Meet author Amelia Mangan @ameliamangan #HorrorLounge
Tell us about your latest book
Release is a Midwestern Gothic tale of madness, murder and matricide, revolving around a young man named Stanley Fitzgerald - institutionalised as a teenager for the slaying of his mother - who is befriended by charismatic fellow inmate (and fellow killer), Marina Gardner. Marina helps Stanley secure a release, whereupon he returns to the only home he's ever known: the isolated farmhouse where he grew up. With the help of his distant cousin Ann, Stanley sets about repairing his broken life - until, one rainy night, Marina knocks on his door. After that, things get a mite uncomfortable.
First memory of reading horror
Roald Dahl's The Witches, aged about three or four. I loved it, and was scarred by it. I desperately wanted to be the glamorously monstrous Grand High Witch, but would nonetheless insist that the book be taken out of the room at night before I could fall asleep. Clearly, ours was a complicated relationship.
Which 3 horror books do you keep returning to?
Though it's a short story, not a book, I find that Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" seeps into the back of my mind, and my work, as an almost constant influence. It's as perfect and poisonous a miniature as you'll ever find.
Rounding out the list: Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and - if it counts as horror; certainly it counts as Gothic - Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy. Delirious hothouse-flower blooms from the farthest reaches of prose, as far as it can go before it becomes Symbolist poetry, and powerful rebuttals to the notion of "style over substance" - demonstrating, rather, that style is substance.
For readers new to horror which 3 books would you recommend?
Carrie is a good one to start with: it's as great as its reputation suggests, and pretty much everyone knows the story's broad outlines, so it's not too much of a shock to a total newcomer's system. If you're ready for something a bit more untamed, I'd recommend Clive Barker's slender debut, The Hellbound Heart (basis of Hellraiser, though the book is more interior and hallucinatory, with greater emphasis on the story's psychosexual themes). If you're coming to the genre from the perspective of someone more accustomed to literary fiction, Toni Morrison's Beloved strikes me as an excellent entry point (and, frankly, everyone should read it anyway).
Who do you consider the King and Queen of horror fiction?
I don't know that we've formally installed a monarchy (as yet), but in terms of modern reach and influence it's pretty hard to get beyond Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, in particular, is a must-read for angry semi-Goth girls, or anyone who ever was one, or wanted to be one, or knew one.
Greatest horror film (adapted from a book) & why?
The Night of the Hunter (1955), directed by Charles Laughton, from the novel by Davis Grubb. It tanked hard upon its initial release, because people in 1955 were for some reason not at home to an Expressionistic brimstone-scented excoriation of sexual repression and religious hypocrisy, but it's since been recognized as the masterpiece it is. (Full disclosure: it's my favourite film, full stop.)
Horror book that you’d like to see adapted to film & why?
I'd love to see some brave soul try to tackle KW Jeter's Dr. Adder: a mad 1984 cyberpunk-body-horror novel tackling the intersection where sex meets commerce, as personified by the title character, an amoral surgeon who warps women's bodies into nightmarishly perverse configurations to satisfy the demands of his wealthy male clients. It was hugely influential and would nowadays probably be mentioned in the same transgressive-lit breath as Crash and Naked Lunch if it were only in print; I say make it a cable series, get David Cronenberg involved in some capacity and watch the complaints come rolling in.
Best horror TV?
I talk about it in a bit more detail further down, but: Twin Peaks. Then, now, and forever.
Did you write in other genres or straight to horror?
Working in horror was never really a conscious decision; it's what I tend to gravitate towards, being largely inclined towards pessimism by nature. (I would like readers to know that I originally typed "being a miserable bitch who hates people", but decided this was perhaps a touch inelegant. You're welcome.) I don't stick strictly to any genre, though; I'll go wherever the story takes me.
Tell us about your fans
Monsters, malcontents and perverts all. I send them nothing but love.
Horror doesn’t seem to be as well respected as other genres of fiction. Why do you think that is?
Well, there is a great deal of crap in the genre, but of course the same holds true for every genre (including literary fiction). I think horror largely gets a bad rap because, by design and by nature, it's deeply upsetting: it kneads at your lizard brain and tells you that your most despairing fantasies could well come true, the worst case scenario is entirely possible, safety is an illusion, evil can triumph, and someday, somehow, you will die. These are, broadly speaking, not truths that most people wish to be reminded of, but they are valuable truths nonetheless, and they need to be spoken aloud. Horror is here to stay, and that goes for both the genre and the concept.
Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance
I've been thinking about this a fair bit of late, in the wake of what I believe to be two of the most significant works of horror fiction yet produced in the newly-spawned 'Trump Era': David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks: The Return, and Darren Aronofsky's mother!. (I am aware that both projects were underway prior to the 2016 election, but artists generally do act as bellwethers, don't they.) I think something in the collective consciousness has shifted (not to say snapped) post-election: life has, for a great many people, very suddenly taken on a shape almost unrecognizably strange and chaotic and dreadful. Both Twin Peaks and mother! are nightmare reflections on the horrific, violent and cyclical nature of human history, on the terrible things we have done, are doing and will likely continue to do to ourselves and the world around us. They are also surreal and uncompromising in a way I haven't seen in mainstream horror for a very long time, entirely willing to alienate audiences, prioritizing incantatory symbolism and primal howls of pain and rage over linear storytelling and familiar genre trappings.
So, TL; DR, yes: I think horror is ready for a renaissance. I don't think it really has any choice. And I think it's going to force us toward places we've never been, but somehow - in our most troubled dreams - always imagined we might end up.
Tips for new writers of horror fiction.
Probably the best writing advice I can give is not to listen to writing advice. The 'rules' you'll hear a lot about are mostly improvised: the truth is that none of us really know what the hell we're doing and you never really know what's going to work until you do some in-depth experimentation of your own. That said, if I did have to tell any writer anything, it would be to read everything you can get your mitts on, in absolutely every genre (not just the one you want to work in). Don't differentiate between 'high' and 'low' art: good work is good work and if you read widely enough, you'll learn to recognize it. Oh, and unless you're contributing to a charity project, always make sure you get paid.
Do you believe in evil?
Absolutely. Not in the sense of an external, supernatural force, or in that sort of Bad Seed sense of a person somehow being 'born bad', but in the sense that humans are capable of acts and attitudes that can, in their essence, only be described as evil. Which rather neatly dovetails with this next question.
(A final note; it seems sadly germane. The day I answered this question was the day news broke of the worst gun massacre in recent US history. At the very moment I was writing this response, an email popped up in my Inbox. The header read: "Horror in Las Vegas".)
What scares you?
Cruelty. This has always been my response to this question, and it's something I feel more acutely than ever these days. I have a deep-seated horror of cruelty, and a lot of that springs from the fact that on a fundamental level I find it very hard to understand: how can a human being wilfully harm others and not care? How can human beings observe the suffering of others and approve of it? A great deal of my work - possibly all of it - is an attempt to, on some level, come to grips with the reality of cruelty, despite the fact that reality continually reminds me I probably never will.
Do you celebrate Halloween?
Every day, mate. Every day.
Where can readers find you?