Author of: THE LUCKY ONES (2017)
On the web: www.markedwardsauthor.com
On Twitter: @mredwards
I lived in Japan for a year, back in the early noughties, teaching ‘English conversation’. This involved sitting in a cubicle with three or four people – salarymen and schoolgirls, construction workers and surgeons – and chatting. It was harder than it sounds.
But my interest in Japanese culture started years before I ever visited the country. In 1995 or ‘96 my then-girlfriend, a library assistant, brought home a battered hardback of a novel called A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. Back then, hardly anyone in the UK had heard of him, but I was entranced by this book. It was weird and surreal and creepy, the language crisp and elegant. I scoured book shops for his other novels but was only able to find one, Dance Dance Dance.
In the meantime, I read and loved the slim, strange Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, while waiting for more of Murakami’s books to be translated. As his fame in the English-speaking world grew, he became my favourite author. I vividly remember the sensation of reading his epic The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (in two sittings), stunned by his ability to convey complex ideas and emotions in such simple, everyday language. I found a similar stripped-back style suited the stories I was writing, especially The Magpies, the first draft of which was completed around this time.
By the time I moved to Japan in 2002, I had discovered Japanese horror. The subject of books and films came up often in my conversation classes, but I was surprised to find that the majority of my Japanese students hated horror movies – possibly because so many of them really believe in ghosts and spirits – which frustrated my attempts to talk about my favourite films. Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water and Battle Royale. I loved the icy urban setting of these films, terrifying things happening in familiar settings, horror invading real life.
But the Japanese horror film that most influenced me was Audition, which was adapted from a novel by Ryu Murakami (no relation to Haruki). A middle-aged man is looking for love but doesn’t like modern girls with their independent ways. He sets up a fake movie and auditions young women who don’t realise the role is really that of his girlfriend.
For the first half of the movie it seems like a drama, a comment on relationships in contemporary Japan. And then something happens – a moment that is subtle and quiet but utterly chilling. From that point on we hurtle towards the most horrifying climax you will ever see and a scene that remains with me to this day.
Audition taught me that when you’re writing dark tales – and all my psychological thrillers borrow from the horror genre – you don’t need to start with a bang. The slow creep of dread, the gut-churning realisation that there is something sinister happening just out of sight, can be far more effective.