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Women in Horror: Five Recommended Writers

2011 March 1

As Women in Horror Recognition Month draws to a close, we asked horror author Maura McHugh to tell us about it and give us some reading recommendations. Here’s what she had to say.Banner image of a woman  throwing back her head and screaming on a red background. Translucent images are overlaid onto the red of women from various horror films and book covers, screaming, brandishing weapons, laughing evilly, and so on. White block text reads: WOMEN IN HORROR RECOGNITION MONTH.

If you like scary stories and those who create them, you might be interested to know that February was Women in Horror Recognition Month. This is the second year of the initiative, which was started by Hannah Neurotica out of frustration because of the often-repeated myth that ‘there are no women creating horror’.

While women participate in the horror industry (literature, films, comic books, video games, etc) in fewer numbers than men, they are not absent. Many of them have been working in the field for a very long time, and have considerable credentials. Yet somehow they are rarely remembered and people scratch their heads when trying to recollect their names.

Where women are featured in horror events or magazines there is often an over-emphasis on actresses (Scream Queens and Last Girls) rather than the novelists, screenwriters or directors who are also involved in the field. No doubt this is due to two factors: an over-abundance of male journalists who want to meet their favourite actress, and the usual cultural bias that stresses the value of a woman’s appearance over the strength of her other talents.

No one dismisses the importance of actresses, since women are under-represented in film and television anyway, but women and men deserve more exposure to the variety of work that women accomplish in the field.

Need recommendations?

Here are five of the current crop of female horror writers who are well worth reading.

USA: Sarah Langan

Cover art for Audrey's Door by Sarah Langan showing a corridor with a baroque-style door, and above it, a transclucent image of a blonde woman's eyes and foreheadSarah grew up in Long Island, but went to university in Stephen King territory (Maine), before completing an MFA at Columbia University. After starting to write and publish short stories she graduated quickly onto novels, and in 2006 The Keeper was published to widespread critical acclaim.

Since then she has published two more novels, The Missing (2008) and Audrey’s Door (2009), numerous short stories and one audio drama, Is This Seat Taken (2010).

She’s won three Bram Stoker Awards (two for Best Novel, and one for Best Short Fiction), and a Dark Quill Award.

Canada: Gemma Files

Gemma was born in the UK, but moved to Toronto, Canada when she was a year old. She graduated university with a degree in journalism, and began her career with an eight-year tenure at Eye Weekly in Toronto, where she established her reputation as a genre-friendly film critic.

Cover art for A Book of Tongues showing a moustachio'd mountie whose face is shadowed by the brim of his hat.Five of her short stories were adapted for the US/Canadian horror television series, The Hunger (1997-2000), and she wrote the screenplays for the episodes from the second series “Bottle of Smoke” and “The Diarist”. She also taught screenwriting for eleven years. Her short story “The Emperor’s Old Bones”, won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story of 1999. Two collections of her short stories are available: Kissing Carrion (2003) and The Worm in Every Heart (2004).

Gemma’s first novel, A Book Of Tongues (2010), the first book in her Hexslinger series, won the 2010 Black Quill award for “Best Small Press Chill” (both Editors’ and Readers’ Choice) from Dark Scribe Magazine. The sequel, A Rope of Thorns, is due in May 2011.

Australia: Kaaron Warren

Kaaron was born in Australia, and after a sojourn in Fiji has returned to Canberra, Australia. Her horror short fiction has been gaining attention since she was first published in the early 1990s. She’s now had over 70 stories published in a variety of venues, and has two collections in print: The Grinding House (2005) and Dead Sea Fruit (2010).

Cover art for Slights: a dark, blurred photo showing a woman from behind facing four people of both sexes leering at her, with eerily distorted faces and open mouths.Her debut novel Slights (2009), was published to much attention due to its disturbing premise and gripping prose style, and she followed it quickly with Walking the Tree (2010) and Mistification (2011).

In 1999 she won the Aurealis Award for best horror short story, and in 2006 she won the Ditmar Award for Best Short Story and Best Novella/Novelette. She also bagged the 2006 ACT Writing and Publishing Award for best fiction. In 2010 she won a Ditmar Award again, this time for Best Novel for Slights.

UK: Sarah Pinborough

Sarah was born in Buckinghamshire, and she spent her early childhood travelling in the Middle East because of her father’s career as a diplomat. After college she worked as a teacher before becoming a full time writer.

She’s published six horror novels with Leisure Books – The Hidden (2004), The Reckoning (2005), Breeding Ground (2006), The Taken (2007), Tower Hill (2008), Feeding Ground (2009) – and a tie-in novel for the Torchwood TV franchise, Torchwood: Into The Silence (2009).

