This is Horror Column

March 2013: Considering the legacy of women writers in horror fiction

February is the shortest month of the year, noteworthy for Valentine’s Day and making the annual batch of pancakes (poorly, in my case, and to the detriment of my kitchen!) and for the last two years it has played host to Women in Horror Recognition Month. I may be a month too late but, as a woman in horror, I wanted to devote my first column to thinking about this issue, as well as tracing the antecedents of women’s writing in the genre…(read more)

 

 

 

April 2013: Lost in Time: the wicked voice of Vernon Lee

The Gothic is obsessed with the past. In older texts this can be seen most obviously with the settings, such as castles, ruins and monasteries but also with regard to the characters that inhabit these stories. Creatures like demons, incubi and succubae belong to a mythological past whereas a whole host of monsters impervious to the passing of time  the undead, phantoms and ghosts  are themselves traces of a past that need to be reconciled with the present if they are ever to move on. And it isn’t just monsters and ghouls doing all the haunting in these stories; ancestral crimes, hereditary curses and secrets long buried can also be seen as ways that the past intrudes on the present…(read more)

May 2013: The Dark Romance of Ann Radcliffe

Of all the early Gothic writers, one woman in particular had a considerable impact on the genre. The ‘Great Enchantress’ of her age, Ann Radcliffe established many of the tropes of the Gothic, as well as providing literary weight to a genre that was regarded by many as mere sensationalist fiction. In fact, Sir Walter Scott praised her as “the first poetess of romantic fiction” and she was considered by her contemporaries to be as significant as Shakespeare and Milton. Her fiction was so popular that her fourth novel, The Mysteries of Uldolpho was hailed as the first ‘bestseller’ and she set the record for the highest paid novelist of the day. But what is it that Radcliffe established and if her work was so extraordinary why is she not more widely read today? (read more)

June 2013: Reflections of Rebecca

The intention of this column has always been to recall the lost or forgotten voices of horror, to remember those writers who, for whatever reason, have become forgotten or overlooked with the passing of time. But what I want to consider this month are the characters who are overlooked or forgotten within their texts, marginalised by the writer or the world they depict. This was prompted by a recent reading of Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece, Rebecca(read more)

 

 

July 2013: The ghosts of Grant Allen

The Gothic is often typified by a propensity to look back and consider the influence of the past on the present, whether this takes the form of secrets long dead buried, hereditary curses, or revenants come back to haunt the living. But a question rarely considered is how far back to look? This is what Grant Allen posits in his short story ‘Pallinghurst Barrow’. Originally published in the Illustrated London News in 1892, it was influenced by Allen’s own academic work into the Ogbury Barrows, an iron-age hillfort…(read more)

 

August 2013: H. G. Wells’ Manufactured Monsters

Ambitious characters are not represented well in literature. Ambition – the drive to attain is often equated with a propensity to overreach oneself, to desire more than is allowed. Inevitably it results in the downfall of the protagonist and their story becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of reaching too far. In the nineteenth century, developments in various scientific fields would have given the impression that there was no limit to man’s achievements. The popularity of science fiction towards the end of the nineteenth century confirms the general interest in these advancements. Known initially as ‘scientific romance’, many of the leading figures of this movement were scientists themselves, whose fictions served as ways to explain or forecast the direction of our future…(read more)

September 2013: Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

The bond with the beast is a common trope within the genre. Witches habitually have animal familiars, and creatures that are part-beast – like harpies, gorgons and sirens – make the best monsters. Vampires can transform into wolves and bats, and men under the influence of the full moon transform into werewolves once bitten. Transformation is a key component of fairytales too (the first horror stories) but they largely occur in a positive way, to right a previous wrong, such as a witch’s curse or spell. If you kiss a frog or love a beast you will probably get a handsome prince in return. To ensure a happy ending characters are rarely trapped forever in their beast form…(read more)

