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

 

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I am a ghost in my own life: Balance, Ballard and Michell

Lands End Airport

Prompted by the sad death of ‘slipstream’/horror writer Joel Lane late last year, I’ve been determined to read more fiction. I was always aware of how well regarded Lane was, both as a writer of horror in realistic/urban/working-class settings and as a person but am not familiar with his work. I should be, as well as others who are in my peer group, but who all have a higher profile than myself. For the last decade or so, I’ve been very involved in non-fiction writings: local and national archaeology and sacred sites, reference books on demonology and suchlike… Should I be reading more fiction, if nothing else, to keep in touch, both with the writers and with the art form? Following my own path is fine, I think, but I don’t want to go so far down it that my writing becomes inaccessible and ceases to do what I want it to do. So, a couple of forays into local Oxfam bookshops have been useful: I hadn’t read High-Rise by J G Ballard for decades, so was glad of a chance to re-familiarise myself with it. I like Ballard. His characters all seem to have their own personal madness going on, often while they try to survive in the Hell of suburbia. [NB: the ICA in London once organised an event with Ballard being interviewed by the then fresh faced Clive Barker. It must have been in the mid 1980s. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled, with no explanation or rescheduling taking place. A bitter disappointment! It was around the same time that Kathy Acker interviewed William Gibson at the same venue, a fantastic and inspirational event.]  I’m several chapters in to High-Rise and I’ve had to stop reading it: perhaps it’s my frame of mind, but the story is just making me laugh. It feels odd to do so, a little disrespectful, but I was a very different person when I read the book first time round. Another time, perhaps. To complete the failure, I went into Oxfam a few days ago and found a copy of Michellany: A John Michell Reader. I don’t know nearly enough about Michell (to my shame: he was a real authority on sacred sites and Earth energies) and the book – hardcover, signed and numbered by the authors – has a number of previously unpublished essays in it, together with writings on Michell by a number of people. No fiction here! I need to be careful while I browse it: financial pressures mean I need to sell it on as soon as possible, which is a shame, as it’s a beautiful looking book, but such is life. I hope to learn something before I let it go.

After years of missing local record fairs, I went to one last Saturday. I had a feeling there was something there for me, so I went in as soon as it opened, looked around the roomful of cds and records and let my instinct take me to one of the boxes of albums. There, about halfway through, was a copy of the first pressing of Current 93/Sickness of Snakes’ mini-album, Murder Culture (1985). On the back was a dedication, signature and date (1986) by John (as he was known then) Balance. It was the real deal, so I got it – £28 well spent, I think. This one I’m not selling on, unless times get absolutely desperate. I have an item that belonged to Balance, and perhaps it’s his writing on the Zos Kia test pressing I have, but the album’s another connection which I could not walk away from.

Music has always been more of an inspiration/springboard for my writing than other people’s fiction (which may be another reason that I don’t feel the need to read that much), and that continues, with the acquisition, finally, of the first Electric Sewer Age album, Peter Christopherson’s final musical work. It has not been a disappointment, indeed, it has the feel, perhaps the magick, of Coil, something I thought would not be possible without Balance’s (physical) presence.

And as for writing, the two stories I had been working on have had to be put on hold again. For good reason: in the space of a day or so, I’ve sketched out a whole new short story. It’s one of those that has just dropped on to my notebook and I had to get the general idea down as quickly as it appeared. A bit of research and it’ll be all systems go. I would say it’s a subtle, psychological horror story, with a (probably male) Spanish architect as its centre.