Well, this wraps up Women in Horror month and our series of guests posts, by women about horror.
We will do a quick link round up of all the posts so you can make sure you haven’t missed anything on our tour of movies, books and horrors from mythology, but first we just wanted to state the obvious. Women don’t only do horror in February. There are a huge number of talented writers, musicians, directors, artists and other female creatives out there living and breathing the horror genre. So while we hope our month of celebration has got you thinking about where you can find women doing horror and how women are treated or mistreated by the genre, we hope you won’t stop there.
We recommend checking out, The Cultural Gutter, Popshifter, Ginger Nuts of Horror as great starting points.
Bengalis love ghosts. In fact, ghost stories are a part of Bengali heritage. Ghosts are serious creatures, they are very particular about where they live, and have unique haunting habits. Bengali folklore is full of spooky tales—let me share a very popular one.
In Colonial Bengal, it was fairly common for men to work in cities and live in temporary lodgings often referred to as “messes” in Calcutta, while their families remained in rural Bengal. The men would work all week, go home on Friday evenings, then catch the Sunday afternoon train to get back to the city to work. Sometimes, when there was a lot of work, they would not be able to go home for a month or so. This story is about Gopal Das, who lived in a mess and was unable to go home for almost a fortnight.
Gopal took the early afternoon train home. When he reached the station in his rural town, it was almost dusk. His home was a mile-long walk from the station. One thing that caught his attention this time was the eerie silence at the station. There would always be a few people sitting there, but the station was empty, something he had never seen before. The little shanty around the corner that sold tea was closed, adding to the silence. He had never seen the station completely empty before. The silence created a strange sense of unease, as if the whole village had fallen asleep. It was already night when he reached home.
The house seemed unusually dark and quiet. Electricity had not reached his village yet, but there were always oil lamps outside the door. His mother opened the door. She had a small lamp in her hand, that hardly lit anything; he could barely see her. She seemed extremely reluctant to answer his questions, mostly replying in monosyllables. But she did inform him that the rest of the family wasn’t feeling too well, so they had all gone off to bed early. She was waiting to serve him his dinner, and she too would go to bed afterwards.
He washed himself quickly and sat down to eat. Dinner was rice and dal (lentil soup). After a few bites, he realized that the dal was unusually bland. His mother was sitting by his side waiting for him to finish his meal. He asked her if there was any lemon to flavour the dal. She nodded her head and stretched her arm to fetch the lemon. It stretched, stretched, stretched and stretched… first it reached the window, opened it, then reached the lemon tree, plucked a lemon, and came back inside and gave it to him. End of story.
There is a post-script to this tale. The entire village had died of an epidemic. It was now a ghost village. The mother’s ghost was waiting to feed her son who she knew was coming home that day. This a very common theme for ghost stories. My grandmother told this story to me when I was a child; later, I heard it from many others. The context differed but the core idea was always the same.
Bengali folklore has no shortage of large spaces that are completely occupied by spooks: villas, forests, marshlands, hamlets. One major reason for Bengali ghosts having huge spatial benefit is simply because they died in large numbers to guarantee it. Bengal was so often afflicted by epidemics that in a fortnight everyone in a village could be dead. In 1896, the plague struck Bengal. This was followed by cholera and malaria in 1906. The 1921 census revealed the average death rate to be around 30.3%. In 1925, 4,97,473 people had died of malaria[i]. It is only natural that haunted landscapes would be an integral part of Bengal’s collective memory.
Only recently, I realized how almost every ghost story I loved as a kid is an important piece of history. There is no glory in dying of small pox or plague. This is not a dramatic, memorable death. Epidemics often get reduced to mere statistics. These ghost stories exist as an attempt to move beyond those deaths, and allow the victims to somehow continue to live. A man may lose everyone he loves, but there is comfort in the idea that, even though she has died, a mother will make sure that her son doesn’t go to bed hungry.
[i] Palit Chittabrata, Popular Response to Epidemics in Colonial Bengal in Indian Journal of History of Science, 43.2, 2008, 277-283.
I would probably vote Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House the finest American novel if I were the kind of person who believed those sort of hierarchies mattered. All that matters is that this book is enormously good. Jackson was a stunningly skilfull writer who wove a kind of magic that retains all its astonishing power half a century later. There are ghost stories long before it, and of course many after, but there aren’t many I’d mention in the same breath. Jackson would be remembered forever just for writing ‘The Lottery’, a short story that still packs a wallop, but she didn’t stop there.
