Why horror writing will be big in 2007

Keep all the lights on! Horror is set to be one of the coolest literary trends of 2007, but these ghosts, beasts and ghouls are subtle, not schlocky. Danuta Kean reports on a reanimated genre

There can't be many men who have turned down Nicole Kidman, but author Steven Hall is one of them. The Oscar-winning actress phoned the 31-year-old author as New Line Cinema's trump card when it tried to buy film rights to his debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts. Hall rejected her advances in favour of Film4, knowing the book, a Donnie Darko meets Memento supernatural thriller, already has the kind of industry buzz around it that makes star endorsement unnecessary.

Nicole shouldn't worry. There are plenty of other books coming out this year that could turn into the kind of up-market horror movies she likes. Hall is in the vanguard of a horror revival that is expected to rehabilitate the genre among the literary cognoscenti in 2007.

The writers leading the new wave are all young debut authors or authors moving in to the genre for the first time. Their inspirations are as likely to be Haruki Murakami and Kôji Suzuki's The Ring as Anne Rice or James Herbert. Many have a more literary style than is usual in a genre that has been in the doldrums since the early 1990s. Some could compete against the more anodyne lit lite choices on Richard and Judy. All should benefit from growing demand for horror from mainstream readers.

According to Nielsen BookScan, which compiles the nation's book charts, sales of titles classified as horror and ghost stories almost doubled to just over £7m by value in 2006 from £3.8m in 2005. The number of copies sold increased from 566,000 in 2005 to almost one million (892,000) over the same period. Though old-school writers including Herbert, Dean Koontz and Shaun Hutson continue to dominate, new names are emerging, though not all are classified as horror.

Publishers remain nervous about the genre after the bubble burst at the end of the 1980s, and most prefer to leave the word off the spine. Instead, novels filled with vampires, werewolves, ghouls and ghosties have been reclassified as dark fantasies, supernatural suspense or even, if they look likely to hit the hip lit market, general fiction.

As a result, the increase in sales of books you and I might regard as horror is far higher than BookScan implies. One of the biggest selling books of last year was Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, a Richard and Judy choice classified as "general fiction" by publisher Time Warner. A modern-day hunt for Dracula, it had all the hallmarks of classic horror. Susanna Clarke's 2005 fantastical debut Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell also reached a mainstream audience thanks to being labelled general fiction by Bloomsbury, despite the fairies and resurrected brides that populated its pages. Even Stephen King published his latest horror shocker Cell under general fiction.

Philippa Pride, King's British editor at Hodder and Stoughton, sniffs: "Steve does not see himself as a 'horror' writer. He sees that as a label put on by publishers or booksellers to have a place to shelve him. I have taken off the genre 'horror' from the back of his books and put just 'fiction: general' for a long time."

Steven Hall admits his publishing deal was influenced by Canongate's decision not to label his novel as horror or fantasy, even though its protagonist Eric Sanderson is pursued through such horror staples as abandoned hospitals, disused sewers and darkened warehouses. "I wouldn't have given it to them, if they had wanted to publish it as a genre novel," he says. "It's not snobbery, but my book is different and placing it in the horror section would mean other readers wouldn't find it."

Even Stephen King's son Joe Hill appears to be eschewing the label, despite writing a novel aimed at scaring the bejesus out of readers. The trade buzz surrounding Hill's debut Heart-Shaped Box is such that proofs were being snapped up long before the secret of his parentage slipped out and are now appearing on eBay, something that usually only happens to established stars.

"It's a hot proof," enthuses Michael Rowley, horror aficionado and Waterstone's buyer. "It is not because of whose son he is. It is a very good book and is very interesting as a first novel, a little bit different."

Already a legend has grown around Heart-Shaped Box. Hill kept his parentage secret for 10 years, choosing to be known among the horror cognoscenti as a writer of chilling short stories, as Steve Jones, editor of the Mammoth Book of Horror and Hill's first publisher in the UK, recalls: "I first published his short stories four years ago and had no idea who he was until last year when the story broke. He was such a good writer he stood out anyway."

Jo Fletcher, Hill's editor at Gollancz, also claims not to have known who he was until after she paid "a realistic, not over-the-top" advance for his novel. "We were already getting amazing reactions to the book within the trade before anyone realised who he was," says Fletcher, buzzing at the thought that she may have one of the hits of the year on her hands. "No disrespect to his father, who is an amazing writer, but Joe has the freshness of youth."

There's a generational change not only among authors but editors, claims Steve Jones. "A younger generation of editors who grew up reading horror came up through the ranks and had horror on their wish list. Now they are in a position of power, and that is what is behind the sudden upsurge."

Darren Nash, editorial director at Orbit, which publishes rising stars such as Mike Carey and Charlie Huston, adds: "Horror is an area that has been waiting to be exploited. A lot of readers have been reading Tolkienesque novels and asking themselves, 'Why does fantasy always have to be set in medieval Europe, why can't it be now?'" He creditsBuffy the Vampire Slayer as by far the biggest influence on the resurrection of horror.

