Tuesday 25 April 2023

An Absence of Ghosts

My short story titled "An Absence of Ghosts" has just been published in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #73. As usual, I'm blogging a few words discussing how the story came to be written. There may be spoilers within.

This story developed from a couple of sources. Firstly, I tend to like trashy horror films but get bored of the tropes. I remember watching "Wrong Turn" and thinking why not make a movie called "Right Turn", where a bunch of teenagers take the better turning and get safely to their destination within a few minutes, with the remaining 90 minutes of the film just credits. Around that time, horror author/editor Johnny Mains was putting together an anthology called "An Obscurity of Ghosts" (featuring forgotten tales of the genre). That make me think how I might write a ghost story, and contrary me came up with "An Absence of Ghosts". The idea, therefore, was to write a story that subverted the usual tropes by having nothing happen. Or, as Stephen Theaker has better phrased it in promo for this edition of the magazine, "From Andrew Hook we have An Absence of Ghosts, about a trip into the mountains where the eeriest things keep not happening."

In my story, therefore, a group of American late-teenage kids keep getting into scrapes where it might appear a horror trope is being set up, only for it to come to naught. Personally, I think this is quite funny (although I do have quite an oblique sense of humor). That doesn't mean that the story isn't also unnerving. Fellow writer, Andrew Humphrey, who I always exchange new stories with, agreed: "I love the constant undercutting of horror movie tropes, but, despite this, you still manage to build a tangible sense of dread. I still kept thinking that something awful would happen and that indeed would also have been a trope!"

Here's a bit of it:

Scott shouts ahead. “Wait! Some ground rules. Check our cells work, don’t split up, turn on any lights if they’re working, if we have to run don’t fall over, and if we do end up getting chased when we reach the highway, don’t run down the centre of the road when being pursued by a car.”

They laugh.

“We’re safe,” Francine says, “because Jessie isn’t here. She’s the shy one. She’s the final girl. If she’s not with us, then this can’t turn out bad.”

As well as the aforementioned "Wrong Turn", I also riff off "A Nightmare on Elm Street", "Carnival of Souls", "Psycho", "The Blair Witch Project", "Candyman", "From Beyond The Grave", "The Babadook", "Ringu", and "Wolf Creek, amongst others. See if you can spot them all.

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #73 is edited by Stephen Theaker and John Greenwood and is published through Theaker's Paperback Library. The magazine is free to download in epub and pdf, and as cheap as they can possibly make it to buy on Kindle and in print. The best link to check out all purchase options is here. This issue also features stories by Patrick Whittaker, Charles Wilkinson, Harris Coverley and Ross Gresham plus reviews.

As regular readers are aware, I write my short stories listening to music on repeat. In this case, throughout the entire writing session, I played "Jezebel Spirit" by David Byrne & Brian Enoon a loop. Not sure how many times I heard it, but it was quite a few.

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