Setting, The Other Character by Frazer Lee
Setting is such a vital component of any horror story, to the extent that the place in which the narrative is framed can become a central character.
Take, for example, the eponymous building in Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, which she describes so chillingly as being “not sane.” Susan Hill’s 1983 ghost story The Woman in Black finds protagonist Arthur Kipps shacked up and shivering in Eel Marsh House, a haunted pile that is accessible only via the ominously named Nine Lives Causeway. In these narratives, the setting becomes an omnipresent, living (or un-dead) force to be reckoned with. The Queen of all horror storytellers, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, describes a body of water in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) as, “a vast sheet of fire…beautiful yet terrific.” This mirrors the spark of life that gives Victor’s creature his agency, but also foreshadows the elemental fury and revenge that takes hold of him as he searches for the meaning of his existence.
When the time came for me to write the latest in my series of occult novellas, The Daniel Gates Adventures, I knew that I had to follow that grand tradition of embedding a strong sense of place into the stories. The first in the series, The Lucifer Glass, took place in London (the city I called home for over two decades) and an imagined Scottish island based upon my travels along the West Coast of that beautiful country. I drew on childhood visits to Wales for the next instalment, The Leper Window, and then it was time for Daniel Gates to return to Italy for his next two adventures.
Turin has long had a special place in my heart, ever since I visited there as a recon for a potential movie project. I spent many happy hours exploring the catacombs on the outskirts of the city (where I was first greeted by the macabre sight of a mummified cat) and navigating the side streets with their sudden outbursts of breathtaking, heart-stopping architecture that assaulted my senses along the way.
Most vivid of all in my mind was the discovery that Turin is said to occupy one corner of a ‘black magic triangle’, along with London and San Francisco. Not only that, but legend has it that one half of Turin is on the dark side of the occult spectrum, with the other half being part of a ‘white magic triangle’ along with Lyon and Prague. The Piazza Statuto is the epicentre of this magical balancing act, and hosts the Monumento al Traforo del Frejus, a magnificent statue said to represent Lucifer himself holding dominion over the tortured souls of the damned. I remembered standing in the piazza gazing up at the beautiful Mr Morningstar, who was bathed in golden light, and realising that I had one foot in the light, and one foot in the dark. That pervasive sense of balance in all things, and the potential for both good and evil in all of us, stayed with me for many years. And it came back to haunt me again when I sat down to write the fourth book in the Daniel Gates Adventures: The Lucifer Gate.
Sometimes it does help to “know your place”.
Frazer Lee’s first novel, The Lamplighters, was a Bram Stoker Award® Finalist for “superior achievement in a first novel”.
One of Frazer’s early short stories received a Geoffrey Ashe Prize from the Library of Avalon, Glastonbury. His short fiction has since appeared in numerous anthologies including the acclaimed Read By Dawn series.
Also a screenwriter and filmmaker, Frazer’s movie credits include the award-winning short horror films On Edge, Red Lines, Simone, The Stay, and the critically acclaimed horror/thriller feature (and movie novelization) Panic Button.
Frazer is Head of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and resides with his family in leafy Buckinghamshire, England, just across the cemetery from the real-life Hammer House of Horror.
Official website: http://www.frazerlee.com
Read the Daniel Gates Adventures:
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: An HWA Final Frame T-shirt. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line HH Contest Entry for a change to win.