This is the third in a series of posts leading up to the release of The Great Unknown, where authors share their experience of writing eerie stories for the anthology, and give you an idea of what to expect (and, I hope, look forward to). The Great Unknown is available to pre-order from Booktopia, Readings, Fishpond (free shipping worldwide) and all good bookstores. You might also want to add it to your shelves on Goodreads.
Today we hear from Ryan O’Neill (The Weight of a Human Heart) regarding his story ‘Sticks and Stones’:
What did you enjoy about writing to this particular brief or theme?
Though I’ve written stories in many different styles and forms, I had never written a story that departed from realism, or at least, realist themes. It was liberating to imagine how a character might react in a wholly fantastic situation, but also a challenge to ensure their reactions were plausible.
Tell us about your story in The Great Unknown.
‘Sticks and Stones’ is a ghost story about a haunted book and the effects it has on those who read it.
What memories do you have of watching The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or of reading spooky/uncanny stories as a kid?
I have very vivid childhood memories of watching The Twilight Zone, especially of the episodes where a woman on an isolated form battles a malicious little alien, who is later revealed to be an astronaut from Earth. I also vaguely remember an episode of The Twilight Zone, or perhaps The Outer Limits, where a group of characters are revealed, at the end of the episode to be puppets. It scared the living daylights out of me. It was a short step from The Twilight Zone to The Dead Zone, the first Stephen King book I read, and from there to the weird tales of HP Lovecraft, Clarke Ashton Smith, Algernon Blackwood and Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve always admired the skill necessary in constructing a ghost story, or weird tale, and was excited to have a try myself with ‘Sticks and Stones’.
What thoughts do you have on the reception of genre fiction, or of writing in a genre?
I haven’t read much modern supernatural fiction, as I think the emphasis has come to be on blood and gore rather than chills. Any genre, whether horror, SF or Fantasy, can become a ghetto if the writers working in it look inward, or are happy to keep repeating the same old formulas. For instance, at the moment it seems impossible to imagine anything original left to be done with zombies or vampires.
The last modern writer of weird fiction whose work I enjoyed was Thomas Ligotti, whose stories, despite (or perhaps because of) being almost entirely free of bloodshed or violence, are frequently terrifying. Ligotti is aware of writers who have gone before him, but is wholly original, and like the best of genre writers, he is, first and foremost, a great writer.