Tag Archives: folklore

Women in Horror: Jacqueline West

WiHM11-Scalples-wvWhen did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

I discovered poetry as a kid, when I spent many hours browsing the narrow aisles of our little public library. Shakespeare and Poe and other classics came first, and then I moved on to T.S. Eliot and e. e. cummings, and around age thirteen I found Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and fell madly in love. Because I couldn’t afford all of those books myself (and because the internet wasn’t really a thing yet), I would copy all of my favorite poems down by hand in a blank book, so I could keep them and reread them again and again and again.

Why do you write poetry?

Because I can’t help it, I suppose. These days, I spend far more time writing fiction, but I began with poetry, and I think I’ll always return to it. A novel is a giant, sprawling construction, and I love wandering around in the worlds that I get to create that way, but I’m not sure there’s anything more satisfying than a finished poem. The rhythm and color and magic of words is put on such perfect display in poetry. Everything else is pared away.

Seven Whistlers

The Whistlers are six spectral birds who circle the world in search of a seventh. When all seven fly together, the world will end.

Close as papers in a book
they nest, now and then,
though they do not sleep.
Their open eyes glister
like slag in the dark.
Four, five, six keep watch
restlessly, settling wings
that send a dry wind
knocking cornstalks,
distant shutters.
They are family;
they are one body.
They love one another like bones.

in the darkening sky
the whistle of breeze
through hollow things.
They are passing over.
The moan of breath
in an empty bottle;
a storm, miles off,
cut on the crest of a hill.
The chill of rain
without water.
They pass on.
They are searching still.

They have no call.
They only stare.
The pitch of air
through skeletons
and featherless wings as broad as sails
carries over miles, over mountains
and seas. Seven seeds,
holding secrets
that will split and swell,
while somewhere
the lost one waits.
Someday the pieces
will fall into place.

##  from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

In my most recent novel, I got to write both prose and poetry. The book is my modern-West CandlePinsCover600day, Minnesotan, metal re-imagining of the musician who may have sold his soul to the devil, so I got to write lyrics for my protagonist’s songs—which was incredibly fun.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

The line between ambiguity and too-obviousness can be pretty fine. Often what seems perfectly clear in your head doesn’t actually make it onto the paper—so then you revise until you’re afraid that all the mystery and richness is gone, and then you have to go back and start all over again.

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

A lot of my work is inspired by folklore, myth, and fairy tales. My collection Candles and Pins: Poems on Superstitions, is obviously rooted in superstitious beliefs and lore. Each poem explores a different superstition; some are whimsical, and some are very dark. I’m West LastThings Final Coveralso often inspired by history and location. My chapbook, Cherma, is not speculative, but it was inspired by rambles around a historic cemetery…

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

Like many people have said, dark literature gives us a safe way to confront our fears as well as our other deep, dark emotions—to examine them, make sense of them, play with them. And a lot of us just find the dark and strange to be beautiful.

A Few Rules

Young people who fall in love while dressed in mourning clothes are doomed never to marry.

No flirting at the funeral.
No caressing near the casket.
No hand-holding behind the hearse,
no giggling at the grave.
Don’t parade your liveliness, your loveliness,
your youth, your certainty that you
will never be the ones shut up
out here, beneath the neat green hills
where every party peters out.
Don’t be too smug.
Don’t snuggle down among the tombs.
Don’t wink behind the preacher’s back,
steal a bloom from the bouquets.
You’ll be tempted. You’ll be sorry.
Don’t think that just because
the dead are dead they can’t be petty.
That just because they’re underground
they don’t begrudge you that quick kiss,
don’t hear and covet your fluttering heart

## from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’ve got a short story coming out in the anthology Nox Pareidolia: Volume II later this year, and I’m at work on my next fantasy/horror middle grade novel, which should be released by Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2021.

Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors, and several other West2017 croppedmiddle grade and young adult novels. Her most recent novel, the YA horror/fantasy Last Things, is a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards and has been selected for the Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot. Her poetry has appeared in journals including Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Liminality, and Star*Line, and she has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and two Pushcart Prizes, and received a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her first full-length poetry collection, Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions was published by Alban Lake in 2018 and was selected for the preliminary ballot of the Bram Stoker Awards. Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.


Escaping the Dawn

On Halloween, all souls in hell are released for twenty-four hours.

Their hunger builds in the last hours.
Streetlamps flicker, the small storms
of moths and mayflies long departed.
Gradual as a freeze, the liquid dark
turns white, ice trapping the moment
in anesthesia. Stars dull their corners.
The moon dissolves, a brittle skull
swirled to the edge of a seashell.
This is their warning. Dragged back
into closets, to the dust under beds,
to dark corners, to graffiti-spattered
holes, they mutter, unsatisfied, licking
their fingers. Day takes its first breath
on the horizon as they stagger slowly
back toward the darkness, always just
out of reach of those long, bright hands.

## from Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions

The Collectors #2: A Storm of Wishes (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2019)
Last Things (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2019)
Digging Up Danger (Rodale Kids/Penguin Random House, 2019)
The Collectors (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2018)
Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions (Alban Lake, 2018)
The Books of Elsewhere (Dial/Penguin, 2010 – 2014)

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Filed under entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, myth, poetry, Writing

Women in Horror: Tracy Fahey


The Past is Always Present: New Music for Old Rituals

This is a story of folk horror and of its roots in much older tales. It’s a story of how these old, cautionary tales still cast long shadows in contemporary culture. And of course, it’s part of the story why I wrote my second collection, the nineteen tales of folk-horror that make up my second collection, New Music for Old Rituals (Black Shuck Books 2018).

fahey New Music For Old Rituals

New Music For Old Rituals (Black Shuck Books 2018)

This collection grew organically from my own upbringing as a child in rural Ireland, where the very landscape was infused with myth and folklore. I grew up on the site of the great Irish saga of the Táin Bó Cúailnge halfway between two towns, Dundalk, where the Táin hero, Cuchulainn was born and Ardee, where he slew his best friend Ferdia at a pivotal battle−even my secondary school sits beside an ancient burial ground where mounds marked the site of Cuchulainn and his wife Emer’s graves.

But even more so, New Music for Old Rituals was influenced by the stories I grew up with, curses, stories of na Sidhe, the dark Irish fairies and their interactions with human, tales of jumping churches, of banshees, of curses and of graves cracked by a hungry Devil. These stories were told in my neighbourhood, within my family, and they formed the cornerstone of my childhood experience.


The site of Wildgoose Lodge. Photograph © Tracy Fahey 2015

The first piece of short fiction I published in 2013, ‘Looking for Wildgoose Lodge,’ (in Hauntings, Hic Dragones Press) was based on a story originally told to me by my grandmother; a tale of a two hundred-year-old atrocity. I was fascinated by the idea of the persistence of memory in a small community, and the fact that these stories were still told. I was drawn to this topic by the fact that in folklore the past was always present−that these stories still operated strongly as cautionary tales that warned of the dangers of secrecy and of secret organisations, and the untrustworthiness of neighbours. I spent three years working on a memory project with these families and recording their variant stories of this event as part of my PhD thesis.

At the same time I was also researching the folklore and how it echoes through contemporary Irish art and literature, and have since published five academic essays on this topic in edited collections by Palgrave, Routledge, Peter Lang Publishing, Aguaplano, and Boydell and Brewer. However, this research kept inspiring new ideas for fresh fiction, and so in 2016 I started writing in earnest on a new collection that would focus on the survival of past narratives in contemporary Ireland.

Fahey Cuchulainn, The Hound of Ulster. Print by Jim Fitzpatrick

Cuchulainn, The Hound of Ulster, art by Jim Fitzpatrick

In putting together this collection, I’ve only obliquely referenced ‘real’ Irish folktales. I was more interested in the nature and character of folktales; how they seep upwards from the very landscape, how they’re mapped by real sites that act as portals to other worlds; dolmens, passage graves, fairy mounds. In 2015 I’d spent time armed with a copy of Tarquin Blake’s Haunted Ireland, visiting and photographing local spectral sites; many of these photographs would later act as triggers for some of the stories that I would write, most notably ‘The Green Road,’ ‘Graveyard of The Lost,’ and ‘The Black Dog.’

Fahey The Black Dog

The Black Dog. Photograph © Tracy Fahey 2015

I was conscious when writing of other contemporary Irish authors like Patrick McCabe, who creates evocative dark, small towns with a savage magic realism, and Peadar Ó Guilín whose dystopian novels are influenced by his erudite knowledge of Irish folklore. The stories that I wrote between 2016 and 2018 all feature the pervasive power of the past; how old, bitter stories ripple outwards and continue to shape our culture. Some reference the Irish fairies, but the tales that do so consider them in contemporary contexts; man-made fairy villages (‘The World’s More Full of Weeping’), children’s games (‘Under The Whitethorn’), burial rites (‘The Cillini’) and gender identity (‘The Changeling’). The collection also references modern Irish phenomena like ghost estates (‘Scarecrow, Scarecrow’) and the Celtic Tiger economy (‘What Lies Beneath’). What all stories do is consider the ties between the past and present, and how certain themes are both repetitive and timeless; ideas of loss, love, sacrifice, family, inheritance and transmission.

There were also two things that were important to me in writing this collection; I wanted it to have a strong female voice (most of the protagonists and narrators are women), and also that it represented the Irish lived experience of folklore as a continuum between past and present. The reason for this is that New Music for Old Rituals sits squarely within the canon of folk horror, a term that has gained popularity since the BBC4 TV series A History of Horror of 2010 where Mark Gatiss used it with reference to Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and also Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). Folk horror is also characterised in terms of contemporary contributions towards the genre: Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and A Field in England, Robert Eggers’ The VVitch (2015), David Bruckner’s The Ritual (2017), and The League of Gentlemen (1997-2017).

However, there are two interesting things to consider when looking at this genre since the 1960s: the fact it tends to be Anglo-centric and male-dominated. This isn’t to say that women are omitted in the canon−especially in terms of literature with Angela Carter’s marvellous The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) and Susan’s Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence (1965-77)−but there Carter’s contribution, as with so many other outstanding works by female writers like Margaret Atwood, Tanith Lee, Gemma Files, Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi tend to be categorised under the heading of ‘revisionist fairy tales.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with revisionist fairy tales−the rewriting and re-questioning of these forms is a valuable part of the feminist canon of writing−but it’s strange that many of these are not considered as folk horror. James Gent’s definition of folk horror could be used to sum up some remarkable short stories by women including Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ or Angela Carter’s ‘Wolf Alice.’

Hermetically sealed (usually rural) communities; imagery of agriculture, fertility and the soil; modern man standing on the precipice of deeper, hidden, horrors and the friction that arises; a haunting of the present by the past; and the arrival of an innocent outsider drawn into this hinterland. (Gent 2017)

Fahey The Cillini

The Cillini. Photograph © Tracy Fahey 2015

Women in Horror Month is more than just about celebrating the women who are or have been active in the field; it’s also about honestly examining whether female achievement is correctly attributed across horror. The horror genre−and the folk horror genre−is richest when it encompasses a breadth of diversity and experience−from across genders and nationalities.

I’m glad to see that recent folk horror collections; Green and Pleasant Land (2016, Black Shuck Books), The Fiends in The Furrows (2018, Nosetouch ress) and This Dreaming Isle (2018, Unsung Stories) all feature a very balanced number of contributions by outstanding female writers. I’m also delighted to see the accolades coming in for Alma Katsu’s The Hunger (2018), which draws upon oral folklore of The Dinner Party and ideas of the Wendigo, and Gwendolyn Kiste’s The Rust Maidens (2018), a meditation on urban folklore.

And of course, I’m very grateful to my publisher Steve J. Shaw of Black Shuck Books for taking a chance on my ode to Irish folk horror, Old Music for New Rituals, and to all who have bought, read and reviewed it. Folklore continues to evolve and to be part of our lived experience, and I’m proud to have offered a small reflection on it with this collection.


Gent, James. ‘Robin Hardy, The Wicker Man and Folk Horror.’ Etext at http://wearecult.rocks/robin-hardy-the-wicker-man-and-folk-horror. Last accessed 9.05, 29/06/2018.

FaheyTracy Fahey is an Irish writer of Gothic fiction.  In 2017, her debut collection The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award. Two of her short stories were long listed by Ellen Datlow for honourable mentions in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8. She is published in over twenty Irish, US and UK anthologies and her work has been reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. Her first novel, The Girl in the Fort, was released by Fox Spirit Press in 2017. Her second collection, New Music for Old Rituals was published in 2018 by Black Shuck Books. Her website is at www.tracyfahey.com

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Filed under entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, Ireland, myth, Writing