Celebrating Women In Horror

it’s Women In Horror month, and since I am a Woman In Horror I thought I’d pick a few of my favourite tales by my fellow horror-writing women to share with you all. These are by no means the only stories I’d recommend – I could sit here all day and tell you about the fantastic fiction I’ve read lately – but these are the ones which spring immediately to mind.

When The Moon Man Knocks – Cate Gardner (Black Static #48)

A sensitive and soulful examination of grief, loss and of closure. Olive, reeling from the loss of her fiance Ben, is contacted by a man who claims to receive messages from the dead – and who claims that the dead reside on the moon. This is a story which asks how well we can ever know a person, and how far we’d go to bring them back. Olive’s increasingly desperate internal struggle is both recognisable and heartbreaking, and the story ends on a surprisingly (but fittingly) bloody note.

Autumn Story – Berit Ellingsen (Beneath The Liquid Skin)

Short and unsettling, a tale told in seasons, in a world in which cheap food – from pet food to baby formula to rice – has the potential to poison, to sicken and even kill. The tacit acceptance from those in authority is the truly scary bit. Ellingsen’s prose sings on the page.

White Rabbit – Georgina Bruce (Black Static #50)

I’ve been bleating on about this story to anyone who’ll listen but it’s just that good. Alec Little, a man gripped by what appears to be Alzheimer’s, or perhaps dementia, is visited by a version of his recently deceased wife. The story is dreamlike and haunting, physically painful to read in places, especially where Alec’s tenuous grip on reality is contrasted by the very real sadness and grief of his daughters.

In The Year Of Omens – Helen Marshall (Best British Horror 2015)

Strange omens forecast the mysterious deaths of everyone around Leah – a mark on the skin, the curled-up body of a dead kitten – and nobody seems to understand why, or how it works. Least of all Leah, who longs for an omen of her own, even as everyone she knows and loves begins to sicken and die. Weird, fatalistic and beautiful.

Be Light, Be Pure, Be Close To Heaven – Sara Saab (Black Static #42)

Tanta comes of age, and must choose which part of her body to sacrifice to attain purity – a strange, brutal but utterly plausible religious ritual, faith through amputation, and the tending of iceboxes full of severed limbs the way we tend candles in churches. And beneath it all, Guillermo, the voice of dissent, who believes there is more to life than this act of devotion.

Bleak Midwinter – V.H. Leslie (Skein and Bone)

A brilliantly imaginative post-apocalyptic tale with a horribly fascinating riff on the humble snowmen. This is, at heart, an exploration of the mother-daughter bond, and the things we do to protect those we love.

Equilibrium- Carole Johnstone (Black Static #41)

Another exploration of grief; a woman’s bitter bereavement, intercut with scenes from a furtive, somewhat guilty affair which, nonetheless, helps her bridge the gap between numbness and feeling.

Fabulous Beasts – Priya Sharma (tor.com)

I reviewed this on this very blog last year, and what I said then holds true now:

It’s about female friendship and female strength as much as anything else, the bonds women form and the necessity of those bonds. A literal and metaphorical story of transformation set across two timelines, intersecting two very different periods of the main character’s life. The contrast here is fascinating and very effective. The secrecy of Lola’s childhood years, and the quiet cruelties visited upon her by those she was supposed to be able to trust serve as a brilliant emotional counterpoint to everything that comes afterwards.

The Company Of Wolves – Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber)

A take on the Little Red Riding Hood story, in true Angela Carter style – defiant female sexuality and rich imagery, with one of my favourite lines in any story, turning the original tale on its head in just two sentences:

All the better to eat you with

The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat

Different Angels – Lynda E. Rucker (The Moon Will Look Strange)

Worth reading for the setting and sensory details alone, a brilliant portrait of religious backwater America. Jolie returns to her childhood home, where memories lie in wait. Religious terror is invoked in the most vivid of terms.

 

 

 

Tidy house, tidy mind – but not for me

A recent study published in Psychological Science revealed that environmental disorder – aka ‘mess and clutter’ – could actually aid the creative process. Reading this was something of an epiphany for me. Modern wisdom is full of the idea that we ought to declutter our lives – that hanging on to possessions and memories and living in chaos is universally bad for us, and that by tidying our environments we will also achieve a tidiness of thought.

But what if tidiness of thought doesn’t work for you? I recently tried to explain this to a friend on Facebook and came out with the following. It is, as you would expect, a very cluttered missive, albeit one which makes sense to me:

It’s almost like I need visual confirmation that I’m in the process of living life right now – a tidy, sterile environment makes me feel uneasy, like everything is on pause and I’m scared to make a move in case I mess everything up. And that sort of mirrors the creative process, because the blank page is terrifying, and you WILL make a mess because creativity is never tidy. There are some writers who have neat, ordered notebooks and plan their stories before they write them and that’s great if it works for them! But for me, it has to be a spontaneous thing, kind of like the difference between a tidy landscaped garden and a meadow full of wildflowers – they’re both great, but my brain is like the latter and I feel so much happier and more comfortable when my environment reflects that. I don’t know if that ramble made sense! It’s just so good to read something that isn’t telling me that if I declutter I’ll be a better ‘me’ for once

My mind is not a tidy mind. It’s not a landscaped zen garden – though I love those! It’s a wild meadow full of plants growing haphazard, and that’s how I write. I don’t wish to sound like one of those poncy ‘well, the stories just GROW darling, I am merely a vessel’ type writers, but I would say that there’s an organic-ness to the process, for me at least – an idea forms, and sprouts, and I’ve tried taming it through planning and plotting and notebooking but I find it always ultimately stifles what I’m trying to create. There has to be room for chaos. A clutter of ideas and plotlines and character traits lend themselves – in my hands, at least – t0 a smoother, more natural end result. (At least, I hope so!)

What does this have to do with environment? Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” Now, I’m not suggesting that my tidy/minimalist/uncluttered friends are empty headed! Far from it. I just baulk at the suggestion that in order to be happy and peaceful and ‘the best I can be’, I HAVE to be tidy (and as an aside, isn’t it a tad suspicious that this is the take-home message in an era where the ‘decluttering’ concept has grown into an $8billion a year (and growing) industry….?) There is no ‘right’ way to organise one’s living space, I think. If you take comfort in clutter, then that’s right for you. I love being surrounded by colour and prefer the comfort of smaller spaces, surrounded by interesting things, and that’s a better place for me – and I write better in these places, because I’m happier, more at ease, and perhaps because it’s in harmony with the way my brain fires at random.