The Hidden Darkness Behind the Beauty in Coastal England That Inspired Three Gifted Authors to Write the New Horror Anthology “Sussex Horrors”.
Editor’s Note: We are so fortunate to have this special guest post from talented author Rayne Hall, whose work appears in the excellent horror anthology Sussex Horrors (reviewed here on this site).
When authors write about the places where they live, their stories become all the more believable and scary.
They know what the place really is like. They’re familiar with the smells of the earth at dusk, the shades of darkness in the alleyways, the voices of the whispering winds. When they build darkly imagined changes on this solid ground, these fantastic twists convince the reader with their believability.
Other authors may write about the same location… but they depend on research and hearsay, on the tourist perspective or the movie view, and their imagination takes predictable, sometimes even cliched turns. Although imaginative and well-crafted, those stories simply don’t feel quite real.
For me as an author, the locality is always a great source of inspiration. It provides authentic atmosphere (I can describe the sound of the shingle crunching under my feet, the sting of the salt-laden winter wind on my cheeks, the smell of decaying bladderwreck and rotting fish), and there’s no danger of sloppy research, of getting mired in clichés, or of regurgitating another writer’s mistakes.
I’ve written about rural southern Germany (where I grew up), about London (where I lived for a year) and about south east England (where I lived for more than two decades). My stories’ locations and subjects are often just a short distance from my doorstep — perhaps a ten-minute walk down to the beach, perhaps even what’s right outside my window.
One day I gazed out of the window towards the grey sea while sipping my morning coffee, and three herring gulls stared right back at me: their eyes golden haloes around death-dark cores, their wings silver-tipped, their beaks yellow with red streaks like dripping blood.
Tourists visiting our shore think these birds are pretty and feed them, but locals know their aggressive true nature. As the seagulls and I stared at each other, a story formed in my head: a naive newcomer to Sussex adores the angelic-looking creatures… until she experiences their menace.
Summer visitors see only selected views of the yellow-white chalk cliffs, and they snap souvenir photos from a picturesque distance. As a local, I know the dangers of cliff erosion, how after a heavy storm chunks of rock tumble into the sea, often taking whole houses with them — or scarier still, taking half of the house and leaving the other half standing.
I walk on the seabed below the cliff, and know how high tide rises and how fast, and how there is no escape up the sheer cliff-face. The unwary who mistime their walk get caught in the merciless tide, drowned or smashed against the cliff. These local views are very different from what casual visitors see, or what other writers can glean from websites and tourist brochures.
One day in 2017, two other local horror authors joined me for coffee in my garden: Jonathan Broughton and Mark Cassell. Of course, we talked about writing, like writers always do when they’re among like-minded folk.
All three of us write horror, but of different kinds. Mark’s horror is graphic and terrifying, mine is suspenseful and creepy, while Jonathan’s is twisted and darkly humorous.
All three of us were living on the south coast: Jonathan and I in the seaside town of St Leonards, and Mark near the historic town of Rye — you can look those places up on the map. All three of us draw inspiration from the places around us. Much of our fiction is set in the counties of East Sussex, West Sussex and Kent in the South East of England.
What if all three of us were to contribute stories about the familiar locations, twisted in our dark minds, each in their own style? That’s how the idea for the anthology was born: Sussex Horrors: Stories of Coastal Terror and other Seaside Haunts.
I can confirm that the stories Jonathan Broughton and Mark Cassell have penned are every bit as authentic as mine. Some of their perspectives surprise even me, and the imagined parts are definitely twisted, but the Sussex they show is definitely real.
What horror fiction have you read where the author drew on their own locality? Does this knowledge shine through between the lines? Tell us about it in the comments section.