Alan Flanagan tells us how he moved from writing Hollyoaks to writing the new horror EYES. TEETH. SOIl.
For anyone who tuned into Hollyoaks Later last January, the idea of transitioning from the show to writing a full-blown horror won’t seem like such a big leap. In a post-watershed bloodbath penned by our own Heather Robson, serial killer (and local nanny, naturally) Breda McQueen finally got her comeuppance by being impaled through the side of the head with her own knitting needles.
And that just adds to the always entertaining (if sometimes bloody) fate of many of the residents of Britain’s most exciting village. Serial killer Silas accidentally murdered his own daughter on Halloween night, a double wedding was interrupted by a grisly double van crash, and the show came out of lockdown by having poor science experiment Toby try to murder his own brother but accidentally beat his cousin to death with a fire poker.
So while we’re happy to deliver romance, controversy, real-life issues and a lorra lorra laughs, we’ve also got more than a little horror in our soap DNA.
Which makes it pretty straightforward to jump from Hollyoaks to my new horror play EYES. TEETH. SOIL.
Not to mention that my love of horror long predates joining the writing team up in Liverpool. As a child, when I wasn’t watching Coronation Street (sorry ‘Oaks, we were a Corrie household) I was burying myself in a Goosebumps book, learning about the dangers of haunted cameras, haunted ventriloquist dummies and haunted… haunted masks. It was an education. Then it was Point Horror, busty teens getting murdered on prom night by their ne’er-do-well boyfriends (it was always them, or the best friend). Then slasher flicks — I’ve watched Scream about 40 times — before landing on the works of Stephen King, which I was far too young to be reading at the tender age of twelve.
So I knew I liked horror, and I knew I liked writing — why wouldn’t I want to combine the two?
Writing can be about a lot of things — educating people, entertaining people, processing whatever you feel like processing when you sit down to write a script — but one of the most fun things it can be about is provoking a reaction. When I sit down to write an episode of Hollyoaks, I have a list of things I have to include and a series of parameters and all that fun stuff, but once I begin I’m looking to force people into reactions — I want a joke to make them laugh, I want a triumphant speech to make them cry, I want an act of violence to make them flinch.
But nothing provokes a reaction like horror. Watching someone come home from work, shut the door, and realise… something’s wrong. That book has been moved. The light in the kitchen is on. And… there’s a shadow standing just out of view… and it looks like a man. But what’s he holding?
Even people who hate horror react to it — you have to, it’s hard-wired into the brain. In writing terms, it’s easy money.
But that isn’t all horror can be. It’s also an incredible delivery system for interesting themes – of course it is, horror is literally about what scares us. When audiences are terrified it short-circuits their higher faculties, and you can access what’s underneath – whether it’s Get Out’s tackling of liberal racism, Hereditary’s study of inherited familial trauma, or Hostel’s analysis of trying to afford decent holiday accommodation in your early 20s.
My new show is about a lot of things as well.
A young woman, living on the Armagh border, who commits an unspeakable act when she’s 9 years old and is forced to live with the trauma of it for the rest of her life. Not psychological trauma, no, that’d be too easy for our Bláithín – you see, her farm backs onto a forest with a fairy fort, a strange place where there’s a very thin gap between our world and… something else. Something hungry. It’s a show about a young woman living on a border of all kinds, trying to survive while tragedy befalls all around her – it’s about Ireland, it’s about farming, it’s about family and sex and grief and love.
But first and foremost, it’s terrifying.
Because that’s my job – whether writing dialogue for Mercedes McQueen or telling you about the unfortunate thing that happened to Bláithín’s siter (oh it’s a doozy), my job is to get a reaction from you.
I think if you come along to the show you might be surprised by the strength of that reaction.
EYES. TEETH. SOIL. runs at Pleasance Islington from Tuesday-Saturday, 3- 7 August. Tickets available here: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/eyes-teeth-soil#overview
Running time: 60 minutes
Cast: Hannah McClean
Director: Dan Hutton
Producer: Catherine Lamb, Fabricate Productions
Lighting Designer: Jenny Roxburgh
Sound Designer: Hattie North
Twitter: @FabricateProd #EyesTeethSoil