European Monsters : Mermaids and the Deep

Mermaids and The Deep
Peter Damien

It’s an interesting thing what happens, when you tell people that you really like mermaids and mer-folk and writing stories about them. They have a pretty specific idea what your mer-folk look like and therefore what kind of story you’re probably writing about them. Specifically, Disney. If you say “mermaids,” people understand that you probably have some sort of singing Jamaican Lobster around the edges somewhere.

So with that in mind, it’s really interesting what happens when you tell people that 1) you’re writing a ghost story, approaching being a horror story and 2) your mermaids aren’t necessarily friendly beautiful half-women who are wondering what fire is, and why it burns, but might have more in common with the strange and alien things that live in the depths of our oceans. It doesn’t process, and mostly I get an odd look and they wander off.

I don’t care. I love mermaids, and I know exactly when it started: there was a brief sequence in a live-action Peter Pan movie from 2003, starring Jason Isaacs (who is somehow not always Lucius Malfoy??) in which for a brief second, we meet mermaids. They are pale and not friendly-looking at all, strange creatures that do look like, if you fall into the water, they might eat you.


That was all it took. Since 2003, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time in my head and on paper building my own world of mermaids which had more to do with my abiding love of marine biology than it did with Disney mermaids. I’ve almost never discussed it, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I was excited to get to use some of it, in the story Old Bones. Tracing the origins of stories and the things that appear in them is always tricky, isn’t it? It’s such a blurring mash in your head. Here, though, it came from a song by a band called Nightwish, of whom I am a massive fan. The song was called Turn Loose the Mermaids. From the lyrics of the song, I garnered a general notion of mermaids, ghosts, and being exhausted and longing for rest. Impressions like these drift around in the back of my head, where they collect ideas, pulling from my mermaid lore, my general love of ghost stories (both haunting and tragic) and like so, my story began to come together. A story of an old man, made both physical and mental wreckage by his time at sea and the brutality of that life. From there, I had a very clear image of him coming out one night and on the rocky beach by his home, he sees a mermaid dragging herself across the ground and toward a graveyard. A strange, pale creature with long hair – more like seaweed than human hair – and sharp teeth, with too-big eyes. Not a Disney mermaid at all, but definitely a creature of the deep.

Mermaids are brilliant monsters when you start looking at marine biology and working out why things work the way they do underwater, and how a mermaid would exist down there. And personality-wise, they would be drastically alien to us. At least in the beginning. As the story goes, I try to humanize them, because there is nothing more engaging (and scary, sometimes) than humanizing a monster and making them relatable, or suggesting that perhaps the true horror isn’t the strange creature at all, but very human and acceptable elements of our lives: brutal violence, bad memories, old ghosts haunting our sleep and our lives without any spirits around at all.

(Well. Some spirits. Come on. Who can resist putting mermaids and ghosts into the same story? Not this guy.)

European Monsters : Unsympathetic Werewolves

Unsympathetic Werewolves
by Hannah Kate

When the editors of European Monsters asked me to contribute a werewolf story to the collection, I was over the moon. The idea of a book dedicated to dark, unsettling monsters appealed to my dark side – just as I’m sure it will appeal to the dark side of many readers. The initial brief was simple – to write a werewolf story that went back to the monster’s ‘roots’. A story about something frightening, monstrous and disturbing. Something unsympathetic, unromantic and unredeemed.

I have been a fan of werewolf fiction for a long time, and, in my other life (, I’ve done a lot of academic research on werewolves in medieval and contemporary popular culture. I guess that might be one of the reasons why Jo and Margret asked me to tackle lycanthropes for European Monsters! So I put my thinking cap on and went to work on my story…

… but there was a problem. That word – ‘unsympathetic’ – kept nagging at me. Werewolves are definitely frightening, either in terms of encountering one or in terms of transforming into one. They are certainly disturbing and monstrous as well – at least most of them are. But are they unsympathetic? Have they ever been unsympathetic? Can we strip back the last few years of sparkly vampires and brooding shirtless teenwolves to find something more primal? Something that recalls a huddled mass of ancient ancestors, staying close to the campfire and trying to make sense of the howls of their lupine adversaries in the darkness?

The short answer is: no. Aside from didactic Christian texts (for instance, Inquisition handbooks and treatises on the devil), most literary and folkloric stories present the European werewolf as a sympathetic monster. That’s not to say all werewolves are ‘good’ or ‘noble’, but rather that the myth of prehistoric fireside stories of fearsome wolves stalking the forests is exactly that – a myth.* But like all short answers, this fact reveals a much longer answer that provided the inspiration for my story, ‘Nimby’.


