Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
It was back in 1989, I was nine years old and in primary school, when I discovered a book called Dracula. Until then, I had merely heard the name whispered in the playground, where rumours of old Hammer films spread along with the head lice and poo jokes. I was already scared of ghosts and monsters under the bed (I had yet to hear about Cthulhu), and the children’s cartoon Count Duckula had introduced me to the notion of vampires – even though that particular character consumed vegetables instead of blood – so I should have been a little prepared for what happened on one of those perfectly sunny days of a lost childhood.
I suspect that chaffinches were frolicking in the trees outside and I was probably thinking about what Mum was making for tea as I went to the mini-library at one end of the classroom (it was basically two bookshelves and a patch of threadbare carpet to sit on), looking for something to read.
And I was not prepared.
I saw this little hardback book peering out from between the adventures of Roger Red Hat and Jennifer Yellow Hat. I took the book from its hiding place and appraised the front cover.
I was terrified and intrigued. My little heart quickened with the same species of excited fear I’d felt when I first watched Ghostbusters on VHS. The book was a ‘Ladybird Horror Classic’ according to the cover, which comprised of the Count himself rising from his coffin to deal with some foolish interloper. I was mesmerised. This was fantastic and terrifying and for that moment there was just the book in my hands and nothing else mattered. This was better even than Wacaday with Timmy Mallet. Better than Thundercats. Better than fucking Star Wars!
I had no knowledge of the Bram Stoker classic and only had a vague image of a clip from a film that showed a man with dark hair and fangs, wearing a cape – which turned out to be Christopher Lee, of course.
Needless to say, I devoured the book in minutes – it was an abridged edition no longer than thirty pages, with illustrations and large print – and then I read it again. And again. I think I read it almost every day until I moved on to secondary school and had to leave it behind. It planted a seed in my mind, and a love for monsters and horror fiction, that would fully bloom three years later with my first viewing of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
I still occasionally think of the book and wonder what became of it. I wonder if it’s still in that mini-library, in the corner, hidden away as shelter for spiders. I wonder if another child found the book and fell in love with it. I hope that happened.
I hope it did some good.
I don’t read as much as I used to, as it’s difficult to find the time when my one-year-old daughter is rampaging around the house and most of my spare time is spent writing. I should read more. Nevertheless, I’ve read some excellent books recently. In my humble opinion, the horror fiction genre is very strong.
Adam Nevill’s latest, No One Gets out Alive, and David Moody’s, Strangers were both superb, and at the moment they both set the standard for horror novels, despite having very different writing styles. I’ve recently finished Benedict J Jones’ crime thriller Pennies for Charon, and that was one of my favourite reads of the year; as was Adam Baker’s, Impact. I’m currently rereading JG Ballard’s, The Drowned World, which is even better second time around.
To be honest, there are so many talented horror/dark fiction writers out there that I’ll never get around to reading all of their work. So that makes me a little sad. But on the other hand it’s inspiring to me as a writer, because it makes me want to work harder and better.
Whether I do end up writing better, that’s for the reader to judge.
I’ll be sixty-five in 2045, if I’m still alive. Bloody hell. And even then I could be a gibbering wreck sucking meals through a straw. I could be part-machine. Will I still have a beard? Will there still be books?
It scares me to look that far ahead, to be honest. Growing old terrifies me. The future will be a weird place, but I hope by then our species has figured out how to work together and stop fucking up the environment. Hopefully I’ll still be writing and getting books published. Who knows? I’d hope to be healthy enough to do what I love and be able to write without having to work a day job. Maybe I’ll get that post-apocalyptic epic stewing in my head onto paper. And it’d be cool if some of my fellow horror scribes had hit the big time by then. They deserve it.
I wonder if I’ll be as obsessive about writing as I am now. I’ve got loads of ideas, and I know they won’t all see the light of day, but that doesn’t matter; it doesn’t annoy me as much as I thought it would. What does matter is when I’m an old man I want to be able to look back and know that I tried my best and have a body of work I can be at least a little pleased with. Knowing me, probably not, because I’m always overly-critical with my own writing. But even if I can look back and know that some people enjoyed my books, it would be of some comfort as my eyesight starts to go, arthritis wracks my limbs and I lose bladder control. You have to enjoy the little things, I suppose.
I may delve into some crime or science fiction at some point; they’ve always interested me, especially crime fiction. That would be an interesting challenge.
But I can’t see myself turning away from horror. I love it, like cheese.
Because horror will always be there. Horror is with me for life.
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Rich Hawkins hails from deep in the West Country, where a childhood of science fiction and horror films set him on the path to writing his own stories. He credits his love of horror and all things weird to his first viewing of John Carpenter's THE THING when, aged twelve, he crept downstairs late one night to watch it on ITV. He has a few short stories in various anthologies, and has written one novella, BLACK STAR, BLACK SUN, released earlier this year. His debut novel THE LAST PLAGUE has recently been nominated for a British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel. The sequel, THE LAST OUTPOST, is due for release in the autumn of 2015.
He currently lives in Salisbury, Wiltshire, with his wife, their daughter and their pet dog Molly. They keep him sane. Mostly.
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