What is horror?

August 30th, 2004 • Posted in News |

This is a question that I’m asked often by people. Sometimes it’s fans at conventions, other times it’s friends, family, or just people who hear that I write horror and ask me to define my work. I’m usually stumped. However hard I’ve tried to define the word horror, as it applies to my writing, I’ve come up with something that just doesn’t seem to work. It doesn’t capture every possibility, or it lessens the import of what I’m often trying to do with my fiction.

Last Friday, I discovered the answer.

Horror is … just a phonecall away.

At 4:30 pm, sitting at my desk in work just thinking about calling it a day, my mother rang. She told me that my one-year-old son Daniel was on his way to hospital with my wife. He’d started having breathing difficulties in the local park, coughing, gasping for breath, and by the time the ambulance arrived his nose was turning blue, he was foaming at the mouth and passing in and out of consciousness.

They 999’d him all the way to the hospital.

It took me 45 minutes to make my way there. Every seconds of every one of those minutes I was imagining what would face me when I arrived at the local A&E (the ER for my American friends). I don’t know how many laws I broke driving there. It was rush hour, but now and then there was space to zip past a car, cut an extra second off the journey.

Daniel’s fine. None of the doctors or specialists could tell us what was wrong with him, and after a night in hospital under observation, he came home on Saturday. He’s been poorly ever since with a fever – maybe it was all a build-up to that – but nothing quite like what happened on Friday.

It’s the not knowing that provided the horror. Spending almost an hour travelling from work to hospital, never sure of what I’d find when I got there. As it was, Tracey was nursing a lethargic, tired Daniel on her lap, but in my imagination there had been a hundred other possibilities. It was one time in my life when I wished that I did not have a wild imagination.

So that’s horror, from now on when anyone asks me to define the term. It’s a very personal definition … but I also guess that the answer – Horror is just a phonecall away – applies to everyone reading this, in many different ways.

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