Women in Horror Month Special: Behind the Veil
When people first meet me, they’re often surprised that I’m a horror writer. People who know me well, however, they’re not surprised at all.
Generally, what you see is what you get with me: a big grinning idiot, favourite colour yellow, loves kittens, laughs at fart jokes. And I’m scared of just about everything; spiders, the dark, cupboards under the stairs (if you want to know, check out Stephen Volk’s Ghostwatch). Probably not everyone’s typical idea of a horror writer.
But those people who know me well, who’ve known me a long time, they know. They know that behind the shiny happy me, there’s what I refer to as ‘horror-me’. Horror-me is an entirely different beast altogether. Horror-me is scarily sadistic, knows several different ways to kill a person, and has an internet search history that raises serious questions about her sanity.
But, it’s not a case of me hiding horror-me behind a facade. I’m proud of horror-me, I love her. You just need to get to know me well before you meet her.
Looking back, I suppose it was inevitable for me to end up like this. My parents met one another at a UFO meeting, my father read me bedtime stories by the likes of HG Wells and John Wyndham, and by my teenage years, me and my brother were watching our way through the back catalogue of 70s and 80s horror movies. All this coincided with a lot of heavy metal music and a phase of serious goth fashion. Yeah, it was inevitable.
But it’s not always easy being a woman in the horror world. I know many female horror authors who’ve been told many times that women “shouldn’t write horror”, or even that they “can’t”. (Although, why any man would risk upsetting a woman who spends her days torturing her characters, is anyone’s guess. After all, hell hath no fury, right?)
But on a serious note, throughout the history of publishing, women have been advised, or forced, to hide their gender. Whether using their initials, opting for an androgynous pen name, or even a male one, women can’t always stand open and proud as women. Unless their writing in the ‘acceptable’ genres for a woman (romance, chick-lit, paranormal romance, more increasingly crime), it can be really tough. I’ve come across so many men that simply do not read books written by women. Seriously, they simply don’t. Have never, will never. Have a look at your own bookshelf, and see what the gender ratio is.
The fact is, many women find that they can sell more books when they disguise their gender. It’s sad, and it’s something that’s never going to change as long as women continue to hide. But I don’t blame them, not at all, it’s savvy business sense.
Maybe it’s the countless portrayals of women as nothing more than helpless victims in horror, maybe it goes further back into our cultural psyche, to when asylums were crammed with ‘hysterical’ women, or even further back to the view that women can only be one of two things; the virgin or the whore, and no one wants to associate with the latter. I can only speculate.
But this is why we need movements like Women in Horror Month, why we need to specifically promote, celebrate and champion the work of women. Because, otherwise, they remain invisible, veiled. Because women can do horror, and they can be far scarier than you can possibly imagine.