How Mary Shelley Has Inspired Me, Yet Again!
An Author’s Perspective on Facing One’s Own Fears In Writing.
One of the principles of writing good horror is tapping into your readers’ fears and anxieties, albeit in a controlled manner – I don’t want to trigger a heart attack or a psychosis, but I do want their skin to crawl and their innards to lurch. After all, that’s why they pick up a horror book or film in the first place.
It’s interesting – at least to me, at any rate – that I haven’t got any better at confronting my own fears.
I have always been, and still am, terrified of spiders and snakes. Of course, I do live in Australia where just about everything that crawls or slithers is deadly, so that is quite sensible. We’ll call it a healthy sense of self-preservation. Butterflies and moths, though… not so much. And crickets: ugh! Not exactly the stuff of nightmares— until they touch me. That’s when I lose all sense of reality.
When I was a child, I considered that I had a fear of heights. As I grew older, I realised that what I actually have is a fear of falling. I can look out of the window of a plane that is flying at altitude, and it doesn’t bother me a bit. Ask me to step onto the balcony of a lookout at the top of a mountain, or to walk on stairs or a surface where I can see through to underneath, and you will only ever be disappointed. It’s not going to happen. The times I have been in such places, I have frozen to the ground in fear.
Interestingly, these are not fears that I have explored in my own writing— not yet, anyway. I’m far more comfortable playing on someone else’s weaknesses. Death. Hell. Demons. Fire. Hair. Monsters. Ghosts. Superstition. Possession. Unexplained coincidences. Easy peasy!
Maybe I will try to address one of my own fears in my writing this month, given that it is Women in Horror Month, and I happen to be a woman who very much enjoys writing horror.
I’ll get back to you on that one.
Originally posted on Unusual Fiction :
I’m really excited to introduce our next author to Women in Horror Month 2018 at Unusual Fiction. Joanne Van Leerdam is a poet, writer in many genres and of course horror lover. ? In addition to writing poetry and short stories, Joanne is a teacher of English, History and Drama/Production.…
This is my third author interview in fairly quick succession, but the questions have all been so different that I couldn’t even recycle any! This one focuses on my work as a writer of horror where the others were more general.
I’m really excited to introduce our next author to Women in Horror Month 2018 at Unusual Fiction. Joanne Van Leerdam is a poet, writer in many genres and of course horror lover.
In addition to writing poetry and short stories, Joanne is a teacher of English, History and Drama/Production. She is an active member and performer in her local theatre company.
Her hobbies include reading, music, travel and photography.
Joanne loves travelling, and has visited many places in Australia as well as holidaying in New Zealand, Fiji, the USA and Canada at different times.
Question 1. What drew you to horror as a genre?
I’ve always loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I also loved The Addams Family and The Munsters on TV as a kid – although they’re lighthearted, that macabre sense of humour of mine just adored them.
Question 2. What horror writers do you read?
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I’m going to do you a favour and introduce you to ten women authors who write great horror.
Horror as a genre is as varied as any other. While everyone raves about Stephen King and Ann Rice – and there’s no doubt, they are what horror writers would aspire to become – it doesn’t mean that anyone who writes differently, or in a less mainstream sub-genre, isn’t worth reading.
Over the past year or so, I’ve read some fabulous horror books and stories by women who were new to me at the time, but they have quickly become some of my favourites.
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them before – I’m going to do you a favour and introduce them here. All you need to do to find their books is click on the author’s name.
Jane Jago is a multi-genre author whose novel ‘Who Put Her In?’ has a delicious, slow build and some finely crafted moments of horror. If you’re new to reading horror and unsure of how intense you want it to be, this book would be a great starting point.
D.J. Doyle writes horror stories that are often based in Celtic legend and religion.
Where to start: The Celtic Curse: Banshee
A. Drew is the author of The Dowling House, a story of haunting and possession.
Nikki Landis writes both paranormal romance and horror. There’s even a little horror in her paranormal romance books, so it’s a win-win if you like both genres.
Where to start: Reaper’s Folly
Where to start: Beating Hearts
I want to give my readers a reading experience that is original, well-written and provocative enough to give them the chills and shudders that they seek when they pick up a horror story.
One of the most powerful features of excellent Gothic, horror or macabre writing is the ability of an author to affect the reader on an intellectual and emotional level, even more than they do physically.
This is something that I aspire to in my own writing. I always try to engage the mind and the emotions, not just the reflexes that make one gag or feel their skin crawling, although those are certainly effects that I enjoy stimulating in a reader. I don’t write splatter for splatter’s sake – there has to be a deeper meaning and a greater purpose to it than that if I really want to connect with and move my reader on a psychological level. There needs to be a story, not just a scene, and the reader needs to be able to connect with that story in order for it to have full effect on them.
I sought to do this in ‘The Silver Feather’ by developing strong emotions in my main character’s responses to things that happened around him and to him – grief, shock, dread, surprise, horror, and fear. Phil is an ordinary guy with talents, strengths and flaws that make his situation one in which any of us could find ourselves. Not everything is explained in full, because as an author, you want the reader to be wondering what’s going on, and holding their breath as they anticipate what’s coming next. Things become clearer as the story progresses, but sufficient questions remain at the end because you want the reader to remain interested enough to read the sequel.
