Following the success of Handheld Press’s 2019 best selling anthology Women’s Weird, they will be publishing a second anthology of classic Weird short fiction by women authors.
It will be published alongside James Machin’s anthology of classic British Weird fiction, British Weird.
Women’s Weird 2 will contain thirteen remarkably chilling stories originally published from 1891 to 1937, by women authors from the USA, Canada, the UK, India and Australia. Featured stories will include:
❑ Lettice Galbraith’s ‘The Blue Room’ (1897)
❑ Barbara Baynton’s ‘A Dreamer’ (1902)
❑ Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The House’ (1912)
❑ Bithia Mary Croker’s ‘The Red Bungalow’ (1919)
❑ Marjorie Bowen’s ‘Florence Flannery’ (1924)
❑ L M Montgomery’s ‘The House Party at Smoky Island’ (1934)
❑ Stella Gibbons’ ‘Roaring Tower’ (1937)
Melissa Edmundson’s introduction will explore how the evolving Weird tradition was interpreted using colonial settings, and focus on how Weird fitted naturally into the careers of writers like Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) and Gibbons (Cold Comfort Farm) who were not normally considered exponents of supernatural fiction.
Women’s Weird 2 is due to be published on 27th October 2020.
“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner”.Neil Gaiman
Short stories felt like a thing of the past. I always read novels, I had dabbled in short stories before but I never quite felt the urge to continue collecting them.
During this pandemic my attention span has faltered and novels have been read in parts and not as complete set pieces. I have dabbled, abandoned and finished books that have left me deflated. The idea of a short story suddenly felt appealing and maybe I could venture into another world in time for dinner or in my case it was breakfast.
My new routine was to get up early, make tea and sit down and read. This came into play a few days ago when I picked up The Houseguest: And Other Stories by Amparo Davila. Life as I knew it had faded into the background and there I was in a very strange and peculiar world.
Amparo Davila was born in Mexico in 1928, as a child she would become fascinated with books and would go on to write her very own stories that touched on the fantastical and the uncanny including this collection The Houseguest: And Other Stories published by New Directions.
Within The Houseguest, the stories often move between pure horror and psychological disorder. We are not sure if the supernatural is responsible for the misfortune of its characters or is it the case that the characters themselves are disturbed in some way? This kind of storytelling opens up the narrative, it allows us to lead the way and come to our own conclusions by picking up the clues as we go along.
This particular device is obvious in the first story Moses and Gaspar. These creatures we imagine are cats (although I couldn’t tell you why and many others believe they are at first) but as the story unfolds we begin to question them, we question what they are. Her ability to throw predictability out of the window is wonderfully macabre of her and for those who love to use their imagination will enjoy these tales immensely but may leave you feeling rather haunted.
The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávilawas translated from the Spanish by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleeson
Alejandra Pizarnik was born in Buenos Aires and began to study philosophy and literature at university but left to pursue a dream of poetry and painting.
She created a body of work that would touch on major themes such as isolation, childhood and death. She would go on to produce several books of poetry, prose, drawings and essays.
In her 1959 journal she wrote:
I would like to live in order to write. Not to think of anything else other than to write. I am not after love nor money. I don’t want to think nor decently build my life. I want peace: to read, to study, to earn some money so that I become independent from my family, and to write
Taken from: Where the Voice of Alejandra Pizarnik Was Queen By Patricio Ferrari July 25, 2018
Influenced by the French symbolists, her work was dark and its diction was full of fragility, isolation and violence. Her work spoke of loneliness and of being alone. The violence of beauty and the beauty of violence often intertwined, enveloped in melancholy – her collection of work is one to be treasured.
Bibliography via Poetry Foundation:
Pizarnik published several books of poetry during her lifetime, including: La tierra más ajena (1955), La última inocencia (1956), Las aventuras perdidas (1958), Árbol de Diana (1960), Extracción de la piedra de locura (1968), and El infierno musical (1971). She also published the prose essay “La condesa sangrienta” (1971), a meditation on a 16th-century Hungarian countess allegedly responsible for the torture and murder of more than 600 girls. Pizarnik’s work has been translated into English in the collections Alejandra Pizarnik: Selected Poems (translated by Cecilia Rossi, 2010) and Extracting the Stone of Madness (translated by Yvette Siegert, 2016).
