Hello everyone. Here I am again in full living colour (or should that be wearing a sinister black cape?). Either way I am here to try and make amends for my woeful lack of content this past fortnight which was largely reprehensible. I am, after all, trying to build up a loyal team of followers. How can I possibly do that unless I put my best foot forward and step courageously or otherwise into the great unknown which is the world of horror fiction. This blog intends to do that and much more besides. It is a return to my popular tutorial series of posts. Whilst making this point plain I have to admit that I have as yet failed to begin the group of blogs I was going to entitle ‘My In-depth Tutorials.’ This is an oversight which I will be addressing very soon. As promised these blogs will be found under a brand new menu selection. So watch out for that development on this site coming your way very soon!
Now onto a description of the title of this particular blog. It’s a fancy enough title I will grant you but does it have any substance? Let’s find out. Of course when I refer to ‘villains of the piece’ I am referring to the evil characters which are to be found in my novels and in the world of horror fiction as a whole. What is it about them which has fascinated readers ever since the very first ghost story was published. Of course, evil characters do not only exist in ghost stories: they abound everywhere you look in the great world of horror. One only has to think of the wonderful novels devoted to psychological horror to know this. When one reflects on the character of Hannibal Lecter a whole variety of emotions are unleashed, none of them pleasant. Thomas Harris created a real monster out of our worst nightmares when he gave the world Hannibal. He became even more popular when ‘Silence of the Lambs’ came out in the cinema. Lecter was a man to be feared and anyone who went up against him usually paid a heavy price.
Sometimes, however, I believe psychological horror is taken a little too far. By this I mean to refer to what I would term gratuitous horror. This is where someone is taken hostage by a sadistic individual who tortures the unfortunate soul who falls into his path. As he does so there is no sense that there is any real meaning to his evil actions. He just gets some sort of gruesome delight in making his captive suffer. These characters have appeared in a few too many horror films for my liking. I tend to switch off a film such as this very soon after starting to watch it as I find it pointless and unnecessary. It is almost like the film maker is trying to shock his viewers with a tale of evil intent which is beyond anyone’s understanding. That is all very well but I don’t agree with the premise behind such films. One must possess the belief that a character does things for a legitimate reason. His reasons may be hard to fathom at times but nevertheless there must be some sort of purpose behind what he does, even a character who has bad intentions on his mind.
All my evil characters exist in a historical plain where they commit their initial atrocities before returning as ghosts later on in the storyline. What drives these characters on? What purpose did they have when setting out on their murderous activities? Did something spark it off? Did something happen to them in the past, even back to their childhood, a perceived wrong done to them which they could not live with and which turned them into monsters? This is the psychology of the villain coming into play. I would suggest in my own work that these evil characters did not start from the same point. No, they took different routes to get to where they were going. Different causes sparked off their evil intent and this is something I would now like to explore.
In the case of Jack Farley regular visitors to this side are probably well acquainted with him. I have already stated in a previous blog that I created him as a sort of dubious tribute to two of the worst villains who ever lived. They were not figments of anyone’s imagination, but all too real. I am referring here to the deadly double act of Burke and Hare, the two Irishmen who cut a swathe of horror throughout Edinburgh in the early nineteenth century. Jack Farley’s associate in my novel was a fellow by the name of William Dreghorn. But he was no more than an accomplice to Jack’s evil doing. Jack was the brains behind their murderous schemes: William merely went along with it and with marked reluctance on his part. But he was forced to go along wth Jack’s scheme as his partner held something over him which could have landed him in jail if Jack had decided to cry wolf.
Jack’s main motive in strangling one victim after another (a slight change from the way Burke and Hare committed their crimes as they preferred suffocating their victims) was to earn a higher income than he had previously managed as a grave robber. By “lending a helping had to death” as he liked to term his murderous actions, he was able to come by more corpses than were to be found in the local graveyard. Later on in the novel he even goes so far as to suggest that he was assisting the cause of science by providing a local surgeon with a good collection of corpses which he could experiment on and find cures for diseases which had gone untreated before then. However, this was merely a fanciful excuse put forward by him to explain his actions. That being said the almost grotesque part about his killing spree was that there was a modicum of truth in what he said. This, in itself, is a disturbing idea: that by killing innocent folk Jack enabled a much greater part of the population to recover from diseases which would previously have brought premature ends to their lives.
So that is what Jack is all about. How about Robert Jacobs? He is the land agent from my novel ‘Evil Deeds.’ What’s his story? What does he have to say for himself? Well, the answer to the last question is rather too much! He is a conniving individual, being one of those characters who seems to live to get ahead at other people’s expense. There is one man in particular over which he holds sway in the most ignoble of ways. For indeed there is no other way to describe his actions than to term them thus. He proves himself to be not only a scurrilous individual who profits by other people’s misfortunes but a killer. He proves himself to be even worse than than. Having committed the awful ‘deed’ of murdering the farmer James Franklin by repeatedly smashing him over the head with his cane, he goes to his superior, the landowner Sir Edward Jamieson and tells him he needs to cover his tracks for him. Ellen Franklin, James’s widow, starts asking questions around the neighbourhood and comes to the conclusion that Jacobs is the murderer. Jacobs is quick to point out that if he is charged with murder the scandal which will be attached to Sir Edward could bring an end to the empire he had been building up for so long. He wouldn’t want that, surely? With these invidious remarks Jacobs is able to win his employer over to his way of thinking. As evil as Jacobs actions are with the murder and the covering up of his crimes one has to marvel at the intelligence of the man. Many men in the same position would have panicked after the murder of another man, but not Jacobs. He shows how resolute he is in a crisis and wins the day, leaving Ellen and her family to pick up the pieces. But every crime comes as a cost eventually and it is to be hoped that Jacobs will pay a price in the end even if it takes many generations to pass until this comes into being.
So now we come to Victoria Marchbank, the villainess I suppose we would call her. She is the radical opposite of both Jack Farley and Robert Jacobs in many ways. When the story begins she is a God fearing woman who is a regular churchgoer and lives a contented life. What could change her from this upstanding woman to a cold-blooded murderer? Something major must surely have happened to her to bring about this drastic about turn in her actions. Yes, indeed: a tragic course of events were behind this remarkable change in outlook. She and her husband Samuel lost their two young children Edward (I must have a liking for the name!) and Norma-Louise to the plague. A local doctor treated the children but no matter what he did he could not save them. This brought Victoria’s rage down upon his head. She became so deranged after the deaths of her young ones that she took to upbraiding him after the children were laid to rest. He accused the doctor of being in league with God and wilfully bringing an end to her children’s lives. She then seeks out the Devil and signs a pact with him which results in her coming back as a ghost and killing off the children she believes are the doctor’s descendants once every 21 years. She does so in a series of gruesome child sacrifice ceremonies. So, Victoria is not evil to begin with: she becomes so after experiencing the appalling loss of her two children in a heart-wrenching way.
This, then, proves there is more than one way to become a villain in a horror novel. Sometimes the character has always had the evil in them, sometimes it works itself inside them through a personal calamity which is beyond anyone’s imagining. All three characters who I have put under the microscope in this blog are fascinating in their own different ways. As the creator of these characters I can understand why they are the people they are and can appreciate what drives them to do the things they do. Of course, I do not agree with their actions, but there would be no horror stories without evil being matched against good. It is one of the pleasures of all of the greatest horror writing and why I enjoy reading as well as writing it as much as I do.