X Factor Live Show 4

Much better week…although a week in which most contestants were off their game.  The open hostility between the judges is also hilarious – but predictable…Simon and Cheryl back each other, Dannii and Louis back each other. Yawn.

Who’s Safe?

Only three truly “safe” acts this week I think.

Cher Lloyd – her first AAA+ performance since the incredible Turn My Swag On.  The fragility of Stay was weirdly moving.  However, it was no act – she is fragile, and while that vulnerability worked this week, it does make you wonder.  Cher needs to learn to laugh at herself a little more – it all seems a bit life and death.  Miss Lloyd is a victim of a generation who thinks the only way to succeed in life is to win a talent show etc, blah blah blah.

One Direction – are clearly going to win.  I really think so.  They and Matt will be the final two and good-feeling towards Simon and the bands (as there has never been a band winner) will carry them into victory.  I actually liked their Total Eclipse of the Heart too.

Rebecca – A couple of well-placed words from Simon (“Leona Lewis”) will brainwash voters, methinks.  Her version of Wicked Game was lovely, but her voice is nowhere near Leona’s.  FACT.

Who’s Unsafe?

Pretty much all the rest.  Matt will be fine, but only through trading on former glories (and “Leona Lewis” isn’t gonna save that performance!).  Even Mary might be in the danger zone – I’ve see actual drag queens do better versions of Could It Be Magic. Missed opportunity for her to sing “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

Belle Amie – ropey outifts, ropey vocals.  All a bit desperate.  Someone had obviously briefed them to be “FUN”, so they achieved this by stating the word “fun” over and over like grinning hyenas on a hen do.

Treyc – oddly aggressive in her interaction with Simon after a very mediocre caberet performance.  It was all a bit Andrew Lloyd Webber on the BBC.

Aiden – I try not to swear on the blog – but his version of Thriller was an effing travesty and someone should be made to pay.  He gets more irritating by the week too.

I’m out tonight at karaoke, so if one dear reader could tweet me the result, that’d be grand!

The Final Girls

Following on from the “Top Ten Slasher” countdown, I wanted to further investigate the appeal of that highly specific film genre of slasher horror. I had a lovely chat with a publisher this week about the horror genre and how it’s struggled to translate from film to text, only Darren Shan truly flying the flag for horror. Perhaps it’s the inability to make a reader “jump” in the same way a film can. That’s why I love these films – the adrenaline buzz, although feminist film theorist Mary J Clover, believes there may be deeper reasons why so many people, particularly men, dig men in masks.

Much more than supernatural horrors such as The Exorcist, The Omen or The Ring, Slasher films tend to feature a “Final Girl” – one girl who makes it to the end frame, while her family, friends and boyfriend often lie in chopped up fragments around her. According to Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, the girl, not the psycho is the magnetic lure of the Slasher flick. She believes the largely male audience is drawn to the “abject terror” the final girl exhibits. That paints a grim picture of male film goers, but the fact remains that these films always have a screaming girl, and never a screaming boy.

An exception to the rule is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, in which Mark Patton’s hysterical Jesse Walsh is terrorised for much of the film. You won’t be surprised to learn his performance is amongst the most ridiculed in the genre. Furthermore, in the last act of this example, the focus switches to Jesse’s hapless girlfriend, filling the supposed male need for a girl in peril.

Clover sees a number of sexual and gender reasons for this pattern in teen horror films. Usually, the films are, or at least were made for males by males. What’s curious is that although the Final Girl needs to be female to experience the “abject terror”, she is very often masculinized (to the extreme of even having a boys name – Sidney, Laurie, Georgie). Certainly, in the traditional Laurie Strode mould (Jamie-Lee Curtis: Halloween, 1978), the Final Girl is chaste, virginal, pure and actively seen to reject sexuality. Indeed, any girl seen to celebrate her beauty or sexuality is a sure-fire goner (Linda in Halloween, Helen in I Know What You Did Last Summer). Clover also highlights that eventually, almost every Final Girl grabs some sort of phallic weapon, such as a knife, dagger or chainsaw to turn the tables on the masked villain.

