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Black Static



19th Feb, 2011

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By Carole Johnstone

I have to be honest here and say that I had no idea it was Women in Horror Recognition Month until Pete told me it was. Then, I wasn't entirely sure what a Women in Horror Recognition Month entailed, so went off and Googled it. Now a little wiser, I must admit that the idea of it makes me a little nervous. Not in terms of the promotion of female horror writers, film makers etc., but rather the idea that it is necessary at all.

As a writer, I'm relatively new to the world of horror fiction. New in the sense that I only started getting my own work published a couple of years ago. Consequently, I know virtually nothing useful about the mechanics of the speculative fiction publishing industry (I wish); its politics or prejudices. I can only speak for myself (and that small experience), and say that I don't believe that my gender has either hindered or helped me in terms of getting published - as far as I am aware.

One of the main arguments cited against the now infamous Guardian piece (The Spectre of Sexism Haunting Horror Fiction) that resurrected old accusations of sexism in SFX and the BFS, was that there were just more men writing in horror fiction than women. And this is undoubtedly true. Also, more men read horror fiction than women do - you only have to go to a horror convention, or hang around that lonely bookcase in Waterstones to realise that. I don't think that you can argue against either point, any more than you could say that more men than women write romantic fiction or erotica. The aim behind subsequent initiatives like the Campaign for Real Fear however, was to "promote new and terrifying fiction that reflects the diversity of horror writing today", and that aim is worthwhile, of course - if only to highlight the fact that diversity exists.

A good case in point would be me not so long ago. Upon finishing the latest horror novel: "That wasn't half bad (averagely high praise indeed). And it was by a woman! Well!" I've been pretty guilty of that. Another sin would have been perusing horror shelves/catalogues, and pretty much rejecting out of hand anything written by a woman before even picking it up. Main reason: it will probably be about vampires. Impossibly good looking ones with manners. There might be some sex in it, but not much in the way of horror. There might even be (and this really is horror for me), an aloof and beautiful kick-ass vampire/ vampire-hunter, who is the epitome of 'empowerment', and literally eats men for breakfast. Not my bag. And any writer whose first name has mysteriously disappeared to be replaced by an initial or two? Ah ha, it'll be another paranormal romance, you can't fool me. Slightly hypocritical behaviour for a female horror writer, and yet, for a long time, I didn't even realise I was doing it.

I know that there are a lot of blogs and forums out there that lambast anthologies and label them the ubiquitous Fail if the stats don't add up: i.e. if there are more men than women featured; more Americans than Brits etc. Again, I don't think that this is always fair. It may be naive of me to think so (and again, also hypocritical; I'd be lying if it hadn't crossed my mind that such issues might increase my own chances), but I'd hope that any story gets picked for publication on its merit, and not because the publisher is in a panic about beefing up the female headcount.

I'm therefore quite leery of listing female horror writers that I admire, because I think the recent outcry has, if anything, made me less aware of differences in gender. In other words, I've become more aware of the prejudices that I didn't even realise I had, never mind anyone else. I now make a concerted effort to look at the title, cover art and blurb of a book before I look at who has written it. Which is progress. Perhaps the same will be said for many readers of horror fiction; if so, then any Women in Horror Recognition Month has, in my opinion, achieved its aim.

That said - and hoping to actually fill Pete's brief at some point in this diatribe - there are many female writers of horror that I do admire. I first read The Haunting of Hill House as a teenager, and if I've had just the right amount to drink, I can quote Jackson's truly brilliant first paragraph verbatim. And while the majority of female writers that I read and admire generally still write outside of the horror genre, recent discoveries like Sarah Langan (whom I unashamedly adore), Elizabeth Hand, Alexandra Sokoloff, Nina Allan and Kaaron Warren among many others, also make me hopeful that whether written by a man or a woman, the truly great horror stories will continue to be published on their own merit. I hope so; I'm kind of banking on it.



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