The Feminine Grotesque (Edge-Lit 5)

Edge-LitOn Saturday I was at Derby’s bi-annual speculative fiction event, Edge-Lit. This is my third year attending its summer instalment, and it was yet another fantastic event where I could be my usual book-nerdy self without judgement.

While I admittedly spent most of my time in the bar (everyone here pretty much knows everyone, so it means a lot of the day is spent shaking hands, hugging, catching up with friends, and getting introduced to people), I did go to a couple of very interesting panel discussions, book readings, and one workshop which I was very excited about.

The workshop was led by Maria Lewis, a journalist and author all the way from Australia. She was raised on werewolf stories, a love that became an obsession, and, according to her website, harbours the belief that unicorns exist. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t disagree with that. Her werewolf novel, ‘Who’s Afraid?’, is out now.

The feminine grotesque is a concept I’ve been fascinated with since I read Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Sexing the Cherry’ at university, sixteen years ago now. As Maria pointed out, if you think about female monsters (whether human, supernatural, or animal), they are usually presented with the usual Hollywood sex appeal we’re all force fed a diet of. Even while tearing someone’s throat out, or ripping them limb from limb, there’s something inherently attractive about them.

Of course, there are fantastic examples of the feminine grotesque; such as Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s ‘Misery’, the ghosts in ‘Crimson Peak’, or Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of The Red Queen (she excells at the feminine grotesque characters, such as in Sweeney Todd and Harry Potter), but we’re more often shown the combination of deadly and sexy, dangerous and alluring, cabalistic and intriguing.

The workshop really got me thinking about the creation of a true feminine grotesque, and inspired me to up the ante with characters from both my current works in progress: ‘The Visionary‘ (The Paper Duchess Book 3) and ‘The Memory Trader‘. So watch out for some truly fearsome women soon!

What are your favourite examples of the feminine grotesque?

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Bristol Horror Con

Bristol Horror ConLast Saturday I was at Bristol Horror Con; an event to celebrate horror in literature, film, music, games and art.

It was a small, yet well organised and well attended event. The traders hall held everything from artists, authors, and publishers to jewellery and houseware designers, and zombie survival courses. Sadly, there were a few no-shows, and in such a tightly packed hall, the empty tables were a noticeable blot.

We couldn’t stay for the whole event, but I did some networking and attended two great panel discussions. I had a long and interesting chat with audio book producers In Ear Entertainment, and discussed which books are better or worse than their movies, and the indeniable excellence of Sharknado, with the guys from Sinister Horror Company.

The first panel I attended was The Use and Abuse of Horror in Literature led by Pete Sutton of Bristol Festival of Literature and Far Horizons e-magazine. He was joined by writer Mike Carey, author Sara Jayne Townsend, writer and games designer Jonathan L Howard, and copywriter Rosie Sharratt.

The panel sought first to define horror: “Horror takes you to psychological brinks, and makes you peer over” (PS), “The kind of horror that will get into your soul, and stay with you” (SJT). The panel also agreed that trends in the subject of horror media, reflected the trends in the over-riding fears of society: “You’re writing about things that scare you, or things that scare society” (SJT), “Horror’s useful for considering real life things” (RS).

The conversation came around to monsters, and the social fears that they represent: “Every horror monster that lasts, is the externalisation of something in us” (MC), “The horror comes from within” (SJT), and Rosie Sharratt defined the monstrous as being something “both threatening and inpure”.