Given that we have no evidence of what ancient humans actually talked about around their fires, we have to look to literature for the earliest versions of the European werewolf. I’m going to skip over the first couple of millennia, if that’s okay, and jump to the first real ‘golden age’ of werewolf fiction: the late Middle Ages. Two of my favourite werewolf stories originate from this period: Marie de France’s Bisclavret and the Middle English William of Palerne (a translation of the Old French Guillaume de Palerne, but I think the translation totally outshines the original).

The werewolves in these stories aren’t hideous beasts that prowl the forests waiting for innocent travellers to eat (though Marie hints that some werewolves do this, just not her hero). They are civilized, aristocratic men who, due to circumstance and feminine malevolence, are forced to adopt the form of a wolf and abandon their former homes until they can find a cure. These men are tortured and miserable souls, cursed by the wicked women in their lives and perpetually grieving for their lost humanity. The possibility that they might lose the last shred of this humanity and become a snarling monster is never very far away.

But these men are victims. They are lost to a curse that is beyond their control. A Freudian might suggest that they are symbolic of the ‘beast within’ – the uncivilized and animalistic id that continuously threatens to overwhelm the more socially acceptable ego. I prefer to think of these medieval werewolves in terms of the cultural changes that were occurring when these stories were written: programmes of deforestation and urbanization (which had begun centuries earlier but became more sustained in the late Middle Ages) were ‘civilizing’ the wilderness, new genres of literature (particularly the romance) focused on nostalgic longing for a more innocent past, and organized wolf-hunts had set in motion a project that would eventually see native wolves hunted to extinction in many parts of Europe. Under these circumstances, werewolves are created as a romanticized reminder of a more rural, wilder past. These wolves belong to the forest, even at a time (especially at a time) when both wolves and forests were beginning to be systematically destroyed.

Skip forward a few centuries, and we can see the descendants of these romantic, sympathetic werewolves in contemporary fiction and film. Many werewolves are still victims – the innocent hiker whose only crime was to forget to stick to the road, the young man feeling the weight of his bloodline forcing him to change into something he is not, the embattled underdog who fights the oppressive vampire. (I’m leaving female werewolves out of this for now, because… well… that’s a whole other story…) Even in the most gory, bloody horror films, we still have sympathy for the werewolf. It’s not his fault he’s a monster! He’s trying his best to control it!

Of course, when presented with such a long history of sympathetic, romantic – even noble – werewolves, the temptation obviously is to try and subvert it. ‘Nimby’ is the second story I’ve written about an unsympathetic werewolf. In my earlier story, ‘Home’ (coming out in another anthology soon), I set myself the challenge of making a truly unlikable, powerful and unpleasant werewolf, in contrast to a helpless, innocent, sympathetic vampire – but that’s the opposite way round to the usual power dynamic between these supernatural creatures. You can read a bit more about my choices for ‘Home’ here (

For ‘Nimby’, I decided to take a different approach. I made a list of all the common characteristics of sympathetic and romanticized werewolves and thought about the potentially negative consequences of each one. Given my fondness for medieval werewolf romances, I ended up settling on the werewolf’s strong relationship to land (and forest). Lots of fiction and folklore has focused on the territorial nature of the werewolf. Others continue to link the wolf with a nostalgic image of the pastoral, pre-cultural, uncivilized wilderness. This sort of werewolf is the very opposite of progress, development and change.

And the more I thought about it, the more unsympathetic (and unlikeable) I thought that would be – I actually quite like progress and development, and territorialism is seldom a pleasant trait. That was when I first saw the werewolf who would become the main focus of ‘Nimby’, and the story began to take shape. I’ll warn you now – this werewolf doesn’t stalk the huddled masses around the campfire; he doesn’t pick off hikers on the moor; he doesn’t belong to a pack; and he doesn’t even howl at the moon. But I humbly submit him to the (admittedly small) ranks of thoroughly unpleasant and unsympathetic lycanthropes. And I hope you dislike him as much as I do.

* In his 2009 book, Wolves and the Wolf Myth in American Literature, S.K. Robisch calls this the ‘campfire myth’. This is a great book and I thoroughly recommend it.

