Waxing Lyrical : Women in Horror by Theresa Derwin

Welcome to the waxing lyrical series in 2016. The series is open to any creative (writers, artists, publishers, editors, musicians etc) who want to air their opinions on the creative industries, from any perspective. If you are interested in contributing please contact adele@foxspirit.co.uk for more information. The only real rule is no personal attacks, we don’t have to agree with you but we won’t support attacking a person or group of people. 


by Theresa Derwin

Women in Horror: Hear My Voice

This February the horror community celebrated Women in Horror Month 7, a month dedicated to recognition of women writing in the horror genre.
Let me repeat that. One month to celebrate women who write horror – one month out of twelve. So, I concur that women only write for one month a year. Maybe it’s a menstrual thing?
What? It isn’t so? They write every month of the year? No! You’re kidding!
Yes, there seems to be a perception amongst general readers, publishers and media that women just don’t write horror.
Unfortunately, this sometimes translates to misconceptions within the community too. And there are many reasons as to why. Reasons I hope to explore as part of a Creative Industries and Cultural Identities PhD Studentship commencing Sept 2016. So I want to share with you some preliminary findings, some thoughts, and insight into the research I hope to undertake including a suggested reading list.

Nov 2011 I attended a first time Horror con, Horror in the East created to get fans together of Horror and David Moody in particular. This con was predominantly organised by a woman. There were a few panels and some excellent items on horror in general, however, at the final round up of panelists/guest authors etc gathered together for a photo opportunity, I noticed that all, and I do mean every single one of the authors, panelists and moderators was male. So, I asked the question as follows; “I’m not a bra burning looney, just a woman who is concerned, so I wanted to know ‘where are the women?’ Every person standing up there, and I know they are a talented group, are male. What about female moderators or horror authors? Where are they?”
After a few embarrassed blank stares and looks exchanged it was with, ironically, a surmounting feeling of horror, that I received the following answer from the female organiser. “I didn’t ask any – female writers just write Mills & Boon s*** (cue expletive) Now, I stood up, and I didn’t retaliate, I just stood there in dumb awe as she continued to rant about the writing quality by female authors, when a friend interrupted with “Don’t bother, you’ve done what you wanted”, namely, because the organisers dug their own grave. And my argument was aided by Michael Wilson of ‘This Is Horror’, who raved about the female horror authors producing quality work.
So, within the horror community and beyond, there is by some (eejits dare I say?) a conception that ‘women don’t write horror’. In conjunction with this, and my personal experience at conventions and in the community, I pursued some informal initial data-gathering research.

Contains women AND horror.
Contains women AND horror.

My basic, early findings based on three horror anthologies are as follows (I will be gathering lots more data):

• Sunny with a Chance of Zombies: Submissions received: total = 44 (31 male authors, 13 female authors) female submission rate of 31.7%. Acceptances: 8 male authors, 4 female authors.
• Crystal Lake Publishing stats open period: Submissions received: total = 144 (115 male authors, 29 female authors) female submission rate of 20.1%
• Wild Things: Submissions received: total = 76 (56 male authors, 20 female authors) female submission rate of 26.3%

This reflects anecdotal evidence within the horror community. You may have recently seen the Nina Allan blog or Mark Morris’ online response to this regarding the Spectral Press Book of Horror Stories Vol 2. I asked Mark permission to share some of his thoughts.
Nina blogged on www.strangehorizons.com on 25th Jan 2016 in the article ‘Where are We Going? Some Reflections on British Horror, Present and Future’ about the state of the industry. Allan has looked at two editions of Best New Horror for her data and 2nd Spectral Press Book of Horror Stories.
In her article she notes;
“… of the nineteen stories selected to be in (the afore mentioned title) – and this from more than five hundred submissions received – only three are by women.”
She has a point, on paper it looks bad. However, as Morris remarks on FB 25th January 2016, “Of the 800+ submissions received I’d say 4/5 of them (about 80%) were by men.” To put this in perspective, 3/19 is 15.8%. Not a bad reflection on the submission gender percentages. The thing is, was Morris supposed to pick an average story by a woman to even it out? Or even worse, commission a story by a female author after the fact? I think not. As it happens, Morris did much leading up to the submission period closure to encourage women to submit, including approaching some by email, plus extensive reaching out via social media. Sarah Pinborough has herself admitted she was too busy to take on this project, as did many more female authors. So if they’re all busy, they must be writing, right?
For me at least though, the issue seems to be submission rates and to an extent, appearance at conventions. I don’t have all of the evidence to support this by any means, but I believe a large portion of the ‘blame’ lies in confidence levels. Whatever the reason, on the face of it, there’s an issue in female representation in horror fiction and I want to find out why. Hence my decision to start gathering data in earnest this Autumn as I start my PhD. So, to whet your appetite (cause damn, academia is so exciting), here’s an idea of the initial stage of the areas I’ll be looking at and what I’ll be doing.

