Alison Littlewood is the author of the thoroughly unsettling A Cold Season, The Path of Needles, and The Unquiet House – it’s therefore entirely appropriate for her to be in The Spectral Book of Horror Stories! She’s been kind enough to answer a few questions for me about her work and influences.
1. Can you remember the first horror story you read that made an impact on you?
I’m going to cheat a little here, and say “The Little Mermaid”, by Hans Christian Andersen. I know it was never intended as a horror story, but – the mermaid goes to a witch and has her cut out her tongue in order to be granted the ability to walk on dry ground, all for the love of a man. Every step she takes feels as if knives are being driven through her feet. And after everything she sacrifices, she still cannot make him love her back. I wept buckets over that story as a child, but I loved it, hopelessly, all the same.
2. What inspired the story you wrote for this anthology?
I often feel inspired to put the things that scare me or the things I love into my stories. It’s easier to do the former, because I can’t seem to do the latter without twisting them or doing terrible things to them. Maybe it’s like some kind of spell: if awful things happen in my stories, maybe they won’t happen in real life. In this case, the story stems from my love for my dog. And it was strange, if not slightly worrying, how much harder it was to have things happen to a dog in a story than if it was a person. After all, it’s a made-up world and a made-up situation and, indeed, a made-up dog, but still . . . (shudders).
3. How would you describe the kinds of stories you usually write and does this Spectral Book of Horror story depart from that?
I usually write fairly subtle horror, crossing over into dark fantasy. I’m fascinated by the questions we can’t answer, and interested in mythology and folklore, so my stories tend to circle those things. As to how my Spectral story differs – it’s nastier! 🙂
4. In your heart of hearts do you prefer your horror to be of the slashy variety or of a more subtle psychological stripe?
Generally, I prefer more psychological horror. I find it more effective as a reader – that sense of something slightly amiss, that creeps under your skin and leaves you uneasy, is more frightening to me than knives or monsters. Having said that, both have their place.
5. What are you currently reading?
I just finished Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel, the story of a travelling medium and her less than savoury spirit guide. It was one of those books I’d always intended to re-read, so now I have, though it’s taken me a few years – there’s always so much new material on the ‘to be read’ shelf! Before that I galloped through Mr Mercedes by Stephen King, which is wonderful – a master at the top of his game. Erm, it’s definitely one I want to re-read at some point . . .