What first piqued your interest in horror, and why do you enjoy writing in the genre?
A child born in the 60s, I was raised on Pinocchio, Grimm’s Tales and libraries of other allegoric tales meant to keep children on the straight and narrow, so perhaps there was an inevitability about my recent progression down the rutted road to horror. I resisted, of course, starting my writing career with a light-hearted chick-lit in which the heroine goes from one awkward encounter to the next, spurred on by a couple of black-hearted bosses and her own misplaced ambition. It was fun. Readers liked it. But I didn’t write another novel in that genre because having examined the conflicts arising from muffin deprivation and wardrobe malfunction, they no longer resonated for me. Instead, I went on to write a novel inspired ‒ not sure inspired is the best word ‒ by the real-life disappearance of a dear friend, an artist and mother of three who has been missing for the past fourteen years. I wanted to address how a family might cope with that terrifying, paralysing reality. It is perhaps my most horrific work to date, and yet the only blood in it is a grazed knee. Maybe that’s because horror stories operate on our basest fears. By that, I don’t just mean our universal instinct to avoid disembowelling by rampaging prehistoric mutant monsters, but also those everyday anxieties, the little things that make us comfortable, the things that leave us with a “lingering disquiet”, to borrow Ramsey Campbell’s words. When Misplaced was released a reviewer asked what I had hoped to achieve by writing it, and my answer was some form of closure. I’d hoped I might find my lovely free-spirited friend in the pages, and push back my dark runaway fears about what might have happened to her. As YA writer Alexander Gordon Smith says, “Something weird happens when you write about your worst fears, even if you’re writing fiction. They stop being these unfathomably, impossibly huge things that hide in the shadowy corners of your mind. They become words, they become concrete—or, at least, paper. They lose some of their power, because when they’re laid down like that then you have the control.”
Who are a few of your favourite horror writers, books, or stories?
Oh, this question. It’s always so hard to answer. I love so many stories and I’m a prolific reader it’s hard to single out one writer, book, or story. Over the past two months, I’ve been working my way through the HWA Bram Stoker Award reading list, for example. The quality and range of the work on offer there has been astounding. On top of that, I was privileged to co-judge the SQ Mag International Story Quest recently, and I’m on an Australian Shadows jury, so I can honestly say when it comes to dark fiction, I’ve been spoiled for choice this summer. But if readers are looking for recommendations, I hope they’ll check out the SpecFicNZ website for information on Kiwi horror writers and their work.
What advice do you have for women just starting out on the writing road (or who have been writing a while and are getting frustrated)?
Firstly, I think it’s important to grow a carapace. Resilience is vital because this is not an industry to tread softly on one’s dreams. Secondly, be brave. Seek out other like-minded writers and mentors, share critiques, and actively listen to what your readers have to say. Finally, read in your genre, as widely as you can, from the classics to the new releases. None of these things will guarantee success, but on the other hand, I don’t know any successful writer who doesn’t practise them either.
How do you feel about how women are portrayed in horror films?
I haven’t watched a horror film since I was thirteen and kept my parents up for a week with my nocturnal screaming. Is there still a tendency to kill off sexual females and save the virgins?
What were the challenges breaking into the industry?
I’m not sure I’m in yet. I’ll keep you posted!
What would you say is the most difficult aspect of being a female horror writer?
It is a fact universally acknowledged that speculative and genre fiction is not ‘real’ literature, and its authors are not ‘proper’ writers. Quite apart from all of us suffering from imposter syndrome, there is a perspective that, when compared to the mainstream literature, our work is something less, and therefore funding and publishing opportunities are fewer. I think the only way female horror writers can combat this prejudice is to continue to write beautiful articulate meaningful prose. Words that touch people. Stories that provoke and inspire. This means writing and submitting the very best work we can in the hope that we’ll be judged on our merits and not simply our biology.
Are there any tropes you tend to avoid in your writing because you are a woman?
None so far.
Do you think anything needs to change to celebrate and promote female horror writers for them to gain more recognition?
Here’s how we do it: read, review, and share. It couldn’t be simpler.
Do you ever feel the need to censure yourself or fear your opinions may not be well received because you are a woman?
No. Even if our views are not well received, girls in my family are highly opinionated. We’re hot-wired to be bolshie and controversial. It’s in our genes.
Have you ever used or considered using a male pseudonym because you thought your writing would be misconstrued or not taken seriously because it came from a female perspective?
I’m lucky enough to have a gender-neutral name. I’m sure there are studies which have shown how I have been advantaged by this. It must be disappointing to readers expecting the convicted heavyweight boxer, or a muscled ex-vet bearing the scars of his last tour to discover that in real life I am a half-Chinese Kiwi mum of two, who can’t reach the top shelf in the supermarket.
Who are your inspirations (male or female), and why?
Mum and Dad, who stood up for what they believed in. So many times. And in the direct opposition to social norms and family expectations. Two of the bravest people I have ever known.
What are you working on at the moment?
Sequels mostly. I’ve just completed a first sequel to Into the Mist (Cohesion Press) and I am drafting plans for another. In addition, my colleague, Dan Rabarts and I are currently working on the sequel to Hounds of the Underworld, the first novel in our crime-noir series The Path of Ra, set for release by US publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press in June of this year. I’m also writing the sequel to a middle-grade horror adventure, which has yet to find a home, along with a couple of commissioned short stories. It’s going to be a big year.
What direction do you see the genre taking in the future?
With our increasingly short attention spans, I wonder if we’ll see a renaissance in short fiction and novellas, tightly-crafted works that give us that emotional and intellectual punch but without a significant time investment. And given the doomsday clock is nearing midnight, I suspect dystopian themes will be on the menu. I predict stories addressing global warming, pandemics, advanced warfare, AI and genetic engineering. There will studies of persecution and betrayal. Of to-the-death conflict and abject grief. What was it that HP Lovecraft said? “Do not call up that which you cannot put down.” That said, it’s my dream that in the darkness of the tales to come, we’ll uncover that elusive kernel of hope.