[Editors Note: Like I mentioned on our interview with Amanda Reyes, here at The Farsighted, we have been lucky enough to catch up with a few of the authors for the upcoming Spectacular Optical jawn, Yuletide Terror. We love horror and we love Christmas, so we’re pretty damn excited about this one. We’re calling these interview “The Yuletide Terror Fireside Chats” and today we have Derek Johnston, who Mike got to have a short conversation with a few days ago.]
What inspired you to be part of this book and why?
Simple answer: I was asked! And I agreed because I thought it was an interesting project and a way to present some of my research to a wider or different public. After all, it’s all very well speaking to other academics, but if the research has any value, it has to reach out beyond the academy.
What challenges did you run across while writing your chapter?
Academic writing is full of references and qualifications, which is valuable in the right place, but can be unclear, or make the interesting elements seem dull, or pass over the things that people are generally interested in while focusing on more obscure points. So writing for a more general audience was a challenge, but a really useful one, in writing in a different style. In many ways, it’s a lot harder to write for a general, but informed, audience, to get across the key ideas and to point out some interesting information, being persuasive and interesting, without the support of all the academic paraphernalia.
Is there anything that did not quite make the cut in your section that you might have wanted to cover but were not able to?
Not really. There’s always plenty to be said, and I am sure that I would write it differently given the chance to do it again, but I think the key points are there. And if people wanted to dig in further, I have a whole other book on this subject! (Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween, from Palgrave, and available now in paperback!) But I have recently seen an article stating that the Norse used to tell scary stories round the Yul fire, so I would love to have the time to dig into that and see if that may be an older influence on the tradition.
What will people expect if they pick this book up? Have you been able to check out some of the other folks’ chapters yet?
I’ve not seen much of the rest of the book, but having seen other Spectacular Optical productions and seen the contents for the book, I think that people should expect an interesting, accessible, informative and fun collection of viewpoints on the Christmas horror genre. There’ll be a chance to revisit some familiar favourites, and maybe get a new angle on them, and a chance to be introduced to some new ones.
Do you have any particular holiday horror favorites outside of the ghost story subgenre?
If I was being picky (and as an academic that’s what I do) I could point out that many of M.R.James’ stories deal not with ghosts, at least not in the traditional meaning, but with other supernatural beings. I think the ghost is particularly suited to Christmas, as it’s a time for reflection, for the past to inform the present. But I do rather like the monstrous Santa origin in Rare Exports, and Gremlins is a classic of Christmas as horror.
Do you have any stories from your own experiences that are related to your chapter or to holiday horror, in general?
I’m afraid not! My Christmastides have been pleasantly unspooky, which is probably why I like the televised and written ghost stories so much.
Where can people check out some of your other work? What’s next?
If people are prepared to put up with the requirements of academic writing, there’s my book Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween, which looks at the history of seasonal horror, mainly in the UK and US, from as far back as I could go (which was surprisingly far), as a cultural practice, a literary tradition, and then on to radio and television. I also have an article coming out in an academic journal specifically about the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas and its landscapes, and a chapter coming up in the Routledge Handbook of the Ghost Story, and I wrote about seasonal horror in relation to the series American Horror Story in Rebecca Janicker’s edited collection Reading American Horror Story: Essays on the Television Franchise. I will be taking part in the Lincoln Ghost Story evening on 27 November and, of course, at the launch of the Yuletide Terror book through the Miskatonic University London on 14 December.