Art of the beautiful monster

“Good and evil and beauty and ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective…” ~ HP Lovecraft

The above quote resonates with me on a number of levels. As a horror writer, I often encounter attitudes of incredulity and confusion when it comes to my choice of genre. Why would I want to write horror when there are “nicer” things to write about? It’s all about perspective. To me, there’s an authenticity to horror I find beautiful. When we’re at our most vulnerable, fighting to survive, to make it to the next moment then the next – it’s gut-wrenchingly honest. How is that not beautiful?

Like I said, it’s all about perspective. What I find intriguing, beautiful and resonant, others may find ugly, disturbing and frightening.  Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. And art is the epitome of perspective, of subjectivity.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I don’t actively seek out art, it tends to find me, and this time it was via my Facebook newsfeed. It’s where I came across the artwork of Damon Hellandbrand. He’d re-envisioned the twelve Zodiac signs – all with a monster spin. They were gorgeous, and after wallowing in the artistry of each, I knew I had to at least inquire as to whether I could own some.


You know that awful moment when you fall in love with a piece of art and you pray to whatever deities will listen that you can afford it? Yeah. That. So I searched and found contact details (it wasn’t stalking, I swear), and sent a rather awkward-sounding email to Damon. With him being in the States and me in Australia, there’s that crappy time-difference thing that meant he was asleep while I was awake and vice versa – it makes all emailing a waiting game.

Damon, of course, was lovely and totally ignored the artlessness of my email (see what I did there?). Not only was his work beautiful, it – if I can say this – is under-priced considering the man’s talent. I promptly bought three pieces: my star sign, and those of my daughter and son (there’s a whole ‘fat octopus’ joke in our home re my husband’s sign).


More art. That’s right. More art, and something that resonates with me and fits perfectly into the pieces that adorn our walls – a little different to most, but art that evokes thought and contemplation. It stirs the imagination, and as a writer, that’s what I want surrounding me.

There was much excitement when the art arrived, and Damon, gracious and generous, had included some postcard-sized prints as well. It was like Christmas, only better…’cause, you know, it wasn’t Christmas… and art.

I’d never heard of Damon before his art hit my newsfeed, but that’s something I hope I can change with this post. His work should be sitting on the walls of more than just my home. Go take a look at his work. Go on. I do know he’s working on another series that’s currently under embargo, and if his Zodiac set is anything to by, I know it’s going to be kick-arse work.

What are you still doing here? Go. Click that link. Dare ya.



A World Without Fear

Last week I wrote a post about some of the issues faced by female horror writers – it’s something close to my dark little heart, what with horror being what claws its way out me. While there is a lot of support for female writers within the horror community, there’ll always be those naysayers who believe we shouldn’t tarnish their ‘man-cave’ with our cooties.

But today I’m going to take the ‘horror writer’ out of the equation and talk about living in society as a female – yep, I’m poking that bear again. Sad, really, that the idea of me speaking out about feminism means I’m ‘poking a bear’. I’m not being over-dramatic; there’s a lot of hatred directed toward the word ‘feminism’ – wrongfully directed. And my last post on feminism had a man telling me I was ‘doing feminism wrong.’

So… cards on the table. I’m a feminist. I’m not a ‘humanist’ or an ‘equalist’ – I’m a feminist. I believe in equal rights and equal pay for women (because the gender pay-gap exists); I believe that while steps have been taken in the right direction, equality still eludes us. Does this make me an ‘equalist’? No, that would mean I’d be fighting for the equal rights of women and men, of which there is surely a current imbalance. So I’m an unapologetic feminist.

feminism 1

Right, now I’ve got that out of the way, let’s head into some pretty awful territory. Two days ago I woke to the news of a young Australian woman murdered in Melbourne. Seventeen this girl was, and viciously murdered so very close to her home. At this stage, investigative police believe it a random, sexually-motivated attack (they have a suspect in custody). My daughter watched this with me and said: “This is why you worry, isn’t it?” A seemingly innocent question, but there was an undertone I had to address. I don’t want my daughter to go through life frightened or hyper-vigilant, believing the onus is on her to remain safe – why should she have to?  To stay alive? To go through life not being a victim of violence because she was born female?