European Monsters : Shadows Under Bridges

Shadows under Bridges

by James Bennett


What draws us to the darkness? To the shadows under bridges? The place beyond the circle of the streetlight? What makes us examine the doings of evil, to explain or justify with some cause of pain or just the inevitable, relentless urge of nature? Do we seek redemption where there is none? Some kind of hope in hatred? To accept a monster as a creature beyond help, incapable of conscience or remorse, is surely to speak to our deepest fears. All our compassion added up to naught. If we cannot reach, cannot reason with the darkness, then what good is our light?

To understand a monster is to understand the self. At least several noted philosophers say so. Perhaps that’s why humans shy away from the unknown and the unknowable – from that which we do not want to know. If we look at the source of the word monster – a combination of the 12th Century Middle English monstre and the Latin monstrum, meaning ‘portent, unnatural event’, we can easily see the red flags of language flying around the smouldering cavern mouth, flames warning us away. Are monsters simply a way for us humans to externalise the parts of ourselves that we don’t like to look at? The abyss inside? The grotesque, the villain, the killer…? If we can remove these elements and mould them in different clay, an other that we chase into the briars of our imagination, then in some way, we stand a chance of thinking ourselves safe.

But we are not safe. There is plenty to fear. The monsters are among us. We are the monsters.

This thinking certainly informed the series I’m working on and the idea has bled into my short stories, an increasing number of which serve as an extension of a theme, feeding into the whole. Spin offs, in a way, a chance to look at the subject through a host of eyes – the lexicon of fabulous beasts being, of course, longer than Finn MacCool’s arm, a theme larger than the boulders thrown to raise the Giant’s Causeway. But I don’t think the sentiment came as much to the fore as it did when I came to write Broken Bridges.


Here I was dealing with a troll, the notorious under bridge dweller and man-eater of countless frightening tales, a shaggy-haired, sharp-toothed, bull-shouldered stench of a thing with little to recommend it but dread. From Hans Christian Andersen to The Hobbit, storytellers have depicted the troll as a mean, hungry, stupid creature – not an outright evil one exactly, but a brute nonetheless, driven by appetite rather than ambition. Certainly in childhood memory, from the Norwegian tale Three Billy Goats Gruff to the offhand, lumbering cruelty of Tom, Bert and William in the woods of the Trollshaws, writers have primarily treated the big, dumb, hairy creatures with darkly comic disdain – the troll as the bully or dunce of the fairy tale world. On screen, depictions of the troll range from a ravenous threat, to the clod-footed and misunderstood (the excellent Troll Hunter) to the nimble, hunchbacked dwarf of the nursery rhyme and horror movie (Troll, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye). One has to dig back into Nordic myth to discover that this wasn’t always the case. No one ever claimed that the jötnar were particularly pleasant, you understand, but in their huddled tribes, dwelling in mountain ranges far away from humans, you get the distinct impression of nature beings, primal, solid, elemental creatures who might easily have found themselves adrift in a rapidly encroaching modern world…

Broken Bridges trudged out of its cave with this idea. The more I read about the creatures, the more I felt sorry for them. Can one truly escape one’s nature? From our earliest beginnings, our parents and teachers show us how to fight the monsters. To denounce, repress and exile the other inside. Perhaps until we learn to understand, to extend our compassion and light into the shadows under the bridge, we will always be trembling in the cold. Running away. Forever scared of the dark.

I sat down to write a monster story, what in all honesty was originally a tale of savage claws, of distant roars heard in the forest and blood left splattered on tree trunks. Instead, I wrote a kind of mirror. I hope that Broken Bridges makes you spare a thought for monsters and gives you pause to reflect. Failing that, I hope it scares the hell out of you.


James Bennett

West Wales November 2014



European Monsters : We Can Still Be Wolves

We can still be wolves

Anne Michaud

In another life, raids and battles were part of me. In another life, riding the sea bumped the blood in my veins and claiming new lands raced my heart to a new beat. In another life, I believed in a god of fire that could lick an entire village with its flames, I believed someone ordered for thunder to roar and rain to fall. In this other life, I was vijka; I was a seawolf.

So long ago, Vikings ruled the world. Vikings fought to remain true to themselves, even when stronger powers invaded their own land and transformed it into something else than home. Vikings fought until they had to change, until the fight left them. And that story is one to remember, when anger and vengeance transformed into resilience, except for the few who just refused to follow the herd.


In my Vijka, when the line draws in the sand, one viking’s soul cuts in two. He finds a monster hiding within himself, playing in his head, eating at his heart. And then the monster becomes stronger, bigger than him. And so a war begins, with its powerful need to destroy everything until nothing remains, the monster makes him forget about being human. The monster consumes him, like fire.