While Steven Hall is less enamoured of Buffy, he admits his penchant for the genre reflects popular culture and a more general acceptance of the fantastical by younger readers. No longer do we have to read or watch imaginative fantasy movies with a postmodern sneer. Nerd chic is cool. "We do seem to be less cynical now than we were," Hall claims. "Storytelling no longer has to be grittily real like it was 10 years ago."

Hall believes a literary revival in horror has been bubbling for some time. "One of the biggest influences on me was Mark Z Danielewski's House of Leaves, which came out in 2000," he says. "It looks difficult to read, very postmodern, using unusual layouts, but it is also a brilliant horror story - a horrific Tristram Shandy. I think a lot of my generation of writers absorbed it. It has definitely been a big influence on me."

The imaginative freedom offered by horror is also an attraction for the new generation of writers, says author Will Elliot. "I find more is possible in a story when the rules of reality can be disregarded. Writing in, I guess you could call it magic realism, makes it possible to hold up a warped mirror to our world and laugh at the strange shapes reflected in it. That way fiction can be a complete escape from our world or, if you want, you can analyse the reflections and try to apply them, extracting some kind of relevant meaning."

What meaning 21st-century readers are seeking in the new horror is disputed. Gollancz's Jo Fletcher is convinced that the prevailing culture of fear created by the "war on terror" and rising crime has helped create a market for books in which fear is contained, even though unknown "others" haunt the page. "When things are going well in the world people are less interested in horror," she claims. "When times are dark, then horror becomes more popular."

Fletcher's theory stands up when a comparison is made between the heady days of horror in the 1970s, as inflation bit, the Cold War sent a chill across the world and unemployment rose. However, her theory receives short shrift from Francis Bickmore, Steven Hall's editor at Canongate, who is also publishing Scarlett Thomas's fantastical The End Of Mister Y in June. "I'm incredibly cynical about 'war on terror' theories about horror's new popularity," he says robustly. "I don't think people are that afraid of terrorism. Actually, I think that we are so safe now that our primal instincts to hunt and run used when pursued by predators are unchallenged, so we choose to run away imaginatively from ghosts and monsters." He concedes: "Of course writers are trying to decode the war on terror through literature, but I think fundamentally the interest reflects the human condition."

THE NEW FRIGHT FIC

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (Gollancz, March) Stephen King's son turns out to be sexier, smarter and cooler than his dad with this tale about a fading death metal star who buys a ghost over the internet.

The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliot (Quercus, Jan) Slacker Jamie finds himself in a circus run by a werewolf who is in an eternal battle with his brother, George. Spins circus stereotypes into a comic tale with a horrific edge.

Already Dead by Charlie Huston (Orbit, Feb) Zombies threaten New York's vampire community, and it's up to one rogue bloodsucker to investigate. Philip Marlow meets Lestat as crime noir turns spooky.

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (Canongate, March) 'Donnie Darko' meets 'Memento' and 'Jaws'. Eric Sanderson wakes up, his memory gone, then starts to receive letters sent by himself before his blackout. He is also being hunted by a conceptual shark. A postmodern spin on horror with a hip, Alex Garland vibe.

The Terror by Dan Simmons (Bantam, Feb) Science fiction writer turns to horror with tale of an 1845 Arctic expedition that goes wrong as an entity picks off the sailors, man by man.

Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert (Bantam, April) Contemporary Gothic romantic chiller has Londoner Gabriel Blackstone using his psychic gifts to help his ex-lover.

Darkside by Tom Becker (Scholastic, Jan) Atmospheric tale of London ruled by the offspring of Jack the Ripper. A contender for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize, it has 'crossover' written all over it.

PARA PORN

Chick lit is also getting a horror makeover, thanks to a new generation of writers inspired as much by Buffy as Jane Austen. Paranormal romances, to give them their official title, are on the rise. Independent publisher Piatkus pioneered them, but all the leading players, including Headline, Orion and Time Warner, are moving in this year.

Horror expert Steve Jones says that "Para Porn" represents a new genre, though he regards it disdainfully as women's fiction rather than horror. "It's aimed at a different audience to traditional horror," he says, with the hint of a sneer.

Darren Nash of fantasy publisher Orbit says: "Blame Buffy, but the sci fi and fantasy lists in the US are rife with kick-ass chicks who fight vampires and have romances, and they are starting to sell really well over here." He recently published Stephanie Meyer's sexy teen vampire romance Twilight, already a hit in the US.

Vampires are in vogue. "There's a lot coming on to the market this year," says Waterstone's buyer Michael Rowley. "Random House has Fang Land by John Marks in April, which is basically a retelling of the Dracula legend using email and diaries. It is very smart and up-to-date, a sort of The Vampire Wears Prada."

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick