There is something about woods and forests that unnerve us. True, they also furnish us with a sense of wonder; and for that reason, I have always found them to be a solid staple to use when writing horror and fantasy.
With my next upcoming fiction release, the wood plays an integral role in the narrative. The book itself is a dark ode to Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree and asks the question ‘what if I found that a collection of trees on my land were in fact a magical realm full of enigmatic faeries?’
For this novel, I utilised the forest as a place that slowly opens up its secrets and true self. The protagonists gradually immerse themselves in faerie and, as a result, the small wood grows into a huge, eldritch forest. I think the same sensation of being creepingly overwhelmed can be attributed to real life. If we visit an unfamiliar forest – or even somewhere semi-familiar – then our senses start to sharpen and at the same time, we grow disorientated, especially if we take the time to stop, look and truly listen. We make sure we stick to man-made paths. The thought of venturing off these fills us with horror. Why? Is it the fear of getting lost? Surely not in the age of Google Maps. So what then?
I believe it is the sensory overload of smell, sound and sight that becomes almost a battering ram, goading us to leave the norm. Colour and shape play huge roles in forming a forest. Every wood is different and therefore always unfamiliar. Animal sound is given mystery by distance. We hear but seldom see. Things can come at us from every direction. And as night approaches, shadow plays a sinister role. It gleefully uses trees, bushes and brush to create horrors that are not there.
Lastly, I believe this mistrust of forests hearkens back to early man. I expect our forebears viewed woods as places of potential food and therefore necessary evils. Wild beasts lurked there. Spirits and Gods roamed. Nature condensed into several square miles.
It became the ultimate test of nerve.
So, the next time you visit even a small wood for a Sunday walk, I challenge you to find a secluded spot. There, stop, sit on a broken tree stump and really shut down the outside world. Look, listen and smell your surroundings. Imagine. Think of suitors for that peculiar shriek you hear. And most importantly, package the emotions you feel.
If you feel like sharing your experiences…then feel free to email me with your stories!