Even if everything burns and everyone dies, even if nothing’s left to conquer, this monster waits for the end. It feeds on this anger and hate and  power; it feeds on the viking’s soul. And then the monster, its spirit, never truly goes away; it lives on as part of humanity, of History. We are vikings, we are Vijka.

European Monsters : For The Love of Blackbirds

For the love of black birds

by Nerine Dorman

When it comes to writing short fiction, I find there is nothing better than being given some sort of limitation. Immediately my imagination springs into action trying to push those boundaries, and begins to ask, “What if?”

When the Fox Spirit monster call for submissions came through, my plot bunnies stirred, mainly because I’d be creating outside of my comfort zone. These monsters wouldn’t be the somewhat “safe” anthropomorphised beasties we find so often in contemporary urban fantasy.

No, this was a return to the creatures that lurked outside in the dark, the ones that haunted my nightmares as a child and glared out at me from the posters of classic horror movie films dating back to the 1980s…

Okay, I was up for the challenge, but, wait, there was more. The monster story I was to write had to feature a European monster. And the setting had to be European. Slight complication… I’m a European African. I’ve visited Europe once, and that was a whirlwind trip to Ireland back in 2011. What I know of my distant homeland is dangerous at best—gleaned from foreign films, books and travel articles.

I felt very strongly about my ancestors, who were of Dutch, French and Danish descent, and I wanted to dig a little into my heritage. That is where Google was my friend. I elected to go back to my Danish roots, and where I found a list of monsters. I didn’t want to pick something obvious, like trolls, but boy oh boy… I have to give the Danes this much—they have some truly bizarre critters in their folklore. I dare you to go look some time.

Almost predictably (that’s if you know me well) I opted for the valravn. I mean, *hello*, RAVEN. There was precious little to be found, but what I did dredge up was *nasty*. Basically, the valravn is a supernatural raven that comes into being either when ravens feast on the body of an unburied chieftain on the battlegrounds (or just the bodies of the fallen in general). Sometimes they’re a bird that turns into a knight after eating the heart of a child… Or they’re freaky half-wolf, half-raven monsters. You take your pick, mix them up a little, they’re scary. And there are stories where they do terrible things.

My biggest concern was giving my story the breath of life. I might not physically be able to visit the region in Denmark that features in my story, but I wanted my readers to feel as if I’d at least spent time there. Once again, a big thank you to Google and Wikipedia. Thank you also to Facebook and my Scandinavian friends who were on hand to offer advice, especially with regard to language and public transport. Out of all the stories I’ve ever written so far, this has perhaps been one where I’ve spent as much time “driving” using Google Maps as I’ve done writing.

Who said we have to leave the comfort of our homes to have an adventure? If and when I have the chance to travel to that part of Denmark, I’ll feel like I’ve already been there. Writing this story has given me wings and unexpected confidence to break away from familiar turf.

Follow Nerine Dorman on Twitter at or like her Facebook page at


European Monsters : Making Moments

Making Moments

Krista Walsh

I love when writing allows the opportunity to explore places I’ve never been able to go in person. When I first heard about this monster anthology, I knew it would be a great chance to leave my comfort zone of western Europe-based stories to travel further east and delve into some new mysteries. What I didn’t expect was for Seljord, Telemark, Norway to be such a difficult location on which to find information! I scoured the internet and tourism books to pull what details I could, but for a town known for their lake monster, there was surprisingly little to pull from. Except for a very neat video of Selma that a girl got on her cell phone.  Too poor quality for anything definitive, but just enough to send the imagination into overdrive.

My decision to work with Selma came about in a rather strange way. I thought about what I wanted a monster story to be about, and all I could picture was mist and water. Maybe a few black leaves whipping along a path at dusk. From there it seemed an easy jump to demons lurking in the water, so I did some research into which renowned lake monster would fit the bill. Selma popped out right away because of the number of sightings over the years, in depth tales that offer clear (if not always consistent) and emotional encounters. Interestingly, none of the reports ever mentioned an attack – just a large beast over 40 feet long lurking under the surface of the lake.  This looming dread, the idea that she was always present, but biding her time, inspired the first draft of my story.


The final edit of the story, the one you can find in the anthology, is a comparison of human vs. monster, never resolving whether the monster or the narrator killed her lover, but that concept came much later than the original idea.

