Shining a literary spotlight on dark matters
by Eileen Leahy | 4th December 2018
Southborough resident Martin Johnson has recently published Wilhelm & Laszlo, the second instalment in his supernatural thriller trilogy which began with Niedermayer & Hart. Here he attempts to explain his love of the darker side of life and literature.
As a boy growing up in South Wales, I developed an appetite for traditional horror from regular jaunts with my school friends to our local flea-pit cinema. Each of us was five or six years short of the eighteen year requirement for entry to horror movies, but fortunately, at the Lido Gorseinon, the only admission requirement was enough height to lever your 1/6d onto the counter! The current penchant for nasty gore-fest movies, where in ninety minutes scores of females and or teenagers wind up horribly mutilated via increasingly bizarre means, isn’t my cup of tea at all.
My aim when I write horror is primarily to entertain, and yes, to creep the reader out a little. Naturally, there’s a smattering of violence, but mostly this happens ‘off stage’ as it were. In my view, the thought processes that culminate in violence are often as ugly, if not more disturbing, than the act itself. One of my favourite horror classics is The Haunting (1963), directed by Robert Wise (better known as director of The Sound of Music).
In this movie, there’s no violence, no CGI nor lavish special effects, only suggestion, and no matter how many times I watch it, my hair still bristles at various points. This is horror gold, and it’s what I’m always aiming for. When readers confess that while reading Niedermayer & Hart they had to put the light on to go to the bathroom at night, I take it as a compliment. The original fairytales were extremely dark, and I like to think of Niedermayer & Hart and Wilhelm & Laszlo as fairytales for grown-ups. By the way, if anyone could suggest an overall title for my trilogy, I’d be grateful - suggestions on a postcard please ...
Wilhelm & Laszlo begins at the point where Niedermayer & Hart concludes, although this may not be obvious to readers at first. Like its precursor, Wilhelm & Laszlo allows its story to unfold within two time frames. The main tale is set in the recent past, with a medieval story running in tandem, not a re-hashing of the first book but a continuation - the central book in a trilogy. Niedermayer & Hart has been given a facelift too for the launch of the new title, with both covers given a newly branded look by my son, artist Tom Johnson.
Although my publishers and I loved the original cover for Niedermayer & Hart, we felt it might be unintentionally misleading, and readers may have thought it preceded a work of historical fiction, or a gothic romance perhaps! No fear of this happening any longer.
When I wrote Wilhelm & Laszlo I wanted to complete the book with roughly the same number of words as its predecessor. At the final word count, Wilhelm & Laszlo weighed in approximately six hundred words lighter than Niedermayer & Hart, about the same length as this article. So, if you’re partial to a ripping yarn that may chill the blood at times, choose a moment when the others are away, preferably when the wind is rattling the window panes, place a log on the fire, and settle into your most comfortable armchair with a large mug of your preferred beverage to hand, for a cosy winter weekend’s reading!
Both Michael Johnson’s titles, Niedermayer & Hart and Wilhelm & Laszlo by M J Johnson are available from Amazon as paperbacks (£8.99) or as ebooks (£3.99).