WIHM: How Writing Horror Saved Me: A Story for WiHM

By: Silvia Brown

February is Women in Horror Month and I feel both proud and concerned because as a horror writer I believe it should be an all-year celebration.

There has been much talk about mental health and diversity in horror writing circles lately and I’d like to share my story as a Spanish-born Australian bisexual female of how writing horror saved me.

Everyone has a dark story within them, something that happened to make them who they are. Bullying is the first thing that comes to my mind. Beginning at school because I was slightly shorter than average and developing into something more insidious when I moved to Australia. I got picked on at work for my accent and ethnic background. I never felt so different and powerless.

I started writing horror in June 2016, right after experiencing abusive behaviour from both colleagues and management at four different companies within a year. Previously I’d traveled the world for years working in the tourism industry without any problems. Now I had to give up on my career and I felt defeated and useless.

Writing had always been my go-to for clearing my mind. So I poured my energy into that and signed up for a creative fiction course.

The day I put pen to paper for a five minute flash fiction exercise, I was under pressure. I’d been out of work for over a year and recently signed a mortgage and I was getting married within six months. It’s still hard to express how lost I felt at that time.

I wrote that exercise with everything I had. Holding the pen so tight, it broke through some of the pages. Two-hundred words later I stopped. I couldn’t bear to look at what I’d written until we read our stories in class. I still have that notebook and you can read the un-edited story below.

Writing that flash fiction was the single most cathartic experience of my life. All the dark emotions that were poisoning me were channelled into something creative.

After my wedding, I joined the Australasian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) and I was accepted into their members’ Christmas anthology ‘Hell’s Bells: Stories of Festive Fear’. My tale of a festive tree seeking revenge, ‘A Christmas Retribution’ was my first published story.

Six months later, I was accepted into the AHWA’s Mentorship Program and was mentored by one of my all-time-favourite authors, Alan Baxter. Since then I have finished my writing degree, I continue to write short stories and poetry and attend writing conventions in Australia and New Zealand.

Among horror writers, I found my tribe. Now being short and having an accent makes me stand out in the best possible way. I know writing horror saved me and that’s why I celebrate women in horror every day.

Learn Your Place (or the story I wrote from my pit of despair)

The eyes in the painting followed the boys down the corridor.
They smelled of mud and youth.
The floorboards creaked as they ran and hide at the back porch under a heap of old clothes. The new boy had to learn his place. We will show him how it’s done.
A moment later, the new boy was at the door. Hide and seek at the old house, they said, and you will be one of us.
He walked into a room full of books stacked to the ceiling. He could hear the muffled giggles coming from the open window behind him and chose to ignore them.
I am so cold. As if reading his thoughts, a little flame started crackling in the fireplace encouraged by an invisible hand and he sat in a chair near it.
In the coffee table, the dusty kettle whistled shyly, letting out steam and a little bickie appeared in the saucer where his cup rested. He smiled and poured himself some tea as the candles lit one at a time.
He then noticed the shadows around the room. Little red eyes looking up from the darkest corners. Childlike voices whispering in his ear:
Welcome home, master.
He cuddled in the chair and closed his eyes, relaxing as the warmth spread through his body.
He didn’t see the little red-eyed creatures leaving the room and become as small as ants. How they made their way to the back porch.
How they crawled inside the sneakers of the hidden boys. Devouring them slowly from the inside out. Their clothes becoming part of the pile that was already there.
The sound of screams rocked him to sleep. They had to learn their place.
Hide and seek in my old house, I’ll say. And you will be part of us. Forever.
It was getting late. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
Starting school. All over again.