He’s baaaack! Yes, folks. We have another terrific guest post from Brit author, Luke Walker (without whom my blog would have a few thousand less hits *grin*) This post came about because after reading Luke’s ‘The Red Girl,’ I came to the realization that Britain is just plain frickin’ scary. Whether it’s because of the dreary weather, the length of its bloody history, or that Brit writers just have a great sense of the macabre, I do not know. I just wanted to read more. So, for the cost of a plate of chocolate biscuits and a promise not to beat him any more, Luke came up with a list of recommended Brit Horror Books. And oh is my bank account about to get very angry with me. Without further ado…
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A little while ago, Diane asked me to come up with a list of British horror novels I love. When choosing the titles below, I had to think about whether they truly had that specific Britishness required, but then of course, the question should be ‘what is Britishness?’ I don’t know if I can sum it up in a few words or even if it’s possible to. So the best thing to do is let the books speak for themselves.
The Rats: James Herbert’s debut from 1974. This is still thought of as one of his best even though it’s occasionally lacking in a technical sense and has dated in a few places (one of the best examples is the guy in the train station thinking about the ‘coloureds’ and at what station they’ll get off). Despite its flaws, it’s one hell of a book about mutated rats killing and eating people in London. A basic premise, maybe, but considering very little horror fiction had been as brutal, violent (not to mention full of pretty graphic sex) before The Rats, Herbert changed things for a lot of readers and writers. It’s hard to imagine how people reacted to a book detailing the killing of a baby by rats in its first couple of chapters. It’s also an extremely angry book – a lot of vitriol is aimed at those in authority and at how little they care for the social classes below them. Nice to know not much has changed in forty years, isn’t it? Still, at least nobody’s being eaten by rats these days. Yet.
Dracula: a classic and no mistake. Bram Stoker’s novel, first published in 1897, has been filmed approximately nineteen billion times, and people who haven’t read it could probably describe the basic plot – such is its familiarity and power. We all know what happens so there’s not much point in going into that here. What I will say is if you think the film versions do it justice and haven’t read the book, then stop reading this post and go get a copy of the novel. A few of the films have been decent and some terrible, but as far as I know, none have really got into the character of the novel. And that character is English in all its humour and superiority complex and standing up against impossible odds. And then going on about it for the next hundred years.
Dark Matter: The atmosphere and feel of Michelle Paver’s book reminded me a lot of The Woman In Black. They’ve both got that sense of a different time nailed down perfectly – when it really was possible to be cut off from anyone and any safety. Anyway, this is the story of an Arctic expedition in the 1930s as told by a young guy named Jack. Due to a few issues in his personal life, he’s up for the chance of getting away from it all so signs up. It’s not long before things start to happen out there on the ice. Not very pleasant things. This is one for people who want something bubbling below the surface of their ghost story. And that something is at least partly the British stereotype of refusing to admit there’s a problem.
M.R. James: If you want your horror/ghost stories to feel as British as wet bank holidays, black and white war films, cups of tea, old ladies in the post office and everybody in the pub drinking bitter, then M.R. James is your man. The tales are old, obviously, but they’re still very powerful and very good. Personal favourites: Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, Casting the Runes, A Warning to the Curious, and The Malice of Inanimate Objects. Horror stories like these should be told by an older gentleman in a club populated by men as old and refined as one another while rain falls and the night feels as if it’s years away from the bright sun of morning. Basically, they should be told no later than 1951, but feel free to read them and enjoy, anyway.
Hungry Hearts: I had to include a zombie book in this list. I think there was a law passed recently saying so. This is at least as violent as The Rats, but for my money, it’s a different type of violence. As cynical as The Rats is, Gary McMahon’s Hungry Hearts takes its cynicism into a different area of people generally being as shitty as they can to one another in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. . .then contrasts that with a deeply powerful love story. Zombie tales aren’t for everyone, especially as they’re edging into overly familiar territory, but in a genre with some pretty ropey books, this is a winner.
