The Geography of Fear – by Paul Southern
About five years ago I remember sitting on my bed, staring vaguely at the posters on the walls (yes, I still have them), wondering where inspiration for a new novel was going to come from. I had just written two violent underground ‘pulp fiction’ type of novels set in Manchester and decided it was time for a change. Now, the truth of it is, there are only a finite number of plots out there. I’m not going to tell you that you don’t need a good plot to write a good book – it obviously helps – but it’s not the only thing you need. A good setting is just as important. Just as a house in the right place will always sell, so a good setting can help sell your book. If there are a finite number of stories, there are an infinite number of locations. The world, and all the other worlds out there, are ripe for exploration.
Where fantasy and science fiction novels (and films) tend to open up a landscape, and fill it with the flora and fauna of other worlds (look no further than Avatar), horrors and thrillers have applied the opposite effect. Their worlds have shrunk. Where we previously had creepy houses (The House on Haunted Hill and The Amityville Horror), we’ve now had telephone booths (Phone Booth), caves (The Descent), coffins (Buried), lifts (Devil), private jets (Panic Button), and the catacombs of Paris (As Above, So Below). The setting of all these has dictated the plot. It has set the limits on what a character can and, more importantly, can’t do. A fully realised setting has the added advantage of being instantly marketable. Think of the posters for King Kong (atop Skull Island) or Avatar (floating islands) or Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island. How easy it is to immediately grasp the whole idea of a film, and fire our imagination, through a single image, and make us immediately aware of what it is about.
Creating that special place and bringing it to life is not just about a detailed description of it, or the number of maps and appendices you attach to your manuscript. It is about tapping in to what makes that place special. If you get it right, that setting can become a character in its own right, and not just a place where characters navigate their lives. I did that in my first novel, The Craze, with Manchester, ‘a city on the edge of night.’ It devoured the characters, led them down blind alleys, tricked them, destroyed them,
The guy I spoke about before, sitting on his bed, trying to find something distinct and original to write about, stumbled on an old map of the London Underground one day and Killing Sound was born. The London Underground is the perfect place for a horror novel. Not only is it dark and menacing; it is also remarkably undiscovered. There are 270 stations and over 250 miles of used track. The lines are sometimes 221 feet below the surface and up to 150 years old. No wonder it has more reported ghost sightings and paranormal incidents than any transport system in the world. It takes a brave person to walk the miles of disused tracks and bricked off tunnels others have long forgotten. Especially, in the dark.
Jodie is cursed with a terrible gift. She just doesn’t know it yet. When she stumbles across one of her dead father’s old papers on sound waves in the attic, it sets her on a terrifying journey to find out more, leading her across the streets of London to the dark, untrodden tunnels of the Underground, where she is forced to face the truth. Her worst nightmare is about to become real. Worse, she can hear it coming.
My review: The beginning of Killing Sound is brilliant. Those first few chapters are haunting and so vivid. The moment the police find her parents, all that was missing was the feeling of something crawling along my skin.
The horror of Killing Sound I enjoyed a lot. You have the creepy spine-tingly moments of scratching noises and moving shadows. Then there are high adrenaline run for your life parts. Both are descriptive, particularly the slow-building scenes work at setting up the atmosphere.
Jodie is the central character and, in my case, I wasn’t that attached to her. There was a bit of a disconnect to all the characters. So while I enjoyed the story I didn’t care as much as I wanted to about what was happening to them. I think if I had the book would have been all the more terrifying.
Killing Sound ticks a lot of boxes of what I like about this genre. It definitely has haunting moments and I still love the opening (also the ending – but spoilers ^_-).
If you’re easily scared I’d recommend reading during daylight hours.
Killing Sound by Paul Southern out now in paperback
(£7.99, Chicken House)