What’s more, the killer himself (as most of the killers are male, with a few exceptions…Friday the 13th, Urban Legend, Scream 2) is often suffering gender confusion of his own. A prime example would be Norman Bates cross-dressing in Psycho or Billy Loomis’ Mummy and Daddy issues in Scream. Some good rises out of this gender fluidity between killer and Final Girl. Clover believes the gender switch that occurs in the final act, where the girl “steals” the killer’s masculinity reflects the rise of feminism in the horror genre. Personally, in my mind, a female character shouldn’t have to purge her sexuality and beauty in order to satisfy a film audience, but hey-ho.

In later films, there were signs of improvement in the gender politics of slasher horror. Mary Celeste Kearney examines the 1990s Final Girls, Sidney Prescott from Scream and Julie James from I Know What You Did Last Summer. These girls were allowed to talk about the constraints of their own characters. Especially in Scream, Sidney (Neve Campbell) and Tatum (Rose McGowan) verbalise what is expected of their role and both fulfil and defy these expectations. That said, of the sassy Tatum and straight laced Sidney, it is still Tatum that dies and Sidney who becomes the Final Girl. Still, it is clear that by the 90s, film-makers recognised there was a female audience for teen slashers.

A final curious example, which has inspired much debate, is Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Alien franchise. The character of Ripley was scripted as male, and would have originally been played by Tom Skerritt. The official line as to why Ripley became female was because of studio rumours that “strong women” were an upcoming trend. While this could be true, it’s easy to see that just a year after the success of Halloween, Ripley is Laurie Strode in space. Ripley has many characteristics of the Final Girl, she becomes increasingly masculine over the first three Alien films (to the point of shaving her head) and, certainly in the first film, rejecting any sort of sexual role. Conversely, Barbara Cornea argues that in the Science Fiction setting, the sexual and gender undertones of teen horror are largely absent, so Ripley should not be considered a Final Girl.

Next year Scream 4 will be the first major teen slasher film to be released since the dreary 2009 offering “Sorority Row”. It is widely thought the Sidney’s niece, Jill, played by Emma Roberts will lead the way into a new trilogy – a Final Girl for a new decade. Now, I’m not normally a betting man, but I’d stick a tenner on her being honest, wholesome and every inch a virgin…we’ll find out next April.

Men In Masks

In honour of Halloween, and the excellent BBC4 series A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss, I wanted to give a run-down of my favourite horror films. Every inch a child of eighties, Gatiss can keep his RKO and Hammer Horror – I like my horror films full of American girls in peril, tormented by masked killers!

I can’t tell you why I love this genre so much or why the current slew of remakes depress me so much (aren’t there any original ideas?). Feminist film theorist Mary J Clover examined the allure of horror films, but more on that next time. For now, with just enough time to order them in before Sunday, here are my top ten favourite “Stalk and Slash” movies.

10. Black Christmas (2006)

Okay, so I said the remakes depress me, but in this one instance, I preferred the 2006 remake to the 1974 original. Why? Two words – skin cookies (pictured). The original is often referred to as “the slasher film that started them all”, released the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and four years prior to Halloween. Certainly the modern, suburban, middle-class setting and silhouetted killer set the mould for the genre. Neither the original or remake truly scared me however, hence the lower ranking.

9. Urban Legend (1998)

Everyone loves a good ghost story – I grew up on modern folk tales. Dogs dripping in the shower, killers licking your hand under then bed, mental patients on the back seat of the car. Urban Legend celebrated such stories with a great ensemble cast: Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid and Rebecca Gayheart from that sex tape. Not the best example of the genre, but this one came along at the height of my teen horror passion so will always have a place in my heart!

