Cornish horrors

I took my time with Cornish Horrors: Tales from the Land’s End, a collection of short stories I bought in Swansea Waterstones on one of my visits to see my father. The British Library have published lots of themed collections like this. It caught my attention because my work-in-progress is set on a coastal stretch of an imagined part of the UK, and I wanted inspiration from misty Cornish coves, haunted beaches, old houses and folklore. We also haven’t been on holiday to Cornwall for a few years, so I think I was missing it.

Sadly, many of these stories were a slog. None of them were scary or even particularly unsettling. They were written by wealthy Victorians based in London who had recently visited Cornwall on the newly opened railways. The repeating themes of people seeking marriage, villagers mistrustful of outsiders, and men returning from foreign wars grates after a while. There were some good stories, of course, but in this instance I learned more from the bad.

Because I tend to imagine there’s a world of literature out there I know nothing about, and that if I read as much of it as I can, I will glean the knowledge and skills I need to feel worthy of calling myself a writer. It’s a sickness. Collections like this are a reminder that much of literature was written quickly, for money, to meet the market demands of the day. Most stories that are published serve their purpose in the cultural moment and disappear.

This collection is an attempt to capture something sociological, not literary. I don’t need to do research like this — looking back is useful if done in healthy balance with pushing forward. Research can easily turn into procrastination.