Where once an accomplished "lady novelist" in search of a change might have attempted a neat whodunnit or perhaps a cosy "Aga saga", suddenly the unholy desire to create a horror or ghost story has seized a range of established talents. Even the television book club presenter Judy Finnigan has been drawn to the genre for her debut novel, a ghost story that will be out this autumn.
Winterson, who had her first success with the novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, will try her hand at scaring her readers witless this summer with a story based on the infamous Pendle witch trials held at Lancaster castle in 1612. Dunmore, the writer much loved for her children's books, poetry and award-winning novels, has followed suit. Her first horror novel, a supernatural thriller called The Greatcoat, has been published by Hammer Books, the imprint of the now revived film studios that brought British cinema audiences a succession of gory titles from the 1950s to the 1970s. Dunmore's debut marks the publisher's decision to commission a series of original works rather than rely on the novelisations of horror films which it also publishes.
"The interesting fiction at the moment is playing with genres, slipping between them," said Hammer publisher Selina Walker. "So we're approaching all the literary or established greats to see whether they would like to write something with a paranormal twist."
This week Hammer's film version of Susan Hill's 1983 novel The Woman in Black, one of the most popular British ghost stories of modern times, is out in cinemas, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the unfortunate solicitor Arthur Kipps. But for Dunmore the work of two other women writers with the gift of instilling fear provided the chief inspiration. "Elizabeth Bowen's work influences me a lot, particularly The Demon Lover. I also love Daphne du Maurier," said the writer, who has turned to horror after writing 11 mainstream novels, including the Orange Prize-winning A Spell of Winter and The Siege.
"I was drawn to the genre because it is intensely dramatic material," she said. "To some extent it is a psychological playground. You wonder what is the match between the ghost and the person who is haunted. What is there in the past that has driven them to this point?"
The key, Dunmore believes, is to make the experiences described as "palpable" as possible, to carry the reader into the darkness: "It has got to have a lot of sensory richness."
Full story at The Observer