Today I’m happy to have one final guest post from Hazel Butler. Enjoy! 🙂
A friend of mine read Bleizgeist shortly after I’d finished writing it. Their response was two-fold. First, they asked me how I managed to write such dark fiction. Then, they asked me if I didn’t think it was a little too dark.
I was able to easily answer the first question.
I write a lot, and most of what I write is dark. I believe the reason for this is largely to do with my world-view, and my life experiences. I have not had an easy time over the years, for various reasons. The world has not been kind to me, and it is often equally cruel to others. Pretending this isn’t the case does nothing to improve the universe, it simply gives people a warped view of what reality should look like. I find it easy to write dark fiction—and in particular dark fantasy—because that is the world in which I have dwelt since I was young. It’s the only world I truly know. One of my favourite authors, C.S. Lewis, once said that, ‘Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage’. I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more, however I am also of the opinion that it does children—and adults—very little good to give them the impression there is no such thing as evil in the world, that good always triumphs, and that doing the right thing never necessitates an alarming degree of personal sacrifice.
Sometimes there are no happy endings.
Sometimes the princess falls under an evil curse and never wakes up.
Sometimes it’s Prince Charming who causes her downfall.
Dark Lords triumph (if you don’t believe me, then how do you explain David Cameron?).
Grand adventures may eventually lead to the finding of the Holy Grail, but that is not to say that knights are not lost along the way.
My forte is Dark Fantasy. It is my favoured genre for many reasons. I like Fantasy in general, and I write a lot of Paranormal and Supernatural stories too, but my heart lies with Dark Fantasy. The reason for this is simple: High Fantasies are the worlds I wish were real. Dark Fictions are the worlds I know exist. By combining one with the other I find ways to deal with the worst elements of humanity. With the most horrendous forms of pain and suffering.
Writing a Dark Fantasy story for me goes something like this:
First, I write it.
Then, I twist it until it’s good and gnarly.
Finally, I colour it all in black, with a dash of blood, and a hint of passion.
The latter is what usually surprises people. The fact that I enjoy such dark tales yet tend to imbue them with love and romance. Surely these thing are contradictory? How can you have a tale of Dark Fantasy that’s also a love story?
The answer to that is simple. Nothing in the world is more damaging than love. Loving a person is to invite misery, yet refusing love is often equally destructive. There is no motivation more powerful than love, and no instinct greater than the need to protect, reclaim, find, or avenge a loved one.
Love is darker than witchcraft and more insidious than the most adept assassin.
Love is the core of the dark.
But are my stories too dark?
My knee jerk reaction to that question was a simple, ‘no’, but then I thought about it, and realised it was a far more complex question than it appeared.
The internet is rife with articles concerning Dark Fiction and whether or not it is too dark. Curiously, few of these articles are written by people who actually write Dark Fiction.
Dark Fiction is, broadly speaking, literature concerned with concepts society considers to be “dark,” such as death, fear, mental illness, and the evils that men (and women) do. Despite debate on the subject, it has been taught in schools for years in one form or another. Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a good example. The story revolves around a village that holds an annual lottery. But the “winner” is actually the loser, as they are stoned to death by the rest of the villagers. The story ends as a mother looks into the eyes of her son as he, and the rest of the crowd, begins stoning her.
Critics have argued that Dark Fiction today is too much for children to handle. The Wall Street Journal published an article on the subject a few years ago, citing books such as The Hunger Games trilogy for being unsuitable for children. Both the book and film versions of The Hunger Games faced considerable criticism, yet they’re extremely popular—both with children, and adults. My sister has actually read them and loved them—trust me, this is a minor miracle. She reads very little and when she does manage it, she limits her books to cheery Chick Lit that makes me queasy. So why is The Hunger Games so popular?
Despite the fantasy setting, the books deal with real issues, in a manner people can understand.
This is the power, and importance, of Dark Fiction. The Marbury Lens features a male protagonist who is drugged, kidnapped, and almost raped. Male rape is a subject virtually unspoken of, let alone written about, and yet it happens. It happens and most often goes unreported. How are victims to come to terms with what has happened to them, let alone find the courage to report such a taboo subject, when nobody will talk about it? Books offer an alternative and anonymous means of facing and beginning to come to terms with complex issues that are often very difficult for young people to understand and deal with.
Yet another book, Rage, is about a girl who physically harms herself after an awful sexual prank is played on her. Certainly these themes are not suitable for all ages, yet should we really judge who should, and shouldn’t read them, based on age? Should we not judge based on experience? It’s no secret that young girls are often the victims of sexual abuse, assault, and trauma. A book dealing with such issues, told in a Fantasy realm that is removed from reality—and thus safe—could be the means of helping such girls overcome their trauma. A person’s age is determined as much by the events that have shaped their lives as it is the number of years they have lived.