I told my daughter the truth. Yes, it is why I worry. You see, this young woman who was murdered the other evening was the twenty-third woman this year in Australia to die from a violent attack. That’s right, twenty-three women to date this year – that’s almost eight women a month; two a week.

I’ve seen the questions being asked already: what was she doing out at that time alone? And while that might seem like an innocent enough question, that’s victim-blaming right there. Why not the question: what monster thought it well within his right to do that to her?

It’s that type of seemingly innocuous question that shifts rightful blame from the perpetrator. It’s that type of question that should never be asked. Just as the questions about what the victim was wearing, if the victim had been drinking, if the victim made the right decision by walking home alone, should not be part of the conversation. It. Does. Not. Matter. Apportion blame where it’s due. (Just so we’re clear — that’s the perpetrator.)

The minute these questions make it into any news report, any conversation, any online ‘debate’, then it’s nothing more than excusing the perpetrator. The blame always lays squarely on the offender.


But that’s not always the case. When there are instances of schools telling their female students not to wear certain articles of clothing because it’s ‘distracting boys’ – that’s reinforcing a belief that girls must be responsible for not only themselves, but take into account ‘male thinking’ and act accordingly. That doesn’t just insult women, it insults males as well. I also remember the case where a young girl was kicked out of prom because some fathers were having “impure thoughts”. When is it ever okay to place the onus of another’s behaviour or thought process on the person on the receiving end of such idiocy? Why are they responsible for another’s actions or thoughts? It’s this type of thinking, this type of victim-blaming that is prevalent in society that often makes women who are victims of assault not come forward.

The online world is particularly guilty of rampant misogyny in certain circles, as seen by GamerGate and the subsequent doxing of those women who spoke up about death threats, threats of sexual assault, and ongoing harassment by ‘men’ who felt vilified. Just this month Ashely Judd was subject to such threats for a twitter comment she made re a basketball team during March Madness. Judd, is rightly pressing charges against those who threatened her.

This is the world I live in, the world my daughter lives in. Even walking down the street I’m subjected to whistles or men yelling out things they’d like to do to me. Just last week some jerk smiled and leered “niiiice arse” at me while I was out getting groceries. When I told him to fuck off, he was offended. How dare I speak to him this way when he’d paid me a ‘compliment’. How dare I? How dare you. I’m not here for your amusement, your will, your words, I told him. He then said he wouldn’t fuck me anyway.

When I gave a ‘whistler’ the finger, I was called a lesbian. This is the world I live in. One where I have to be vigilant, one where I have to be aware of my surroundings and who’s in them. It’s a world that has me fear for my daughter – we both deserve better than that. As does every woman.

It’s my right to live in a world without fear, a world without blame, and a world where exercising opinions, ideas and thoughts don’t result in threats against your person. It’s every woman’s right.




Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Without incurring the wrath of the Jinx Faerie *invokes sign*, my reading for pleasure is going well this year, and it really has been pleasurable reading. While I have a few other reviews to write, I’m jumping ahead here with Prince of Thorns as the book is still very fresh in my mind.

This is the first of Mark Lawrence’s work that I’ve read, and I want to thank my pal, Tracy, for nudging me toward it. Prince of Thorns is the first book in the Broken Empire Trilogy and sits well within the ‘grim-dark’ of fantasy, and it’s a sub-genre in which I’m happy to spend a lot of time. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘grim-dark’ is, as it sounds, a story that is grim and dark in tone and doesn’t shy away from the realities and brutality of such themes. Lawrence hits the ‘grim-dark’ mark with Prince of Thorns.


Now before we get into this, it’s spoiler-alert time, now while I haven’t gone into too great detail with the plot (this really is something you need to experience in all its awful glory), I’m warning you all the same:

SPOILER ALERT: *clanging of bells; blaring of sirens* READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. REPRISALS WILL OCCUR TO ANYONE BITCHING OR COMPLAINING ABOUT READING SPOILERS. (I have an angry cat and I’m not afraid to use him. Grim is his name, and he lives up to his moniker.)

