Horror: Something For The Boys?

Observatory, Reading & Writing

In the US, one woman owns the horror/fantasy world, occupying the slot that used to belong to Stephen King. Stephanie Meyer has made the genre popular with a once undreamt-of demographic section of the public; teen females. Look down the list of the top fifty horror novels and collections and you’ll find a great many women working in a field that was usually associated with men. In the UK, women horror writers are almost entirely invisible.

In the latest edition of SFX magazine, a one-off issue purporting to be a state-of-play dissection of the horror genre, there’s not a single woman mentioned anywhere – the exception being former Hammer star Ingrid Pitt. Check out the masthead and staff list and you’ll only find males on board.

And it’s not just women who get left out; there’s no world writing, either, just a lot of English white guys. We’re an insular lot; to find any world horror writing, you have to look back to the wonderful anthologies ‘Black Water’ and ‘White Fire’ edited by Alberto Manguel.

There’s another problem – and this one afflicts the US as well. Nobody is writing horror about the real world, the world where Twitter can influence an election, where kids are so alienated that they want to kill their classmates. Instead, we get tired old vampire and werewolf stories. Where are the new monsters?

In almost every other sphere we’re an inclusive nation. We thrive on diversity and honour innovation. So how have we developed these blind spots, and can the field of horror writing be changed? Well, there are moves afoot to set up a new horror collective that gives everyone an equal chance to tell a good story, one that’s political, angry, intelligent, beautifully written, connected to something, and get published, regardless of gender, race or sexuality.

The idea is that anyone who wants to join, whether veteran or newbie, must submit a single 500-word piece that shows what they can do. The manifesto will be published here as soon as it’s finalised. Of course, it may be that horror has found its natural level and is never going to be more innovative, but to my mind it needs reinvention before it goes the way of the Western novel and the locked room mystery.

Meanwhile, this movement needs a name, something smart and sharp. Let’s see what you can come up with.

15 comments on “Horror: Something For The Boys?”

  1. Jefy says:

    Sounds like a great initiative, I quite like tragical realism?

  2. Maura McHugh says:

    So true about SFX, and a sign that we new a fresh perspective.

    I’ll pass it on.

    Long live the new flesh. :)

  3. Vicki says:

    How about the rather cliched Daily Horrorscope!

  4. Blame the marketing departments. Their meagre budgets are directed towards whatever they think is guaranteed to sell* and, since that’s primarily Fangbanger Fiction right now, that and the established bestsellers are where the advertising budget is going to end up. There are other things happening in horror, it’s just that nobody gets to hear about them unless the authors themselves manage to whip up enough interest via bloggers and suchlike.

    Then blame the editorial departments. They’re all sitting with accountants looking over their shoulders these days, so commissioning is even more of a financial decision than it ever was. Everybody wants the Next Big Thing these days, so they can justify their continued existence – and that translates into following trend rather than choosing to shape trends with the presentation of new ideas.

    This year it’s all about sexy vampires on one side and zombies on the other. The next thing is Steampunk. Writers of my acquaintance are being asked specifically to write stuff their editors know will fit into the marketing trends for the next (n) years. As long as the industry is focussed in this way, this is how things will keep on going. Other stuff is being written (and even getting bought) but most of the big names are so stuck in their corporate rut that things probably won’t change any time soon. If the good stuff’s going to come from anywhere, it’ll be smaller imprints – but they haven’t got the marketing budgets, of course…

    * I well remember the sudden appearance of posters on the Tube when the third book of a mate’s series hit Amazon’s number one slot on day of release. Up to that point I think he’d had a couple of ads in SFX and not much else.

  5. Bloody good idea. Really hope to see it succeed.

  6. James B says:

    I think this sounds like a good idea.
    Although because of the mundane manifesto, I get an odd feeling about manifesto’s. Rather than telling people what is required, could your manifesto be silent and wordless and allow stories to speak instead.

    But as a reader, if you and professionals of your standard are going to highlight other new and unusual horror writers of all races and genders, whom I may not have enjoyed otherwise then that sounds great.
    as long as the writing is genuinely good and interesting.

    Maybe a mammoth book or other collection would be a saleable extrapolation.

    James.

  7. J. Folgard says:

    Great post, with much to ponder & a nice perspective. But I’m not a writer nor a critic, just a reader -three things to think about though, maybe:

    - The mainstream public’s perception of “horror”: it often looks to be spread around a) the crazed serial killer with a grotesque mask b) the shambling/pouncing Zombie c) the Vampire lite d)the old archetypes parodies, good or otherwise. “Horror” is so much more diverse, as many “genre” writers & readers know. The mainstream has discovered that monsters can be beautiful in the last decades, let’s not forget to keep them interesting as well.

