Women In Horror Month

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I still consider myself to be a horror writer, although these days my stories contain strong elements of other genres and influences; dark fantasy, Surrealism, the Occult. But I began as a horror writer, and a horror fan of course, and I still have a great love for the genre. Which is one of the reasons why I’m writing about Women In Horror Month. For the last eight years, February has been designated WIH Month, to provide a focus on female writers. Despite misgivings of myself and every other female horror writer I know of – one month a year obviously isn’t enough – we all realise that such a focus is necessary.

I had few female role models, artistically speaking, when I was growing up. Punk gave me almost all the ones I did have – Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Gee Vaucher, Joy de Vivre, Eve Libertine (Crass), Zillah Minx and Gem Stone (Rubella Ballet), Vi Subversa (Poison Girls), together with Kathy Acker…no horror writers amongst them, but all helped me form my political view of the world. Before then, I read a lot of horror – mostly Gothic short stories – some of which were undoubtedly written by women, but there was no focus on female writers, especially in the 1980s, when horror films in particular seemed to provide an anti-feminist backlash. Without the attitude of punk and punk’s women, as well as Clive Barker’s post-punk style of writing, it would never have occurred to me to think there might be a place for me in horror.

Once I’d began, and had my first professional story published (‘Jump From A Speeding Car’, REM #2, 1992), the first review of the story, by John Duffield for Interzone, gave me a taste of prevailing attitudes. He hated my story – which was disappointing, of course, but his choice – but what really hurt was his sneering, patronising description of me as a person (“some sort of alternative punkette”). I knew a male writer would never have been treated in that way – in fact John Shirley was well known at the time as an old punk and was respected for it. At that point I wondered if my ‘career’ was over before it had even started, but luckily other writers and editors have been far more progressive. Still, I think the problems I had and still face in having stories published is partly down to the lack of clear genre for them to fit into but also – and I think this is paramount – that female writers are still not seriously enough, not just by (many but not all) editors, but by readers; a reflection, of course, of the place of women in society in general. We do not get the gravitas that is automatically accorded to male artists irrespective of their talent (check out New York City’s Guerrilla Girls for far more on this).

What I would like to see each February is women taking over as editors of horror magazines, slipstream magazines, dark fantasy and sf magazines. Obviously women do edit magazines and journals, but I’d like to see them in charge of everything even vaguely related to the horror genre for that month, for a different perspective, to portray the world that exists outside of men and their reflections of themselves (again, this does not describe all male editors by any means).

I don’t read enough fiction. I have neither the time nor especially the money to buy the stories by all the women I need to be reading. But I have a permanent focus on female writers now. I’ve grown up like many women have – surrounded by pressure to belittle myself and my gender. Awareness of such things is the beginning of dismantling them. So seek out women writers; of horror, slipstream, whatever, now and every month of the year. Read interviews, blogs and websites. Most important of all, don’t do the easy thing that we’re all programmed to do, and pass over the female contributors in favour of the male ones. Women are talented, inspiring, visionary. Don’t lose out by ignoring us.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

Rising from the dread

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Things are somewhat in limbo regarding publishing and acceptance news – my collection in Storylandia has suffered various delays; proofs are currently being shipped to me for checking a few editorial decisions, so I’m not expecting the journal to see the light of day before April. However, the cover photo’s been chosen – it will be one of my photographs, taken at Highgate Cemetery in the mid 1980s (and not included in the shots published in Night Mail, as mentioned in my last post). I miss these cities within cities, which were one of the few interesting things left about London when I escaped. I was slightly concerned that such a photograph might be a cliché for a collection of horror stories, but the content of the photo – the cemetery’s mausoleums – are unique and should avoid the charge. Meanwhile, Dark Regions Press have launched an Indiegogo fund to raise enough cash to extend their Dreams From The Witch House anthology and to commission the cover artist to provide an illustration for each of the stories included, so it’s likely to be a couple of months before I hear whether or not The Man Who Builds The Ruins has made it into the book, which won’t be published until December 2015. I’m still working on two stories – with a list of ideas for the next several – Pig Iron is progressing well and In Holes And Corners, now definately titled The Hidden, is finally nearly complete. It’s taken a year, with several changes of title, to knock this one into shape. Sometimes it just does.

I have been able to get hold of some ‘musick’ that I’ve been after for a while. X-TG’s Desertshore/Final Report is wonderfully mind expanding and a lovely tribute to Peter Christopherson, despite my reservations about Genesis P-Orridge not appearing on it. I’ve also managed to get a few of the extra download tracks, Faet Narok, even more dreamlike versions of Desertshore than the main album. I’m currently listening in full, for the first time, to the Coil ANS triple cd set (over three hours long), which I bought for a reasonable price after several years of patiently looking at prices. The experiment – the band gaining access to the huge Russian ANS synthesiser, worked by etching diagrams into a glass plate and the machine ‘playing’ the pictures – gives me the sensation of flying through space, something I’ve dreamt of many times. I’m aware that more or less the only cds I’ve bought over the last several years have been ones that can be used to put me in a certain frame of mind which helps me write. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them for their own sake – or that I can’t write without them – but they need to have a ‘higher’ purpose than just entertainment. And after seeing The Punk SingerSini Anderson’s documentary on Kathleen Hannah, which includes some wonderful footage of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, I’m feeling super-inspired in entirely different ways. I met Anderson at the Dirtybird Queercore Festival and Sister Spit open-mic nights in San Francisco in 1996. She was a force to be reckoned with back then and, it seems, still is.

I’ve begun reading Jeremy Reed and Karolina Urbaniak’s book Altered Balance, which documents Reed’s friendship with Jhonn Balance of Coil. It’s raw and honest and sad. I didn’t expect anything else. Stories about when Balance and Sleazy lived in Chiswick reminded me of the late 1980s; driving through the area one day, I wondered which road the pair’s flat was in (my obsession has indeed been going on for decades); ironically I now believe I was in Beverley Road a number of times to visit friends who lived in the street.

*The photo at the top of this piece is of a female Harris Hawk, visiting the Eden Project with her owner when I was there recently. I have, of course, sent all the shots of the bird I took to Andy Martin of UNIT for possible inclusion in future UNIT releases.