Writing horror in SA

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Way back in 2011 I wrote a blog post for David Chislett’s blog on writing horror in South Africa and after reading what I wrote back then, I have to say I still agree with it.

So … here’s what I said way back then:

I write horror novels, novellas, and short stories which are set in South Africa. My first novel, Shadows, is set in Johannesburg. My second novel, Requiem in E Sharp (while not strictly a horror novel) is set in Pretoria. The genre fiction scene in South Africa is tiny in comparison with the rest of the world. There are only a handful of us who are writing horror set here and selling it to an international audience. Placing our stories here, instead of international locations like London or New York or the Australian outback, means we know our setting intimately. It also gives our stories a distinctive South African flavour.

I wrote Shadows while I was living and working in Johannesburg. As a result I used the neighbourhood I lived in and the building that I worked in. I used the buildings that I saw everyday. And while Johannesburg is a city like any other city the world over, it still has it’s own beat, it’s own pulse. I could have set it in any other city, it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference to the actual plot, but then I wouldn’t have been able to describe the setting in as much detail. I wouldn’t have been as comfortable writing it. Let’s be honest, there’s no point in my setting a book in a city I’ve never been to. Anybody reading it and who had been to whichever city I decided to pull out of my hat would know that I’d sucked the details out of my thumb. And the devil is in the details.

Writing horror is not just about where you place your story, it’s also about the people in the story. Since I write rather twisted stories, I get to do some rather nasty things to my characters. Strangely enough, I’m not a mean spirited person. When I look at the things that people are capable of doing to each other, it makes me scratch my head. In some ways I think I use my writing to try and figure out why people do such terrible things. I still haven’t quite managed to, but I keep trying.

I read an article a couple days ago about a young South African woman who lured a man to a cemetery where she killed him, dismembered him and skinned his face. I know that eventually this will end up in one of my books, because while I was reading it, I couldn’t understand why a twenty year old girl, who apparently seemed like your typical girl next door could just one day decide to skin a man’s face. It’s certainly not something that would ever occur to me to do. It left me wondering, why? I think it’s that question that drives me to write in this genre. Why do people believe in demons (and yes, you do get a lot of people who do)? Why do people believe in ghosts or haunted houses? What’s behind those strange occurrences? Why do people commit muti murders? The list of questions goes on and I think as long as those question elude me, I’ll keep writing about them and they’ll probably all be set in South Africa, a country that is filled with the horrific and the beautiful. It’s those polar opposites that give it its flavour and make it the perfect place to set horror novels.

To read the original have a look here.

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