Skulduggery Pleasant has treated me well.
He made my name, gave me a career, and ensured that every day of my working life since he popped into my head has been filled with ideas, energy, and fun. In return I have tortured and traumatised him and his friends over the course of nine books, one spin-off and a collection of short stories. It’s been a fair trade, all things considered, albeit with a lot more agonising death on his side than mine. Thankfully.
But I couldn’t just write about a wise-cracking skeleton detective for the rest of my life, no matter how much I might want to. Every so often, said a little voice in my mind, I had to do something different. The Skulduggery books were what I thought of as my ultimate indulgence — a series where I could incorporate ideas and motifs from fantasy, science fiction, crime, comedy… and horror.
Oh, the horror.
As a child growing up in the 80’s, I have been bombarded with some of the best ideas that pop culture has to offer. My childhood friends were Luke Skywalker and Jim Kirk and Indiana Jones — which is all well and good, until you look at who accompanied those gentlemen.
Vader. Khan. That bloke in Temple who takes out the hearts.
My childhood was filled with the best bad guys. My childhood was filled with horror. And if Skulduggery Pleasant was my excuse to indulge in writing about all these different genres — then Demon Road was my excuse to hone in on the most important one.
The everyday tale of a sixteen-year old girl and her murderous, monstrous parents who pursue her across America, Demon Road was my chance to tip my hat to that special breed of horror that comes from, and gets reinterpreted by, American writers and directors. You want vampires in suburbia? Look no further than Stephen King, or Fright Night. You want sadistic serial killers who can’t be stopped? Step forward Messrs Carpenter and Craven. You want to make witches scary again? Send a few shaky cams into the Blair Woods and recover them again a year later.
And through it all, you want a sub-genre that was invented by Americans? How about a killer car, a 1970 Dodge Charger, that quite possibly has a mind of its own?
Horror is still the genre that has to fight for its place at the table. Over the last few years we’ve seen fantasy and comic book movies dominate the global box office. A certain strain of science fiction has always been considered high-brow. But horror? Even though it has propped up, time and time again, the bestseller charts and the box office in the past, horror still struggles, both in the offices of the executives and right down here, on street level.
No one wants to publish horror books anymore, and so we do the responsible thing and call them by a much safer label that would encourage kindly old grandmas to buy this YA book for their YA grandkids. But we all know the truth. We all know the dark, funny, wicked little heart that beats behind it all, and there is no escaping the fact that horror is alive.
It’s alive, and it’s coming for you.
Demon Road by Derek Landy is published by HarperCollins Children’s on 27 August 2015 (Hardback, £14.99, also available as an ebook/audio). Get your horror fix with the new issue of SciFiNow.