Prince of Thorns is told from the first-person point-of-view of main character, Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath, we begin in the aftermath of a village plunder. Right from the outset the reader is plunged into the blood and death that surrounds Jorg, and it’s unapologetic in its telling – as it should be. The first surprise for me, which came at the end of the first chapter, was Jorg’s age – just shy of his fourteenth birthday, his savagery is something a reader would expect in one much older.

Jorg has been on the road with his outlaw ‘brothers’ since he fled from his father after an ambush that killed his mother and younger brother. Jorg, held firm within the thorns of a hook-briar, could do nothing to help his mother and brother, nothing except watch. The betrayal by his father to not seek vengeance on the man who orchestrated the ambush, pushes Jorg to seek vengeance on the mastermind on his own.

Slowly, the story unravels, but just when you think you have a hand on what’s at play, Lawrence manages to turn it on its head, and does so adeptly. There are connections with everything, foreshadowing done so well that it’s not until a revelation appears that those connections shine through.

The cast of support characters, especially Jorg’s band of brothers, are a motley crew, and by ‘standard’ fantasy tropes, not a good one amongst them (apart from Sir Makin and the Nuban – both favourites of mine), but in keeping with the grim-darkness of the book, they’re a perfect fit for not only Jorg, but the story as well. These are interesting, quirky, yet disturbing characters that I was more than happy to get to know better.

But it’s Jorg who commands the story here, and while he embraces the doing of evil deeds with much gusto and little-to-no conscience, there’s an honesty about him I liked. Hell, I was rooting for the kid the whole way. With Jorg, there’s no half-measures, and in a story such as Lawrence’s, there can be no half-measures, for those who lack commitment live very short lives and tend to die horribly.

bloody handprint

Jorg is driven by the murders of his mother and brother, but there’s more at play in Jorg’s choices and ‘non-choices’ than meets the eye – another revelation that sat well with me. Magic – there is much of it – and yes, dark magic it is. You expected different? And the monsters, aaah, the monsters, they’re plentiful and unique – the scenes that take beneath Castle Red are some of my favourite. Gog, you scamp!

There’s a revelation in this section (no spoilers – it’s well worth the wait) that puts a lot of Jorg’s… learning into perspective – at times I was pulled toward the alternate-universe theory, but this revelation was punched right out of me and I was glad for it.

Right from the beginning you know, Jorg is bound for home, for a confrontation with his remarried father. Another queen sits on the throne, one who bears the king’s preferred heir. Jorg, torn between present and past, finds himself vulnerable in ways he hasn’t been for four years – a dangerous place for him. He’s a wily fellow, Jorg, resourceful and ruthless, and the more I read the more I liked this ‘wholly unlikeable’ character. That’s the thing, I can see why some would find him unsympathetic, soulless, reaping of all that befalls him, but for me… well I liked him. Is he a sociopath? Odds kinda head that way. Is he a monster? To those who get in the way of his goals, yes. Or, is he a product of his environment and history? Aren’t we all. And it’s that honesty, the not shying away from the darkness that lives inside Jorg that makes him wholly likeable for me.

The structure of the storytelling took a little getting used to as Lawrence jumps from present to past and back again often during the storytelling – but this is clearly marked by the different fonts (and the fact it’s signposted: Four years earlier). It’s also how Lawrence gives you the breadcrumbs to Jorg’s story, his history, and the why of his nature.

I have the next instalment of The Broken Empire Trilogy – King of Thorns, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Lawrence takes Jorg and his ever-dwindling band of brothers.

For those who are looking for more standard fantasy fare, this might not be for you. And for those who don’t like the blood, gore, death and torture that comes with war, then this probably isn’t the book for you either. But if you’re looking for a story that doesn’t shy from the vulgarities of conquering lands and kingdoms, that is as dark as it is twisted, and has characters who have less redeeming qualities than those you find in most fantasy epics, then this is definitely the book for you.

On a goodreads scale, I give it 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

Why You Can’t Argue With Crazy (and should you?)

