And now for a guest post by Tara Guha.
The Pen is Scarier than the Sword…
One evening a couple of years ago I was writing a scene towards the end of my novel, Untouchable Things. It was late, it was dark, I was alone in the house and my character Rebecca was in severe peril. I suddenly became aware of just how late, dark and lonely it was. I mentally panned back from myself and could see how I looked, illuminated by the desk lamp in my little study, back to the door. I reread the words on the screen. And I instantly shut down the computer and put on every light in the house.
The funny thing, of course, is that it was myself I was fleeing from. I wasn’t frightened by someone else’s words or imagination but by my own. This was different from reading Pet Sematary as a teenager and having to make sure I was in a room with other people at all times. This time I was in control of what was happening in the fictional world. And somehow it didn’t make things all that better.
It made me reflect that perhaps what frightens us most is not what’s out there but what’s in here. Our own minds are capable of going to the darkest of places, as most children find out when they start to grasp the concept of death. Who hasn’t lain in bed unable to sleep while their mind plays out distressing or catastrophic scenarios? In a sense writing fiction gives me an outlet for those dystopian fantasies; it’s a way of channelling and transforming my dark side into something that can exist and be contained outside of me. Perhaps it’s not so different from dressing up as a ghoul or a blood-splattered vampire for Halloween – it’s getting out the creepy stuff out where we can see it, parade it, and perhaps in so doing, vanquish it. For now, at least.
There’s a scene in Untouchable Things where the characters perform a modern version of a mummers’ play. The tradition of mumming, where a group of actors would travel from house to house performing plays, is almost certainly where some of the Halloween traditions such as dressing up and trick or treating have their roots. In my character Seth’s words, “Mumming pageants were used to draw out the populace’s fears, give them some sort of voice and then dispel them. Keep the dark side under control and everyone on the moral straight and narrow.” Certainly Seth uses the mummer’s play to allude to the secrets and lies that are lurking in the room. The effect on the other characters is both unsettling and strangely cathartic.
Could it be then that it does us good to delve into stuff that frightens us now and again? Is that why children love Halloween and adults watch The Killing or read increasingly graphic psychological thrillers? Strangely, as I was writing this, my daughter emerged sobbing from a bad dream and I explained (having rapidly minimised this blog) that her brain was probably processing her deepest fears, playing them out in a safe (though distressing) way. Our instinct is often to repress our fears so that they don’t cripple us, but perhaps too much repression is bad for us. Perhaps seeking out fear in a contained way – a scary book, a rollercoaster, a walk in the dark – provides a release and ultimately helps to keep our deeper fears under control.
So this Halloween, I’ll definitely take the opportunity to get a little creeped. Maybe I’ll watch a horror film, or even write a scary story. One friend confessed to me that the night she finished Untouchable Things she had to sleep with the light on. This was a reaction to a character who had got under her skin; for me there is no need to turn to ghosties and ghoulies to scare us when human nature provides such a fertile furrow. It takes us back to my poor character Rebecca, left in severe peril not so much from her situation but from me. What did I finally do with her when I rebooted my computer (in daylight)? Well, you’ll obviously have to read the book to find out.
But maybe not on your own in a quiet, dark house.
About Tara Guha
Author of ‘Untouchable Things’ (September 2015)
Tara Guha is the winner of the 2014 Luke Bitmead Bursary and Untouchable Things is her debut novel. Born to an Indian father and English mother Tara spent her childhood in the Ribble Valley, passing many a wet day writing poetry and music. After studying English at Cambridge University she embarked on a career in PR, promoting artists including Placido Domingo, Paul McCartney and Dudley Moore. Over the years she has also worked as a freelance journalist, counsellor and charity worker and is also a keen amateur pianist, singer and song-writer. Tara lives in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire with her partner and two daughters.
You can read find out what ‘Untouchable Things’ is about here:-