about what creeps you out.

1. Which urban legend ghost scared the bejeesus out of you when you were a kid?

The one about the girl whose dog slept under her bed and who would lick her hand in the night. One night she wakes up, having heard some scary noises. She sits up but doesn’t get out of bed. Hearing nothing more, she lies back down and sticks her hand out for her dog to lick it, which, reassuringly, he does.

In the morning she gets up to find her family horribly killed and her dog’s throat cut. Written in blood on the mirror is a note that reads ‘people can lick hands, too’.

2. Which horror movie has the best premise?

Nightmare on Elm Street for me. That you can be attacked and killed in your sleep really freaked me out, especially as everyone has to go to sleep at some point. I remember first watching this movie. I was staying at a friend’s place and there was an automated video shop round the corner from where she lived. I remember putting in some coins and a mechanised arm reaching in and getting what you ordered. ‘The future is now!’ I think we thought at the time. Anyway, we were so freaked out just by the thought of the movie that we sort of yelled and giggled as we ran home. And then we got really scared and had to stay up and gossip all night long. Slumber parties were such fun.

3. What’s the most ‘disappointing’ treat to receive in your bag on Hallowe’en night?

I only went trick or treating once. It wasn’t really something people did in New Zealand. The one time I did go trick or treating was a complete wash out. I can’t remember what sort of effort we made, probably not much as I suspect we were only in it for the treats. Most of the people whose doors we knocked on didn’t know what we were on about, and the one person who did (an American) saw us coming, opened the door and immediately squirted a water gun in our faces. I think we gave up after that.

4. What’s the best ‘non-candy’ treat to receive?

See above. Anything other than a water pistol fired in your fire, I imagine.

5. Did a monster live in your closet as a child?

Absolutely yes. It was quite a big closet, one you could walk into, and I was terrified of what lurked in there. I was also very scared of the dark, and so had to leave the door open a little for a night light. But then I could also see the hideous seventies wallpaper my parents hung in the hallway – there were faces of burning demons in the brown and orange print. And then there were the scary masks that my parents had hung up…going to bed was a really frightening experience for me.

6. Which supernatural creature sent chills up your spine when you were ten and still does?

Anything disembodied or amorphous or shape-changing. So ghosts, the girl from Ringu, anything that you’re not sure is really there. The idea of a bogeyman still scares me a lot – I think Stephen King’s story – I believe it’s called ‘The Bogeyman’ – really sealed the lid on that one. It’s a terrifying piece of work, must read it again.

There was also an incredibly creepy episode of Sapphire and Steel, which had a man without a face standing on the stairs…I don’t remember much about it other than it really did scare the pants off me, and the thought of it is still really unsettling.

The idea of zombies also really frightens me too. The slow, shuffling variety are the ones that get to me the most – there’s a sort of inevitability to them, a sort of inexorable creepiness – you can run but you can’t escape from them for ever. You will succumb, it’s just a matter of time.

7. Which supernatural creature makes you yawn?

Vampires, I’m afraid. Well, not make me yawn exactly, but there’s nothing scary about them any more. And I’m afraid that I have to lay the blame for that on my favourite TV show of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Honestly, what’s scary about being undead if you get to stay young and look pretty for ever? True, you’re now a malevolent being with no soul, but it’s a pretty good trade-off, isn’t it? Or maybe that’s just me…

But then, last night my husband reminded me of Thirty Days of Night, which does manage to make vamps scary again. It’s a great film. It also has the ubiquitous Melissa George in it.

8. What’s your favorite Halloween decoration

Jack O’Lantern. There’s so may great ones out there, but my husband’s is really good.

9. If you could be anywhere on Halloween night, where would you be?

Curled up on the couch with a glass of wine and a scary movie or two. (Surprisingly, that’s exactly what I am going to be doing – just replace ‘scary movie’ with ‘X Factor’ – both horrifying in their own ways.) I know, you are all astounded at my originality and adventurousness – what can I say? I live on the edge, me.

10. What’s the scariest book you’ve read so far this year?

I recently reread The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. It’s creepy scary, not gory scary, and the horror really sneaks up on you. It’s great ghost storytelling in the tradition of The Turn of the Screw, and it’s quite short, so you can freak yourself out in one sitting. Also available in audiobook.