    - Some names of women writers popped up in my head while reading: Elizabeth Hand, Mary Gentle, Cherie Priest -mostly associated with the “dark fantasy” etiquette. I buy & read their books as soon as I see their names on the cover, and many of them are published through established imprints (like Gallimard in France). Yet they always seem to remain at a “cult” status, never selling huge numbers despite the obvious literary qualities or the nicely drawn characters. Those ladies do not offer comfort food.

    - I’ve seen or read about new monsters, in various movies and short stories, using real world-inspired locations and/or themes. It looked like they were all traceable to an earlier archetype (which is not necessarily a bad thing?)or seemed too peculiar to catch on with a general audience. But we do need new monsters, because seeing “horror” reduced to endless serial killer-Zombie variants would be dreadfully boring… Reminds me of Clive Barker, who said he enjoys some fantasy in horror, not just a nutcase brandishing a machete.

    Anyway, thanks for the food for thought, and I hope someone will come up with interesting ideas. Here’s to innovative horror, Cheers-!

  8. I.A.M. says:

    As both a reader and a publisher, I have great resistance to the category of “horror”, mostly due to being initially exposed to the term in my teenage years with endless movie trailers on the TV for one slasher film after another. The number of stories that have been tainted by this tiny niche of the ‘horror’ genre is incredible and quite ill-deserved by the authors of the works. As a result of this incorrect branding, it may be best to avoid using the word, or else use something such as “not the horror which involves ridiculous amounts of blood being poured on screaming 18-year-olds running around with chain saws in the forests near a small town during high-school graduation week-end”.

    Something shorter might be good, however.

    Granted, the term ‘genre’ is equally ill-chosen, as one cannot logically answer the question of ‘what genre do you write?’ by saying “genre” without then launching into a literary version of “Who’s on First?”

    This is a wonderful idea you have, and it ought to — nay, must! — succeed, for it is what the readers would love to have available, were they to have the opportunity to purchase it.

  9. Mike Cane says:

    >>>Nobody is writing horror about the real world, the world where Twitter can influence an election, where kids are so alienated that they want to kill their classmates.

    Well, the latter was JG Ballard’s specialty. In fact, he was there well before any psychologist/sociologist was, I think.

    Twitter, Ballard — Twitter novels, condensed novels. He was there first too.

  10. ‘I have great resistance to the category of “horror”, mostly due to being initially exposed to the term in my teenage years with endless movie trailers on the TV for one slasher film after another.’

    What do we need to do to redefine the term so it can take in authors like Gentle and Ballard (who would both be shining examples of *anything*)? At the moment there just isn’t a bookshop-friendly term for what seems to be on the tip of all our tongues… and, over and above the bookshop problem, if it doesn’t have a label, we can’t conceive of it easily.

    ‘I write horror’, at the moment, doesn’t tell us much (or tells us exactly what we *don’t* want told).

    ‘I write… you know [waving hand at a stack of political, angry, intelligent, beautifully written and connected-to-*something* books]… That Sort Of Thing’ makes the point, in a hard-to-grasp way.

    So how do we express That Sort Of Thing without perpetually dragging around a trolley of That Sort Of Thing-like books?

  11. me says:

    When I go to the library to hopefully find a a good “horror”, I get frustratd by the choice of Stephen King or books called “Dead and Beautiful” or other such vampire trash. Perhaps because that’s the fashion that all that will be published until the fashion changes. I read the blurb, but the first mention of vampires makes me put it back on the shelf.

    Most “horror” is formula in the books and film. Beauiful people come across a scary thing, which turns out to be some idiot in a mask or mac with an axe. Beatuiful people spend time hiding from scary man, nearly get caught, escape, get caught agin, kill scary man, scary man gets up but beatuiful people managed to fox the scary man. Oh and loads of horrible gore. It is boring and repetitive. The best books and films often have that kind of action “off screen” and in your head.

    I like Mark Gattis’s comment when he was writing Crooked House that he “wanted to make a barrett house scary”. To me that is were the real fear can be found, somewhere normal.

  12. Adam says:

    Would love to join – bring it on!

  13. Helen Martin says:

    There have been so many mentions of monsters. Why monsters at all? Horror is about fear, isn’t it? Things we don’t know make us fearful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean either monsters or the aforementioned gore soaked items. You don’t want it to be simple like a child afraid in the dark with fear chased by turning on the light. Something more than “the dark” and truer than the “scary man”, although both of those are part of it and so is the “scary ghost story”. It’s more than simple fear, though, more “horrible” (!)We’re back to the incomprehensible, which is why there was that “monsters from outer space” thing. Better suggestions welcome.

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