8. Halloween H2O (1998)

Sequels killed the horror genre…blah, blah, blah. Not always so. The 20th anniversary follow up to Halloween was perfect, arriving in the middle of the post-Scream revival. Jamie Lee Curtis is sensational as the adult Laurie Strode – a woman on the edge of a breakdown; drinking and pill-popping. My favourite scene is the one in which the alcoholic headmistress downs two glasses of wine at lunchtime. As a teacher, I hear that, sister. Some excellent set pieces (the dumb waiter scene and “Miiiiichaaaael!”) and great support from Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams make this a fave.

7. Friday the 13th (1980)

So low in the chart? Yes. The secluded Camp Crystal Lake setting is great, the “chee-chee-chee-ha-ha-ha” is great, but I never warmed to this franchise as much as the others. The disposable teens (including little Kevin Bacon) are a bawdy, over-sexual bunch and I never took to Alice, the Final Girl. Furthermore if sequels have killed a franchise, it was this one – 10 sequels and a remake (which is potentially the worst remake of a bad bunch). If it weren’t for the surprise twist killer and the excellent final shot, I probably wouldn’t include the film at all. Oh, but what a last shot!

6. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

After clever Scream, I felt there was something delightfully uncomplicated about this teen offering. For one thing, the cast is a who’s who of people who were famous in the nineties – if a film didn’t have Sarah Michelle Gellar or Ryan Phillippe in it, I wasn’t interested. While not exactly brimming with psychological horror, IKWYDLS (catchy) is expert at making the audience stand up and scream “behind you!”, “run Buffy, RUN!” or “Love-Hewitt, put them away!”.

5. Carrie (1976)

Not technically a Stalk n Slash, but there are lots of dead teenagers by the end, so there. If any other horror film builds tension and sickening dread like Carrie, I’m yet to see it. Yes, you have to wait for the pay-off, but by then, you want it. It’s also the most cerebral choice on the list. To this day I’m never sure whether to sympathise with Carrie or be scared of her. The moral ambiguity hangs over her choice to kill them all, did the guidance counsellor deserve it? Discuss. Also notable for the last scare…you know the one, and the fact it taught me what menstruation was.

4. Final Destination (2000)

You know when, as a writer, you think “I wish I’d thought of that”? This was my wish moment. So neat and original, coming along at a time when I thought there was nothing new to be done in teen horror. The MR James-like notion that you can’t escape your destiny, no matter how hard you try is disturbing alone, mix that with darkly humorous and elaborate death sequences and you’re onto a winner. The “Mouse Trap” death sequences – notably the death of the French teacher are marvellous. Great young cast (whatever became of Devon Sawa after Stan?) and a very unexpected bus.

3. Scream (1996)

After the awful Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the great man must have been hit with a lightning bolt of post-modern genius as he went back to the drawing board with Dawson’s Creek writer Kevin Williamson to reinvent teen horror for a second wave. Everything about Scream felt fresh, new and very modern while continually nodding at a much loved, but then deceased genre. It’s genuinely scary, the Drew Barrymore sequence might be one of my favourite set pieces of the genre. More than that, the razor sharp, witty script blessed the characters with more warmth and personality than they’d ever had before. In fact, perhaps Scream was the first horror film in which the Final Girl (perfect Neve Campbell) is more developed than the man in the mask (although even the killer is given depth and heart). The franchise sadly vanished up it’s own bottom by Scream 3, but next year’s Scream 4 could be the start of teen horror wave 3.

