Crime author Sharon Bolton explains why she gravitates towards grim tales, and why it is important to 'frighten through fiction'
The world has always scared us. Our ancestors feared invaders from across the seas, the wolves in the forest, the nameless sickness that carried away their children. Our fears may have evolved since then (although not entirely) but our way of dealing with them remains. We tell stories.
Whether around a cave-fire in Stone-Age times, or via the screen on our e-readers today, we confront our demons and test the extent of our own courage through a world of make believe. In our stories, we can be stronger than our fears, laugh at them, weave a magic spell and make them all go away. We need our scary books, plays, TV shows and films, we need to tell each other ghostly tales by candlelight, we need our fascination with serial killers and the worst of human crimes, because these help us cope with the black shape constantly peering over our shoulders.
I’ve long believed that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who have something of the night about them, and those in denial
But for me, a love of the grim tale goes beyond an understandable need to explore and come to terms with fear - it speaks to a natural human fascination with evil. I’ve long believed that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who have something of the night about them, and those in denial. We all have a dark side, we‘re all intrigued by the wicked and the unnatural, and we all leap at the chance to explore it a little further. Stephen King says he was ‘born with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin.’ So was I. So, I imagine, were most of us.
Is it too much of a stretch to say that we love stories about human evil, because we recognize something equally dark within ourselves? Just as there is fear inside us, there is potential wickedness too, and yet most of us never really know what we are capable of, until pushed to the limit.
Through stories of killers and kidnappers, robbers and rapists, we’re exploring how low we might be able to sink. When we frighten ourselves through fiction, we’re not only confronting our own fears, we’re dealing with that within us that others should fear. The savage inside us, that we’ve tamed through centuries of human laws and religious teachings, is getting a chance to poke his head out of the box, to roar!
Because ultimately, maybe what we fear most, is the darkness within ourselves.