Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Trope: in literature, a familiar and/or often used symbol, style, character, theme or device.

“I have a problem with the term 'horror' because it's not a genre, it's an emotion,” says Steve Feasey. “My books are action/adventure stories with a healthy dose of horror aimed at young adults and teenagers.”

Steve's first book, Changeling, came out in 2009. “Since then I've been pumping them out every 6 months, at an average of 80-90,000 words,” he says. “I didn't realise just how much stress I'd be under.” Writing for teenagers and young adults has its own pressures. “Because it's a young audience we are hoping to hit, and there are five books in a series, with a book a year you've lost your audience very quickly because it's unlikely that, if they start to read the books at about 12, they will carry on reading them when they're 17 or 18.” Steve pauses. “We had to strike while the iron was hot.”

It was a television programme that initially sparked Steve's interest in writing. “Post war there were lots (of books) for boys but that had died away and with Harry Potter suddenly people are starting to write for boys again,” he explains. “A lot of the books mentioned were ones that I'd grown up with – Treasure Island and Kipling - and at the end of the programme it was almost like an epiphany. I read lots of fantasy as a teenager and sci-fi and then I moved into horror so I felt I wanted to amalgamate the two. So I just went ahead and had a go.”

As a lifelong reader of this genre, Steve knows a lot about tropes, a term not known to many. “A trope is something that immediately resonates with a reader: they may have come across it before in another form of entertainment – a book or film,” he explains. “As a writer your job is to take those tropes – those recognised elements – and rework them so they fit within your world, the one you are creating for your reader. It's very rare that you get a truly original monster.”

The protagonist in Steve's books is a werewolf called Trey. “Werewolves are a tragic symbol of duality – like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - but I think that works incredibly well for teenagers. The analogy of a teenager caught between the child and adult worlds, and a reluctant hero who discovers he straddles the human and supernatural realms is an interesting one, but I wanted to explore it in a new and exciting way.

“I wanted Trey (the protagnist) to baulk at and resist his powers, and not just come across as an all-conquering, two-dimensional superhero. So I explore his feelings and emotions in a way that I hope isn't typical for books that are mainly aimed at a young male audience. Yes, there are gore filled action sequences in the books, but I wanted to really explore the werewolf myth – to take the lycanthrope trope and make it fresh and exciting and thought provoking.”

Horror fiction often features twisted monsters – like Frankenstein - but why do we love them? “I think there's something fundamental in most of us that we just love to be frightened,” says Steve. “That's why there are so many thrill seeking things these days like rollercoasters – we love that moment when it tips over the top edge and plunges down and the adrenaline rushes.”

Steve believes that monsters have that kind of appeal. “They're a trademark; like spaceships in science fiction, good horror uses monsters in the mundane and I think that's when they work really well. Long gone are the days when we have mist shrouded castles in Transylvania – the great thing about modern horror is that it brings the supernatural into your living room and kitchen, into the workplace. I think that's why it works – anybody could be anything.”

Monsters have different purposes. “They can be a foil for bringing the supernatural into the human realm, or you can develop them into a more important character,” Steve explains. “Because horror relies so much on extraordinary events, the protagonist reacts in an extraordinary way and perhaps that's the key: the monsters imperil the protagonist in a way that other fiction perhaps can't, and allows the protagonist to become the superhero that many of us would like to become. In doing so the monster will realise strengths and weaknesses they didn't know they had.”

And they don't just have to be the bad guys. “My hero Trey is a good guy so that's another example of spinning out an old trope. You don't have to adhere to old ideas of what a trope should be. With writing you can rework those old energies yourself.”

Tropes evidently work well within horror fiction, for it seems that the same monsters turn up again and again. “Stephanie Meyer, Marcus Sedgewick, Alex Duval, to name but a few, have all written books that explore vampirism in different ways,” Steve explains. But werewolves differ in that they explore the two sides of man. “The original seed was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the brutal side of man versus the more refined side. Most werewolves explore the question: when the person does change, will they be able to control their animal instincts and overcome the beast?”

Steve believes research is vital when reworking these old favourites. “I did a huge amount of research on old legends and supernatural creatures. That way you can work out which elements you want to keep and which to discard.”

While some might consider horror an unsuitable topic for children, Steve laughs. “Children are the most bloodthirsty creatures you could ever wish to meet! If it was up to them the books would be full of gore but the publishers are aware of the parents, librarians and teachers.”

Looking ahead, Steve has another contract with MacMillan, but this time to write a trilogy. “It's going to be a different genre completely, and I will be doing one book every 9 months, which gives me a bit more breathing space.” He gets a lot of school bookings and is keen to encourage young readers. “I most enjoy talking to the reluctant readers. It's much more rewarding if you can enthuse them to explore fiction.” He is surprised by how many girls read his books, “because I write the book that I would have enjoyed (as a boy). But girls are on the whole much more avid readers than boys and I get very good feedback.”

Steve's literary influences have been Elmore Leonard, Stephen King – and Enid Blyton. “They all understand that the story comes first. You have to appeal to a wide audience,” he explains. “They all hook you in and drive the story forward. As a boy I devoured Enid Blyton's books because she writes short chunky chapters with a great hook at the end that makes you read on.” He laughs. “I remember being under the covers way past my bedtime as a boy because she just didn't let me go and I think great writers do that – they don't let you go.”

Writers Forum 2011

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