It all started because I bribed the kids.
I’m not suggesting bribery as a recommended way of bringing up children, by the way. And I don’t do it very often.
Sometimes, needs must and all that.
Actually, let’s backtrack just a little bit. It all started because Thing One had grown out of his trainers, and needed a new pair. I’ve been telling him since he was this high (you now need to picture me holding a hand about waist high) that he should stop growing. He’s fifteen now, taller than Mrs Preston and almost as tall as me, and I’m over six feet tall.
Anyway, as I was saying (I’m afraid it’s looking like it might be one of those posts) Thing One needed new trainers and Mrs Preston was away for the day, so it fell to me to rouse the troops, lecture them on the importance of following orders without complaining, and organise them into the car and off to our nearest shopping centre, or shopping mall for my American friends.
When the lecture failed, that’s when I resorted to bribery.
You see, Thing One had pretty much resigned himself to going shopping for new trainers, even though he would have preferred staying at home and thrashing his electric guitar to death along to Metallica.
But no, Thing Two, he needed bribing. He had absolutely no reason whatsoever to go to Merry Hill. He didn’t need new trainers, he was just having to tag along because I couldn’t leave him at home alone.
‘Look,’ I said, in the most reasonable voice I could muster, ‘if you come along with us, after we’ve bought the trainers you can go to Waterstones and choose a book, and I will buy it for you.’
That was it, he was in.
How cool is it, that I could bribe him with the promise of a new book?
Of course that meant I had to offer Thing One a similar deal. His involved visiting HMV so he could stock up on some more thrash metal, because, you know, his ears aren’t bleeding enough just yet.
The trainers were bought, thrash metal was stocked up on, and we headed for Waterstones.
And that’s where I saw it.
Now come on, who wouldn’t buy a book with that title on its cover?
I liked the skull design too.
And then I turned it over and read the blurb, and that was it, the deal was signed, sealed and delivered.
Which reminds me of a terrible visual pun from the Peter Weller film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, but I’m not going there right now, otherwise this post is going to turn into War and Peace.
The blurb for The Frighteners starts like this —
Peter Laws is an ordained Reverend – he’s supposed to be a ‘professional nice person’. So, why does he spend his spare time watching gruesome horror films, shooting zombies and writing crime novels?
Like I said, the deal was done.
I HAD to have this book.
But I still opened it up to take a look inside, and I read the dedication, and if the deal hadn’t already been done, well this would have finished me off.
But wait, I’ll come back to the dedication later.
Why was this book acting like the world’s most powerful magnet, and me the iron filings?
I’ve already talked about the title and the cover, but it wasn’t just that.
It was the content.
And the fact that it spoke to an internal conflict I still carry to this day, even though I shouldn’t.
You see, I used to be a Born Again Christian. A fully fledged member of a church, baptised as an adult, a regular at prayer meetings, the full caboodle and then some. So I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Christians do not like horror. In fact, Christians believe that horror films and books are doorways into possession by evil spirits. Or, at the very least, their corrosive message eats away at the brains and moral fibre of those who consume this material until they reach the point where they go out and murder innocent people, slavishly emulating the horrors witnessed in the films, read about in the books, or participated in within the computer games.
You can see the conflict, can’t you?
Despite having not attended a church service regularly since 2003, I still have that niggling feeling deep in the recesses of my mind that I should not be reading or watching anything horror related.
And yes, this really is me talking, Ken Preston, author of the Joe Coffin novels.
That conflict was brought to the surface once more as I stood in Waterstones, holding a copy (soon to be mine!) of The Frighteners in my hands.
Of course I started reading it as soon as I arrived home.
I would have read it earlier than that, but reading books whilst driving is still frowned upon in the UK.
Peter Laws is a full on horror fan.
And he’s a Baptist minister.
You can book him to come and preach at your church.
Or, you can book him to come and talk all things horror related at your convention.
Talk about conflict!
Now look, you lot, before I go any further I’m going to get something out of the way. I may not be a regular at the local church anymore, and I certainly no longer believe in an interventionist God (pay attention out there, that doesn’t mean to say I don’t believe in God) but I’m not into the whole Christian bashing thing, ridiculing them for their ‘ridiculous beliefs’ and their ‘old-fashioned values’.
To be honest, I’m not into trashing any groups, no matter their cultural/political/religious beliefs or sexual/gender identities.
I’m not trying to be cool and trendy here, and down with the kids.
(Did I just say down with the kids? Apologies, I will try harder to cut out the Dad-speak.)
What I am is a live and let live kind of person. We are all on the same journey here, from birth to death, and we all deal with it in our own ways.
Can’t we just leave it at that and let everyone get on with living their own lives?
So, I may well air a few (minor) grievances I have about the church culture I was involved in, but seriously, these people took me in when I was in a bad way, they befriended me at a stage of my life where I was taking far more than I was giving, and they looked after me.
And they didn’t have to.
And (final point here) I am still friends with some of these people, and still respect them.
Anyway, on with the review.
Peter Laws is a man who loves his horror. Whether it’s watching horror films, shooting zombies in computer games, listening to the soundtracks to Dario Argento movies while he works, or even visiting Transylvania, going on werewolf hunts in Hull or staying in a haunted hotel, this is a man who loves his horror.
And yet he’s a Baptist minister.