No, I didn’t forget Women in Horror Month. Yes, this isn’t technically posted in February, but I wanted to see the month out before I wrote my opus. I’m a woman who writes horror, and on my good days (when the writerimposteritis isn’t gnawing on my ankles) I think I write horror well. So when I hear of those who think women can’t or shouldn’t write in the genre I love, I get my back up. But what good does that do? Those who spout such nonsense want exactly that angry reaction. Most of the time they’re trolls, but every now and then you’ll find that misogynistic belief really is their truth and nothing and no one can dissuade them. You can’t argue with crazy.

Last year I wrote a piece on the best way I’ve found to handle any vitriol thrown my way regarding my choice and ability to write horror: Fuck the Naysayers and Make Good Art. I’ve heard all the arguments against female horror writers: we’re too soft, we’re nurturers, we don’t understand horror, we dilute it, we’re… (wait for it)… always putting romance in horror.

Like I said, you can’t argue with crazy.

can't argue with crazy

February 2014 was particularly nasty when it came to WiHM. Truly terrible and disgusting things were said. The first two weeks of this February, however, were fantastic. There were blissfully positive posts and interviews, the sharing of fellow authors’ work – a real sense of community and support. Then someone had to ruin it for everyone.

I’m not going to name names here but it spawned #horrorhags, and that should give you a pretty good idea of what was said about one female horror writer in particular before all were tarred with that same brush. It united horror writers and had, I’m guessing, the opposite effect the person intended. Or did it?  One has to wonder if the stupidity of comments such as these is nothing more than to raise someone’s profile, garner interest in their books, get the horror community talking about them et al. But really, who’d be that stupid? You’re insulting potential readers, you’re embarrassing your publisher, and the chances of you getting another publisher are now pretty damn slim. Authors remember. Editors remember. Publishers remember. The horror community remembers.

Thing is, you can’t control what people think, what people say, and how people act (especially on the Internet). You can only control what you think, what you say, and how you act. I’m not saying don’t take on the controversial issues, self-censorship isn’t the way to go either, but remember that trolls and those who forgot to activate their ‘don’t-be-a-douchewaffle’ button, are always going to be around, and they’re going to say and do things that will make you want to rage-quit humanity, but is that what they want from you? An escalated reaction? Notoriety? Do you want to feed that?

horror hag

WiHM seems to attract those who want to start a brouhaha (not a discussion) about exclusivity when it’s all about inclusivity. Why give the douchewaffles what they want? I’d never heard of the writer whose rant started the #horrorhag – now I do know their name. So was this ‘mission accomplished’ on the writer’s part? Tough call that. Yes, I know their name (some would say that’s marketing gone right), but it also went very, very wrong as a lot of publishers now have this person on a ‘blacklist’. They won’t publish them. Ever. I’d say that’s marketing gone wrong.

Writers are a passionate bunch, and as a whole a damn supportive one – woe betide anyone who messes with our community. And community it is. Writing is a mostly solitary profession, so when we find and meet like-minded folk, we celebrate the wonder and weirdness that is who we are and what we do. No one understands a writer like another writer. So when a scribe takes aim and fires those misogynistic bullets, they don’t just hit the female horror writers, they hit us all. I mean, dude, that shrapnel goes everywhere. And no one likes to be shot at; no one likes their friends and peers shot at, regardless of gender. But to do so during WiHM? That shit be crazy, and I do have to wonder at their motives.

It’s no secret that getting your work and your name out there and recognised isn’t getting easier – it’s simple mathematics (I can do it and I suck at math). The advent of self-publishing has increased the amount of books available to readers, which, as a reader myself, isn’t a bad thing; as a writer, you need to stand out in the crowd. (Hint: decrying female horror writers probably isn’t your best bet). So part of me wonders if this wholly uncalled for #horrorhag rant wasn’t a publicity stunt gone wrong. If so… bad call, dude. If not… well, you can’ t argue with crazy.

All I know is that I will continue to write the best horror I can, and I will continue to support WiHM until there’s no need for it, and I will continue to support my fellow horror writers regardless of what does or doesn’t swing between their legs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go disembowel a despot…

WiHM 2015