She wrote several novels that shine with a rare genius for dislocating reality just enough to make you trip over your assumptions. Sometimes I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is just as brilliant as THHH but then I think who cares? They’re both brilliant. And then there’s Hangsaman and The Bird Nest — and all the humour, too. Horror and humour both require impeccable timing.
There’s something indelible about the experience of wandering through Hill House. I’ve taught it before and each time I have had students become firm fans of Jackson. I can’t read the opening lines without shivering:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
The book wraps you in that same mantel of unease. You can’t trust what you’re told and you’re right not to trust it, but Jackson is so meticulously precise like those firm floors and neat bricks that you start to believe and then just as suddenly you’re lost. And alone. Most of the story is filtered through the hapless Nell — Eleanor Vance. Freed from the shackles of her late mother’s sick room, and her sister and brother-in-law’s suffocating paternalism, she’s at first elated by the opportunity to be on her own with no one to tell her what to do. She’s thirty-two but finds herself on the side of the little girl who refuses to drink her milk in a roadside cafe because she doesn’t have her ‘cup of stars’:
…insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it.
It’s impossible not to sympathise with Eleanor and her fragile newfound freedom as she joins Doctor Montague’s psychic experiment crew which he hopes will prove the reality of spectral phenomena in the legendary house. The bohemian artist Theo offers a sharp contrast with her confidence and sophistication, alternately befriending Nell then growing impatient with her neediness. My students are always dead certain that Jackson tells us Theo is a lesbian, but being asked to prove how they know that brings them up against Jackson’s primary skill: leading the reader where she wants them to go without their realising how they got there.
Even now I find myself re-reading passages to figure out how she does what she does and the magic is often elusive.
It’s somewhat puzzling that Netflix has greenlit a series based on the book. Perhaps they will eschew the novel and invent a backstory. It’s hard to imagine a visual adaptation better than the 1963 film directed by Robert Wise with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom along with the irrepressible Russ Tamblyn. When I’ve taught it in my horror film course, students who sniff at B&W films end up breathlessly rapt during the ‘knocking’ scene. There’s nothing much in the way of special effects: the knocking on the walls, Harris and Bloom terrified, and a door that almost seems to breathe. But when Nell whispers, ‘Whose hand was I holding…?’
Halloween is nearly upon us! The pumpkins are carved, the cobwebs draped and the ghosts are dusting off their best hauntings. It is the perfect time to launch a spooky novella for a little Halloween fun.
Welcome to Greystones. Do you believe in ghosts? You will.
Haunted manor house Greystones Hall is filled to the brim with ghosts. It’s also falling to bits, and artist owner Emily doesn’t have the money to refurbish the place. When the makers of hit tv show ‘Got Ghosts?’ offer to pay for a weekend’s filming there she jumps at the chance, even though she and her ghostly grandfather Gramps have reservations.
The reservations seem to be misplaced when the film crew swing into action, and producer Carl turns out to be dark, handsome and very available. But Emily soon starts to have doubts about the methods they use, which Carl won’t discuss. Then the show’s resident medium Stella stirs up a new and malevolent spirit, revealing a dark secret at the heart of the house that has been hidden for centuries. And when Emily’s own safety is threatened, together with that of her ghosts and her beloved Gramps, will it be Carl who comes to the rescue, or someone much more unexpected?
In addition to our two upcoming releases, The Girl in the Fort with Fennec and Got Ghosts, we have several other titles perfect for curling up under a blanket with as the nights draw in.
Of course, we have our 2017 anthology, Respectable Horror. Full of thrills and chills to make your blood run cold.
Introduction by K. A. Kaity
The Estate of Edward Moorehouse by Ian Burdon
The Feet on the Roof by Anjana Basu
Spooky Girl by Maura McHugh
Recovery by H. V. Chao
The Holy Hour by C. A. Yates
Malefactor by Alan C. Moore
A Splash of Crimson by Catherine Lundoff
In These Rooms by Jonathan Oliver
A Framework by Richard Farren Barber
Running a Few Errands by Su Haddrell
Miss Metcalfe by Ivan Kershner
The Little Beast by Octavia Cade
The Well Wisher by Matthew Pegg
Where Daemons Don’t Tread by Suzanne J. Willis
Full Tote Gods by D. C. White
Those Who Can’t by Rosalind Mosis
The Astartic Arcanum by Carol Borden
Or is you fancy something that is sure to make you feel the bite of oncoming winter… Winter Tales might be just what you need.