Now I know I’ve repeated that nugget of information a fair few times, but that’s not for you. It’s for me.
Because, despite having read the book, I’m still trying to get my head around this fact.
And I have to keep resisting the urge to email him and say,
‘Look, as a Christian and church minister do you really think you should be consuming all this horror related media? It’s not good for you. Think about your spiritual life. And what about the message you’re sending to other Christians? Oh, wait, you already did that. You wrote a book. In fact, that’s why I’m emailing you…’
All this while I am plotting the next gore soaked, violent and foul mouthed Joe Coffin book.
Talk about conflict.
Maybe I should see a psychiatrist.
Or a vicar.
Now there’s a thought. I could book Peter Laws to come and pray for me and cast out those demons which are compelling me to watch and read all this horror rubbish.
That wouldn’t work, would it?
Do you know that I didn’t read a Stephen King book for twenty years?
He was (and still is, I’ve been busy catching up) one of my favourite authors. I became a Christian whilst living in Stourbridge and studying Fine Art. The first break from college we had after that important event in my life I returned home to Lancashire, opened up my wardrobe where I kept all my books and threw out all my James Herbert and Stephen King books. I think there were some Guy N Smith in there too. And maybe some Shaun Hutson.
It was a long time ago.
And I stopped watching horror films.
I still haven’t seen The Silence of the Lambs.
Or David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly.
And yes, I know I could watch them now, but I tried that with a couple of other films and it just wasn’t the same. I remember when Blue Velvet came out, and I was desperate to see that film. But I couldn’t. Because I was a nice Christian and I didn’t watch those sorts of films anymore. A year or two ago a friend lent me his DVD. I tried watching it, but I gave up halfway through. I just hated it. But I’m sure if I had seen it at the time of its release, I would have loved it.
That’s just one example of the internal conflict I was struggling with back then. I knew I must not watch or read these things. That horror novels and horror films would corrupt me. But I still wanted to.
I was like a drug addict, permanently stuck in the first few days of withdrawal.
After that first summer break, back when I first handed over my soul to Jesus, I returned to the West Midlands homeless. Okay, technically I wasn’t homeless as I had a home I could return to in Lancashire. But my Fine Art degree course was in the West Midlands and that was where I needed to be, but that also happened to be where I had no home to go to.
A couple from the church took me in until I found somewhere to live (which happened about two weeks later). They let me sleep under their roof, and they fed me and generally looked after me, and they never took a penny off me. They did it with a good heart, because they wanted to help.
People are brilliant like this.
But here’s what I remember.
(Grievance airing time. I know, I know, I just need to grow up.)
I returned one afternoon to find the man of the house watching a video (VHS, this is how long ago this was).
Can you guess what it was?
Cronenberg’s The Fly!
And this was one of the same people (there were quite a few of them, horror was a hot topic amongst Christians back then) who had lectured me about watching horror films!
Yes, two exclamation points in a row, which surely indicates how passionate I still feel about this particular encounter.
All right, I’m going to take a moment to calm down here.
It’s not often I get this worked up about something.
Except Brexit, of course.
Damn, I mentioned the B-word.
Yes, I do realise this is supposed to be a review of Peter Laws’ book, The Frighteners.
And all I’ve done so far is talk about myself.
Dammit. I knew this would happen.
Because I’ve been through my own darkness. A darkness of the mind and the soul where it feels like there is no escape. Where I looked at the possibility of my own death and pondered on how that might actually be a good thing.
And I’ve seen dead bodies. I’ve met with people close to death, and others who were in so much pain they would have welcomed death.
It’s a mystery, isn’t it, what lies on the other side of that experience?
A frightening, wonderful mystery.
I think that is what The Frighteners is about, ultimately. Our own death (because that’s the thing folks, nobody gets out of this alive, chortle, chortle) and how we are possibly using horror as a way of dealing with that.
I was supposed to be reviewing The Frighteners for you, but I feel like I’ve rambled on too long as it is. So I will just say this instead: The Frighteners is a fascinating book, written well by a man in the most unusual position of straddling two seemingly incompatible worlds. It combines well researched details with personal anecdotes and opinion, and you should go and buy it and read it.
And that dedication I mentioned at the beginning?
It’s to his children who are probably too young to read The Frighteners. He distills the message of the book down to nine words for them:
Be who you want to be, okay? Be you.
Now that’s certainly a message I have no conflict with.
One last thing, in case you were wondering. Thing Two left Waterstones without a book. He couldn’t find anything he wanted to buy. Later that evening he was complaining he had nothing to read and began pestering me to let him read something a little more ‘adult’.
Something perhaps a little scary.
In particular, maybe I could let him read one of my Stephen King books?
So what did I do?
I gave him Misery.
A week later he’d finished it.
And he absolutely loved it.
Wait a second!
A donation button?
Well, yes it is.
I do realise that nobody forces me to write a blog post every week. I do realise that I could stop writing it tomorrow, or even today, if I so wished. But I’m not about to. Because I enjoy it.
But do you realise that I have posted an article every week for the last nineteen months, and only missed two weeks? That’s a lot of articles you could go back and read if you had a desire to do so. They are all there, waiting for you, completely free.
And they always will be.
But us writers, we need coffee. Like, lots of coffee.
Coffee is the magic sauce that keeps those words flowing.
So if you feel like donating a penny or two to keep me in coffee, I won’t say no.