Drawing the lines…

I recently started a story, to which I gave the working title of Eating Out, which, in the course of writing it, gave me pause to consider how far a writer can push things before going over the edge, so to speak. The basic storyline entailed cannibalism, specifically of babies being bred for the purpose; the two main characters, a young couple, stay at an isolated hotel and the man disappears. She goes to look for him and discovers a facility where women are forcefully made to bear babies and the men are  hooked up to machines to produce ‘food’ for the offspring. She eventually falls victim herself….

Now, I am not particularly squeamish in any way, having seen some fairly horrific movies in my time, but I had some real difficulty in getting past the central premise. Aside from any logistical hurdles inherent in the set-up as I’d written it, I had qualms about the ideas. Hurting children in any way is anathema to me as an individual (although I don’t have any children of my own) and of course, it’s completely anathema in the wider circle of society. Yet, even though it’s ‘only’ a story and the characters and situations are entirely fictional, I found it increasingly difficult to write it. I then changed the idea around slightly: instead of the babies being ‘human’ ones, I was going to introduce them as being ‘maggot’ babies, a cross between animals and humans (for instance, crying like human babies so that the nurture response in adults is triggered), specifically engineered for the purpose of feeding the hungry. I wanted to bring in themes of scientific research in genetics gone awry and the involvement of multinationals and all that malarky. Even so, there was still something about the story that was fighting me and making me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

So, I started thinking about horror stories and morality. I am not talking in any religious sense here, primarily because I am not, in any way, religiously motivated (BUT neither am I immoral nor amoral). How far can we, as writers, push the boundaries, before it becomes unacceptable and is tantamount to being gory and unpleasant just for the sake of it? Just so the reader can get cheap, quick ‘n’ nasty thrills?

I have nothing against people writing about such things per se, I just hope that they do it in a way that gets you thinking, or tackles it from a unique angle. Just like Gary McMahon did in The Harm, a book ostensibly about child abuse; we don’t actually get to see the abuse, just the after-effects of it many years later, when the victims have become adults. THAT particular story got me thinking and made me see things anew. But I have read books where I have seriously questioned what the author was writing about and the way they were writing it. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling uncomfortable about it.

I suppose it’s partly about upbringing – although my parents were christian (with a small ‘c’) and instilled ‘christian’ values in me, they were never strict about it and encouraged me to think about things and explore ideas. Then, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I avidly embraced transgressive literature and cinema, seeing it as a way of breaking past the concepts of ‘morality’ imposed on us by certain authorities. Back then, of course, I associated morality solely with being a religious imperative, but I now know that morality doesn’t need a religious framework from which to hang – most of it is just plain commonsense.

Which brings me to another aspect of this theme: does it necessarily follow that just because some horror author writes something that, to the society at large, is questionable that they’re immoral? Of course not. I have met many authors in real life whose work is pretty close to the bone and who are, quite simply, the nicest people I’ve ever met. Many of them are family people, with children. I would go so far as to say that it’s because they’re horror writers and family-oriented that they are more aware than most of the sensitivities of morality and how it affects others.

However, there are just some things that, no matter what your upbringing, you feel to be unutterably wrong. This one was for me. I will, at some stage, probably write the story, but not until I have devised a way of telling it from an angle that will imply more than I need to tell, or it has something new to say. If I don’t, I’m sure I can use some of the ideas in other stories.  Whilst I think it’s a good exercise to push yourself as a writer, exploring your own boundaries, I don’t necessarily think it’s such a good idea to write something that makes you so uncomfortable that the story is fighting you every word you put down.

Everyone has their own level and a zone beyond which they find it hard to venture. We, as a species, are able and willing explorers of uncharted territory – but just how dangerous does that territory have to be before it works against us?

I would be interested in your thoughts on this.


9 Responses to “Drawing the lines…”

  1. Nicely put – much better than my similar treatise.

    I’m with you – push as far as you want, as an artist, but just be aware that at some point you will end up talking to yourself. My achilles heel is children, which I discussed with you over this story – put an adult in that feeding hall and I’d have been fine, but hearing babies cry and I could feel myself drifting away.

    Which might be the other interesting question – what is the achilles heel of others? What’s yours, Simon?
    (I do hope it’s not reading aloud – I’m so looking forward to the TS Gathering next week!)

    • I am looking forward to the TS gathering too… I was thinking of reading aloud my blog about Markets (paying vs non-paying) as I can bring in both those who are starting out and those who are further down the path…. I think that would be a good topic to discuss…

      And it’s only just over a week away!! =)

      • If it were me, I’d do one of your others – discussing the records, getting into writing, that kind of thing. Just my thoughts, as most of the attendees will have been published at some point. I did also like your blog about perceptions – the pic of you and Beverley Allit.

  2. Now that’s an idea, Mark… never thought of that… hmmm…. will discuss with Sue soon…

  3. I read the prologue of “In The Rain With The Dead” at the last one, then put the copy into the raffle! This year, I think I’m going to do some of “Risen Wife”, then put the chapbook it’s in into the raffle. Strategic, me.

  4. I’ll be printing off and signing my Asylum story for the raffle…. that’s all I could come up with…

  5. No problme with that – I once printed off a copy of Alison’s Strange Tales head, signed it and put it in a little frame and gave that.

  6. imaginationzombie Says:

    Hi Simon,
    Great thoughts here Simon. I’ve pondered on all of this myself. The thing it comes down to is personal taste. There will always be an audience for extreme gore and grossness for the pure reason of gore and grossness…but is it REALLY that scary? No. It’s all about what isn’t said, but implied. How little tiny details add up to something gigantic, and in the end, horrifying. It’s about giving as many clues as possible without the reader actually knowing what they are digesting. Does that make sense? Maybe not. I think its something all we horror writers struggle with, at least the ones of us that want to improve.

    Great thoughts here! This would be great for a forum topic or something.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: