Craig Stewart, a Chatham native, recently published his first novel entitled Worship Me. (Photo courtesy of Craig Stewart)Craig Stewart, a Chatham native, recently published his first novel entitled Worship Me. (Photo courtesy of Craig Stewart)

Local Author Creates 'Claustrophobic Nightmare' In First Novel

Inspired by the twisted minds of author Clive Barker and director George A. Romero, a Chatham native has penned a literary descent into hell that has become his first published novel.

Craig Stewart's book entitled Worship Me was published by Hellbound Books this past summer. The horror novel tells the story of a small country church held hostage by an ancient entity that believes itself to be their god.

"It's a claustrophobic nightmare about what these characters will do to stay alive once they're all trapped together -- kind of a Night of the Living Dead sort of scenario," Stewart said.

The 30-year-old author grew up in Chatham-Kent and said there is a great deal of local imagery that found its way into his story.

"All of the characters are trapped in [a church], so it had to be a church that was very strong in my mind. So I based it off of the church that my parents used to take me to, that actually exists just outside of Chatham," he said. "Images that I associate with Chatham, like a big desolate field and one lonely house sitting in the middle of it, or one lonely church... Those are the images that really built this book and really saturated it."

Stewart has written and directed several short horror films that have been screened across North America. He said he initially wrote the novel as a screenplay, but due to the scale of the story, he decided to commit it to paper instead of celluloid.

"That way my imagination could go wherever I wanted it to and wherever I needed it to when I was trying to tell the story," he said. "It was quite the exciting adventure to begin something this big. It's kind of something you just dive into and hope at the end, after you've spent years working on it, that it's something readable and enjoyable."

Stewart said writing his book was also a way to channel the anger he felt following the passing of his older sister after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

"It came from a time of great suffering for myself and for my family," said Stewart, adding that writing also allowed him to tackle his feelings surrounding religion, which is a prominent theme in the book. "Life is precious but how do you find faith and religion, where does it have room in a world where people bleed and people die... The book itself is supposed to be a more honest look at trying to tackle these issues in an in-depth way. And sometimes the conclusions they come to can be a bit frightening, which they should be, because the book is supposed to be scary."

Stewart said a lot of the drama between his characters came from growing up in a small town where everyone knows each other. He added that local video rental stores, such as the now-shuttered Backdraft Video and Video Movie Shop, were a gateway to his love of the horror genre.

"Growing up in a small town as a gay kid... there was this feeling of being an outsider that kind of seeps in," he said. "There were these really provocative titles in the horror section and I was a magnet to that... I still wanted to wander up and down the aisles and just look at their covers, because they were just striking images and things that expressed my own feelings at the time where I felt a bit isolated from everybody."

With no plans of stopping with just one novel, Stewart said he is hard at work on multiple short films, as well as a sequel to Worship Me.

"I'm really excited about it," he said. "It's a sequel and also sort of a sister novel that expands on the ideas, not necessarily the plot, but takes place in the same world."

For more information about Craig Stewart's films and published works, visit his website by clicking HERE.

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