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.