2. Halloween (1978)

There’s not much left to say about John Carpenter’s masterpiece, it’s all been said. For many, this is the perfect horror film: classy, scary, well-acted, shocking. It’s all true. I watched this a couple of nights ago with someone who hadn’t seen it before and he spent most of the film cowering behind a cushion – I’d seen it so many times I’d forgotten how scary it actually is. Jamie Lee Curtis is the archetype of the Final Girl; clever, dry, honest, wholesome and Donald Pleasence is suitably intense. My favourite, however, is totally PJ Soles as Linda. Seriously, take a shot every time she says totally, you’ll be mullered by the time she’s throttled. Scariest scene? The one in which the desperate Laurie frantically hammers on the neighbour’s door. They look out of the window, but don’t come out to help her. How true of suburbia. Terrifying.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I’m sure a lot of you are disagreeing right now, but tough. For me, no other film on this list got under my skin and into my head like this one. A concept so perfect that even the 2010 remake couldn’t completely screw it up. The pitch: A murdered child molester comes back for revenge via your nightmares. Everyone has to sleep. Everyone has to dream. There’s no escape, and worse, in your dreams, anything can happen and you have no control. Maybe that’s the difference; in any other film you can scream at the girl to get out the front door, but not in Freddy’s world – getting out the front door may well find you in the killer’s boiler room. The first film, in which Krueger is mercifully quiet, is terrifying, the dream sequences are trippy and unsettling (hello, the goat?). It’s worth remembering that Freddy is a mystery for most of the film too, and the kids are as oblivious as we are – he’s just a man they see in their dreams. Unlike most teen horrors, Nancy’s parents are both present and vital to the plot, and I particularly love Ronee Blakely as the boozy, middle-class desperate housewife. Such a shame about the sequels that took a thing of nightmares and turned him into a thing of sitcom, and there’s nothing a remake can do about that. Freddy Krueger is little more than a joke now, but don’t let that cloud your judgement of the original, and for me, best teen horror film ever.

X Factor Live Show 3

Uh.  Is it just me or were there even MORE adverts this week?  That, with the morbid doom of the Cheryl Cole interview hanging over the whole thing, The X Factor felt a bit empty this week.  It’s as if all the fuss over Gamu and Katie has gone and there’s less drama for it.  The bickering and Louis’ impending meltdown brought some narrative, but more than ever it was two hours of people singing, one after the other.

Fear not, The X Factor can create drama where there is none at the best of times (Sexy Dancers RUIN John’s performance – he should kiss their dancer asses – this “controversy” is probably the only thing that’ll keep the dullster in).  It still feels like there’s too many acts to care about.  For me, the wild card thing was an error.  There, I said it.  Let’s not even talk about the piss poor theme this week.  What next?  “Songs with words in”?  “Songs to dance to”?  If they’re going to do such cover-all themes, why bother at all?

Who’s Safe?

Painter & Decorator – I’m growing fonder of him by the week.  There was some good bicep action and the hat appears to have gone forever.  I’m concerned he’s not very tall though – Konnie Huq towers over him – not a good sign.

Mary – Yawn.  It’s starting to feel like we’ve seen it all before.  Oh…wait, we literally have.  That said, for some reason, people seem to like her.

Cher Lloyd – Even my mum liked her this week.  I just pray she is the crazed diva the press would like her to be, because then something interesting might come out of this year’s X Factor.  We DON’T want another fiasco like last year (McElderry).

One Direction – Bieber and the Woo-Woo’s will be with us for a while yet I’m afraid.

Who’s Unsafe?

Belle Amie – Not a good sign that their performance felt like a sing for survival.  I could smell their fear through my plasma screen.

Treyc – I like the idea of her going rock, reminiscent of Maria from a few years back.  That said, although there was nothing wrong with her performance, I don’t see kids or parents picking up the phone.

Paije – Just because I want to see if this going first theory pans out.

Aiden – I think Cheryl was spot on.  I don’t “get” Aiden and I’m one of the trendy Gaga fans who are meant to love weird theatrical crap.  The Mad World thing worked, but should clearly have been a one off. Aiden obviously wants to be doing what Painter & Decorator’s doing, but Danniiii needs them to  be unique.  Sadly, I feel this is like squirrels – Matt is the grey squirrel to Aiden’s verge-of-extinction red.  Out niched.

We’ll find out tonight.  Almost disappointed only one’s leaving – thin the crowd!  Maybe they could introduce a Hunger Games scenario to proceedings – turn them loose on each other until only one is standing.  My money would be on Hatie in that contest – she was BORN TO BE FAMOUS!  I’d pay good money to see her drop a nest of poisonous wasps on Wagner and then descend on wires “throatily intoning” Moon River.