My first take was to draw parallels between Selma’s lurking and growing environmental issues.  In the first draft, Astrid and her family visit her grandparents in Seljord. Her grandfather is the one to warn her against the monster, but her parents laugh it off and tell her not to lose any sleep over it.  As an aside, it’s mentioned that Astrid’s father works for a coal company. There’s obvious tension between father and grandfather, which builds until Astrid confronts her grandfather about what he’s seen. He fills her in on the history of Selma, the lake monster who’s been in hiding for a very long time, but is getting closer to reaching the surface. Once she does, there will be endless repercussions, consequences they cannot recover from – all because people overlooked the obvious signs.

In my head, the wrath of the lake monster blended perfectly with the issues of pollution, erosion, oil spills – disasters we hear about the news every day, but have not yet found ways to prevent. Three quarters of the way through the draft, I didn’t have the heart to finish it, feeling that the ending would be too hopeless.

loch ness

What I found fascinating about this project, though, is how those the story evolved from one idea into another. Within 5000 words, I managed to bounce around so many concepts, social issues and ideologies, characters – it provided a chance to notice the journey of the writing process in a way that longer projects won’t allow (a matter of forest for the trees).

I loved this project, enjoyed working with so many other talented artists, and am very proud of the final result. Hopefully the readers will enjoy it as much as I did!


Twitter: @Krista_walsh



European Monsters : Bringing the Cursed One to Life

Bringing the Cursed One to life

Icy Sedgwick

A perusal of any volume of folk tales will tell you that Europe has a lot of monsters. Originally I wanted to write about a monster native to the United Kingdom, and my home county of Northumberland has its fair share of faeries, wyrms and spectres. But there is one place in the world to which I’m repeatedly drawn, and that’s the enigmatic jewel of the Mediterranean – Venice.

Venice is a mysterious place, is it not? Canals divide its ancient streets, splitting the city into a series of small islands, linked by bridges and alleyways. Part labyrinth, part collective dream, Venice changes little as the years go by. True, it was once the capital of a powerful sea-based empire, embroiled in trade and commerce, until the rise of Portugal as a naval competitor in the seventeenth century. These days, it relies mostly on tourism and trade exports, particularly glass in Murano and lace in Burano. Yet still it captures the mind and imagination and, dare I say it, the heart.


I think part of Venice’s appeal lies within its canals, and what better to live in those waterways than some primal being? I’m fascinated by the Lovecraftian concept of Elder Gods, of ancient deities or beings who remain in the world, secreted away in darkness or the lost places that humans have either forgotten, or abandoned. I decided that mine would be seven in number, with the youngest being known as the Cursed One, yet perversely granted with the power to control its siblings. The canals became integral to its way of life, with the Cursed One only able to leave the water once a year.

What only occurs once a year in Venice? Why, the Carnival, of course! What better opportunity would a monster have to hide than a city-wide event in which everyone hides their true face? Indeed, many of the other Carnival revellers could be just as monstrous, yet hidden behind their bauta masks they’re simply people joining in with the fun. The Cursed One chooses a mask for itself from among the reflections it has stolen of those gazing into the canals at midnight, adding an extra layer to its monstrosity, and another facet to the mystery of Venice.

As befitting any ancient being, the Cursed One goes by many names – the protagonists refer to it as ‘Number Seven’, and La Musicale Morte, or the Musical Death. It’s given a name that humans can actually pronounce, and is so named for the music it sings in the mind when it is close at hand. To hear such music, based upon the notion of the banshee’s call, is to realise death is coming. The city of Vivaldi seemed like the ideal location for such a musical being, and wouldn’t music be the perfect non-verbal mode of communication? After all, for one character, the song of La Musicale Morte doesn’t spell death, but a form of rebirth into existence.


I chose to set the story in the eighteenth century, since it was outlawed in 1797 (it was reinstated in 1979) and the baroque setting of decadence and festivities seemed to suit the excesses of the creature. The fact that Venice has changed so little means the locations of the story still exist today! The eighteenth century also seemed to suit the concept of a shadowy organisation, known as the Order of the Sphinx, intent upon mysteries and the pursuit of both knowledge and power. Was that not the driving force behind the Renaissance, the period in which the Carnival became official?

So don your mask, and slip into the crowded piazzas and campos of Venezia, stroll across the bridges and marvel at the spectacle, and listen carefully for the siren song of La Musicale Morte…


Icy Sedgwick is a Gothic throwback, steeped in horror cinema and historical fiction. She teaches graphic design when she’s not writing, and plots world domination when no one is looking. She is also a knitter, a baker, and a jewellery maker.

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European Monsters : The Exmoor Beast

The Exmoor Beast

by Aliya Whiteley

I grew up in North Devon. We regularly went to Exmoor, a vast expanse of ever-damp moorland stretching across to Somerset, for walks. I was small and always in hand-me-down wellies; the clumps of earth and gorse were determined to trip me up, I thought, and we must have walked for hundreds of miles. But then, I was one of those imaginative children.

The things you grow up with are sometimes hard to appreciate. I saw the sea every day, and knew it was dangerous. I knew the same thing about Exmoor. We came across white bones amongst the moss, and the carcasses of sheep. Living out on the moor would have been an exceptionally hard life, but some people did it; people who weren’t afraid of anything but towns and cities and other people.

I heard stories about these people, but I didn’t understand them. Weren’t they afraid of the Exmoor Beast?

The Exmoor Beast isn’t exactly a monster. It was first spotted in the 1970s, and then was sighted regularly – a large black or grey cat, possibly a black leopard. Sheep were found with slashed throats. Had a big cat escaped from a private collection, or a circus? I was, as I say, an imaginative child. It didn’t take much for this idea to grow, combine with other stories such as The Hound of the Baskervilles (although that is set on Dartmoor, but hey, close enough) and create a monster. I was terrified of the Beast of Exmoor. To me, it hadn’t escaped from a zoo. It had escaped from a nightmare.


But we all grow up, and things that seemed scary are no longer quite so scary as long as we have our clever grown-up heads on, and I stopped thinking of the Beast as anything other than a big cat that was managing to have quite a good life out there on the moors, away from concepts of ownership, lucky thing. In 2006 the British Big Cats Society reported that the skull of a puma had been found on the moor, and it seemed the Beast was dead.

Then Fox Spirit said to me, “Write about a European Monster”. And it turned out the Exmoor Beast wasn’t dead at all. It still existed in my head, and then on the page, and it had become a proper monster. It had grown up.

I like the idea that monsters start out in reality, and then suck up our feelings and fears to live in a different plane. That’s what my story, ‘A Very Modern Monster’ is all about. We feed monsters and make them enormous with our own emotions and energies. Give the Exmoor Beast a few hundred years in the right conditions and it will own that moor. Everyone who sets foot upon it will shiver.

European Monsters : The Editors

As the editors of the Fox Spirit book of European Monsters, Margrét Helgadóttir (MH) and Jo Thomas (JT) have been invited to contribute to the Fox Spirit blog. Now, they could explain how the book sprang out of a Twitter conversation between the editors-to-be, along with a few other guilty parties, about how monsters have been declawed. They could try to find words to explain how happy they are for their first book as editors to see the light of day. Or they could wax lyrical about the stunning stories and breath-taking artwork.

They’re not, though. They’re going to discuss where monsters come from…

MH: So, you wanna go first? What monsters are you afraid of, and why?

JT: I guess the answer to that is rather trite in that it isn’t monsters that scare me. Don’t get me wrong, if I ran into any of the monsters that made the cut for our book, I’d probably collapse in a boneless heap. But the idea of monsters doesn’t scare me as such because they just do what monsters are supposed to do.

In other words, it’s human beings that scare me. As I can’t read them especially well and don’t know what to expect of them–particularly the ones I don’t know–I find human beings unpredictable. So humans are probably my biggest phobia.

Next to mirrors in the dark, but that’s another story.

So, what scares you?


MH: I think I would say something similar. I am very scared of the dark. I’ve always been. I used to check under my bed before turning the light off–and sometimes I still do–I think I would probably die of shock if some day, something was staring back at me. But it has become easier as I have become an adult and more rational. But still, once in a while, I can’t turn off the light. But like you, it’s the humans who scare me the most, more than monsters. I think I can read humans quite well, but maybe that’s the problem. Sometimes I look at a person in a crowd and I think she or he has cold eyes, and it frightens me. When you think about what humans are able to do to other humans or animals–That’s scary.

I always cover my large mirror before I go to bed.

So, what do you think has been most important in shaping your ideas about monsters? Fairy tales, popular culture, something your neighbour told you?

JT: The first monster I remember being in the house was the three-toed snorty-blog. Something to do with a birthday card from an aunt and, obviously, the monster was supposed to be cute and cuddly. I spent several years thereafter being told I was actually the three-toed snorty-blog–what with my being unable to breath properly (I had near permanent colds).

