The Next Chapter

Craig Davidson and Andrew Pyper on the appeal of fear

Shelagh discusses the appeal of terrifying books with two Canadian horror masters, Craig Davidson and Andrew Pyper.
Craig Davidson (left) and Andrew Pyper.

Do you like a scary read? The kind of book that has you looking over your shoulder? From fireside folk tales to Edgar Allen Poe, horror novels have been raising the hair on the backs of readers' necks since before you were checking for monsters under your bed. Shelagh Rogers interviewed two frighteningly successful horror writers, Andrew Pyper and Craig Davidson (a.k.a. Nick Cutter), to find out why they like to make things go bump in the night.


I think horror reveals character in a way that other modes of literature tend not to reach. In a situation of terrible fear, what we fear, and more importantly how we react to things that scare us, is deeply revealing. And from a novelist's point of view, when you've got characters who are in these situations, the characters surprise you! They reveal themselves, they surprise themselves, and not to sound too grandiose about it, but I think it expands our understanding of the human condition in a way that we wouldn't get if we stuck to more conventional, realistic literary modes.


People ask how I come up with ideas, and I always say that the one thing you can't do is say "Well, so-and-so is afraid of tarantulas, and someone's afraid of demons, and someone's afraid of Nazis, so I'll just make a demon Nazi tarantula, and that'll scare everybody!" You really have to focus on certain specific elements of the horror spectrum. My book The Troop really dealt with body horror, which is like Cronenberg, the idea that your body is going feral and it's changing, and the enemy you're fighting is inside of you. So that scares me, and that's in keeping with why people are scared of growing old and entropy. The Deep is concerned about claustrophobia and the dark and those sorts of primal fears.


Like any other genre, it's a spectrum, and there are points on the spectrum, just like you've got high and low sci-fi and fantasy, or experimental and realistic literary fiction. Back in the '80s there was this horror boom after Stephen King, there was this deluge, and at the drugstore you'd get these spinning racks of blood-dripping fangs and covers with skeleton cheerleaders. And a lot of it was really good and a lot of it was of probably... of less measurable value. That's the kind of horror I grew up reading. It was kind of punk-rock horror, not afraid to test thresholds and swing for the fences.


I think horror as a genre feeds on social anxiety. You could plot out the history of horror and link up the monster of the moment with the anxiety of the moment. And it's a pretty anxious time! The planet isn't doing very well, we're not doing very much to help the planet, and we keep seeing headlines that say, and not even in a fanciful or fictional way, "Okay! The end is coming!" So, that makes one anxious and makes you think about a whole bunch of things, whether it's plagues or zombies or ideas of death and what comes after it. We tend to feed on that thrumming, dark energy that all of us are feeling at the same time.

Andrew Pyper is the author of supernatural thriller The Damned. Craig Davidson, under the pseudonym Nick Cutter, is the author of The Deep. Their comments have been edited and condensed.