Mat Joiner: The frost sermon
Su Haddrell: The Bothy
Sharon Kernow: The Wolf Moon
Ruth Booth: The love of a season
Masimba Musodza: When the trees were enchanted
Fiona Clegg: Sunday’s Child
Tim Major: Winter in the Vivarium
Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi: Snow Angel
Amelia Gorman: Under your skin
B. Thomas: Among Wolves
Eliza Chan: Yukizuki
DJ Tyrer: Frose
G.H. Finn: Cold-Hearted
David Sarsfield: Voliday
Kelda Crich: Coldness Waits
K.N. McGrath: The Siege
Jonathan Ward: Spirit of the Season
James Bennett: The Red Lawns
Anne Michaud: Frost Fair
Jan Edwards: Shaman Red
Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Coming of The Cold
Verity Holloway: The Frost of Heaven
For shorter reads we have G. Clark Hellery’s murderous camping collection Weird Wild or Colin Barnes gothic novella A Heart for the Ravens.
Or you might prefer to wonder paths unknown with Ian Whates in Dark Travellings
And for those of you who are having an urban Halloween, perhaps the fairy tale stylings of King Wolf, a short collection by Steven Savile
Of course, you may be in the mood for something completely different. A journey into outer space, a fun adventure to drive away the shadows. Have a browse, because the only thing we know for sure is dark evenings are perfect for reading.
Today is the official release day for Fox Pocket no. 8 Piercing the Vale.
Piercing the Vale is a collection of stories crossing the veil of death and venturing into the worlds of the fae.
Contents: Alasdair Stuart – Connected, Alec McQuay – All and Nothing, Jonathan Ward – A Tale of Days Long Gone, Paul Starkey – Just Another Breakfast, Jennifer Williams – The Ghost Trap, Darren Goldsmith – Soul Punch, Ben Stewart – A Curious Tale of Life and Death, Tony Lane – Tentacles in Town, Rahne Sinclair – The Captain, Asher Wismer – Solid Glass, Chloe Yates – Intimacy, Colin Sinclair – Claudia, Tracy Fahey – The Cillini, Jenny Barber – Dead Women’s Tales, Craig Leyenaar – all Fun and Games, Jo Johnson Smith – For My Next Trick, Carol Borden – The Lost City of Osiris, Steven Poore – Take me with you
We are close to the end of the series now, with The Evil Genius Guide and Reflections coming out this summer, which will bring us to a total of 158 flash and short fiction stories and poems, over ten pocket sized volumes.
You can view who is in what title and some of their biographies here.
In order to celebrate we are working with DMU Bookshop on the Newarke in Leicester to bring you a Pocket Party on Thursday 25th August.
More information to follow but we can reveal there will be a special edition of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club hosted by Den Patrick and Jen Williams, who both appear in the Fox Pocket series.
Oh, another bloody slasher. Oh, more extreme horror. Oh, it must be Tuesday. BORED!
Whilst sipping a martini clarity arrives: one hungers for a change of pace, dash it all:
So we would like tales of civilised, gentle(wo)manly horror, cold, calculating and bloodless; spinechillers rather than slashers, enervating instead of eviscerating. Though a wee bit of the red stuff will not make us blanch, focus more on unshakeable dread. Make us afraid to investigate that noise downstairs. Cause us to shudder when we glimpse something move out of the corner of our eyes. Think Ann Radcliffe and the Gothics, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, M.R. James and even those modern folks like Shirley Jackson and Fritz Leiber.
It’s all about the style. Mashups are the Fox Spirit specialty, so mix and match to your little heart’s content (Lovecraftian Wodehouse has been done). Just be sure to keep the theme uppermost.
Humorous attempts at horror are acceptable, but be warned that your editor’s sense of humour like her taste in martinis is most peculiar and exacting. You would be strongly advised to inform yourself of her tastes.
THE PARTICULARS for Respectable Horror
Follow our house style and submit via Word document attachment to katelaity at gmail dot com by December 31st, 2015. Selection of stories will happen in the spring; the publication itself will appear later in 2016. You will be expected to join in the publicity efforts as much as you are capable (social media mostly).
Word count: ~4-8K
Payment: £10 upon publication + digital and print copy of the volume
What ho! Ask any questions you have in advance of the closing date.