BY: Mo Irvine
Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
I enjoy playing Patience. Not in itself a dangerous game, granted, unless someone opens a window and scatters the cards just as you are getting the last numbers out. That could be grounds for murder.
I love the wealth of complexities hidden within this deceptively simple game of cards. Playing out a good game of Patience is a little bit like completing a difficult crossword. Taxing on the brain, but ultimately satisfying. Watching the play of the cards, adding up the suits, guessing what will be dealt next, and what remains hidden. Should I move the red king to that blank space, or maybe wait for the next deal of cards in the hope that a much-needed black king will turn up? Decisions, decisions.
Sometimes, the play flies along, cards falling one on top of the other in a frenzy of excitement. Often I can see no way out, and simply play on in the forlorn hope that the next card I deal won’t signify the end of the game. Disappointment. Death to the dealer. Try again.
But oh, the tightening of muscles as I hunch over screen or table. The anticipation. The hope. Will I or won’t I survive this round? If I can just lay this black four over that red five, then play out the final three cards in my hand…
When I write detective fiction, or sci-fi, the end is usually clear in my mind. I simply have to decide how I am going to manoeuvre my hapless characters from point A to point B (with much death and/or heartache along the way, naturally). But when I write horror, my mind starts out almost as blank as the screen. I begin with one burning idea, one shining phrase, one clever ending – and I have absolutely no idea of the labyrinthine twists and turns that the story will have to make, in order for me to reach the end.
I am on a journey, my mission unclear. All I know is that I want to scare myself, feel that tingle along the spine, let out my breath at the end in a slow whoosh of relief, or catch it sharply in fright as I surreptitiously cast a glance around the shadowed room. Is that a mouse I hear scuttling behind the sofa? Or something far worse, something obscene and scary, something oozing… Something that has entered the room in my absence and which now lurks, biding its time, until I rise from my seat and make my hesitant way across a mile of carpet, trying desperately to reach the false safety of the light switch.
What does all this have to do with playing a card game on one’s own? For me, writing horror is like playing a game of Patience. I hunch, engrossed, over the keyboard, getting to know a person I have imagined, or a scene, or a phrase, or a beginning. I fling down my opening sentences much as I cast down my cards. The progression of the story is never certain. Sometimes I miss something, noticing my error a split second too late. What can I do to retrieve the situation? Should I try? Will things become more – interesting – if I don’t? Often there will be seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. The law of averages dictates to me that there won’t be a much-needed red seven in my hand. Or a loaded gun with which to dispatch the monster. Can one shoot a monster? What if the monster is in one’s head? Or invisible? Or one’s supposed best friend? What of a gun then?
Getting to the bottom of these problems is as satisfying as laying down a good game of Patience. Of course, in Patience, sometimes you lose. And the monster wins. Now isn’t that fun?
I am really pleased to be a part – however small – of Dark Continents Publishing. I have the freedom here to run with scissors, and to watch with interest as the blood spills. And, even better, I know that others will be crouching down to the carpet to watch with me.