‘Curious Things’ is a little different in that it consists of thirteen stories, all featuring a black cat named Friday and his interaction with people who are all doing the wrong thing in one way or another. It’s not enough to blow them up or have them arrested – I want to make them face consequences, to be confronted by their conscience, and to pay the price for their less-than-savoury ways. Each story develops from some kind of superstition – do black cats bring bad luck? What would happen if the ground really did open up and swallow someone? Again, some questions about Friday remain unanswered, although it is evident that he’s not exactly your ordinary house cat. The reader doesn’t need to know everything to understand that Friday is actively involved in the strange events that occur, one way or another.
I do have plans for more horror stories this year. Friday will emerge from time to time, as he did on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, when new stories were published on WordyNerdBird Writes. There may, or may not, be a sequel to The Silver Feather – the truth is that I haven’t decided on this just yet. There will be another collection of horror stories, two of which have already been written and edited, and another is well under way. I’m not setting myself a due date for any of these projects – they will happen when they happen, and I will work steadily toward them.
My goal in all of this is to give my readers a reading experience that is original, well-written and provocative enough to give them the chills and shudders that they seek when they pick up a horror story. I want them to hold their breath, and gasp, and recoil when they read my work. And I want them to come back for more, because that is the greatest compliment and honour that an author can receive from a reader.
So here’s to all the women writing horror, and to all the readers who love what they write. Here’s to all the authors whose horror works I love reading, and to celebrating them and their books during a delightfully creepy Women in Horror Month.
I’m dead keen. Are you?
I want to acknowledge two authors who were my first inspirations with all things Gothic and macabre.
As a woman who both reads and writes horror, that’s an exciting prospect. I am set to be be featured on some blogs and websites this month, and I’ll be sharing posts featuring other authors on my social media, too.
First though, I want to acknowledge two authors who were my first inspirations with all things Gothic and macabre.
Emily Bronte was the author of the Victorian Gothic classic ‘Wuthering Heights’ and some very dark, moody poetry. It was a significant change in the literature of the time – it was so dark and fraught with anger and tension that many readers really had no idea how to respond to it. I also think it is a sign of her literary genius that she wrote a book that became recognised world-wide as a masterpiece and a classic, despite the fact that there is not one single character who is likeable throughout the whole work!
She is also a very fitting figurehead for Women in Horror Month, given that she and her sisters couldn’t get their books published until they deliberately put masculine pen names on them instead of their own. For the most part, we’ve moved beyond such Victorian prejudices and embraced the myriad wonderful books that have been written by women, although there are still some today who suggest that women who write horror should publish under their initials or a pen name to avoid such discrimination. How is it even possible that this is still a reality 170 years later?
Mary Shelley wrote the Victorian Gothic/horror classic ‘Frankenstein’ in a competition with her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet Lord Byron and another man named John Polidori to see who could write the best horror story in a given time. Not only did she write something incredibly powerful and ground-breaking on a number of levels, she beat three men at their own game in the process.
These are just two of the women in the course of literary history who made an event like Women in History Month a possibility for female authors and for readers of all persuasions in the 21st century.
What a debt of gratitude and honour we owe them.
After the fury of writing 13 short stories on a theme in 16 days between Friday 13th and Halloween, in addition to working and meeting various other commitments as a responsible adult, I spent a day deliberately not writing anything. My brain was fritzed.
November 1st was a strange day for this writer. After the fury of writing 13 short stories on a theme in 16 days between Friday 13th and Halloween, in addition to working and meeting various other commitments as a responsible adult, I spent a day deliberately not writing anything. My brain was fritzed.
What I originally thought was just going to be the one mildly horrific story on Friday 13th turned into a series of 13 short horror stories featuring a black cat named Friday with a penchant for curious events. That darned cat just took over, and kept on presenting me with situations and superstitions to explore and present in different ways. I guess I should have expected that, given how cats tend to have a mind of their own and do whatever they please, regardless of what people think.
I also confess to having fallen in love with Friday. He’s affectionate, loyal and feisty. He’s mysterious – it’s never really clear whether he’s entirely responsible for the things that happen, or whether he’s a catalyst for some greater force of justice, but he’s always there when strange things happen. Either way, I’ve loved having him around.
Friday’s stories are available to read for free at WordyNerdBird Writes until 11.59pm EST on Friday, November 3rd.
After that, they’ll be appearing in a book at some time in the future. I’d love to have you read them and leave a comment or two in response.
Read Friday’s stories:
A deliciously dark October is coming your way!
It’s the end of September… which, of course, means writers are preparing to unleash all sorts of deliciously grim and spooky reads on the reading world next month.
I’m playing my part in that for the first time this year. I’ve never really considered writing horror before now, but I’ve certainly written some dark poetry in my time.
So I’m branching out with a new creepy short story/novelette titled ‘The Silver Feather‘ that will appeal to all lovers of horror, Gothic literature and everything Friday the 13th and Halloween. It’s not specific to those particular days, though, so readers can enjoy it all year.
I’ve also got some dark/grim poems lined up for WordyNerdBird Writes during October.