I didn’t read much Young Adult fiction when I was young. The reason for this is simple. It is very rarely a true reflection of life as a teenager. It is most often an idealised view of how teenage life should be. Hearts are never broken in such a way they cannot be mended. There is almost always a happy ending. Nobody has sex until they’re married. No matter how much one partner begs the other, one of them always remains strong. There’s no swearing, no smoking, no drugs, no violence, no abuse, no trauma. The worst that one can generally expect is some low key bullying in school—or whatever fantasy version of school exists in that world—and a larger scale situation that, even when akin to war, does not see more than one or two people die. Those who do die often come back from the dead, with no consequence.
Death itself is vanquished in Young Adult fiction.
Love always wins out.
Such was not my experience of life as a teenager. I had learned, by the age of thirteen, that the world was a very dark place indeed. My own mind was starting to cause me trouble, and there were innumerable external factors which simply did not add up to the pictures painted in these books.
There was nothing to which I could relate.
Then I found fantasy. More specifically, Dark Fantasy.
And suddenly I was home.
You will often hear me say that Robin Hobb is my very favourite author. The reason for this is very simple. I first came across her books when I was sixteen, and going through an extremely difficult time. I fell in love with her Farseer Trilogy, not only because of the incredible worldbuilding and depth of characters and plot, but because of one simple fact: she didn’t go easy on her characters. Even when they were children. The protagonist of many of her Realm of the Elderlings books is Fitz. To go into details on the number of traumas this boy goes through before he’s old enough to even be considered a teenager would take a book of its own. Yet he is the most compelling, most realistic character I have ever read, in any novel to date. When I write, I strive for that level of realism in my own characters. I am certain I will never reach it, but that isn’t the point: I strive.
So, are these books really “too dark” for teenagers?
In 1971, Go Ask Alice was published, telling the story of a girl’s experience with drugs, rape, and prostitution. Books dealing with death, drugs, and sex are nothing new. What is new is our reaction to the events within them.
As a society, we are failing to properly address these problems. Children and young people are interested in these books because the plots are real. More children than we would care to admit can relate closely with the events in these novels.
The problem is not with Dark Fiction; the problem is with society. We force our young people to deal with these issues through fiction because we are failing to deal with it in reality.
When writing Bleizgeist, I was thinking of my own time as a teenager and young woman, and the issues I faced then. I was bulimic, suffering from anxiety and panic disorder, and had undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I also had serious issues when it came to my sexuality and identity that went completely unchecked until my late twenties, and were very damaging as a result.
So yes, Bleizgeist is dark, but is it too dark? I don’t think so. I think it may be just dark enough to paint a picture of what life can be like when the world turns on you.
And the last time I checked, the world did not discriminate based on age: being young won’t save you. Having literature you can relate to, which helps you muddle through it all, just might.
Ingary is a harsh land. Cursed by a perpetual winter, the isolated little town has all but forget why they worship the wolf.
Marked by magic she cannot control, Marishka is an outcast. Alone and starving she is plagued by geiste, the unconscious minds of the people of Ingary, roaming the wilderness as they sleep. Attracted to the gramarye in Marishka’s blood, the geiste give her no rest. Losing herself to madness, she is saved when she chances to fall in love. But when her affair is discovered, all hope is taken from her.
Beaten and lovelorn, she resigns herself to death.
And then the wolf walks through her door, and Marishka recalls the meaning of Bleizgeist—the spirit of the wolf.
About the author
Hazel is an author, artist and archaeologist from Cheshire, England. She is the founder and owner of The Bookshine Bandit, a business dedicated to helping authors, writers, bloggers, and those looking to self-publish achieve their dreams and maximise their writing potential.
Since 2010 she has been working on a series of Gothic Literary novels, the first of which, Chasing Azrael, was released in April 2014. The Deathly Insanity series is a set of Urban Fantasy novels with overlapping character and plot-lines. Hazel’s other published works include ‘Grave’, a short Dark Fantasy story, and an additional short story and novella published under a pen name.
While her primary interests are in Gothic and Fantasy art and fiction, Hazel reads a wide range of subjects and enjoys most forms of art. In addition to this, she runs The Bipolar Bear, a blog on bipolar disorder, and loves dogs. Her King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Dexter (yes, after the serial killer), is her near-constant companion.
Hazel is currently in the final year of her PhD, which focuses on Gender Dynamics in Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Britain. She studied at The University of Manchester for her Undergraduate degree, then Bangor University for her MA and PhD, spending the two years between her MA and PhD doing corporate archaeology and research excavations, both in Britain and in Austria. She has two papers published in international journals.
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