And you can’t talk monsters without talking zombies, and their continued endurance in the horror sphere. Mike Carey summed their popularity up nicely by stating that “zombies are animals and corpses. They remind us of where we come from, and where we end up.” He also felt that we are “at peak zombie now”. This forces the question, can we do anything new with the zombie trope? But he felt that “the more familiar the tropes are, the easier it is to find a sneaky way in.” We’re seeing this in the rise of traditional monsters becoming romance heroes, or comedy characters: “There are so many things that use the horror tropes, that don’t define themselves as horror.” (MC)

When the panel opened up to questions, I asked what they felt may be the next trends in horror, in line with current societal fears. Pete Sutton wondered if immigration may become a new trend (the fear of ‘the other’, or ‘the stranger’ was a popular horror trope in the 1950s), or if the emerging trend of cosmic horror might expand along with increasing astronomical discoveries. Mike Carey wondered if genetic manipulation may expand as scientific experimentation continues on this path. This brings us back to zombies again. And Sara Jayne Townsend wondered if the sheer amount of information that is available on us, publicly, via the internet, may become a horror trend.

The second panel was Gore Vs Psychological Terror: Is less more in horror? led by Ti Singh of the Bristol Bad Film Club. He was joined by Mark Adams of Hellbound Media, writer Thomas David Parker, and writer Ken Shinn.

Thomas David Parker felt that “the fashion today is more psychological, more the slow burn” because “it’s very easy to do gore badly, and then it’s ridiculous.” He thought that, to work well, gore had to be transforming for the victim, to signify that “this is the point of no return.”

Ti Singh felt that the ‘less is more’ approach worked in horror, stating “it’s what you think you see, or what you think is going on, that’s where the fear is”, and that “it’s not about the violence itself, but the threat of violence, and the waiting for violence.” A lot of films work to build tension by breaking down tropes and expectations. By not putting the frights in when viewers would expect them, by leaving them waiting, leaving them wrong-footed.

Mark Adams found that modern horror was seeing a return to fantasy, that franchises were “building their own mythology.” The panel felt that this was due to the current societal situation, that “the darker the world is, the more fantastical the horror has to be, so that we have that escapism.” (TDP)

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The Waterstones Book Launch Draws Closer

Just like a brain-dead, one-legged zombie, crawling and dragging its way towards you, with only one thing on its mind, so the Waterstones launch of Sunny with a Chance of Zombies draws steadily closer.

This Friday, October 16th, Waterstones in Aberystwyth, Wales, will brave the approaching darkness and open its doors to zombie lovers, survivors, and hunters at 6.30pm for the event. There will be readings, refreshments, and the chance to grab one of a limited number of copies of the anthology, which includes my story Order Up.

Sunny with a Chance of Zombies in Waterstones

In the weeks running up to the launch, Sunny with a Chance of Zombies has been in the store’s window, but it has now been moved to a prime position in the very front. As the anthology’s editor, Dion Winton Polak (pictured) says; “just hanging out with the likes of Tom Jones and George Martin.”

Stephen Cooneys Artwork in Waterstones

And inside the store, the original cover art, created by the very talented Stephen Cooney, is now on display.

So, if you can get to Aberystwyth on Friday evening, do brave the flesh-eaters and drop into the launch. And, if you’re looking for an editor, you can contact Dion Winton Polak (whom I greatly recommend) via Facebook or Twitter. And you can find out more about Stephen Cooney and his artwork at www.stephencooneyart.co.uk.

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A Waterstones Book Launch

Dion Winton Polak, editor of KnightWatch Press’ anthology Sunny with a Chance of Zombies, has secured a launch event at Waterstones Aberystwyth.

On October 16th, at 6.30pm, the event will include readings, refreshments, and the chance to grab a copy of the anthology (copies are limited).

Sunny with a Chance of Zombies is a collection of zombie apocalypse short stories, which are, in their own way, funny, heart warming, and upbeat. It includes my story Order Up. If you can’t make it to Aberystwyth next month, you can pick up a copy from Amazon.

And it is very, very cool to have one of my anthologies in the window of a Waterstones.

Waterstones Aberystwyth

Sunny with a Chance of Zombies in Waterstones Aberystwyth

 

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Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies Vlog

Hopefully my blog won’t think I’m cheating on it, but here’s a quick vlog in which I promo the Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies anthology, and read an excerpt from my story, Order Up. I also recommend my current favourite book. All while looking pretty dumb. Seriously, does anyone like watching a recording of themselves?!