Fear In the echo of my deaths there is still fear. Do you know about fear? I know about fear when I say my name. It’s fear, fear in a black hat hiding rats in my blood, or fear with dead lips drinking my desires. Oh, yeah. In the echo of my deaths there is still fear.
Biographies are a difficult subject. We always have three sides – the author’s side, the subject’s side and the truth. It’s journalism, it’s drama, it’s biased and sometimes it’s the real deal – you just don’t know what you are getting.
This particular biography is a centennial re-printing of a 1993 book written by Neeli Cherkovski to coincide with Bukowski’s 100th birthday. The book is printed by Black Sparrow Press (Bukowski’s first publishing press) and features a brand-new cover with a fantastic portrait of the great man.
It is very enjoyable; it is much more of an intimate portrayal of the man rather than the usual reporting of hard drinking poetry writing Hank that we are always treated to by writers that have never met him. This book came closer to understanding Bukowski as a person more than any other biography I have read on him. Of course we could read his poems, pull them apart and digest his books to get to the real nitty gritty biographical details but this is Charles Bukowski – the myth maker extraordinaire. What is real and what is fiction?
The book is detailed and recounts some of the most important parts of his life that made him who he became from the days of going to the hospital for his skin condition, the torment he received from his abusive father and the years of working at the post office all pull together to tell a tale of how Charles Bukowski took pain, rejection and fear and created some of the best work this world has seen. It is an incredible life and it is incredible how far he came and the relentless nature in which he pursued his dream to become a publisher writer.
The voice of the book feels authentic as Cherkovski was a friend of Bukowski’s from the 1960’s when they hung out together, drank beer, talked about literature and co-edited the Los Angeles zine Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns. He helps to dispel a few myths, throws a few anecdotes in there (which there are plenty) and would be a good starter for someone who is just getting into his work and wants to know about the person behind the typewriter.
It is a great read, very funny and enlightening but take from this book what you will, I certainly took from it an even greater love for the Hank and I learned a few others things I didn’t know along the way. He awakens a sense of “devil may care” attitude in fellow writers and his quote “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us” has never felt so poignant.
The lady is a humble thing Made of death and water The fashion is to dress it plain And use the mind for border”
― Elise Cowen
I often wondered, what ever happened to some of the women of the Beat Generation? They may have written and they may have sat next to Ginsberg in a café or sat sipping liquor next to Kerouac but what lurked inside them? Some of them have obtained the muse status, the one that aids the art yet is frowned upon as the creator. Deep down these women had fire in their bellies and poetry in their souls and it was dying to come out, dying to be heard. Elise hated the fact that becoming a successful writer like the men around her could be an impossible task.
Her lifelong depression was certainly reflected in her poetry. Her work was very real, very haunting with a free form structure. It felt distant yet so personal and relevant. During her short life, Elise didn’t have any poems published and it is very sad to learn that only a small portion of her poetry survived and some have appeared in various collections thanks to a friend of hers.
In 2014 a volume was put together from her only surviving notebook, titled Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments, edited by Tony Trigilio.
In 1962 she was admitted into hospital due to the deterioration in her mental health but soon checked herself out; she went back to her parent’s house where she committed suicide. Elise was just 28 years old.
Recognized only for her associations in the Beat movement, her writing went unseen. After her death her parents burnt her work, its content disturbed them with its references to sex and drugs and they didn’t want it going public. To burn the very words that seep from a writer’s soul is to destroy it altogether but her poetry still lives on. Her parent’s decision to burn her work is quite disgraceful but like a phoenix, she certainly did rise from the ashes even if she isn’t around to see just how many people enjoy her work.
