Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and Ellis’s ‘American Psycho’ are a few titles amongst many that have been deemed controversial and even banned because they tackled uncomfortable subject matter. It would seem strange that people are drawn to such works that are labelled as disturbing and I often ask myself why it is that I too, am drawn to such writings?
Analysing this in relation to what I aim to write, I realise that I create characters that are not without their flaws. Theo Randell is dependent on substance abuse, Rhea Matterson is riddled with guilt, Jesse Parke is abused as a child… I find that I have to write characters like these for a number of different reasons but I understand the main reason is that I am attempting to access some form of truth. I believe that Nabokov, Angelou, Burgess and Ellis were also attempting to do the same. And then there are those that write controversial matter for the sake of writing controversial content – though I don’t feel there is anything wrong with that, I strongly believe that writers should be able to write what they want with no limits and no restrictions. However, I tend to find that those novels and essays are expressed in a one dimensional manner – their substance is dependent on shocking the reader and nothing more.
I ask myself, to what degree does the author take ownership of what he or she writes. For me, it exists in two halves. Firstly, I take sole ownership as the piece comes together in my mind and on the page. Whilst my eyes, and my eyes only are cast upon those words, then I can accept that I am in complete control of the content. Once those words are released into the wild, for lack of a better metaphor, I cannot take ownership of the reader’s response. I believe a good writer should provoke different reactions from their audience depending on their interpretation of the content. These interpretations make the reception of the work a subjective experience and in turn promote discussion. This is not to say that a story dealing with the horrors of an abusive upbringing will be met with polarising reactions, or course the reader should be disgusted and appalled by this but if they are not digging a little deeper in to why this is happening, the motivations, the unspoken history – then those interpretations will not come into bloom. How can we begin to access the truth if we are not asking those questions?
I write in the vein of horror. From the viewpoint of the casual onlooker, ‘The Corpse Rooms’ is a straightforward horror story however, I believe I’ve attempted to inject something more into the story. Though I find there is nothing wrong with a high body-count, creepy stalk ‘n’ slash romp, or a down-right ridiculously gross horror story. I like to add something more to the stories I tell. I want to introduce interesting characters. Characters who come fully stocked with their own personal horrors in whatever form they may take. There’s nothing more terrifying than the notion of not being able to escape your own personal form of hell. Though I believe I have a long way to go before I can even begin to consider myself a ‘good’ writer, I like to think that my stories may begin to develop different interpretations and perhaps serve to reveal some form of truth to the reader.
My last thought on the topic of controversial matter is that it can provide a sense of strength to the writer. They say, ‘write what you know’ and it’s been long argued for the cathartic properties of writing this way. There is an exchange between the reader and the writer once the work is published. Here, the writer offers the reader an insight, a sliver of truth, a platform to begin to ask questions. For the writer, it may be a form of therapy. An unburdening of sorts. In our loneliest moments, in our most desperate times, we reach for those words. We attempt to use them to tell a story, perhaps a poem or an anecdote. When all else is lost, we take residence in the spaces between those words. They become something of an exorcism. It’s our ‘fuck you’ to the people that hurt us, to the family members that have abandoned us, to the peers that don’t understand us. The writer understands why the pen is mightier than the sword and they know that without it, they cannot begin to find their own strength.
We own our spines.
We own our hearts.
We own our words.
Look out for ‘Malevolent Flesh’ – the upcoming novel from Drew Forest, scheduled for release August 2017.