Garbage Man: I ummed and ahhed over which of Joseph D’Lacey’s first two books to include in this list – either Garbage Man or the equally excellent Meat. GM made it to the list simply because it feels more British (and that’s the point of this post). It’s an angry book but it keeps that anger under the surface. Put it this way: if you pushed in front of this book while in a queue, it would tut very loudly and give dirty looks to your back while you pretend to ignore it.
It’s an environmental horror tale which might sound off-putting, but it really shouldn’t. While D’Lacey seems to have a pretty low opinion of humanity, he avoids preaching and lets the reader enjoy a grand story of rubbish come to some sort of horrible, shitty life – and then compares that walking detritus with the lives of some pretty shabby people.
A Cold Season: I love a horror story set in the middle of winter. After all, it’s the perfect time for one. Short days, long nights, darkness, coldness, and maybe snow. Horror in the middle of July with its heat and sunshine can be more frightening (after all, nobody really expects something supernatural to come lumbering out of a quiet Sunday afternoon when you’re sitting in a beer garden), but in terms of suitability, winter wins every time for me, and Alison Littlewood’s A Cold Season nails it all. If you want bleakness and to be chilled, this is the book to read. In short, a widow moves to a village in the middle of nowhere with her young son to start a new life. The place seems nice but the locals have got some secrets, and when the little boy begins to act oddly, all hell isn’t far off from breaking loose.
The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy: It seemed silly to just mention one of Sarah Pinborough’s crime-horror series seeing as they’re made up of a trilogy. The setting is the near future when the world is even more of a mess than it is now (a cheery thought, I know). The world’s governments are all skint and all in debt to The Bank which is an organisation set up by extremely rich and dodgy men. DI Cass Jones has got a lot on his plate in the form of various personal problems, the shooting of two kids and a serial killer running around London. Oh, and the small matter of his brother being involved in a murder-suicide.
No, it’s not a comedy, but it is excellent British writing from a superb writer. If you don’t want to find out what happens in the third book by the time you’re halfway through number one, then yah boo sucks to you.
So, that’s my small list of some excellent British horror. At some point, I’ll do a list of British horror films, but in the meantime, get stuck into a book. Then complain about the weather.
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Luke Walker is the author of “The Red Girl,” the recently released ” ‘Set” from Musa Publishing, the forthcoming “Mirror of the Nameless” from Dark Fuse, as well as numerous published short stories, the most recent of which is “Incy Wincy” in Issue 11 of Death Throes. Soon to be published is “Bear,” a short story that freaked me out so badly I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read it again. And I’m quite sure Luke takes that as a huge compliment *grin*
If you like a bit of Blighty in your horror, or even if you don’t (though what the hell is wrong with you?) check out his body of work, his blog, or follow the baldy bastid on Twitter.
Did you enjoy Luke’s post? Then you’ll probably like the others he’s done for this blog:
Female Characters in Horror Film and Fiction: Victims or Survivors?
Favorite Female Characters in Horror
What’s that I hear you say? You want more? Oh, okay then.
I just want to note that my spell checker wanted to change “Britishness” to “Brutishness.” Oh, how I LOL’d.
Also, in honor of this post it is currently an overcast, rainy, dreary day in my part of the world. I think I shall go work on a horror story!
Always a pleasure to read Diane’s blogs but even more so when she features a writer after my own heart.
Thank-you for having Dracula on the list. None of the movies captured the feel of the book. Some were close and some were actually good, but none hit the nail on the head. Just don’t read Dacre Stoker’s abomination.
And Diane, I agree with you, now my wallet is going to hate me… more than usual that is. Cold Season and Dark Matter are on my list now. Right after I finish Poe’s collection and Shelley’s Last Man.
I want to hear about Shelley’s Last Man when you’re done reading it. I have it on my Kindle. Maybe I’ll read it too and we can compare notes.
Thanks for having me again, Diane. Always a pleasure to recommend some great writing.
A great list there Luke, I loved Cold Season!
Thanks. I’m really looking forward to Alison Littlewood’s next book.
I went to buy A Cold Season. $9.59 for the Kindle edition, darnit. I put it on the wish list.
There are several free Kindle editions of M.R. James collections, though.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver doesn’t seem to be available in the U.S. except as an audio book.
That’s a pain, Diane. I’ll keep my ears open for a US release of Dark Matter.