“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” – Anais Nin
Author and Nin scholar Kim Krizan is the ultimate spy with her book aptly named Spy in the House of Anaïs Nin. She has sourced a rich collection of lost letters and original manuscripts to put together a collection of penetrating essays in an attempt to crack open the incredible life of Nin.
Abandoned by her father at a young age, Nin’s mother moved the entire family over to America. During this journey, something incredibly special happened and Nin began writing a letter to her Father to lure him back. This was to become her diary, a habit she kept for 63 years
Her diary often speaks of existential dilemmas – the constant pull of wife and artist. A theme that runs right through her creative life. She used her diary as she would a confidant, a close friend. It would be a re-telling of her life as she envisioned it; sensual and beautiful, painful and penetrating. Her entries are deeply personal, and her feelings and dreams would fuel her writing and exploration of the self.
Krizan has weaved together a selection of essays exploring Nin and her life as a feminist and a visionary. It is based on new examinations of letters, papers, and manuscripts held at UCLA and her home in Los Angeles. We delve deep into a treasure trove of historical pieces that all come together to form a fuller picture of one of the greatest female writers of our time.
Jeanne is on a quest for pleasure. In her “memory palace” there is a plethora of images and descriptions, all of which contain her encounters with men. The men she picks up from the streets of Paris. The men she takes to a series of hotels. All these images are safely stored away. She is collecting descriptions of her sexual encounters and focussing on one thing in particular – the penis.
From one man to the next she recalls the colour and anatomical intricacies of the penis. This may seem like a comical idea to some but what is more important here is the female point of view. There are no bad descriptions of breasts and vaginas, screaming orgasmic sex and ridiculous scenarios found in the pages of pornographic books written by men. Leger is exploring the very thing we don’t really talk about.
Jeanne has no backstory; we don’t know who she is or what she does. We have no idea why she is so obsessed with creating her memory palace or why she enjoys the anatomy of men in such detail. An anonymous figure. A mystery. Nor do we know much about the men she meets; they too are anonymous. She does not compare them to one another, they are singular beings, singular encounters. This all adds to the enigma that is Jeanne.
Leger’s book is wonderful. It is far from the pages of pornography as we know it; it is beautifully written. Little love letters to sex and the self, her words are not brutish or coarse; they are soft, gentle, warm and at times surreal. It is daring and full of wonderfully descriptive prose. It is cliché free and extremely intimate – it is a must read.
The book was originally published in 2017 under the title Mise en Pieces and won the Prix Anais Nin. The prize is created in homage to the Anais Nin and it “rewards a work which is distinguished by a singular voice and sensitivity, the originality of its imagination and a daring in the face of the moral order”.
Greek mythology created quite the monster. Her once beautiful hair had being turned into snakes, her gaze was to turn people into stone – Medusa was the ultimate monstrous female.
Medusa, in Greek mythology, the most famous of the monster figures known as Gorgons. She was usually represented as a winged female creature having a head of hair consisting of snakes; unlike the Gorgons, she was sometimes represented as very beautiful. Medusa was the only Gorgon who was mortal; hence her slayer, Perseus, was able to kill her by cutting off her head. From the blood that spurted from her neck sprang Chrysaor and Pegasus, her two sons by Poseidon. The severed head, which had the power of turning into stone all who looked upon it, was given to Athena, who placed it in her shield; according to another account, Perseus buried it in the marketplace of Argos.
Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
It was obvious that painters, sculptors, and poets were to take this hideous creature and immortalise her in their work.
Sylvia Plath wrote her poem Medusa, using her characteristics as an allegory for her own relationship with her Mother.
If we step into the art world, we know that many painters have made Medusa their subject, some depict both her pain and beauty.
There was the 1964 film Gorgon made by Hammer Studios that depicted her characteristics and terrifying demeanour that was to scare horror fans all over the world.
Medusa will always be a curious creature to anyone that comes across her whether in poetry or literature. She is both a monster and an inspiration to those that want to frighten in their peculiar tales. Some will warn you of her. Some will be under her spell and others will be turned to stone.
