Today, from the UK, author Penny Jones talks about why she loves horror and how it might just be normal.
Women in Horror month is a strange concept for me; on one hand, as a fairly new female writer I love it (any exposure is good exposure), and I get to learn about what some of my favourite writers are up to, and read some work from other writers who are new to me. But on the other hand, I’ve always read female horror writers. At my first ever convention I was a giggling mess when I met John Connolly and Simon Bestwick, but I was equally in awe of meeting Cate Gardner and Thana Niveau at the same convention. My bookshelves have always been pretty 50/50 when it comes to male or female authors. So I wonder if the issue isn’t around women in horror, but around people’s perception of what horror is.
Now I’ve always been lucky (though I didn’t realise this until I met other horror writers). My family and friends have always been big readers, and they’ve also been big horror fans. So, when I first went to a convention it was a shock to hear other authors saying it was nice to be around people who understood you, and who didn’t ask, “Why don’t you write something nice?” Because I’ve never been in that situation (see told you I was lucky).
As a child I was more likely to be watching a Hammer Horror than I was a Disney film, and my parents happily bought me Mary Danby’s ghost stories, as well as a Rupert the Bear annual at Christmas. Horror has never been a dirty word in my life. Also, horror wasn’t introduced to me as being all about excess gore and shock value. In fact, I don’t really like what I term “Tits and Torture” (I’ve been trying to gear myself up to watch Saw for years now. I love the concept behind the story, but I really am too scared to watch it). But most of the “Tits and Torture” that I’m too squeamish to watch isn’t actually sold as horror anyway; it’s sold as mainstream TV such as Game of Thrones or Vikings. That’s not to say I won’t read the more extreme side of horror. One of my favourite writers is Alex White who wrote several stories for the Pan Book of Horror, including my favourite of the entire series The Clinic and, you guessed it, Alex White is a female author (though I only found that out a couple of years ago). It is something I see time and time again−female horror authors who people think are male, either that or female horror authors who aren’t described as horror writers.
If you walk into your local bookstore and look at your meagre one shelf of horror books, it is a pretty sure bet that the only authors you will see there will be Stephen King, Dean Koontz, with the occasional Herbert, Barker or Neville thrown into the mix. But if you look elsewhere in the book store and take a peek at the crime, the classics, and the literary shelves, you’ll find plenty of amazing female horror writers. There’s a joke that if you want a horror book to sell you call it a literary book and put a picture of a tree on the front, but I think what’s equally true is that if you want a female horror writer to be commercially viable you don’t put their work on the horror shelf. Look at Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House; it is quite clearly a horror book. It has the word “Haunting” in the title for God’s sake, but still you will usually find it snuggled next to James Joyce on the literary shelves in the store.
If you weren’t as lucky as me, and your only concept of horror is the trailer for the latest slasher flick or seeing the latest Stephen King bestseller on the shelves at WHSmiths, then here are some of my favourite female horror writers for you to get your teeth into:
Priya Sharma−All the Fabulous Beasts
Tracy Fahey−New Music for Old Rituals
Alex White−The Clinic (Which can be found in: Back from the dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories)
Shirley Jackson−The Haunting of Hill House
Daphne du Maurier−Don’t Look Now and Other Stories
Susan Hill−The Woman in Black
Alison Littlewood−A Cold Season
Laura Mauro−Naming the Bones
Cate Gardner−Theatre of Curious Acts
Thana Niveau−Unquiet Waters
Georgina Bruce−This House of Wounds (Out later this year by Undertow Publications)
Charlotte Brontë−Jane Eyre
Marie O’Regan−Times of Want
A.K. Benedict−Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts
Sarah Pinborough−The Death House
Penny Jones knew she was a writer when she started to talk about herself in the third person (her family knew, when Santa bought her a typewriter for Christmas). She loves reading and will read pretty much anything you put in front of her, but her favourite authors are Stephen King, Shirley Jackson and John Wyndham. In fact Penny only got into writing to buy books, when she realised that there wasn’t that much money in writing she stayed for the cake.