November 2013: Cabin Fever

I recently did something that I’ve always dreamt about doing; I rented a little cabin in a forest and hunkered down for a month of uninterrupted writing. As a city girl, I’ve always been attracted to the idea of wilderness and isolation. My favourite stories involve characters on the periphery of the civilised world, in remote and secluded spaces, as in Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land, Stephen King’s The Shining and Adam Nevill’s The Ritual. There are stories that I love because the characters embrace, whether through choice or not, living the simple life, the life governed solely by survival, as in Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons and Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon(read more)

December 2013: Off with his head! Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Horror

My fascination with decapitation myths (should I admit that?) was sparked by the apocrypha stories of Salome and Judith. Salome’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, a striptease of sorts for her stepfather, King Herod, was performed in exchange for the head of John the Baptist. Judith in comparison was a lot more hands on, stealing into the camp of the invading Assyrian army and seducing their leader Holofernes before beheading him with his own blade. Both these head-huntresses have been much championed in the arts and towards the end of the nineteenth century they were represented more explicitly as seductive femme fatales, with artists such as Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley and Gustave Moreau depicting them in highly eroticised poses, often embracing the decapitated heads of their victims…(read more)

January 2014: Told Round the Peat Fire: Shetland’s folkloric past

My own love of folklore has led me three hundred miles northeast of mainland Scotland to Shetland, an archipelago of over a hundred islands. Of these, fifteen are inhabited and I write this from a little croft house perched on one of them – Bressay, a tiny seven-mile stretch just off the Shetland mainland. Here modernity sits side by side with Neolithic ruins, Iron Age brochs and Norse place names. What better place to garner stories than from a land preoccupied with preserving its past…(read more)

February 2014: Bad Things Come to Those Who Wait: Edith Wharton’s ‘Afterward’

Considering it is Women in Horror Recognition month, I thought it would be apt to celebrate a great American novelist and lady of letters, who wrote during a time when serious writing was considered “too inky for ladies”. Though Edith Wharton is renowned for her novels about American society and their sensibilities, such as The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, she is less known for her supernatural short stories. ‘Afterward’ which was originally published in Tales of Men and Ghosts (1910) is a great example of her talent with this form, and though her story is certainly driven by the men and ghosts of the anthology’s title, it is actually the female character of the story who takes centre stage…(read more)

March 2014: Lost and Found: Mary Butts’, ‘With and Without Buttons’

It may surprise some of you to know that award-winning writer Conrad Williams has a penchant for photographing lost gloves. He even has a website dedicated to them (oneglove.wordpress.com) a kind of repository for the “partnerless”, for the “severed shadows” that are left behind on park benches, hidden beneath fallen leaves or swept into gutters. Despite the absence of their twin, each single stray glove tell a story. Over time sometimes short stories can be seemingly lost but with a bit of a rummage amazing discoveries can be made. ‘With and Without Buttons’ by Mary Butts is one such story for me…(read more)

 

May 2016: Troubled Waters: Causeways of Shingle, Sand and Ice in Horror Fiction

Over the last few years I have been increasingly drawn to stories about the water. I imagine this is partly due to the fact I live on the coast, with the sea a constant source of wonder and inspiration. Also in the process of writing my novel, Bodies of Water–out now from Salt Publishing–I spent a great deal of time researching water-related therapeutic trends popular in Victorian times, as well as plumbing the depths of the archives in search of folk stories about watery creatures. These mythical and monstrous entities lurking in the deep have become a firm fixture of horror fiction, and the water itself has come to represent the fear of the unknown and the unfathomable. But what I want to consider in this column are stories that position themselves right on the water’s edge, close to secretive spaces just out of reach…(read more)

July 2016: The Dark Water of Koji Suzuki

Continuing my immersion in the watery worlds of dark fiction, I turn my attention this month to the work of Koji Suzuki. Suzuki, an award winning Japanese writer of horror, fantasy and SF is best known for his Ring novels, which inspired the famous succession of Japanese films before a series of American remakes…(read more)


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