Insects as inspiration for horror fiction

A potter wasp - the last thing you want to see if you're a grub

A potter wasp – the last thing you want to see if you’re a grub

Insects, or creepy-crawlies generally, can be quite scary. Especially en masse. Think of cockroaches, or locusts, or bees. It’s something about the bittiness of them, the impersonal nature of their advance, their unstoppability even when you kill some of them.

So an insect attack is quite a good subject or device in a horror story.

But better still is to think yourself, as an author, into the insect world itself.

I’m not a great one for reading horror stories; they elicit emotions in me that I prefer not to exercise. But I did read a story a long time ago that had someone waking up suspended by a butcher’s hook and lacking limbs. It gave me the heebee-geebees and still does.

And yet that’s more-or-less exactly what happens to grubs paralysed and imprisoned in clay ‘pots’ by certain wasps (potter wasps) in order to feed their young.

If you think about it, even the loss of individuality within a swarm (or flock or colony) is scary in itself. Imagine sacrificing yourself totally to the greater good of your hive, as a bee, to the extent that you deny your own reproductive capabilities and work your fingers to the bone only to be cast out when you’re past your best.

Come to think of it, this could be the inspiration for more than just a horror story …

Times are changing

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Anyone can write a book (coughs)

When I started writing this feature, I thought long and hard about making a pun on the word ‘times’ using both its temporal and typographic meanings.

When Kindles first began appearing, there were relatively few e-books about. As always, there were plenty of people who cried “It’ll never catch on!” and “Readers want real books!” but, bar a few die-hards, they’ve largely disappeared: e-books are the ‘now’ and the ‘immediate future’ – like it or not. In those early days, just about any book stood a chance of being bought. For example, in terms of the book’s cover, you could probably have got away with a black background with blocky white text saying “My Book” or even Amazon’s stunningly awful ‘holding’ cover (which is what you get if you don’t upload a jpg of your cover).

Not now.

The marketplace has since been swamped by every man and his dog who decided that they were capable of stringing a few sentences together. “Hey! (they no doubt thought) Here’s a chance to get rich. Let’s use the spellcheck, the free conversion software and have a go.”

The trouble is that a spellchecker can’t discriminate between ‘where’, ‘wear’ and ‘ware’, everyone knows that ‘alot’ is correct (groans loudly at this point) and that the words ‘could’, ‘should’ and ‘would’ are all followed by the word ‘of’ (as opposed to ‘have’ which is completely wrong). Additionally, the free conversion programs are notorious for not removing the extraneous code that a certain popular word processing program insists on inserting (why?) – something which can cause e-reader devices to freak out when they encounter it.

Finally, many new authors decided they could stand out by using the fancy typeface (the typographical reference) which looked so blindingly good on their word-processed version. Unfortunately such a font would probably not be mobi-friendly and this, combined with the aforementioned strange control codes, resulted in a poor quality product which only served to deter would-be readers from buying the work of unknown authors.

Times have changed – times are hard. If you want your book to get sold, you need to get wise to the standard it has to be produced to. There’s nothing essentially wrong with ‘home-made’ as long as it’s been produced by professionals.

Tone and flavour

Autumn roses 1Tone and flavour are two words which don’t seem to belong to the world of writing. The first could have been taken equally from the worlds of music or painting, and the second is definitely culinary.

They are, however, very important concepts in writing; in fact they’re sometimes so important that like the ‘elephant in the room’ they’re too big to be seen properly.

Strangely enough, tone and flavour are very close in meaning; in fact one could almost consider them to be synonymous. They stand for the bias in the book’s choice of setting, plot, characters and language which, as a whole, elicits a reaction in the reader, whether it be one of sympathy and attraction, or one of repulsion.

Let me take 2 examples. One novel is set in the back streets of London. The only weather ever described is rain, and the whole environment is bleak and ugly. The characters are miserable and depressed, they don’t enjoy their jobs, and they have unsatisfactory relationships. When they go to a café, the food is unappetising, the cutlery is greasy, and the service is grumpy.

The second novel takes place in a jungle. The author is at great pains to describe the heat, the humidity, the smell of the damp vegetation and of the various types of flowers and fruits. The rain patters on the leaves. Everything is in abundance, even in excess. The characters are full of life and sexual fervour. Their bodies are smooth and tanned. They eat fruit and edible shoots. They are improvident and happy-go-lucky.

Obviously these 2 books represent extremes. But they are each unified in their representation of reality and they will each evoke a response in the reader. The first novel may come over as boring, samey, depressing or, conversely, as realistic, gritty, grass-roots. The second novel may be seen as oppressive, over-exuberant, alien, or alternatively colourful, exotic, dreamy.

Some readers, if questioned, might pick on one aspect of the book as having elicited their response – setting, plot, outcome, for example – but others are likely to be less articulate and say they just ‘liked it’ or ‘didn’t like it’. In many instances they will have been affected by the book’s tone or flavour.

Authors who are wise to this audience reaction may deliberately create a tone or a flavour by means of introducing more restricted but repeated devices such as smells or perfumes (diesel oil, roses), or sounds ( water, traffic). They may stylise the dialogue or the descriptions.

Naturally, some authors aren’t conscious of introducing tone or flavour to their books. Perhaps, in some cases, it goes naturally with the subject matter, or issues from the writers own innate character. But it pays to be aware of the possibilities.

Major recruitment campaign for writers

Get the champers ready!

Monday, 28th May, 2012 sees Any Subject Books launch a major press campaign to recruit new writers. Putting together how many people there are out of work and how many natural-born storytellers there must be, it’s a no-brainer for us to say we’d love to hear from them.

We’re also looking to recruit students as writers. Don’t worry about it interefering with your studies as we’ll even accept short stories (5,000 words plus) to put together into a compilation which we can market.

If that describes you (or you have some time on your hands), don’t let the fact that you’re not a published author put you off. As you’ll see from our other pages, we’ve had our fill of rude literary agencies who can’t even be bothered to acknowledge your existence or, if they do, merely glance at your name, decide you’re no-one famous and send out a dismissive rejection letter.

Well, that’s not us.

Just think of how the cash could help. Not only that, get a book up and selling and you’ve got an income for life. You’ve seen those dubious ads that promise such things? Well, this is the real deal.

And you don’t need to be someone famous, either. We’re not chasing after the autobiography of some politician’s secretary who says they had an affair (well, there’s a shock-and-a-half) nor do you have to have climbed Everest backwards. No, you just need a cracking yarn and the ability to tell it.

So, you might ask, why bother with you and your agency’s deductions when I can publish it direct myself? Well, the answer to that is that most authors who upload a single book never make a sale. All that work for nothing or the best part, thereof. We optimize your title, your description, sample text, and, using campaigns like we’ve got running for writer recruitment and for our high-selling female-erotic author, Melissa Harding. You’ve also got the cross-promotion of all of our other books pushing yours forwards.

Could you follow in Melissa Harding’s stiletto-shaped footsteps?

One catch – you must meet our high standards for spelling and grammar.

Everyone has a story to tell. Tell us yours.