Just in time for halloween, UK horror writer Jason Arnopp has released a new ebook for Kindle – with a very unsettling twist!
Can you briefly describe your project?
My web page, ScaryLetter.com, offers two formats of my short ghost story, A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home. The first format is your standard Kindle ebook, available via Amazon. The second format is a personalised, physical letter which can be sent to the buyer’s address. The latter format especially suits this story, which mimics a letter from a mysterious sender who lived at your address before you. This sender is telling you things you really don’t want to hear.
Where did the idea first come from?
I’m always interested in ideas which could only work in one specific medium. A Sincere Warning… talks directly to the reader and engages their imagination in that manner unique to prose fiction. When the sender of the letter recalls something scary which happened in “the bathroom”, for instance, the reader imagines their own bathroom. I loved the idea of everyone imagining the lion’s share of this story taking place in their own home, which makes it so much more personal and of course, unnerving.
Having written the short story, which necessarily describes the property in as generic a way as possible, I began to crave an alternative version of the story which didn’t have to be generic. What if such a version could be a real letter which addresses the reader by name, refers to the street and town where they live and even goes a little further than that? That struck me as potentially very powerful. So I created the Bespoke Deluxe Edition of the story, thinking that maybe 1 in 500 people might choose it over the standard ebook. In practice, though, it has become far more popular than I ever expected. I’ve actually struggled a little to supply the demand for it.
For almost any situation, mailing a letter (even a very long one) now feels a rather unexpected way to communicate. What prompted you to choose the postal system as a delivery mechanism for horror? Is there something inherently chilling about this kind of message physically entering one’s home?
Yes, there really is. As recently as 10 or 15 years ago, this probably wouldn’t have been the case, but there’s something insidious about an actual letter arriving at your home – or at least, one which isn’t a bill or a reminder. Electronic messages pop up on our screens all the time, but when a letter arrives, it demands more effort and action. You have to open the envelope, remove the paper, feel the weight of it in your hands, turn the pages. You also know it has taken considerably more effort to put together than an email. The concept of a stranger, in particular, sending a physical thing flying through your letterbox now seems to have a comparably high ‘fear factor’!
In some ways, digital has relocated us all into our own highly personalised bubbles. Is there a sense in which Scary Letter is a response to the cosy – yet distant – connections we experience in our online lives?
It must be on some level, although it’s certainly not a hostile response. I dearly love Twitter as much as the next person (I adopted the cryptic moniker @JasonArnopp, by the way), and probably like Facebook more than most people, who recently seem to be taking against it. One inherently scary thing about a physical lette hitting your mat, as opposed to a tweet appearing on your timeline, is that the sender clearly knows where you live. In the case of A Sincere Warning…, they’ve already lived there and couldn’t wait to get out.
Were you influenced by Facebook “curse” chain letters, Paranormal Activity technology-horror, the Ring, etc? What do you think it is about these things that makes them so frightening?
I suppose all of those things have contributed to both the modern face of horror and the darker side of social media. I’m a big fan of the Paranormal Activity films in particular and they can’t help but influence you, even if it’s because you make a conscious decision not to do something they already did! I definitely like the idea of a character inheriting a curse – especially when they did so in an arbitrary, random fashion, which wasn’t even their fault! The three things you’ve mentioned all play on that kind of fear. That sense of being doomed: something terrible and unknowable entering your life, with no plans to go away.
Are you concerned about people taking it seriously?
I was initially, yes, but only because there was the potential for people to send the Bespoke Deluxe Edition to someone else with malicious intent! I think I’ve now found a way around that possibility: whenever a letter is gifted for someone else, the letter ends with the message “This letter was purchased for you at ScaryLetter.com by [Buyer Name]”. I think that if you receive a worrying letter, the first thing you do is flick to the end and see who’s sent it. So hopefully that message will serve to allay any serious fears!
You’ve also written Doctor Who books. I always feel that Doctor Who is at its most frightening when it twists slightly on the very familiar. This feels like your Scary Letter project. Is this something you consciously bring to your work?
Yes, some of Doctor Who’s most frightening moments have centred on the familiar: in particular, the home. In the early 1970s, the production team got into trouble for a sequence in which a toy troll came to life on someone’s living room floor! In more recent years, we’ve seen Cybermen kicking in the front doors of domestic houses, which is an alarming image! When Russell T Davies relaunched Who in 2005, one of the many clever things he did was to ground it in modern-day reality. Stories didn’t just take place on far-flung alien planets with no connection to the world which we know. They were relatable, even if we were watching giant green monsters terrorising people in their own kitchens.
The letter is also available as an ebook for Kindle. What made you choose this medium?
Kindle and the various other ebook formats are wonderfully direct ways to reach people. As much as people seem to love the Bespoke Deluxe Edition, there’s also considerable appeal in being able to wirelessly zap the story into their Kindle, iPad or whatever, in a matter of seconds, for a mere 96p. The power of that is very attractive to authors and readers alike. On books’ Amazon pages, readers can also take a free look at an opening chapter, to help them decide if they want to buy it.
I’m a big fan of Kindle all round. I’ve no doubt that I’ll write for ‘traditional’ publishers again, but it seems healthy for authors to check out both worlds. I broke a few traditional rules with the ebook version, to reflect the concept. My name isn’t on the book’s cover, for instance. The story also begins on the book’s very first page, rather than the reader having to wade through copyright notices, dedications and the like. I wanted the suspension of disbelief to begin as soon as humanly possible, to create the impression that this story was a letter addressed to YOU.
Do you ever frighten yourself while you’re writing or researching these ideas?
Yes! You definitely have to write things which frighten you, in the same way that, with comedy, you have to write things that make you laugh. A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home features plenty of stuff which gives me the creeps, including things which I didn’t plan to include but occurred to me in a horrible way as I was writing. Even my first Kindle fiction release Beast In The Basement, which is more of a horror-thriller, disturbs me. In particular, a moment when the main character loses control with appalling consequences. Sometimes, fear isn’t so much about apparitions as it is about the dark side of humanity, which we all like to think we have under control.
What are your plans for hallowe’en?
Funnily enough, I’m going to be in San Sebastian, a place which features in A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home. Each Halloween, the city plays host to a fantastic Horror & Fantasy Film Festival. I haven’t been since 2008 and can’t wait to walk the streets of the Old Town again – it’s a wonderful maze of small bars and restaurants. I’ll also be watching several new horror films of course. You surely can’t ask for much more than that on Halloween…