The past returns to haunt us

The challenge of our horror fiction is to shed light on all sides involved: victims, heroes, belligerents, conscripts… and monsters. Everyone has a backstory that deserves to be heard.

History is horror, depending on how it’s told. But is it inherently horrific? A group of writers, when asked this question at an MCM Comic Con’s horror panel in October 2021, concluded that history, deep time and antiquity – or archaeology – do make up this genre we call ‘horror’.

Jacques Derrida’s philosophy also got mentioned in that conversation: “The telling in the present is haunted by the ghost of the past”.

It was a small panel, but the discussion made such an impact on us. A year on, Story Of Books published two horror short stories under The Constant Companion Tales series.

The Red-Haired Gurkhas, told from the point of view of a child, revolves around a war grave exhumation project at a former British military camp in Malaysia. Image: ©Story Of Books

Part One, The Red-Haired Gurkhas, deals with the Cold War of the 1980s. The story revolves around the exhumation of the remains of fallen ‘Gukha soldiers’ by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Part Two, a prequel called The Tiger-Man and His Constant Companion, takes us back to World War 2 Malaya, after the fall of Singapore. It’s about how a group of cousins, cornered by the violence surrounding them, resort to the dark arts – with tragic consequence.

The horror fiction is a remarkably different path taken after we’d published Number 2 of our photobook, After The Rain, a visual lament on the pandemic, in June this year.

The Tiger-Man and His Constant Companion, the prequel to The Red-Haired Gurkhas, provides the backstory of the ‘family inheritance’, the fearsome constant companion. It’s set in British Malaya during World War 2. Image: ©Story Of Books

Summoning the ghost of the past

The research process of a horror fiction – especially for a war genre – isn’t dissimilar from a seance that connects with the spirits of the dead. In a metaphorical sense. The author, whilst poring over documents, asks the same questions that a seance asks: Who are you? What happened to you? How did you die? Do you have a message for us? What warning would you like us to heed?

For The Constant Companion Tales, we draw on concepts such as personal mythology, myth-making, as well as folk horror, to come up with a storytelling style. If myth, as a cultural currency, plays a crucial role in shaping modern discourse, then horror – as part of myth – has an esteemed place in society. It isn’t just catharsis. It contributes to the meaning that we make of our past. If suffering is to be had, then it’s better to go into it with noble intention, so that it has a deeper meaning.

As a people that’s been on the receiving end of colonialism, transgressions and invasions, we can, of course, take a position and certainly form an opinion on the past world wars. But that’s not the point of our horror fiction.

The challenge of The Constant Companion Tales, which we hope we succeed in doing, is to shed light on all sides involved: victims, heroes, belligerents, conscripts… and monsters. Everyone has a backstory. We just have to be brave to listen to it.

This article was first published on Story Of Books on 10 November 2022.

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