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Edge-Lit 4 Roundup

Sunny With a Chance of ZombiesThe Book Launch

Yesterday, I was at Edge-Lit; Derby’s annual (well, soon to be bi-annual) speculative fiction convention. Packed full of panel discussions, workshops, and book launches and sales.

I was there, once again, with KnightWatch Press, and this year we were launching the Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies anthology. The launch was for several of the press’ anthologies: Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies of course, along with Chip Shop Horrors, Killer Bees from Outer Space, and Nice Day for a Picnic. Yes, KnightWatch are not your typical horror publisher! There was also a reading by Terry Jackman, from her novel Ashamet, Desert Born. The launch was fantastic, and had a really good turn-out.

zombie

And, of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without a real-life (albeit undead) zombie, and some brain cakes. Well, it goes without saying, right? And, despite shaking like a leaf, my book reading went very well. In fact, it couldn’t have really gone any better (wink, wink. More on that another day.)

So, a huge thanks to KnightWatch Press, to Theresa Derwin and Steve Shaw, and the wonderful Dion Winton-Polak, editor of Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies. Also, my fellow Sunny reader on the day, Louise Maskill, whose story Run, Rabbit is also in the book. And of course, a massive thank you to Alex Davis and the whole Edge-Lit team.

So, the launch was great; we ate cake, we conquered our fears, we signed books, and we made new friends. Here’s to the next one!

The Panels

While the book launch kept me tied up for some of the day, I did manage to make it along to a number of panel discussions. I love this part of the convention, and I eagerly sit there, with pen and notebook, ready to grab useful hints, tips, insights, and soundbites.

The first panel, Into the Grimdark, featured authors Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gav Thorpe, and Sophie Sparham, plus Adele Wearing of Fox Spirit Books. It was a really interesting discussion about the elements and tone of grimdark fiction, and its place and future in the world of literature.

Adele Wearing pointed out that “Writers can’t help but respond to the world around them”, that the choice is to “either go in with escapism, and the lighter strands, or you reflect what’s really going on.” She added that “there is a mood for more flawed, everyday heroes, without the heroic persona.”

They all agreed that the genre is evolving, that it’s becoming something more playful, and satirical. Despite that, Adrian Tchaikovsky noted that “it is easier to write stories where everything’s horrible, because the conflict is given to you on a plate.”

The Looking Back panel discussed how much history is required in fantasy fiction, and it reiterated some of the points raised in the grimdark panel. This one featured authors Stephen Deas, Freda Warrington, Joanne Harris, Tom Lloyd, and Angus Watson.

Freda Warrington stated that “it’s almost impossible to write a book without history”, and, indeed, neither the panel nor the audience could think of an example. Joanne Harris went on to say that both stories and history—words that, in many languages, are almost identical—are a “shared narrative of being a human being, and the planet, and the cultures that we all come from”, that “they are entirely the product of their creator, who is entirely a product of their own time”.

They also discussed how historical accounts can’t be trusted, because they are written from particular perspectives, often embellished, twisted and changed over time. There are also huge gaps in our knowledge and evidence of the past. Joanne Harris pointed out that “history is as speculative as science fiction”.

The Death House signed by Sarah PinboroughThe third panel I attended, Monstrous Regiments, looked at the monster in horror fiction. It featured authors Adam Nevill, Sarah Pinborough, Mark Morris, and Alison Littlewood.

Such a panel couldn’t have avoided a debate on the zombie trend, and Alison Littlewood pointed out that their appeal was because “they’re not just zombies, they’re actually us. There’s an emotional connection”. Adam Nevill added that readers enjoyed “the fantasy of being a survivor”. But Sarah Pinborough personally found “much more emotional resonance” in ghost stories.

But there was clear agreement that readers didn’t want the old tropes and cliches, with Mark Morris concluding that they want “something different and new”.

All in all, another set of great panel discussions, and I only wish I could have attended more of them. Still, there’s always next year…

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