Ginger Nuts of Horror's Motherhood of the Monstrous continues its celebtarion of female horror writers of the past present and future. Today we are honoured to host an article from Thana Niveau, where she looks at the author who inspired her in the early years of her writing career, and the author who she thinks we should all be taking notice of right now! .
Thana Niveau lives in a crumbling gothic tower in Wicker Man country. She shares her life with fellow horror scribe John Llewellyn Probert, in a Victorian library filled with arcane books and curiosities.
All her life Thana has been drawn to the darker aspects of life. She was a fearful child, plagued by nightmares and anxiety. Horror saved her. Scary films gave her an outlet for all that darkness and fear became her friend. Jason and Freddy were her childhood companions. On the literary side, Poe was her first great horror love, followed swiftly by Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. Their stories frightened her while at the same time inspiring her. She still had nightmares, but now they were more like visits from a slightly sadistic muse. Writing all the scary stuff down turned it from a curse into a blessing.
Whenever I’m asked what my favourite book is, it’s always a tough choice between two that are tied for the top spot. And they’re both by Shirley Jackson. One is, of course, the incomparable Haunting of Hill House. It’s the finest haunted house novel ever written, with one of the finest opening paragraphs of all time. (And a cracking final line too!) Eleanor’s descent into madness is both chilling and poignant, and the ending is ambiguous enough to suggest that it’s a happy one for her. At the same time, we’re left wondering whether any of what we’ve seen was real or just in her head.
Happy madness reigns supreme again in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Merricat Blackwood is one of the most fascinating characters ever written. Ms Jackson was no stranger to insanity herself, which gives her characters an authenticity few other writers can approach. In Merricat we have a true free spirit, unhindered by rules or social convention, refreshingly unpredictable and dangerously amoral. But she is only mad if viewed through the eyes of the “normal” characters. Since she is the one telling the story, she is generally labelled an unreliable narrator. However, I prefer to think that the ugly intrusion of reality is what is unreliable in the world of Castle, and that it’s Merricat who sees things as they truly are.
I have never written (or even attempted to write) anything like either book. But dreaming in the shadows of those twin masterpieces inspires me like nothing else. Jackson just has a way of conveying things that gets under your skin, a way of making you feel that indefinable “otherness”. Madness is one of my own pet obsessions, so I’ve written my share of disturbed characters. And I like to think that, in some imagined ruin of the mind, Eleanor and Merricat might meet some of them and make them feel welcome.
Jackson may be the Queen of Horror, but there’s no shortage of talented female horror writers out there today. Lynda E Rucker, Priya Sharma, Cate Gardner, Alison Littlewood, Anna Taborska, Kate Farrell and Carole Johnstone are only a few. But I’ve chosen to boost the signal for Laura Mauro. If you don’t know her name, you’d better learn it, because you’re going to be seeing more of her. Trust me.
Laura herself embodies the concept of still waters that run deep. There’s a twistedly beautiful dark poetry in her work that is both nightmarish and alluring. The first story of hers I ever read was “When Charlie Sleeps”, a sinister account of what makes a city live and breathe, and the terrible cost that must be paid. Laura claimed it was the first time she really let herself off the leash “embracing weirdness”, and the result was a story I can’t get out of my head to this day.
Her stories are filled with secrets and unbearable truths, and mysteries that aren’t always unravelled. “The Looking Glass Girl” is a bittersweet piece about two sisters and the dark secret that haunts them, while “Obsidian” is a lush and otherworldly story about a lake and what it hides. “Strange as Angels” is lyrical and disturbing, telling of a strange winged creature and the dark changes it brings to the life of the girl who first injures and then cares for it. It’s a wonderfully ambiguous story about how far you’re willing to go to escape, and what price you’re willing to pay.
We’re back on horribly familiar ground with “Ptichka”, where a pregnant migrant woman finds herself in a Cronenbergian nightmare of body horror, with a uniquely British dystopian twist. No one likes hospitals, but in “Terry in the Bed by the Window” we’re given a reason to fear them properly, with a strange and silent patient who may not be what he seems. Both stories highlight Laura’s compassion and empathy, and her experience with clinical work gives them a poignant integrity.
Shirley Jackson’s work has been described as having “a vast intimacy with everyday evil” but that quote could just as easily apply to Laura’s work. It takes a special talent to make the mundane as unbearably horrific as she does, but she unsettles me time and time again. I would dearly love to immerse myself in a novel by her (hint hint Laura), and I imagine it would stay with readers long after they finished reading it, just as many of her stories do.
Until then, I’m looking forward to her debut novella Naming the Bones, out this summer from Dark Minds press.
Seek her out!
FROM HELL TO ETERNITY . . . Enter the strange and disturbing world of Thana Niveau, where fear reigns eternal, and nightmares last forever; where your only refuge is madness and there is always something waiting in the dark . . . Won't you join her? . . . Gray Friar Press is proud to present sixteen tales of horror from a new Mistress of the Macabre . . . Number 2 in the NEW BLOOD series of short story collections. With an introduction by Ramsey Campbell.
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