Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

Of Candles and Darkness

Anybody remember the great Splatterpunk vs Quiet Horror debate? If not, consider yourself forgiven. It was a small storm in a small teacup, but we got a fair few convention panels out of it. At its best, splatterpunk was Clive Barker; at its worst, it was everybody who tried to write like Barker but lacked his gift. Depending on who you talked to, quiet horror was either outdated fodder for the old and incontinent, like tea dances and singalongs, or else it was the underappreciated craft of the genuine adept.

Looking back, I reckon it’s fair to say that splatterpunk made more noise but quiet horror won. One was a fashion, the other a value. All those flayings and entrails seem like so much old hat now, but any writer with a brain is still trying to unpick the secrets of M R James and Shirley Jackson.

At the height of the controversy, Chris Morgan put together an anthology called Dark Fantasies and declared its pro-subtlety credo in an introduction titled No Slime, No Chain-Saws. I wrote a story called Life Line for the collection, and I’m glad that I did because it’s had a career of its own way beyond that first publication. Adapted for radio, bought for TV’s Chillers series (no, you didn’t miss it – it was commissioned for the unmade second season, whose chances were nobbled by the strategy of using season one’s episodes as irregular fillers between sports fixtures), then optioned for a feature but not made… then optioned for a feature again… finally to make it onto BBC1 as an expensive two-parter a couple of years ago.

I think it’s travelled so well because Life Line‘s story conceit is such a potent one, and I’d be happy to take credit for it if I wasn’t so sure that some thought very like it must cross everybody’s mind at one time or another. The conceit; imagine if you could pick up the phone, dial the number of someone you’ve lost, and hear them answer. How small a step is it, to extend the boundaries of we can’t see just that little bit farther, into what we can’t know? Nothing visible changes; only the possibilities. The world still looks the same.

My dad’s number is still on the speed-dial of my phone. He’s been gone ten years. The number doesn’t even exist any more, but I can’t quite bring myself to erase it. Why? I know it sounds stupid, but it would be like blowing out the last candle in a vast darkness. Nothing says I have to do it, so I don’t. I can’t overcome the feeling that if I do, then he won’t just be gone, but gone for good.

2 responses to “Of Candles and Darkness”

  1. Stephen,

    Funny you should say that because my first published short story, The Machine Age, was a “time-travel” story that involved contacting dead folk via the telephone exchange as the kernel.

    Although I’ve changed my phone since, I can’t throw away my old telephone/fax – and still have it plugged in – because the first message is from my favourite aunt who passed over six years ago. While I can always see the remembrance card from her funeral from my desk (and look at it daily) I simply can’t let go of her voice.

    Did you swing by the NEC today? A good friend is a guest booker and needed extra help to look after the media guests signing this weekend. If I wasn’t clearing the flat to make room for the arrival of wardrobes full of “girl clothes”, I would have been up there lending a hand.

  2. Heading to Memorabilia tomorrow (Sunday)… because you can't be a grownup all the time.

    I'm ambivalent about the autograph tables… I sneak by trying to meet no one's eye, especially people who've been in shows of mine, but I can't avoid it altogether because of the fascination of seeing the shape some of them are in…

    I have to say, though, the chance to shake hands with Leslie Philips a couple of years back was not to be missed.

    As for those 'girl clothes'… if there isn't a woman involved, seek help.