Technically, though, I suppose the first monster in the house was my older sister being told that there were witches hiding down the toilet and they’d eat her if she went at night. This was my dad’s attempt to stop her going to the toilet in the night and she still has to turn the lights on if she wakes up in the night. I do, too, but my monsters are in the mirror, not down the toilet.

Anyway, that’s what monsters should be as far as I’m concerned–a way of explaining something that doesn’t make sense away that can be as good or as bad as it likes–very much like Nature. It might be misunderstood, it might be good at heart, but it probably doesn’t care about you either way. I think the sea monster stories in our book in general capture that well but the Icy Sedgewick story we collected does a particularly good job.

How do you think of monsters?


MH: To do the academic approach first, I agree with you. I think monsters throughout our history have been merely products of humans’ inability to explain things, be it the strange mountain shapes, thundering and lightning, or the neighbour who died so sudden. Several of the stories in European monsters is based on such folklore and legends. Aliya Whiteley’s story, for instance, builds on a myth about ‘the beast of Exmoor’, a very interesting legend about an enormous phantom cat roaming the wilderness of Exmoor, most likely a cat which escaped from the zoo, and sadly not so much a real monster. I think also some people in a position of power, be it parents—like your story about your dad and sister–bishops or the elders of a society, have used an idea of a monster or something evil as an efficient tool, as a way of controlling people. And then we have the freak shows and carnivals lurking in our cultural past, and the horror stories told by the camp fire. I think people just love to be scared.

Personally I adore monsters and the idea that there are monsters. Have you experienced how you sometimes can wake up in your bed in middle of the night, certain that you are not alone in the room, but you can’t move, not a muscle? And the air feels icy, and you are terrified that if you open your eyes, something really is in your room? What if the thought that you don’t dare to say out loud–that there is a nightmare, a monster there–is true? How terrifying, but wonderful.

JT: Ah, sleep paralysis and nightmares. I sometimes get that, complete with padding paw-steps coming up the stairs. The first time I had one, I was enraged at being unable to move. I wanted to invite the dog on to the bed but couldn’t because I was paralysed and unable to speak. I was too asleep not to realise the dog I heard wasn’t real as I didn’t have one at the time, but too awake to find the situation scary.

(I’ve also heard other people talking about the same or very similar. Some of them interpreted it as a haunting, some as alien abduction.)

MH: Why do you think monsters have been so overused and watered down?

JT: I think I just unintentionally covered that in the sleep paralysis story I just shared. We start to sympathise with monsters–recognising something of ourselves in them, maybe–or think their powers are pretty awesome and we wouldn’t mind having them as pets if we can’t actually be them.

I guess that’s what bothers me about the Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance tendency to de-claw by making monsters love interests. It ends up being an unhealthy, obsessive kind of romance about an ideal on a pedestal instead of a recognition of the individual who has dangerous potential. That said, much as I love reading romances, I find romance is right next to insanity when observed in real life so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, this is why I wanted to work on a project like European Monsters, a project that gives them their teeth back and takes away the romance.

What particular monsters do you consider overused?

MH: That is exactly why I wanted to do the European Monsters project too. I think especially the humanoid monsters like the vampires and the shapeshifters might have been used too much, if you can say ‘used’ about monsters. I have read hundreds of books about vampires, for instance. I adore these creatures, but I think the images of them in the western popular culture the last decade might have become stereotypes. After Anne Rice introduced the vampires as melancholic and beautiful monsters who are outsiders of the (western) human society, and who only long to be humans and part of the human society, maybe find the true love, we have seen so many interpretations of this. This goes for many monster stories of today, not only stories about vampires: the lonely monster who only wants to be friends with the humans. Many of these stories I think can be read as stories about patterns in the human psyche. But that’s not bad. I love these stories. I have even written a few myself. But sometimes I want to be introduced to different monster stories where the monsters just are monsters, and no philosophy around their existence. Many of the monsters we know are based in western popular culture. I look forward to get to know monsters from other parts of the world, as we continue with the book series.


And about nightmares. I think humans’ fears are often revealed through the nightmares: The monster that stalks you, and how you are glued to the ground not able to run away. Or being eaten alive or invaded. I think there is much to Freud’s theories about dreams. I believe our minds work with our anxieties and worries when we sleep just like they renew our cells and heal physical injures or sicknesses. And sometimes in this process our minds produce dreams that might relate to the worries you have, or something you have witnessed, like many trauma victims who suffer from awful nightmares. Yet, now and then I wonder if our dreams are something entirely different, something we have no names for yet. I write some of my dreams down and use them in my writing. But not all these dreams and dream monsters can be tracked back to something I have witnessed or experienced. Some of these monsters, what if they just were there? I don’t make sense now, do I?