Cover art for A Matter of Blood: title in dark block letters with a fly-like insect silhouetted against the final O in blood. Red background, with a photo of a fly impaled on a pin above the title. White block text subtitle reads 'The Man of Flies is among us'.Her futuristic horror crime novel, A Matter of Blood, the first of her Dog-Faced Gods trilogy, was released in March 2010. She is also publishing a Young Adult fantasy trilogy called The Nowhere Chronicles under the name of Sarah Silverwood. The first book in the series, The Double-Edged Sword, was published last year.

Her story The Language of Dying won the 2010 British Fantasy Award for Best Novella.

USA: Mira Grant

Mira is the pen name of the multi-talented writer/illustrator/composer/singer Seanan McGuire, who is the author of the October Daye and InCryptid series of urban fantasy novels.

Last year her zombie horror novel, Feed, written as Mira Grant, was published to considerable popularity. The sequel, Deadline, is due out in May 2011, and her Newsflesh trilogy will be rounded up with the publication of Blackout next year.

Cover art for Feed: a cracked grey paint surface, with Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and Feed was named as one of Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of 2010.

It’s difficult to pick five out of such a talented field, so I feel obliged to list a number of other writers people should read: Lisa Morton, Margo Lanagan, Tananarive Due, Caitlin R Kiernan, Sara Gen, Lisa Tuttle, Kathe Koja, Joyce Carol Oates, Nancy Holder, Catherynne M Valente, Holly Black, Yvonne Navarro, Lisa Mannetti, Tanith Lee, Lucy Snyder, Marjorie Liu, M Rickert, Mary SanGiovanni, Pat Cadigan, Melanie Tem and Helen Oyeyemi.

We should also give a hat-tip to a representation of the women editors (some of whom are also writers) in horror, such as Ellen Datlow (Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Best Horror of the Year 2), Ann VanderMeer (Weird Tales), Heidi Martinuzzi (editor-in-chief of FanGirlTastic.com), Barbara Roden (All Hallows, At Ease with the Dead, co-edited with Christopher Roden), Paula Guran (Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror), Nancy Kilpatrick (Evolve, Outsiders), Monica S Kuelber (Rue Morgue), Christine Makepeace (Paracinema) and Angela Challis (Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror).

This is just a small sample of the talented women who are writing and editing horror. There are far more, with new writers breaking into the field every day. I take it as a good sign that this year’s longlist for the Bram Stoker Awards included a more diverse list of writers and editors.

Of course, there are also many supportive men in the industry who have published women and promoted their inclusion.

Let’s hope in a few years there will be no need for Women in Horror Recognition Month. For the moment, however, it’s a necessary reminder to strive for a better representation of the diversity of voices in the horror business.

Headshot of Maura McHugh - a blond curly-haired woman wearing glasses - outdoors in a garden. Image used by permission of the author.

  • Maura McHugh has been a horror fan since she could read gory fairy tales and sneakily watch creepy movies without parental intervention. Her work in various media have been published in a number of venues such as Black Static, Shroud Magazine, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She co-organised the Campaign for Real Fear horror competition last year. Her first graphic novel, Róisín Dubh, is due this summer from Atomic Diner in Ireland.
7 Responses leave one →
  1. Elizabeth permalink
    March 2, 2011

    Thanks so much for this list. I’ve been a horror reader, sporadically, for many years. I kow many woman who read horror, and revel in horror movies, but surprisingly few practitioners ( the great shirley Jackson excepted).

  2. March 3, 2011

    Brilliant! I could do with some good horror.

  3. March 4, 2011

    Ooooh, bookmarked for later Amazon buying! I’ve always wanted to look at the use of the body and the visceral in female horror to see if and how it differs/compares to male takes on the same subject.

  4. March 4, 2011

    Oh, and one of the scariest books I have ever read was written by Anne River Siddons and called The House Next Door. She normally wrote genteel Southern USA family saga type books so this short novel is a bolt out of the blue and a perfect haunted house story. She instills the house with an intense sense of evil and plotting and it’s exceedingly good if you like the more supernatural side of horror.

    • March 7, 2011

      Thanks for tip LIzzie, that sounds like an interesting book. I’ll watch out for it.

  5. LaraP permalink
    March 5, 2012

    Excellent list – found this after realizing that SO MANY lists of “best horror writers” don’t include (IMO) nearly enough women. Case in point:

    http://www.ranker.com/list/best-horror-novelists/book-keeper

    See? Very very disappointing. I’m always looking for new horror writers, and I’m excited about these. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

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