This year, ahead of Noted, Bela Farkas interviewed six festival artists. In this fourth instalment, he chats to acclaimed horror writer and Shirley Jackson Award Winner Kaaron Warren. Kaaron has sold over 200 stories, three novels and six short story collections. She was a recent guest at Genrecon and has taught a Dream Writing workshop at an abandoned mental health facility.
How did you get into writing the horror genre?
I’ve always been interested in the darker side of human behaviour, and even as a child I wrote scary stories, or crime stories. So when a flyer came in the mail asking for feminist horror stories, I knew I had to have a go at one. I had a nightmare where my boyfriend’s hair turned white overnight and that became the starting point for the story.
It got some attention; good reviews, and an invitation to the next anthology, a Penguin one called Strange Fruit. That story was about extreme dieting and body piercing, and from then on I was identified as a horror writer.
Movies can use sound effects and music to build up a scare. How does a writer build that into a novel?
It’s the use of imagery, of particular words, and of layered sensory impressions. You plant an idea early on then play it out later, so that the idea is eating away at the reader while they turn the pages. For a recent short story, ‘Sleeping with the Bower Birds’, I wanted to create a bird-like sense, so I used words like peck, feather, flutter.
Using the senses in every way is important. You’re trying to involve the reader, draw them in, make them feel what your characters are feeling. One of the best music soundtracks I know is Miracle Mile. It’s also one of my favourite movies. There is a steady heartbeat running throughout that speeds up as the movie progresses. You find your own heart beating in response, adding to your panic. It really is brilliant. I use this as an example of what I want to achieve in writing! I’m not sure I’ve ever managed it quite so well.
I noticed you do Dream Writing workshops. What exactly are they?
Dreams are fertile places for ideas. The conscious mind has let slip and the subconscious solves problems, explores images, sorts through traumas. So they are great for writers, but some people think that simply transcribing a dream makes a story. It really doesn’t! I’m sure most of us have been trapped as someone tries to tell you every single detail of a dream they had: ‘… and then, oh but I forgot, and then this happened, and this weird thing, and that weird thing, but I forgot to tell you this big…’ It’s torturous! The workshop is about using your dreams to write layered stories. Using the emotions, the imagery, the ideas, the senses, the solutions, and translating them into a story that people will want to read.
Do you have any tips to get published?
Read widely so you know who is publishing the sort of work you’re writing. Borrow from the library, but buy as much as you can, because every market needs support. Don’t send a story to a market that doesn’t suit you. Only ever send your best work. Take feedback on the chin. The editor or reader isn’t always right, but you should always at least think about their suggestions.
Do you believe in the super natural?
I want to, very much. I’ve never seen a ghost, but odd things happen all the time. If the supernatural exists, then an afterlife exists, and this life isn’t all we have. So I want to believe.
What’s your favourite horror trope?
I can never resist a haunted house! That said, I like horror that goes beyond the clichés and surprises me, stays with me, makes me think. So I love the work of Livia Llewellyn, Jeff Ford, Steve Rasnic Tem, Gemma Files, Deborah Biancotti and PS Cottier, a poet, to name just a few.
Kaaron Warren will feature at Noted Writers’ Festival 2016 in the following events: Where the Wild Words Are: Horror – Wednesday 16 March, 7:30pm-9pm at the National Film and Sound Archive; and Snap Stories – follow the festival on Snapchat @NotedFestival to receive ‘snap stories’ by Kaaron Warren, among many talented others.
Canberra-based writer and 2016 Noted artist Bela Farkas's work is heavily influenced by popular culture and current events. Bela's work will also appear as part of Bill Poetries at this year's festival.