I've been up to my armpits in grot and gore this week as I give Back from the Dead a Darren Shan makeover (I'm picturing him following in the footsteps of Gok Wan here, with a TV show called How to Look Good Dismembered) Anyway, I've been reflecting on how odd it is that I'm a vegetarian writing this stuff and why I'm not working on a lovely picture book about Carla the Friendly Cow, or something.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not being forced into anything here - I have loved gory books and movies for most of my adult life. In fact, I've also been a vegetarian for nearly the same amount of time. Could the two actually be connected?
I was a late starter with horror. I read Steven King and James Herbert in my teens, but twenty years ago, most horror movies were 18 certificate and we didn't have a video recorder at home. Worse than this was the fact that I had a friend at primary school(!) whose parents let him watch the most inappropriate films - A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Evil Dead, even stuff that was banned like Last House on the Left. He would tell me about them at school the next day in loving detail - not in a malicious way, but just how kids do when they want to show off. Unfortunately, I was an extremely sensitive child with an active fantasy life and his stories were not always what the (mad) doctor ordered. Reoccurring nightmares very often followed...
Years later, it was inevitable that the films themselves could never live up to the crazy pictures in my head - which was also frankly a relief. Another thing surprised me - some of these films were really funny. I got hooked on the early catalogue of directors like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, and the "splatstick" style they developed in films such as Evil Dead 2, Bad Taste and Braindead. Even now, these films are endearingly strange slices of gore and slapstick farce, auteur movies in a genre that usually attracts journeyman hacks. And, of course, both these directors have since gone on to much, much bigger things.
Being a vegetarian has actually helped me to have a stronger stomach for these kinds of gory movies. I think that I was quite a conflicted carnivore, never wanting to ponder too deeply where my dinner came from. Like so many people, I ate cheap processed burgers throughout the BSE crisis and still didn't really join up the dots. When I finally did give up meat in my early twenties, I could at last face some of this stuff without feeling complicit. I remember an incident in my teens, sitting in a restaurant with a supposedly well-done steak in front of me. I plunged my knife into it and watched a pool of blood spread across the plate, ruining my chips. Nowadays, I stick to having salt and vinegar on them.
For all the talk of media gore and violence desensitising us, I am still really traumatised by actual dead animals (and I presume actual dead people too, but luckily I don't see many of those). While doing some research the other day I came across a delightful site where people posted and rated their favourite pictures of roadkill. That was more disturbing for me than watching all of the Saw movies in a single evening.