Writing horror: It's all around


22 September 2023
Reality is horrifying, says debut author Jamison Shea, describing how their book came to be

A writer in their twenties moves to a new flat in a new city in a new country on another continent. The building is old but charming – it predates the first World War, so the network connection sucks, and the kitchen has a terrible draft that lets in the frosty January air, but the wood flooring is nice. And one afternoon, the writer takes a break to carry some boxes to storage. Just a couple flights of stairs to the heavy attic door that requires a key. They juggle boxes on their knee and manage to slip inside before the door slams loudly behind them.
It’s dark.

The only source of light is from gaps in roof slats, which also let in the whistling wind. It’s too dark to grope the walls for a light switch, and the writer’s hands are full of boxes anyway. They try not to wonder if they’re locked inside, and how long it’d take for anyone to hear them banging on the thick metal. Their phone is downstairs in the flat itself—they didn’t think they’d need it.

As they walk down the row of storage units that look like wooden cages, the contents take on shapes. Looming figures and grotesque monsters whose eyes follow them. One step, they hear the wind, and the next, everything goes dead quiet. The writer feels a tickle – a breath – on the back of their neck. Anything, anyone could be up here with them, locked in this attic where no one will hear their screams, the pop of their bones, the slurp of their marrow.
But no, it’s just a dark attic in an old, empty building. Whatever hides among the rows doesn’t come around to find them. Nothing tugs on their clothes or nips at their skin all the way to the exit. The door opens easily, and the light and warmth from the hall spills in, and the writer goes back into their desk and cracks their knuckles and gets to work.

I am a horror fan with an active imagination. I find horror inspiration in everyday life because everything is terrifying.

The world we live in right now is full of dark corners and creaking floors: a naval fortress turned historical site, mining tunnels and ossuaries underneath a city, silent forests in the Finnish countryside, a foggy bridge in the heart of Prague, a flickering light and dark hallway at grandma’s house. In the Salon du Soleil at Opéra Garnier, I watched my reflection in the many mirrors and imagined when they’d give up the ruse. In the Catacombs, I wondered what lay on the other side of locked gates. At a bistro, I wondered how many of the tables are actually occupied by ghosts. Was that towering figure at the end of the corridor in this empty school on a Saturday—what a liminal space—someone to fear?

My debut novel, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me, plays with these horror sources. Drawing from films like Black Swan and Jennifer’s Body, ballerina Laure strikes a deal with an eldritch being in the Catacombs beneath Paris to nail her audition, and she slowly transforms into a monster. Is that so horrifying, being monstrous? Or is it the people around her that she can’t trust? Is it the company that dangles a dream in the faces of her and her classmates, promising things it may never give just to extract their unwavering loyalty? Is it a society that throws people away when they are no longer useful? A world that pits girls against each other?

When I sat down to write this story, I was only asking questions. What’s more horrifying: a river of blood that whispers to you, or knowing you’re so desperate to be seen that you’re okay with it? Selling your soul for a place in the world, or learning that the world will never love you back, no matter what you do? Turning into a fiend and loving it, or losing your best friend in the process?

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You tell me, what’s scarier: the things we imagine might be lurking in dark corners, or the things we do to one another in the light of day? I know my answer.

I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me by Jamison Shea, is published by Hot Key Books


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