X Factor Live Show 2

After last week, anything was bound to feel like a bit of a come down – and it, well, was.  That was a very long two and a half hours of television.  Whittle them down!

What’s my verdict on this weeks action?  I enjoyed Cher, and although I think she’s safe this week, something has to change.  She’s becoming incredibly specific – sing a bit, rap a bit, gurn a bit.  I’d like to see her go a bit more pop and actually sing next time – maybe something in the retro 80s section – vintage Madonna or something – Lucky Star?

I was also impressed with the improvement in Belle Amie (or maybe just their eye-makeup, it’s hard to tell), although without any doubt whatsoever, both they and One True Voice were lip-synching over the choruses.  Finally lovely Rebecca, the only one of Cheryl’s contestants not to have been branded a public hate figure (because she has kids..?  Because she’s sweet and retiring?).  Lovely voice, good song choice, but me and my wise music council feel she’d be better as a lead singer in a band a la Shirley Mansun, Gwen Stefani etc – that way she wouldn’t look so bloody lost all the time.

Anyway, to business – Who’s Safe?

Tesco Mary – not a good sign that the C-word’s already being used in week two (not that c-word, caberet).  Like a well-signposted floor to ceiling window in a horror film, you know someone’s going through the glass – and this is no different.  The C-word will be Mary’s undoing somewhere around week 7, mark my words.  And stop bloody crying.

Matt – as Mark Gatiss tweeted, he does look like a slim Johnny Vegas, but Dannii is playing this one spot on.  Good job, as elsewhere she’s gone friggin’ mental (has anyone checked on Aiden this morning?).  Even I got a bit goey eyed during his performance last night, and I think he looks and sounds like a tube-station busker.

One True Voice – If I ever saw that cocky gobshite Harry Styles, I’d slap his face.  You just know that when he was badly behaved as a child, he pulled a cutesy face and everyone said “awwww”.  Sickening.  That said, they’re not going anywhere.  The one from Bradford can’t sing for shit.

Not Safe

Paige – Hmmm, out-loved by Aiden and Matt I suspect.  Easily forgettable.

Storm Lee – In the cursed opening slot and a bit cringey.  He reeks of desperation too, even for an X Factor contestant.  It’s tremendously off-putting.

Wagner – Not wacky enough!  At least Jedward had the decency to up the madness quota each week – Wagner was actually more sensible this week and played NO bongos.  Mistake.

Hatie – This year’s Rachel ADEDEJI.  Trying so hard to find her character by being something different every time we see her.  Feels like she’s playing catch-up to the other contestants, who each have their angle (well except John, who’s angle is “dull”).  Mix that with an obscure song choice and she’s in deep do-do.  Sorry, Hatie, I just don’t think you can undo the damage of being a wilfully-eccentric-annoying-middle-class-try-hard-who-fluffed-3 auditions-only-to-beat Gamu-while-having-a-record-deal.

The Inner Circle

I’ve been told that writers have found my previous post about finding an agent both helpful and inspiring, which is both nice and flattering! I said that I’d write about what it is she actually does at a later date – and this seems like a good week. Why? I’ve just had the feedback on a sample of book number two – and it wasn’t pretty. See? Even after you’ve entered the inner circle there’s still a whole world of rejection to enjoy.

I’m not complaining, in fact quite the opposite. What I love about my agent is that she is always honest with me. When we first spoke many months ago, Jo (for that is her name) heaped praise on my first book and I was thrilled, who wouldn’t be? Now I recognise that this was actually an important truth of the publishing industry – it’s all about finding someone who loves your work. Without doubt I know that Jo loves my book – the characters, atmosphere and dialogue, and I know this to be true because she’s equally honest about the things that don’t work.