Speaking of audiobooks, I downloaded MR James’s ‘O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ from the very excellent The Classic Tales podcast read by BJ Harrison. Very well read and an extremely creepy story. Again, highly recommended.

11. Haunted houses or haunted hayrides?

What on earth is a haunted hayride? It certainly doesn’t sound very scary. But that reminds me, for a great haunted house book you can’t beat House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. I remember parts of that book as being terrifying. And not just the weird thing he did with typefaces. Must read it again.

12. Which Stephen King novel/movie would you least like to find yourself trapped in?

The Mist, directed by Frank Darabont from a Stephen King short story. It’s probably the bleakest film I’ve ever watched. I’m not going to say too much about it, as I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say it illustrates perfectly the idea that ‘hell is other people’. The shift from being terrified about what’s going on outside the supermarket (where most of the action takes place) to what’s going on inside it, is very subtle and cleverly done.

13. Which  is creepiest: evil dolls, evil pets, evil children?

While evil children comes a respectable second place, evil dolls wins hands down for me. I remember watching an old movie with my mum once, where this African doll comes to life and terrorises the woman who’s been given it as a gift. I remember it as being simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. There was also an episode of Fantasy Island that I watched once, after which I was banned from watching FI ever again, where some dolls come to life…I can’t remember much more than that, but it was extremely scary and I think I had a few sleepless nights. Though, saying that, it didn’t really take much for me to be scared… (see above re scary seventies wallpaper)


Speaking of first drafts…

October 29, 2009

…I really love this video, which I found on Mark Sarvas’s excellent blog The Elegant Variation. Here Philip Roth talks to Tina Brown about the first draft, which he likens to building a floor. Tina Brown calls it a ‘vomit draft’. I like both analogies, and both ways of thinking about the first draft  –  a building block or something to get out of you as quickly as you can – help to demystify the whole process, at least for this budding novelist.

The way Philip Roth described his process was also heartening – he doesn’t plan out his story to the nth degree, instead he takes something like a phrase and works on that from there. It’s nice to know that he doesn’t use an elaborate system of wall charts and coloured pens to outline his work before he starts, but just gets stuck in and the story comes to him during the writing of it. And that he does a lot of rewriting, but gets the first draft out of the way.

Sooooo, first post

October 28, 2009

Well, hello there. Presumably you’ve stumbled upon here through Nanowrimo or I’ve commented on your blog. Nice to meet you. You’re looking great. I love what you’ve done to your hair.

Okay, that’s enough of the cutesy shenanigans. The first post on a new blog is really hard to write, I’m sure all of you much more seasoned blog writers know that already.  So a little about me, in quick, bulleted points.

  • I’m doing Nanowrimo this year.
  • The reason I’m doing Nanowrimo is to get over this whole problem I have with writing out of the way. I want to write, but it often feels like you’re standing at the base of a vertiginous mountain with no rope or crampons (you need rope and crampons to climb mountains, don’t you?) which feels like a really scary undertaking. Nanowrimo seems like a really good way to get some discipline and see where I’m going with this whole writing lark.
  • Before I thought of doing Nanowrimo, I didn’t have any ideas. None. Now I have two quite good ones, I think. They both need a little bit of research, but both could work.
  • I don’t expect my writing during the Nano process to be good, but I do want to get a good first draft out of it, even if I decide to rewrite the whole lot. It’s easier to work with something than with nothing, right? Right.
  • I love reading and will read just about anything, aside from most genre fantasy and sci-fi.
  • I am married to my Bike Boy, and we have two cats named Izzie and Maud. We don’t have kids but we want them – getting pregnant has been harder than we thought.
  • In totally unrelated news, we are obsessed with our cats.
  • Other things that float my boat? Cooking, film, good TV, crafting (especially knitting and sewing).

I don’t expect that I will have too much here about my actual writing – there will be status updates and links to helpful writing sites – but I’m going to keep my fiction to myself at the moment. There’ll be lots about my reading life, however, and possibly something about my crafting life. Let’s just see how it goes.