Weird fiction conjures up ideas of the supernatural, ghastly horror and the Gothic; this collection of wonderful tales doesn’t disappoint. With Halloween fast approaching, the dark evenings accompanied by candlelight – this book is the perfect companion to an evening of weird.
Women’s Weird is a collection edited by Melissa Edmundson and features thirteen women writers from 1890-1940, each individually handpicked to give you not only a scare but also food for thought on the idea of everyday life becoming rather weird.
The stories explore a vast array of ideas and occurrences that feed into our human psyche, the scares and the fear that we hear about in folklore and legend come to the surface in these stories. In some cases, these tales go beyond our primal fears and go into the world of the surreal, opening up new ideas and new fears for us to process.
The stories of years gone by often centred around ghosts, for example, a master of his craft M.R James spooked his readers with characteristic settings and afflicted spectres however, Women’s Weird, although in a similar vein, has the ability to take a normal life and turn it on its axis in the most frightening way. The book explores everything from supernatural entities to everyday objects taking on a life of their own.
Another reason why this collection is so special is its theme of the woman writer. Each story has a deeper meaning than just the plot, there are stories here that have taken our innermost anxieties and externalised them in order to produce the wonderful stories we have in front of us today.
Loren has been on our radar for a while now after reading issues of her fabulously dark magazine Morbid Curiosity. We wanted to ask her a few questions about how she came to lurk on the dark side of life (and death).
Where did your interest in the macabre come from?
I grew up on a farm outside of Flint, Michigan, so the combination of raising animals to eat and watching a big city die made me a bit morbid — plus my family’s farm is down the road from the graveyard where members of my family are buried.
What is your opinion of the western world’s outlook on death?
I am so immersed in studying cemeteries that I forget sometimes that “normal” people don’t arrange their vacations around the graveyards they want to visit. For instance, I went to Rouen in June pretty much just to see the Aitre Saint Maclou, which is the last surviving medieval ossuary square in Europe. The atrium began as a plague pit in the 14th century and served as a graveyard up until 1781. During that time, people were buried in a mass grave until the flesh came off their bones, then the skeletons were exhumed and stored in the cloister that surrounds the ground. There aren’t any bodies there now, but the surviving buildings are decorated with skulls, spades, coffins: all kinds of lovely things. It’s a beautiful, peaceful space, well worth going out of my way for. Best of all, the buildings around the atrium have housed a school of fine arts since the 1940s. For those students, memento mori are daily inspirations. I think you have to draw a distinction between western society in Europe, which keeps the dead around — especially in churches — for hundreds of years and American cities, many of which uprooted their pioneer graveyards when the dead got in the way of commerce. In America, death is what happens to poor unfortunates who don’t fight it hard enough. It’s never going to happen to those who eat right and exercise hard enough. Maybe, if we close our eyes, it will go away. Reading through your magazine Morbid Curiosity, some people would think you were weird to put together such a compendium of morbid and macabre stories. What would you say to these people?
I think they’re weird. Morbid Curiosity collected personal essays about unsavoury, unwise, unorthodox, and unusual behaviour. It wasn’t enough that people had strange things happen to them, they also had to examine how those experiences changed their lives. Anyone who’d find that uninteresting isn’t interested in life.
What are your favourite things to do in your spare time?
I blog at CemeteryTravel.com now, writing about cemeteries as travel destinations. The research, travel, and photography take up a lot of my time. I have a daughter, so I do what I can to encourage her to be curious and brave. She wants to grow up to be a veternarian, so we study animals together. In my spare time, I think my favorite thing of all is to have a good, long conversation with someone. A real face-to-face conversation seems such a luxury these days. It practically has to be scheduled in advance.
What would your epitaph say?
It’s changed over the years. When I published Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries in 1994, I wanted my epitaph to say, “She tried always to do right — but sometimes the temptation was too much for her.” Then I went through a phase where I thought it should say, “My god, it’s full of stars.” At this point, it should probably read, “Traveler, stop and lend an eye. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so shall you be. Prepare for death and follow me.” Sometimes the classics are the best.
Visit Loren’s website here and her cemetery travel blog here