Initially, after accepting her offer of representation, I received a few pointers about the plot, but after the first rewrites, she came back to me with an “actually, now that I’ve thought about it…” and a further three pages of suggestions (including a MAYJAH rewrite of one character and most of the final act). I was like “whoa!”, this was the biggest savaging my book had ever taken. At the same time I marvelled at how long she’d spent thinking about my daft old book – she knew everything, understanding the characters as well as I did. To prove my point, one note was – “why wouldn’t Danny have more than one bathroom? His house is meant to be posh, isn’t it?” The fact she’d even thought about Danny, let alone his plumbing dilemmas, was touching to say the least.

Although an agent is under no obligation to help an author editorially, I suppose it’s in their best interest to do so. Luckily for me, Jo really guided me through the rewrites, predicting potential objections from publishing houses, strengthening the manuscript, readying it for battle. At the end of it, every loose end was secure and the plot tighter than ever. This advice is key at any stage in the process – if you can foresee a problem, so can any reader. Don’t give people a reason to reject your work.

From that point it was over to her. On the surface of things it may appear that an agent simply moves a manuscript from one reading pile to another, but it goes much further than that. What an agent has that an author doesn’t is connections. It became clear early on that the publishing world is a fairly close-knit affair, and when Jo went to the publishers to say “I have this awesome new book from an awesome new author,” they believed her in a way that no-one would believe a newbie writer. These connections have served me well, that book hasn’t sold yet, but if this were The X Factor, it would be fair to say I’m through to the Judge’s Houses stage in a few weeks time.

Super Agent Nathan Bransford says we shouldn’t regard agents simply as keepers of the gates, and he’s right. I can only speak for my agent, but so far she’s been a listener, an editor and importantly a nurturer of me as a “talent”. I’m a rookie, but increasingly feel like a professional with a working knowledge of the industry. Book one was “in the can” in the Spring, and since then she’s been a great sounding board for my future projects. Thanks to her honest advice, one flawed project that would have potentially swallowed a year of my time has been caught at an embryonic stage for development or the bin.

It’s important to say that you don’t need an agent to have a book published. Self-publishing, e-publishing, directly approaching a publishing house – there are plenty of roads leading to Bookland. But for me, the relationship with Jo has been an invaluable learning experience, training for a career as a writer. I know that when/if the/a book sells, she’ll be there to teach me how the inner sanctum works too.

X Factor Live Show 1

In addition to my usual ramblings, I’m going to try share my thoughts on each X Factor live show – and why not?  I’m not just a writer after all, I’m a pop music obsessive (and have been since 1985, thank you Mel and Kim).

So it begins – before we know it, it’ll be Christmas and one of the poor souls will be entangled in a dreary Facebook campaign hampering their no.1 chart effort with some despicable cover version.  Gaga “theatricality” was keenly felt throughout proceedings and one can only hope this direction means an end to staples such as “Big Band Week” (if Simon really wants a departure from cute boys singing Mack the Effing Knife).  Big kudos to BNTM’s Grace Woodward for some excellent styling too – at last night’s donut party we especially liked Paige’s jacket and Hatie’s visor.

Who’s safe?

Tesco Mary (rocking an Ursula the Seawitch ensemble) for one, although she score low on our Popjustice scorecard.  Yes, she can really bellow, but I found it all one note – she went in at level 11 and finished the same.  Light and shade, please.  And, let’s be brutal – she’s not a popstar.  She could do a (less mental) SuBo, but that’s just not my bag.

Cher.  Still my favourite by a long stretch.  The press are talking about her for a reason – she’s magnetic.  Her awkwardness makes her even more appealing, again in a Gaga-ish/Nicola Roberts sort of way.  Only thing is, I’m not sure how far she can go on The X Factor, she might be genuinely better off going the Diana Vickers/JLS route.

“Eyes” Grimshaw.  Real risk of becoming this year’s Danyl Johnson (shudder), but for now, that was a great start.  Odd, theatrical, nostril-flary.

Who’s Unsafe

A girlband always goes first, so, by default, Bel Ami, sorry, Belle Amie have had it.  Dodgy vocal arrangement on a repetitive song is unlikely to help their cause.  It’s interesting that Simon has completely stripped them of any sex appeal – see my Girls Aloud blog from a couple of weeks ago.