I intend to explore:

• If, and if so, why, women authors are underrepresented in published work
• Why female authors seem not to submit as regularly as male authors
• Whether as many women as men are writing within the genre
• Whether fandom, as a whole, is as accepting of female authors as they are of male.

Research Methodology (or in layman’s terms, some of the ways I’m going to find out stuff!)

Quantative Research (da numbas):

• Data-gathering from twenty plus publishers on submission rates for female authors
• Survey (150 – 500 working authors) to establish submission rates and genres in which the author is writing.

Qualatative Research:

• Twelve intensive in-depth interviews with female horror editors and authors including Lisa Morton, Chair of Horror Writers Association, renowned genre author Sarah Pinborough, and Jo Fletcher of Jo Fletcher Books.
• Fifty casual questionnaires on the above issues
• Secondary texts exploring feminist theories, including academic texts, i.e. The Madwoman in the Attic, Theory of Criticism and Orientalism by Edward Said
• Secondary research using horror fanzines and magazines i.e. Cemetery Dance and SFX
• Analysis of primary texts written by female and male horror authors and how it differs from male authors by examining key genre texts; exploring themes and motifs
• Presentation of ten horror stories written by women
• Attendance and observations at horror cons particularly Fantasy Sept 2016

And much more!


I will establish:
• Quantative stats in relation to horror submissions by female authors
• The reasons behind the discrepancy between submission and acceptance rates for authors of different genders

And now for your delection and entertainment, here are some of the books I’ll be looking at initially. And yes, I’ll be reading books by men too!

So, watch out for the survey coming to that Internet thing, soon!

Preliminary Bibliography

Primary Texts

Black Static (various issues)
Cemetery Dance (various issues)
Datlow, E. Best Horror of the Year 7 (2015)
Harris, C. Midnight Crossroad (2014)
Holder, N. (Numerous)
Files, G. Experimental Film (2016)
Jackson, S. The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
Jackson, S. ‘The Lottery’ (1948)
Jackson, S. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
(ed) Jones, S. Horrology: Lexicon of Fear (2015)
(ed) Jones, S. The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 25 (2014)
(Ed) Jones, S. The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 26 (2015)
Koja, K. Bad Brains (1992)
Lanagan, M. Tender Morsels (2010)
Littlewood, A. A Cold Silence (2015)
Littlewood, A. Zombie Apocalypse Acapulcalypse Now (2015)
McGuire, S. And writing as Grant, M. (Numerous)
Mason, R. The Evolutionist (2013)
Massie, E. Sineater (1992)
Morton, L. Hell Manor (2012)
Morton, L. Zombie Apocalypse: Washington Deceased (2014)
Pinborough, S. Breeding Ground (2006)
Pinborough, S. Mayhem (2013)
Pinborough, S. The Death House (2015)
Pinborough, S. The language of Dying (2013)
Shelley, M The Last Man (1826)
Sokoloff, A. The Book of Shadows (2011)
Sokoloff, A. the Harrowing (2006)
Tem, M. Revenant (1994)
Walters, D, A. Paper Tigers (2016)
Warren, K. Slights (2009)
Wilkins, K. Grim pure (1999)

Secondary Texts/Resources

Barnett, D. ‘Sexism in Horror Novels’ The Guardian (2009)
Creed, B. The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (1993)
Davies, K, Dickey, J & Stratford, T. Out of Focus: Writings on Women and the Media (1987)
Datlow, E. ‘Women Destroy Horror’ Nightmare Magazine (2014)
Eagleton, M Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader (2010)
Donaworth, J, L & Kolmerten, C, A. Utopian and Science Fiction by Women
Friedman, L. Shirley Jackson (1975)
Gilbert, S. The Madwoman in the Attic (2000)
Ginger Nuts of Horror www.gingernutsofhorror.com
Hooks, B. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre (2000)
Horror Writers Association (Members Site) www.horror.org
Johnson, M, L. Third Wave Feminism and Television: Jane Puts it in a Box (2007)
Koppelman Cornillon, S. Images of Women in Fiction: feminist perspectives (1972)
McHugh, M. ‘Women in Horror: Five Recommended Writers’ www.badreputation.org.uk (2011)
Moers, E. ‘The Female Gothic’ Literary Women (1976)
Moorcock, M. Wizardry and Wild Romance (2004)
Nichols, C ‘Sexism in Publishing’ The Guardian (2015)
Rafterty, T. ‘Shelley’s Daughters’ NY Times, Sunday Book Review (2008)
Robinson, V and Richardson, D. Introducing Women’s Studies: Feminist Theory and Practice (1997)
Said, E. Orientalism (1978)
Selden, R. The Theory of Criticism (1988)
Showalter, E. The Female Malady. (1987)
The Booksmugglers www.thebooksmugglers.com
The Mary Sue www.themarysue.com
This is Horror www.thisishorror.co.uk
Young, M. ‘The Wonderfully Horrific World of Female Horror Writers’ (2015) www.martyyoung.com