Happy Horrors: Finding a Good Read

Read the original version in Inside Time here.

Books have been a great escape during lockdown. But when you can’t get to the library it may be hard to know what you want to read. To give you some pointers, we’re introducing Finding a Good Read.

Each month the column will focus on a particular genre – fantasy, thrillers, sci fi, historical novels, biographies, history, science etc, with an overview and some of the big names for you to check out til libraries re-open and you can browse the shelves yourself.

This month….HORROR

Horror stories scare, startle and shock. So why are they so pleasurable? One theory:

‘The rush of adrenaline feels good. Our hearts pound, our breath quickens, and we can imagine ourselves on the edge…They also make us think, and remind us that the world is not always as safe as it seems.’

Whatever the reasons, horror is a hugely popular genre, with lots of different ways to send chills down your spine. Here are some of the big names that are in almost every library;

Stephen King: he pretty much covers the horror bases, from blood-soaked slashers like The Shining and Carrie, to psychological nightmares like Misery and It. And he’s published more than 60 books so lots to choose from.

James Herbert: author of 25 novels that range from post-apocalyptic bestsellers like The Rats and The Fog to supernatural/psychological horror including Others, Haunted and The Dark.

Dean Koontz: his 100+ novels are billed as suspense thrillers but often have a horror edge. A few titles to whet your appetite: Demon Seed, Intensity, Phantoms, Odd Thomas.

Other writers to check out: Clive Barker, Shaun Hutson, Neil Gaiman


If you want your terror blood-stained, vampires are a sure winner. The daddy of them all is Bram Stoker’s Dracula which has been made into more than 200 films and inspired dozens of books. Authors to look out for:

Anne Rice: her 17-novel series The Vampire Chronicles features a 200-year old French aristocrat and his vampire wanderings across the world.

Charlaine Harris: her 15-novel Southern Vampire series is set in Louisiana and stars the wonderful Sookie Stackhouse – waitress, mind-reader and girlfriend of a vampire. More laughs than shivers but they’re a good read and inspired the HBO True Blood series.

Psychological terror

This is the kind of horror that explores what fear does to the mind and makes us unsure about what’s really there.

Classic ghost story writers from the 1800s include Edgar Allan Poe, MR James and Henry James, author of the brilliant but difficult Turn of the Screw. The 1961 film version, The Innocents, remains for some one of the most haunting movies ever. More recently Netflix has released two adaptations, The Innocents (2018) and The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020).

Dan Simmons: his novel The Terror is based on the lost Arctic expedition of John Franklin and was the inspiration for the current BBC series.

Shirley Jackson: the kind of scary that slowly creeps up on you instead of darting out of the shadows. Her Haunting of Hill House has also become a Netflix series.

Other ghost story writers to check out: Michelle Paver, Susan Hill, Peter Straub, Richard Matheson, Joe Hill

Scariest films ever?

Here’s a list to compare your own favourites with:

  • Let the Right One In
  • Halloween
  • Psycho
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Hereditary
  • The Shining
  • The Others
  • The Exorcist

Ghost story challenge

How many words does it take to make you shiver? Here’s a tale in under 150:

A Persistent Woman by Marjorie Bowen

            Temple, exhausted, resolved to leave his wife; their atrocious quarrels were killing him; he was still shaking with the furies of this morning’s disagreement when he returned home with bitter reluctance; difficult to get free of Sarah, but it must be done; Temple was resolved.

            She met him in the sombre lane that led to their house, and clung to his arm in silence; se was repentant no doubt, but Temple could not relent; he was mute and tried to shake her off, but she clung with great tenacity.

            When they reached their home he found it full of commotion; out of a phantasmagoria someone told him that his wife had been discovered in the pond – ‘Suicide, poor thing!’ and his brother whispered’ ‘You’re free.’

            But Temple grinned at the spiteful shape hugging his arm and knew he could never be free from Sarah.

How about just six words?

‘But it enjoys watching you sleep.’

            ‘She looked, motionless; her reflection grinned.’

‘She stood still. Her shadow didn’t.’

Read the original version in Inside Time here.

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