Hurrah, It’s Scary Women Again

It’s Women in Horror Month, and as usual, we’re mildly conflicted. After all, extremely talented women are writing, painting  and sculpting the weird the whole year round. And at greydogtales, we believe in showcasing the work of creative people you may not know irrespective of their gender. Or even species, come to that. Chilli, our alpha female longdog, would have it no other way.

But we also sort of agree with the idea, so this is our compromise. Our Scary Women features have the virtue of being repeatable whatever the month, signposting cool writers, and leaving a bit more room for discussion about gender and writing at the same time. One day we’ll get round to asking men some gender-related questions, in a new series. Confused Men, perhaps. We wonder if anyone will volunteer for that one? Hmmm.


We’re delighted to be joined today by two great UK authors, Victoria Leslie and Laura Mauro. You may have seen their short stories already – you’ll certainly see more of them in the future. Laura and Victoria were first  suggested to us by author Nina Allan, who wrote an excellent and detailed piece about women in horror – and about embracing new talent in general – not long ago. If we can find the link, we’ll add it at the end.

Here we go…

laura mauro
laura mauro
victoria leslie
victoria leslie

greydog: Welcome to both of you. Let’s start with the overall view as we did in the last Scary Women. The markets, and to some extent the fans, often like to label their favourite authors. Gothic, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, paranormal and so on. What do you call the genre(s) in which you write, regardless of other people’s labels?

laura: It’s simplest to say that I write horror, although I notice that when I speak to people who don’t really read within the genre that the ‘horror’ label comes with a lot of assumptions. I suppose what I write errs on the side of ‘dark fantasy’ rather than true horror, but if it creeps people out – and I hope it does – then I think I get to sit at the horror table, even if only at the very corner.

victoria: I think of the genre I work within as dark fiction or horror. I like how broad the term speculative fiction is as it encapsulates so many facets within the genres and personally I quite like it when these overlap. I particularly like the kind of dark fiction that is showcased by publications like Shadows and Tall Trees, which categorises itself as a purveyor of weird fiction. Also journals like the limited edition Curious Tales I think demonstrate that there is a need for subtle horror, or literary dark fiction.


greydog: Why this genre? For example, if you seek to explore people’s psychology, why use dark or scary fiction to go there? If you write to thrill, why horror rather than, say, adventure stories?

victoria: I’ve always been interested in stories about the unexplained, about things on the edge of our perception. I especially liked hearing ghost stories when I was growing up and my mum sometimes used to let me watch the X Files or The Outer Limits – if she deemed it tame enough – which I think really fuelled this interest. I think the draw of writing dark fiction is that you can tap into this inherent fear we all share of what really exists out there, of what monsters and ghouls haunt us literally or figuratively. I think, compared to any other genre, dark fiction allows you to process and respond to the complexities of the human experience.

laura: I once joked that I always dreamed of writing cyberpunk but I know sod-all about technology. It’s really hard to explain why I write horror. I think it’s just more interesting to explore the human condition via the dark and the weird because those things are inherent in all of us – we just prefer to gloss over it and pretend we’re all perfectly normal. And also, with horror, there’s the freedom to colour outside the lines and bring in bizarre elements you could never get away with in, say, an adventure story. You really get to explore the strangest limits of the imagination.

reiko murakami
reiko murakami

greydog: Last time we featured writers from North America. Coming from the UK, do you see a difference between British and North American horror?

laura: There was a really interesting panel on this subject at last year’s Fantasycon and I remember someone mentioning that British horror seems to have a very defined sense of place. We’re fascinated by environments. We love a good ancient, crumbling house on the moors, or any place that carries with it a sense of history. The British psyche as a collective has a tendency to obsess over the past. And I think our folklore and legend is inextricable from our history – so many of the more famous ‘true’ ghost stories involve historical figures, whether it’s Henry VIII haunting Hampton Court or long-dead stage actors lurking on Underground platforms.

victoria: I don’t really see much of a difference between British and North American Horror. I enjoy the work of writers from both sides of the Atlantic. I confess that I read more work by English writers, though I don’t do this intentionally.


greydog: Were you affected by the market presence of other women already writing in the genre?

victoria: When I began writing, I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t read a lot of what you would call current genre fiction. My background is in nineteenth century literature and I was, and still am, a big reader of writers from that period, both male and female. So the women writers I was reading included, Ann Radcliffe, Edith Wharton, Mary Shelley and Vernon Lee. Since then, I’m glad to say I’ve enjoyed catching up with the work of women writers working in the genre now (and male writers too) though, as there’s a female agenda here I’ll stick to the girls: Helen Marshall, Cate Gardner, Alison Moore, Priya Sharma, Carole Johnstone…to name but a few.

laura: Personally, no. When I first started submitting stories to magazines I really had no idea of who was writing what outside of a small, selected bunch of writers I was familiar with through Black Static and Shadows and Tall Trees. So for me it was more of a ‘I like what I’m reading and want to get on that train too’ sort of situation.

