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Andrew's horror novella, 'The Bathtub', is now available.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Final Frontier

Guest Blogger: Carole Johnstone

First of all I'd like to say a big thank you to Andrew for inviting me to guest on his blog today, and for giving my novella Frenzy such a glowing review on Sunday's post!

When I was thinking about what to write today I was reminded of a question I was asked recently about why the ocean is so often used as a medium for dark fiction. I answered the question badly. This is what I wanted to say.

From a personal point of view, I've always had a fairly healthy terror of the sea, but I know I'm not alone in that. We have long been obsessed by what we imagine lurks in the deep. Novels like Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Conan Doyle's The Maracot Deep, celebrate lost worlds and civilisations - and discoveries that always come at a price.

We recognise that we can't ever know what alien creatures exist too far beyond our reach or knowledge, and so create legends and monsters that we are better able to understand. To control. Classic tales like Moby Dick, Megalodon, and H.G. Wells', The Sea Raiders, describe a sense of awe usurped; a human need to conquer that is arrogance as much as obsession. But there are a great many more stories - most notably true accounts - that speak of neither wonder nor vanity. Novels like Adrift or Staring Into the Abyss, which describe only our own powerlessness when set against the might of the sea.

As Andrew quite rightly realised, I wanted to convey all of these opinions through the development of Frenzy's characters. All are very different; all exhibit differing responses to their predicament: awe, respect, fear, arrogance, anger and obsession. And these reactions are not static. They change as the story changes - as people always change.

Ultimately there are two stories within Frenzy. On the surface, there are the physical and mental battles to survive an indifferent host and its monsters - lurking among which is a far greater horror. And under the surface, there is the hidden spectre of what the ocean represents. Our own demons, our own fears. An insurmountable sense of what it is to be alone and a recognition of our own insignificance.

Principally I wanted Frenzy to frighten, of course I did. But it was also very much my intention to affect, to move. I wanted anyone picking it up to be invested, excited, saddened, even amused. Because so little in this world is truly black or white.

And that is what the ocean has always been for me. A monster of its own that redeems as often as it takes. A monster that forces introspection, and reminds us that for all our achievements there is still much that we can't ever know or control.

The sea is the last great unknown on this Earth. It is fear and it is wonder. And it is not a place that you are ever likely to bump into me!

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity; and it was not meant that we should voyage far."
The Call of the Cthulhu; H.P. Lovecraft

Frenzy is available from, and electronically from

Find out more about Carole Johnstone at:


  1. Wow. I've always been fascinated by the sea. How would you say your characters changed as they dealt with the stress you put them under as the author?

  2. It varied, and I'd be lying if I didn't use people that I know as inspiration(let them work it out!)

    Some people, and often the least likely, find that when push comes to shove they have excellent resources to draw upon in order to survive. Others just don't want to believe that anything bad is actually happening to them. I find resolutely optimistic people the most frightening of all - and one of the best kind of characters to introduce when you want to create some friction (which probably says more about me than them!)

    By far the most interesting types are those who get angry and agressive in the face of adversity. There is so much more scope for development with a character like that because underneath the bravado, they are likely the most frightened and uncertain of everyone. And that can make them incredibly unpredictable.

    Without giving too much away, I very much wanted to have the characters discover new sides to themselves and one another - but I was also very aware of not turning their whole development into an obvious cliche. After all, people don't irrevocably alter personality - no matter how the dire circumstance!

    [Sorry this has taken a while to post: pesky day job!]

  3. Hi Carole.

    Thanks for the post. I'm working on a short piece about abysmal horrors, and your blog is really intuitive and helpful. Fear of the water is like fear of anything else primal, such as spiders, heights, and the darkness of woods. I'm at a much higher risk of being attacked by a fellow human walking down a dimly lit street than being attacked in open water (depending on where one lives). Yet the water, be it lake or ocean, has been a bigger scare as I've gotten older. I admire the wonderful ecosystem and diversity that lives and breathes in our oceans, yet I still shiver at the thought of deep, dark waters. It is so alien, and no matter how much I try and understand the wonders of the ocean's biosphere, there still is that primal fear, one that is somewhere hardwired into my brain. I'm 34 years old, 220 pounds, and 6'2, yet I jumped and flung about like burning victim when I walked into a spiders web, built by a feather of a spider. But when I'm crossing the street, I edge towards the oncoming traffic, while 2-ton cars whiz by me at a deadly rate. So fear, yes, it might be internally stitched within the cerebrum, but I also blame the ignorance of the media, with movies like Jaws and Leviathan, and the news reports about shark attacks and ships sunk by the fury of the sea. The media works on those fears, because it sells. And unfortunately, people fall victim to the deception. I myself am a victim of this! It's by researching the truth of those fears that I understand why I feared them in the first place; because I didn't understand them.

    Thanks again Carole.

    Andrew, talk to you on specfictionfledglings!


  4. Thanks Dion,

    I know exactly what you mean! I wonder if, in the days before monster-movies, Hi-def and documentaries like The Blue Planet, people went around being scared of things that they were about as likely to encounter as a flock of flying pigs? Or if these fears really are just part of our psyche, and we have always been powerless to do anything about it?
    I'm glad my post interested you. Sometimes it feels like I'm just waffling away to empty space!

  5. Big sloppy thank you Andrew. I had a great time!