Writing Horror


Gemma Mawdsley

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The biggest challenge that faces a writer is when someone one, it may be a tutor in a creative writing class or another writer says, “Write what you know.” It is only then that you realise that you don’t know very much at all and certainly nothing that anyone would want to read about. This was the dilemma I faced when I first began to write over ten years ago. I tried my hand at a couple of different genres until I finally realised what I wanted to write about, the paranormal. I have always been interested in the subject and was immersed in it during my childhood summers spent at my great grandmother’s gothic pile. Old houses lend themselves to the telling of ghost stories and need no special effects, as the creaking floorboards and scratching in the wainscoting come as standard in these old buildings. We shared a large bedroom, the women’s quarters and I still remember, whenever a footfall sounded late in the night, my grand-aunt’s eerie whisper of, “Shush, listen, it’s the spirits.”

Is it any wonder I developed a taste for the paranormal? Since that time I can never pass an abandoned old house or graveyard with thinking, what if? Collecting old ghost stories has become my favourite pastime and I never tire of listening to the older generation as they recount some tale from the past that they swear happened to an uncle, aunt or cousin. Therein lies the problem with ghost stories. It is rare to get a first hand account from the person who has actually seen the paranormal event and it takes some sifting through to get anywhere near the truth. I am now working on my eleventh novel and as history was one of my favourite subjects during my schooldays, I try to combine this with the telling of the ghost story. In Ireland we are surrounded by myth and legend and there’s hardly an acre of land or an old house that doesn’t have some kind of story associated with it. Despite our enlightened times, there are many place where superstition is rife and the old women still cross themselves with fear when they speak of a particular spot or house. Our climate also lends itself to the ghost story, as our summers are but a moment and out winters a thousand years.

In my first novel, The Paupers’ Graveyard, I used the inspiration from an old paupers’ graveyard that lies at the back of my grandmother’s house. As children we frightened one another with tales of strange shadows in the bushes and the sound of twigs snapping under ghostly feet. The Great Famine left it marks on the land and its horror still resounds even today. So, it just became a matter of joining the two tales together and my first novel was born. The second, Death Cry, came from the legend of the Banshee. A spirit woman who is said to foretell with her cries, the death in certain families. Her image was a terrifying thing to encounter as she is said to have long flowing hair that she combs as she wails her terrible warning. No doubt a spine-tingling thought for those who walked the dark country roads late at night. Now, I’m not going to bore you with an outline of all my novels and I’m sure for the two descriptions that I have given you some idea of what I write.

It’s not always easy for a woman to be accepted as a horror writer. There are still those who think it an unsuitable job for the fairer sex. I always smile when I remember one old lady’s comment when she heard that I wrote horror.

“You’re  a very pretty girl,” she said. “And I’m sure if you put your mind to it, you could write something nice!”

For more information on Gemma and her work, visit her web site:  http://www.gemmamawdsley.com/
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