In the first in a new series where authors share the inspiration behind their latest works, Helen Marshall talks to us about five books that inspired her debut novel The Migration. You can also delve deeper into the background of The Migration by reading our recent interview with Helen Marshall.
In this month’s fantastic selection we see obsession driven to madness, a reimagining of the Kilkenny witch trial, the weird stories of William Hope Hodgson, folk horror in the remote Scottish highlands, John Langan’s new short story collection, the devil’s corrupting influence, and much more.
Some of the best tales of horror and terror have been produced by writers whose names do not conjure up the isolated castles, decaying mansions and sheeted forms of the gothic inheritance. These authors bring fresh perspectives to well-worn tropes and often use the form to explore themes found elsewhere in their works. Such stories are valuable to scholars of the supernatural in fiction, demonstrating the potential of the genre, and to those interested in individual authors, as they provide neat examples of overarching themes in a writer’s oeuvre. Most importantly, they give the reader a tale well-told.
Scholars, academics, learned people of all kinds, often crop up in fiction. Horror is no exception and ghost stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular, featured academics in lead roles. Sometimes this is as the result of ‘write what you know’ more than any other reason; M. R. James, coming up later (because of course he is) being a case in point. But, much more significantly, academics represent rational, empirical, and “modern” thought, in contrast to the superstitions of an older, darker age. The academic represents progress; sometimes as a means of rebutting the supernatural, but sometimes the supernatural could show that perhaps our progress had gone too far. Thank you to Sarah Burton on Twitter for prompting the idea for this reading list and thank you to those who offered suggestions (@cath_fletcher, @marccold, & @ssmithwc1n).
Witches, in one shape or form, by one definition or another, have a long literary history and are a constant source of inspiration. I spoke to Marion Gibson, Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literature at the University of Exeter, to put together this reading list of witches in fiction, starting with the relatively modern Young Goodman Brown in 1835. Clearly, this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list, but a cherry-picked selection that will likely be of interest to our readers. Marion is the author of an introductory book on the study of witchcraft, the themes of which we discuss in the first episode of the Sublime Horror podcast.
This is the first in a new series where we round-up the most interesting new (UK) releases in horror and cross-over horror fiction. “Cross-over” is worth specifying because a number of the books here wouldn’t be shelved under “horror” in the average bookshop but alongside other literary fiction, so it’s all the more important we call them out. One of the aims of Sublime Horror is to remove some of the artificial boundaries between what is “genre” and what isn’t, which I hope will bring new books to the attention of readers who might otherwise fall into one camp or the other. The first book on this list is a brilliant example of what I’m referring to.
The supernatural has long been a convenient way to address socially taboo topics, especially during the nineteenth century when ghost stories became increasingly popular. Indeed, the ghost story very much became a Christmas tradition, which you can read more about in our review of Spirits of the Season. For women writers during this period, the short story became an empowering form, giving women both a professional and social voice. This is the theme of a new collection of ghost stories by Victorian women writers edited by Melissa Edmundson, featuring ten great representative authors. Naturally, her book is the best place to start if you’re looking to explore these stories – buy the book here. If you’re looking for further reading, I spoke with Melissa about what other books she would recommend; here are her choices.