Saturday, 14 January 2012

Women and Horror: Is it time for the girls to bite back?

Since being fourteen, I have loved the horror genre. It began with the Point Horror series, writers such as RL Stein and Christopher Pike, and as I became older, I progressed onto the works of Koontz and King. I'm a rubbish horror reader - horror stories, whether film or written manage to freak me out. In a way I am a horror writer's dream.

When at Uni, I started to read the horror cannon, works of; Lewis, Shelley, Walpole, Stoker, Lovecraft and Poe. These writers went on to influence my whole creative imagination. Then as I went on to do my Masters I studied the work of Bret Easton Ellis and other American 'Transgressional Writer's', writing my dissertation on 'An Exploration Of Surrealist Psycho-sexual Enagement Within The Works Of Post-modern American Transgressional Horror Writers.'- (Yeah, I agree that only a drunken, academic wanker could have created such as title.) But as this potted history demonstrates, I am clearly more into horror than sometimes I realise!

You see, here is the thing - in my sixteen odd years of being a female reader of horror, who is in every other aspect of her life an embodiment of the post-feminist woman, I have an issue with female characters in the horror genre that I have yet to resolve.

I have read horror story after horror story of women being; hunted, raped, tortured, abused, degraded, humiliated, enslaved, eaten etc, etc. Ever so occasionally there is a small nod to progress and a few men are added to the body count but there's always a girl somewhere - and she's screaming.

There is, it seems a symbiotic (maybe parasitic) link between horror and eroticism. Even the tamest horror stories hint at the titillation of power-politics, of doers and receivers. Dracula is a perfect example of this - all that swooning, possession, domination, chemical bewitchment. There is something incredibly hypnotic about such predator, prey relations. As Conrad gloriously penned, humans have "A fascination with the abomination".

Now, I never set out to be a feminist writer - in fact some might argue that 'The Forest of Adventures' perpetuates the fairytale idea of rescue and submission - of course I'd refute that and show all of the subtle ways in which I go against this idea - but nevertheless I am increasingly becoming one.

It started with my short story submission 'The Venus Club' in which a Victorian dining society of cuckolded wives dine on the bodies of their cheating husbands. It wasn't until I read it back to myself I fully grasped the intricate metaphors surrounding flesh, ownership and consumption I had wrought. And it felt good to take such an established set of ideas and subvert it - to put the power into the hands of the girls.

This was the beginnings of my YA novel 'Beautiful Freaks'. A series of stories within stories, all of which play with the ingredients of classic fairytales, subverting them gloriously and darkly so that the girls are the ones in control. It feels good to make an offering to 'girl friendly' horror, to take on such established patterns of victim / predator relationships and turn them on their head.

So, I still don't know if I'd class myself as a 'feminist' writer, but what I do know is that I am making it my mission to redress the balance a little bit within the genre.

You can find out more about 'Beautiful Freaks' at the official website

You can buy your own copy of 'The Venus Club' here.


  1. One of my favorite old horror stories with the 'girls in charge' is Arsenic and Old Lace :) I, too, have been fascinated with this genre since - probably as long as I can remember! I look forward to "Beautiful Freaks" :)

  2. hello miss john,
    its me danni im currently working on my blog, i just came on here to steal a couple of ideas i will be in your classroom tomorrow or after half term

    Danni darrah from yr 7