|Courtesy of m.inmagine.com|
We'd had fun out on our bikes, but I just wanted Mum now. I must have pedalled hard all the way home because my legs were wobbly. She’d be busy and she’d say, ‘Wouldn’t you rather be out playing?’ But sometimes the world’s too big and I want to curl up at home with her near me.
But a strange man opened the door, looking cross.
‘Who are you? Where’s Mum?’ I said.
‘She’s not here,’ he said. ‘What are you doing here again? Look at yourself!’
I looked down. A grubby nightdress. And my hands – wrinkled. Wizened. Old.
I watched the M. Night Shyamalan film The Visit the other night – a bit of a return to form for the writer/director of my favourite horror film The Sixth Sense. It is about two children who go to visit the grandparents they have never met before because of a falling out with their mother. As the visit progresses, things that at first seemed a bit ‘off’ about the old couple become increasingly alarming.
What struck me afterwards is that the film taps into fears we all have about old age – about dementia, incontinence and other horrors. We fear them happening to those we love; perhaps even more we dread suffering them ourselves.
This reminded me of misgivings I have had about my own writing. I worry that my psychological thriller Unspeakable Things exploits fears of mental illness. People very close to me have suffered anxiety and depression, and others I know and respect live with bipolar disorder and other conditions. The last thing I want to do is perpetuate prejudice against the mentally ill. However, one of my deepest fears is of madness – the loss of control, order, peace and reason, so this was a subject I wanted to explore.
Should there be holy cows in writing – things that must remain untouched? Or is fiction a legitimate way of exploring what frightens us? Perhaps it is a question of sensitivity in the way these subjects are portrayed.
As I write these 100-word Chillers, I am often challenged by these issues. What’s a good scary story, and what’s exploitative and best left untold? I’d love to hear your views – what films or stories go too far for you? What subjects should we leave alone?