Spectral Book of Horror Stories: Angela Slatter’s The October Widow


Yes, the tiara helps me write

In which I talk to myself, quite legitimately, so the Men in White Coats cannot take me away – although my Significant Other is giving me some strange sideways looks. My Spectral Book of Horror tale is “The October Widow”.

1. Can you remember the first horror story you read that made an impact on you?

I read a lot of short fiction of the spooky variety as a child, it was the natural progression for me from fairy tales to MR James’ ghost stories. Scared myself silly, lots of nights trying to fight off sleep, and of course, making sure that no foot or hand dangled off the bed lest the monsters get it. But it didn’t stop me reading those sorts of stories. I’ve written about this elsewhere recently, but the story that stands out in my memory as the earliest one that made an impact was Barbara Baynton’s “The Chosen Vessel”. I read this when I was about nine or ten, and we were living in a town called Longreach in the Australian Outback. It hit hard because it’s set in the kind of country that surrounded us; the drover’s wife is recognisable and the landscape and the situation were also very recognisable and relatable. It taught me one of the lessons I took away as a writer: the more familiar something is to us, the more terrifying it can be when a twist of difference is added, when we lead a reader down a path that looks familiar and then make it strange. It shakes and shifts the world beneath our feet – and that kind of frisson is why we read horror.

2. What inspired the story you wrote for this anthology?

I had the title, which came to me one day while I was writing something else, and I had the first line, ‘Mirabel Morgan suspected herself hunted, though she’d caught no trace of whoever pursued her’, so that was all I needed. I can’t recall what inspired it, though, it would have been something random. Perhaps I was looking at Diana Paxson’s The White Raven again, which starts with the wonderful opening ‘On Samhain, the doorways open between the worlds’, which is something that’s always stuck with me as both reader and writer – it taught me the importance of a good first impression!

3. How would you describe the kinds of stories you usual write and does this Spectral Book of Horror story depart from that?

What was I thinking when I wrote these questions? Honestly. This is different to a lot of what I usually write in that it’s set in the present day and in a modern world, rather than the kind of dark fairy tale worlds I’ve created for collections such as Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible. It still taps into the idea of old myths and legends, and the idea of sacrifice being necessary for progress, as well as a bit nasty; I do like to put older concepts into modern stories and see where the juxtaposition takes it.

4. In your heart of hearts do you prefer your horror to be of the slashy variety or of a more subtle psychological stripe?

I always come down on the side of psychological horror simply because I like subtlety in my fiction, I like the reader’s imagination to be something I can manipulate and make it do a lot of the work for me. It’s a far more insidious technique than ‘Oh, no, we’re heedless American teenagers who’ve hit someone with our car and we didn’t try to help them because we wanted to get to our secluded lakeside cabin where we shall get drunk and make out and ARGH!!!! AN AXE THROUGH MY HEAD!!!’ Although, I have nothing against a well-placed, well-considered axe to the head as long as it’s in the service of the story and not just a lazy gross-out device.

5. What are you currently reading? sh editor top

At the moment I’m reading Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate, Peter Ackroyd’s London, Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl, Sara Maitland’s Gossip from the Forest, Max Decharne’s Capital Crimes: Seven Centuries of London Life and Murder, Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, and R.B. Russell’s The Dark Return of Time. I dip into several books at a time, part research, part recreation.

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