Monday, June 25, 2012

DEATH VS SEX by Sara Jayne Townsend

 “Horror, mostly,” I replied cheerfully.  The room went silent Many years ago – some point in the early 1990s, before my writing group was formed – I belonged to an amateur dramatic group.  One of the ladies in this group was also a writer, and she invited me along to her next writing group meeting.  I was in my early 20s at that point.  The lady I accompanied was considerably older.  In fact, everyone in the group was older. That was the first thing I noticed.  I was the youngest person present by about 30 years.  But I was duly introduced, and everyone was very friendly.  At least they were at first.  Then someone asked me, “so what do you write?”

 Everyone stared at me.  Eventually someone said nervously, “we’ve never had one of THOSE before.”
Needless to say, this was my only visit to that particular writers’ group.  I often wonder why my announcement that I was a horror writer shocked this group to the core.  I may as well have announced I was a serial killer with a penchant for chopping up small children.  Perhaps they believed I was.  Just because people dying rather gruesome deaths feature in my writing a lot, does this mean people make the assumption that I go around chopping people up for fun at weekends?  This is like the erroneous assumption that erotica writers have experienced personally all the steamy sex scenes they write about.  No one assumes that a science fiction writer knows how to fly a space ship.  So why are writers of other genres assumed to be writing from experience?

Many writers who start writing young are given the advice, “write what you know”.  This is not necessarily bad advice.  But to a 16-year-old writer, it probably is.  Yes, at 16, you might think you know everything, but in reality you don’t really know anything at all.  What if you want to write a novel about someone who has the ability to fly?  Taking this “write what you know” advice to literally would mean that such a story would never get written.  But you can imagine what it might be like to fly.  Imagine how it might feel, feeling the wind against your face, high above the trees, looking down over the roof tops, nothing holding you up but your own ability.  How exhilarating would it feel?  What would you be able to see, from your bird’s eye vantage point?  Imagination is the writer’s most powerful tool.  As long as you can imagine it – really imagine it, using all your senses – you can write convincingly about it.

In many ways, writing about death is not a lot different from writing about sex.  They are both human experiences.  They are both part of life.  They both deal with a range of human attitudes and emotions.
As a horror writer, I am fascinated by the dark side of human nature.  Fans of romance stories tend to say they like the ‘happy ever after’ ending, the happy feeling that everything will be all right in the end.  For me, I’d rather explore the unhappy ending.  What is it that makes human beings do such appalling things to each other?  What is it that makes people kill?  Do you have to be a bad person to be capable of committing murder, or is this something that every human being is capable of, given the right circumstances?

When I have such conversations with colleagues, they tend to look at me nervously, the way that writing group did years ago.  But my fascination with the darkness of the soul tends to stay on the page – I’m not about to go and find out for real what it’s like to kill someone.  In many ways, being able to write about these dark feelings is a way of keeping them out of my real life.

I tend to come away from a horror story feeling somewhat relieved that my own life is actually pretty good compared to those of the characters I’ve just been reading, or writing, about.  And for that reason, I’d rather have the ‘everybody is in a bad way’ ending than the ‘happy ever after’ ending.

"Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror.  She
has two novels, SUFFER THE CHILDREN and DEATH SCENE, published as
e-books by Lyrical Press.  Her latest release is a collection of short
horror stories, entitled SOUL SCREAMS, available as print and e-book
from Stumar Press (

You can learn more about Sara and her writing from her website
( and her blog

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