With the release of our seventeenth anthology, we at Sirens Call Publications decided not to break tradition and asked all of the contributing authors in FEAR: Of the Dark to share the inspiration for their stories. Out of the nine authors whose tales lurk between the covers waiting to terrify you, seven took up the challenge of putting their fears into words. We begin with Alex Woolf, author of The House on the Peninsula, but before we delve into what horrors hide in dark of his mind, let’s take a moment for everyone to get acquainted just a little more…
Alex Woolf was born in London in 1964, and as a child of the 1970s remembers frequent power cuts and being frightened of an all-consuming dark. When he grew up he became a writer of fiction and non-fiction, mainly for young people and usually on quite dark themes. He’s had over sixty titles published in many different languages, including books on spiders, Nazis, asteroid strikes, ghosts, aliens and the Black Death. His recent fiction includes Chronosphere, a time-warping sci-fi trilogy, Soul Shadows, a horror novel about cannabalistic shadows, Whispers from Behind the Cellar Door, a collection of horror tales, and Aldo Moon, featuring a teenage Victorian ghost-hunter and described by bestselling crime writer Peter James as “witty, ghostly and at times deliciously ghastly.” 2014 sees the release of Iron Sky: Dread Eagle, his first foray into the world of steampunk. He lives in Southgate, North London, with his wife and two children. You can find him on Twitter at @RealAlexWoolf and on Facebook.
So without further ado, we turn you over to Alex…
The House On The Peninsula Inspiration
I’ve always liked stories that lead you down unexpected paths. They start somewhere familiar and you think you know where you are, and then something happens and another thing happens and before you know it, you’re in a place that is completely alien and usually quite frightening. A good example of this is the movie From Dusk Till Dawn, which starts as a straightforward tale of a bank heist and a getaway, and then descends into vampiric horror.
In my story, ‘The House on the Peninsula’, we begin with a thief – a housebreaker. I thought it would be interesting to have as my hero a man who actually likes the dark – who relies on it in order to carry out his secret, nefarious work. I don’t know any thieves personally, so my inspiration for this character had to come from within, and from what I imagined such a person might be like. The thief is comfortable and relaxed as he goes about his business. There is no hint at first that he himself might be under any threat other than discovery.
When I began writing the story, I didn’t have any clear idea about what was going to happen. All I knew was that I wanted to subvert expectations – the thief’s expectations of what was going to happen next, and also, hopefully, the readers’. I wanted the house to be – for that night at least and for my thief – the worst place on earth. And I wanted the darkness to be a character in the story – or several characters, because the quality of the darkness actually changes from scene to scene.
I once read a book called The Ritual by Adam Nevill, about a bunch of hikers who get lost in a dark wood and terrible things start happening to them. It’s very good at describing that moment-by-moment, sweat-drenched descent into horror. As I wrote the story, I tried to imagine at each second how the thief was feeling. I tried to picture myself in that house, stumbling along in his shoes. I recalled an experience in my childhood when I got lost at night in a country house where I was staying. I was attempting to find the toilet, but there were so many doors in the long corridor, and I was terrified of opening any of them in case I found myself in someone’s bedroom. There was some light in that corridor. It would have been a lot more frightening if there hadn’t been.
I’ve mentioned a few inspirations here, but I’m sure there were many more that reached in from my subconscious while I was working on this story. As a writer, I’m only ever vaguely aware of what’s going on in my brain as my fingers are punching away at the keyboard. I’m gripped by the unfolding narrative, striving for words to describe what I can see, hear, and smell. Most of the time I don’t have a clue where any of it comes from or how it got there – but I want to take this opportunity to thank any storytellers out there from whose wellsprings of imagination I might have unthinkingly taken a drink. Perhaps one day this story might serve as an inspiration to some other writer. That’s a nice thought!
Thank you Alex! Now let’s take a look at FEAR: Of the Dark…
What makes your skin tingle? What makes you look over your shoulder sure that something is lurking there? What ratchets your tension level up so high that nothing matters more than what comes next on the page?
The answers to those questions are the ones we sought when we put together this collection of nine stories. Inside these pages you’ll find fear that engages, fear that provokes, fear that drives you to the brink of… Well, everyone has a different precipice when it comes to fear, but the stories selected for FEAR: Of the Dark certainly held our attention.
If you truly enjoy a well written story that engages the senses and prompts anxiety and paranoia, FEAR: Of the Dark may be the perfect collection of short stories for you. And in case you were wondering, it is waiting for you, out there – somewhere; you just don’t know it yet.
Rose Blackthorn, Juan J. Gutiérrez, Jovan Jones, Lars Kramhøft, Lisamarie Lamb, Jon Olson, Zachary O’Shea, Jon Steinhagen, and Alex Woolf
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And here’s a little excerpt from The House on the Peninsula…
I’ve never understood it when people say they’re scared of the dark. It’s not the dark that’s the problem now is it? Dark never hurt anybody. It’s like saying you’re scared of a mask. What you mean is that you’re scared of what it’s hiding. That’s a mistake commonly made, I find. Personally, I love the dark. Dark is my friend. Dark helps me do my job. And I don’t mind that people fear it, if it means they’ll leave me be.
I’m working tonight, as it happens. It’s two o’clock in the morning, and dark as a badger’s guts. Cloud’s covering any light from moon or stars. Perfect! I’m out on the peninsula at the south side of the bay. It’s a narrow, curving blade of land. A single road leads almost to the very end where the black rocks tumble into the foam. There are houses strung out along the road – big old houses, sturdy enough to bear the constant sea winds, with heavy oak timbers that creak at night. They probably creak days, too – though I wouldn’t know about that. Those creaks are my friends, too. People fear them, just like they fear the dark, and they don’t come bothering me.
At night, you can see the lights of the houses on the peninsula from the far side of the bay. You can see them from the marina, or from the upper floors of the high-rise hotels in town. The lights twinkle prettily through the sea mist like ships on the horizon. By eleven o’clock, or thereabouts, they’re all switched off – all but the outside lights, which go on burning steadily till dawn. You can see them, if you can’t sleep, on your early-hours amble along the beach, or while nursing a nightcap on your hotel balcony. But would you notice if the outside lights of one of those peninsula houses all of a sudden went out? I promise you wouldn’t. Put it another way: in the fifteen years I’ve been working this strip, no one ever has.
I’m standing in the hallway of the fourth house from the end. I’ve been lucky – found a window open. It’s been a few months since my last excursion to the peninsula, and security’s obviously got lax again. It’s one of the bigger houses, space enough for a family of five or six to judge by the number of windows on the upper floor.
Apart from the odd creaking of joist or rafter, it’s quiet in here. You can barely hear the crash of the surf or the screech of gulls. With my torch, it doesn’t take me long to locate the fuse box. They’re always in the same place – the cupboard under the stairs. I remove the lid. All the black switches are pointing upwards like a row of goose-stepping soldiers. The big red mains switch is pointing upwards, too. I push it down. That’s dealt with the lights – and I’m willing to bet none of the insomniacs across the bay noticed a thing…