Dooley: Why on earth would a nice lady like you choose to write horror?
Dodwell: Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a morbid fascination with death, with darkness, with demons. I don’t know how, or why, but I’ve felt drawn to these subjects for as long as I can remember. I think I like to look to the under-belly of human emotion and experience. While many of my friends were talking about boyfriends, make-up and fashion, I was reading about life-after-death, possession, spiritual oppression and the darkness of the human mind. I was always intrigued to learn about the darkness in the world, the realm that lies beyond the tightly controlled, colourful, superficial and safe lives we think we have built for ourselves. I had my nose in books about hauntings, evil, life-after-death and fictional horror too. I know this sounds really heavy going, as if I probably have some deep and dark issues going on, but it’s really not true.
Most people who find I enjoy horror are shocked – they usually respond by saying, “But you’re such a girly, feminine woman!”, as if being into horror means I have to grow horns and wear black all day! Really, I’m a happy, contented woman, but I like to explore darkness from a safe place – and for me that is through the medium of writing. Through writing horror, I can explore hauntings, demonic possession, suicide etc from a safe, restrained place. It’s a way to get into those unexplored worlds while remaining safe – my mind and my life in tact. That’s why I love it – it’s a safe darkness. I love the thrill, fear and escapism that brings me from everyday life.
Why do you write horror?
Dooley: To be honest, I try not to analyze it too much. I don’t really know why I enjoy writing horror so much and I don’t really want to examine those little black polyps on my soul. Call me a coward – it’s true. I originally got into writing horror as an exercise. I was working on a science fiction novel and having great difficulty writing a torture scene. I was completely unwilling and unable to “go there.” I pushed myself to start writing horror shorts as a way to get more comfortable with my dark side. And now my dark side won’t let me stop. Strangely, I don’t think anyone has been shocked when I told them that I write horror. Hmm. Maybe I should examine my soul a little more closely.
Can you remember your earliest experience with a horror film or book? What was that experience like for you?
Dodwell: Well, I remember being about the age of five or six. I was in the house with my older brother, and he used to tease me a lot when I was little. He used to try and scare me, or make me jump. It was typical big brother stuff, to be honest. I was with him in the house, and he said, “Come and watch this video I have – it’s a cartoon, you’ll love it!” So I sat down, all innocent, waiting for something really kiddish, like My Little Pony, when suddenly Pet Cemetery the movie popped up on screen. The scene with the little boy getting run over and losing his foot. It hit me – hard. It sounds cruel, of my brother, but he actually awakened something in me. I felt curious, as well as scared and bewildered.
Then, later on (a few years later) I found a battered paperback copy of Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery in his bedroom, and started reading. Not sure how far I read, or how much I understood at such a young age, but it really drew me in, really captivated me. From there, as I grew older, I was all about horror. Horror books, horror films – anything dark I could get my hands on. I think discovering horror in films and books, coupled with the fact that I enjoyed creative writing as a child and teenager, pushed me into the writer I am today.
So, how have you found writing horror? Do you find you face judgements because of the dark material you write?
Dooley: I was surprised at how well I took to horror. In retrospect, though, I shouldn’t have been. Looking back now I can see the darkness in almost everything I’ve written. In this blog post I describe my introduction to horror. Many, but not all, of my stories feature women who would be “the victim” in a more traditional story. I can’t abide those horror films that seem to consist of nothing except bloody mayhem and the endless screaming of women. My stories are, for the most part, their antithesis.
I haven’t had any strange reactions from people when I tell them I write horror. Maybe because I don’t talk about my writing that much and when someone asks me what I write, I’m replying “romance, horror and science fiction.” I’ve had much more in the way of raised eyebrows from the romance writing than anything else. I do get kind of amused when people assume that I must be writing children’s stories. I’m female; I’m a mother. I must be writing children’s stories, right? That last one I attempted turned into a bloodbath *grin*
Fiona, is there anything you don’t like about horror ? And how do you feel the market is for the horror genre at the moment?
Dodwell: Anything I don’t like about horror? Not really. If I am truly honest, one of the things I love about horror in literature is that pretty much anything goes. In movies, we have censorship. We can only take things so far, but in novels, we can really push boundaries, take things to new levels, and I love that. I guess if I had to pick one thing I didn’t like about horror, it’s the reaction I personally get from some individuals when I tell them that’s what I write. People often look at me as if there must be something wrong – it has a stigma attached to it, I think.
As for the horror genre itself, I feel that it’s popularity comes and goes in waves, I suppose it’s the same with anything. Horror can be a really tough sell. When I was trying to submit The Banishing to publishers, I had so many responses from people saying “We don’t represent horror” or “this is too dark for us” or “we only represent light fiction.” Often, I’ll come across publishers or agents that will seem willing to look at anything BUT horror, but perhaps that was partly my fault, I do think at first I was looking in the wrong places!
Dooley: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Fiona. It’s been delightful. Good luck with your upcoming release!
Fiona Dodwell’s novel, The Banishing, is available online in paperback and e-book formats. You can read an excerpt and reviews here. Her upcoming horror novel, Obsessed, is due for a September release. For more information, please visit her blog.