Cabinets full of antique dolls, basement photography studios, the forests of northern Sweden, London’s Barbican Centre – what do these things have in common? Short answer, in the hands of the Red Eye authors they can all be creepy as hell.
There’s something about the act of reading a horror that can get under your skin far more than a film ever can – perhaps the very fact that it’s something you have to do alone. Horror can encompass such a range of voices, of tones, of subgenres – from supernatural chillers to out-and-out splatter fests. And while everyone loves a great horror set piece, the genre can also be a great space to address teenage anxieties. Reading Lou Morgan’s SLEEPLESS, in which a group of school friends try a study drug from the internet, I was just as haunted by memories of the relentless anxiety of my GCSE year as I was by the grizzly results of the students’ experiment.
The idea of doing a YA horror series started brewing in 2013 from my frustration with all those black-and-red paranormal romance books that were everywhere back then. Where were the vampires with bite, the werewolves with teeth? Where had the thrills, the chills, the scares gone? And if everything you’re reading is a series, you know that your protagonist is going to be OK. (At least for the first few books.) What about that gut-clenching apprehension you get starting something like a Stephen King standalone – the feeling that you’re about to accompany the protagonist on a terrifying ride and once you get on there’s no getting off? (PET SEMETARY still has to be the most got-to-bed-with-the-lights-on-for-weeks-after petrifying books I’ve ever read.)
Out of the hundreds of YA books we were being presented by agents every year, not one was pitched as a horror. Maybe I just had to get out there and ask if there were authors interested in writing some for us… I wasn’t especially looking for people who’d written horror before – and that’s still the case when it comes to commissioning for the Red Eye list now. I just sought out authors I thought might have a passion for the genre and be prepared to delve into the darker depths of their imagination. So far the list has included everyone from established authors of YA thrillers, like Graham Marks, to those writing for a teenage audience for the first time, like Tom Becker and Sharon Gosling.
This September saw the publication of the 8th title in the series – Alex Bell’s CHARLOTTE SAYS. It’s been fabulous to see the series reach a whole new audience after Zoella selected Bell’s FROZEN CHARLOTTE for her autumn bookclub, just in time for Halloween last year. (Who would’ve thought Zoella was a secret horror fan?) The books have also been hugely popular in schools, with waiting lists to borrow copies from school libraries.
And, yes, there will be more from the series. I’d especially love to find someone as yet unpublished to make their debut with a Red Eye. I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, lurking in the shadows…
‘There’s always something horror-related or –themed in the zeitgeist – serial killers or sexy vampires or just plain old zombie rampages - even if it doesn’t always get the specific ‘horror’ label.’ Meet author Bartholomew Bennett