You have written about werewolves yourself. When you have been writing these books, have you been conscious about werewolves in western culture?

JT: Yes. I made a conscious decision to “dial back” to an older version–the putting on a wolf skin is a part of the mythology that has been abandoned with the more modern Western / Hollywood version. However, I haven’t been able to escape the idea that werewolves are, at least in part, humans. Which means that some of them are good or behave well because that potential is in all human beings. Not that most of them act on it, as those people who choose to become werewolves are generally after the power, not being nice and fluffy. So, I didn’t go far enough back to ensure that they were driven to do ghastly things, only ensure that they were physically capable of doing it and often inclined to it.

This thing of werewolves, though, really comes from the idea that the Hollywood version wouldn’t work nagging at me. Obviously, the magic for my kind of werewolves doesn’t exist, either, but it feels more consistent and logical, closer to how the world seems to work to me than the glamorous Hollywood version. I wouldn’t have been able to puzzle that out if I hadn’t spent time creating characters and situations to act it all out for me.

What monsters do you feel you need to put some time into to find out how they work? What calls in your dreams or sits in the back of your mind when you’re writing?

MH: I have written a couple of stories based on Norwegian folklore, like our stories about the grey people and the goblins, who are far scarier than the Hollywood version. I have also written a few stories about unbalanced humans, but it’s the shapeshifters who have mainly been haunting my monster writing. Shapeshifters fascinate me, because of the balance between the parts that are human, animal, wild and monstrous. But maybe mostly about how different from humans they are. I don’t have any particular favourite yet and I have written about several kinds. One of these shapeshifters, a lion, has the putting on skin mythology, that you mentioned. It was a belief that existed amongst the sami people and even the vikings. Not any of my shapeshifters have changed by being bitten yet.

I’m also very fasinated by the folklore around shapeshifters and how humans long for the animal characteristics, strength etc. In Norway it’s been common since the old Norse days to name boys after animals (Bjørn-bear, Ulf-wolf, Are-eagle, Orm-snake, Rein-reindeer etc), mainly because one thought the boys would get the animals’ attributes too.

What calls in the back of your mind when you are writing?

JT: Pack. More precisely, the awareness that even if I don’t understand the wider world, I have two dogs that I have to live with and care for. They are my immediate family (barring parent, siblings and their offspring) and I wish I could understand them better. I guess I envy their not being human… But I wouldn’t choose to be a werewolf as I suspect that one can’t be a particularly good wolf unless one knows how to socialise with other wolves.

Roots. I was born outside of the UK, although we returned while I was still a toddler. My parents and grandparents moved quite a bit and I was always encouraged to remember the traditions of the places we came from and had been as well as the places we were living at the time I grew up. So a lot of what I write often appropriates from all over Europe with a touch of the Caribbean. It’s not intentional, more an echo of the material that went in with reading.

Nature. I grew up rurally–although not as wild as it could have been in other parts of the country–and I think it shows. Nature is a true beauty, no matter how tamed you think it is. It can also be monstrous. It doesn’t care, it can as easily be bad for your health as it can be good for you, it works on a grand scale and yet so much of it is made up of critters so small we can’t even see them. I should find a way to include it as a protagonist more often. Perhaps working with monsters is actually part of that.

I guess this leads to asking: As you’ve moved around a bit yourself, how do your travels reflect in your writing?

MH: That is a very difficult question you are asking. So far my stories have been heavily influenced by my Nordic background, Norway and Iceland, where I have lived most of my life. I have a work in progress that takes a place in Africa. I have been thinking about trying to write more stories from Africa for a while. I have moved lots around in general, which has led to a sense of rootlessness and homelessness. I think this might be reflected in my writing. Many of my characters are on the road and on hunt for a home or themselves. This also includes the stories about shapeshifters. I’ve written one story about a young shapeshifter girl who has lived in an orphanage, not knowing who she is or where she is from, but when she becomes a sea eagle, she instinctively knows where her home is.

I think also many of the stories in the anthology European monsters address this balance between the human society and the wilderness and nature, as we have talked about now. And many of the protagonists are searching for something. The girl who lost her boyfriend to the lake monster in Kirsti Walsh’s story, the monster in James Bennett’s story who longs for his home land, or the girl who travels across the world to a woman she doesn’t know in Nerine Dorman’s story.

…And now you know a little bit more about where our monsters came from.