John – “John who?” my mum said.  EXACTLY.

Rebecca – Trading on former glories.  Nice frock though.

FYD – They were good, but they were on so early, it almost felt as if their performance was on some other show.

That is all for now.  We’ll find out if I’m right tonight.  I’ve had an interesting week re.books, so I’ll post again midweek!  For now my next door neighbours are smoking some insanely smelly pot and I think I need to leave the flat before I get high.

It was acceptable in the nineties

I love children’s reading habits. I recently surveyed my class and although they liked a range of books, practically all the books came from a range. Be it Tracy Beaker or The Edge Chronicles or Series of Unfortunate Events, most pupils from the sixty I asked chose books from a series. I’m a big fan of anything that gets young people reading, but always encourage diversifying and trying new authors.

I was no better as a youngster. Having recently befriended the author RL Stine on Twitter, I was reminded of my favourite early 90s reads, the Point Horror range. For a period of a year or so, these were all I read. I think the reason why such range novels are so popular is that they are gloriously predictable, the same reason I continue to watch America’s Next Top Model despite myself. The repetition is somehow comforting.

Was anyone else a fan? Is anyone still a fan? We could all write a Point Horror book now – let’s go for it!

  1. We need a main character. She’s a sixteen year-old girl, obviously and she’s called either Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. Don’t be silly; no-one’s called Thursday or Saturday. At a push we could name her after a season, I suppose.
  2. Our girl has just been bereaved. She lost her a) boyfriend b) sister c) brother d) friend. (If the deceased was a Prom Queen or cheerleader, this will be title of our book).
  3. She starts to receive haunting and mysterious phonecalls/notes/emails from the dead person! Oh no!
  4. She is confronted by a ghost-like apparition in her home/school/part time job. The “ghost” has taken on an element of the dead person i.e. football helmet, wedding veil, Niqab…basically, you can’t see it’s face. I can’t think why.
  5. She starts to suspect a brooding new boy (named after a type of weather, Storm/Rain/Gale) may be behind the “ghost”.
  6. A third act party turns out to be a ploy – there is no party at the abandoned location.
  7. Turns out the ghost is her best friend. Without fail.
  8. Shock – it wasn’t a car accident! It was murder! She murdered your boyfriend/sister/brother/other friend. And now she’s going to kill our main girl – shit!
  9. Oh, it’s okay, she’s been saved by Storm/Rain/Gale. Phew.
  10. Evil best friend is committed and the girl gets together with the weather boy. And they all lived happily ever after. Except for the dead person and the mad girl.

While not every Point Horror, and there were plenty, featured this plot, they were certainly very similar. Rarely, an author dipped outside of the norm (I recall The Cemetery being particularly strange), but these tended to be less well favoured by my middle-school cohort, perhaps for so flagrantly ignoring “the rules”.

I adored them, with their “shocking” cover images and cheesy tag-lines. This writer suggests today’s YA audience demands a higher quality from it’s books, but I disagree. It’s not about quality (because some of today’s YA successes are of varying calibre) I instead think horror trends come and go. As the nineties ended, so did franchises like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Even convention-busting Scream became predictable by the third instalment, paving the way for the more sinister, supernatural chills of The Ring or the pure gore of Saw and Hostel. Horror films changed and so did horror books – a scared, lonely babysitter wasn’t fresh any more. I can’t remember why I stopped reading them. I suppose I grew bored and moved on to something else…Dean R. Koontz!

But with a new Scream film out next year, and everyone through with torture porn at the cinema and vampires on the bookshelves, maybe going retro with screaming cheerleaders is on it’s way back. I certainly hope so. While I certainly agree readers expect more, there’s a lot of chills to be had from a stranger haunting your telephone or a mysterious note falling through the front door. There are a couple of scenes in my first novel which are very Point Horror, but I’m not giving away any more than that!