The Strange History of the Darkling Intruder

“It came to me one night in a dream……”

Don’t all stories begin this way? Tales of dread horror and gothic fantasy certainly source an enormous variety of subliminal fears, but they often spring from single unbidden thought.

I know that the phrase ‘can’t stay in, can’t go out’ was stuck in my head for a long time but I have no idea to this day where it came from. Perhaps, it was a sub-conscious declaration of frustration.

We have all experienced times in our lives when we feel that we can neither go forwards nor return to a fondly remembered distant past. It occurred to me, however, that a person who is experiencing an extremely amplified form of entrapment would be terribly tormented. That was the beginning of Darkling Intruder.

Put simply, Rosemary Leafe is a bereaved young woman who is more resigned than anguished about her situation. She is both claustrophobic and agoraphobic but has developed an astonishing suite of coping mechanisms. It seems, to her, too much to hope for that she will ever be released from her heightened anxieties.

In the end, it is the prospect of facing down an even greater horror that galvanises her into conquering her circumstances. In so doing, she discovers the untapped strength of her suppressed human spirit.

Gothic horror and fantasy often explore the fragile nature of the human psyche, but they routinely use melodrama to distance themselves and the reader from clinical realities. I think that this distancing device serves to emote rather than exploit the subject. In that respect, theatricality readily distinguishes gothic fiction from voyeuristic psychological fiction, which often takes a prurient interest in disordered personalities.

Darkling Intruder was originally conceived as a film script and references a moment in British cinema when the threshold of dramatic tension was very low. I’m principally thinking of The Devil Rides Out, Dead of Night, Night of the Demon and, to a limited extent, Don’t Look Now. I wanted to write a story with that kind of frisson.

Looking now at Darkling Intruder in print format, I’ve noticed another subliminal effect; namely, the collective influence of a past indulgence in diverse fantasy, folklore, and horror genres. These have included the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Michael Moorcock, Dennis Wheatley and many others both famous and obscure. More recently, Katherine Brigg’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures has been a major inspiration.

There is some gore in Darkling Intruder but it isn’t terribly graphic. Its purpose is not to create gratuitous body horror but to remind readers that nature is a merciless thing. Surely, there is nothing more shocking than killing with impunity, and is that not a salient feature of the natural order?

Certainly, a chilling absence of conscience is one of the most disturbing components of the imperfect human condition and it remains all too commonplace for comfort. Confronting these imperfections in the safety of a fictional narrative is, perhaps, a useful thing do.

I published Darkling Intruder, first of all, as an ebook in 2012 but I have never been satisfied by the digital format. It is too far removed from the kind of reading experience that I enjoy to ever be a satisfying medium. More to the point, why inflict it on others if it isn’t good enough for the person who produced it? I have now revised and reissued Darkling Intruder in print and intend to do the same with previous ebook publications.

It isn’t especially easy to self-publish in print, but some useful tools that we didn’t have a few years ago are now available to everyone. They can be a little cumbersome to use, but they are far less challenging than the established publishing software. Platforms like Reedsy and Photoshop Xpress, for example, are low/cost no cost options compared to others but they obviously come with limitations.

The time is right, I think, for exploring new ways of collaborating with writers to create self-publishing models that are mutually supportive. The object must be to publish distinctive new voices in writing and produce books that are a pleasure to read.

I have written, edited, typeset, designed and distributed Darkling Intruder in print without using a publisher or an agent. 1320Books does not have anything like the reach of an established publisher but does that really matter? Someone – somewhere – wants to read your book. They can’t do that if it is buried under one slush pile after another.

M. Stephen Clark

2020

Darkling Intruder is available in print at Amazon UK priced £7.99