Most Influential Horror Writer (*)
* contains no spoilers
Everyone has their favourite author – an author so influential he/she makes you not just interested in reading more books by that author, but also makes you a fan of a whole genre. I thought I’d write a little bit about my greatest influence in the horror field, Clive Barker, the man responsible for many dark dreams.
I’d always liked reading horror – but I didn’t become a true horror fan until I read my first Clive Barker book. That was Cabal: The Nightbreed. It wasn’t his first published novel – that was The Damnation Game – but it was the first one I read.
Cabal hooked me from its first sentence, which was powerful, intriguing and poetic:
“Of all the rash and midnight promise made in the name of love none, Boone now knew, was more certain to be broken than: ‘I’ll never leave you.’”
That was an unusual start for a horror novel back in the 1980s.
More often that not, an ordinary horror story started with something stereotypically banal like this:
“When Helen Smith woke up that morning on her thirtieth birthday, she had no idea she would die a horrible death later that day.”
I hate reading beginnings like that fictional one above.
It looks dramatic – but it is a lazy way of starting a story by using foreshadowing.
(What’s the point of telling readers the character is about to die? Why clumsily tell readers her age in the first sentence? You can’t get interested in ten pages about their life after you know they’ll die – so foreshadowing it has the effect of ruining any surprise.)
Mercifully, Clive Barker didn’t do that. He started with something a little different. He wrote about love. Love in a horror story? That was something new back then. Most horror was about death. I was dying to read more of Cabal after reading Clive Barker’s first sentence. It told me it was going to be a love story – but a dark one. It also introduced a mysterious character called Boone. Who was he?
Reading on, I found out Boone was seeing a psychiatrist called Decker. Decker was trying to help Boone recall something using hypnosis. It was something bad. Very bad.
I won’t spoil the book for anyone by revealing what happened next – but I will say that book stunned me with its strong plot, vivid characters and imagination. I had never read a horror book like it. Cabal showed me a whole new world of strange creatures living in our world. They didn’t act like evil monsters in B-movies. The Nightbreed had human emotions. More importantly than his sheer inventiveness, the story was done with such style that it was believable. I didn’t have to try hard to suspend my disbelief because Clive Barker made the characters vividly real.
After reading that, I looked for more Clive Barker books. Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show were fantastic works – but his collections of short stories were a revelation. Every story in the six Books of Blood titles impressed me with his mind-blowing creativity. None of his stories used genre clichés like vampires, werewolves and zombies. They were fresh, new horrors in each, all written in a unique style that was both readable and literary, which isn’t a combination you saw very often back in the 1980s.
The Books of Blood contained many of his short stories and novellas – but one significant one was missing from his six collections. There isn’t anyone on the planet that hasn’t heard of it by now, the legendary novella about a puzzle box that contains secrets …
Of course I’m talking about Hellraiser aka Hellbound Heart.
I didn’t read that until after I had seen the movie based on it because it wasn’t easy to find in my local book shops – but I did find it in an anthology that also included great stories by other superb horror writers that I had not read before. They included Ramsey Campbell and Lisa Tuttle. I probably wouldn’t have tried either of them if I had not been looking for a copy of Hellbound Heart.
Today Clive Barker’s books and films have influenced generations of horror writers and filmmakers. It would be almost impossible to imagine what the horror genre would be like if he had not given us nightmares. We’d all be sleeping in our beds a lot easier without Clive Barker’s stories – but where would the fun be in that?
I’d love to know which horror author is your most influential.
Is it Clive Barker? Stephen King? Anne Rice? HP Lovecraft? Stephenie Meyer? Someone new and as-yet undiscovered?
Please let me know which author made you a fan of the genre.