cover by santiago caruso
cover by santiago caruso

greydog: We’ve heard it said that there is an area of paranormal and horror fiction which is dominated by male writers and readers, perhaps a bleaker, nastier section of the field. Do you think that’s the case?

laura: It depends on how you define bleak and nasty. I feel like there’s a tendency to consider fiction which deals with physical brutality and violence as the bleakest, nastiest stuff out there but I think that greatly underestimates the impact a well-crafted psychological story can have. You can read a story which has little to no physicality, not a single drop of blood, and emerge feeling completely emotionally drained. But if we’re talking about traditionally nasty horror…I probably have read more of these types of stories written by men – although you could question whether it really is because men write ‘nastier’ horror, or whether it’s because they have a certain confidence in submitting more extreme content whereas female writers are more inclined to hold back and reign ourselves in. Having said that, one of the nastiest (and most brutally effective) stories I’ve ever read is ‘The Guinea-Pig Girl’ by Thana Niveau, which tempered its brutality with a searing insight into what that brutality actually meant.

victoria: I completely concur. ‘The Guinea Pig Girl‘ is a really potent story. I don’t think women are less drawn to write about the more brutal side of horror but perhaps these kinds of stories appear in different kinds of publications. In terms of being a women writer, I’ve never felt a pressure to write a certain type of horror, I’ve just tried to consolidate my own voice. Also, I’ve never encountered anything but inclusivity and welcome in my writing career, the British horror scene especially is very warm and encouraging. Though as Nina Allan’s recent blog post very cogently points out, there is still a massive gender disparity in some of the leading publications, whose job it is to showcase current talent. This is a shame as there are some amazing women writers out there, which is not the impression some of these anthologies give and readers new to the genre face the task of seeking them out independently.


greydog: Nina’s piece was good – we’ve found the link and have it below. Let’s sneak down to character level. Do you feel more involved writing a female character, or does it make no difference what gender the character is?

victoria: I’ve written male and female characters. Perhaps there are some facets I can relate to more readily when writing a female character but the job of being a writer is to get inside your character’s head regardless of gender. Many of my characters are actually a bit obsessive about something, so I try to pivot character traits on these motivations, rather than to think about gender alone.

laura: I have a tendency to write female main characters, and this is partly because I want to tell stories about women – and when I say that, I mean stories in which women exist and behave and ‘do’ in exactly the same way men do, without their female-ness necessarily impacting on the plot. I don’t know how much sense that makes? I feel like there’s sometimes an onus on female writers to tell stories about the female experience, and I want to emphasise that I don’t have a problem with doing that, but I also want to normalise female protagonists in horror fiction to the point where their gender is just another feature of their character – not necessarily the driving force of their character.


greydog: The cheap way of writing so-called ‘strong’ female characters is to make them as axe-happy as the men and swear more. That may be fun, but it’s not exactly the answer. What makes a female character ‘strong’ for you?

laura: This is a great question. I have issues with the way we instinctively conflate ‘strength’ with ‘physicality’, and by extension, with ‘violence’. One thing I have a huge problem with is the way we create these ‘strong female characters’ who can fight and snark and power through life but are never, ever allowed to be flawed. They don’t get to be real people. I feel like it’s incredibly lazy – you’re not investing any time into making that person a person, with all the complexities that entails, and that means glaring imperfections, just like every other character. ‘Strong’ does not also mean ‘beyond critique’!

That’s not to say that a physically strong woman can’t also be a good character. There just has to be more to her than her ability in battle, or how unflinchingly she faces down danger. I guess what needs to be asked is, what makes a character strong? My all-time favourite example of this is Dana Scully from The X-Files. She’s determined, intelligent, physically capable, holds her own in a male-dominated environment, stands up for herself and for those she cares about. She probably saves Mulder as often as he saves her. But she’s also frustrating, bullheaded, sometimes easily led, makes bad relationship choices. She’s allowed to be vulnerable, which is important because it’s only through her vulnerability that you’re able to see how strong she can be. We don’t love her any less because she’s flawed – that’s what makes her relatable and realistic.

victoria: I think strength for both female and male characters comes from an inner strength, strength of integrity or through overcoming adversity in its many forms. I do enjoy depictions of female physical strength in popular culture, but I’m finicky about accuracy and realism. I’m turned off by women in tight outfits and silhouettes fighting bad guys but am drawn to forceful characters in literature, like Ruby in Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain for instance, who possess resilience and fortitude and the practical skills to protect herself and others. The figure of the virago interests me very much but I think we have a long way to go to define and celebrate female physical strength that isn’t solely through a comparison to masculinity.


greydog: Cool – we’d have to agree with both of you there. Do you feel that you write primarily for a particular audience – female, male, young, old – or do you not see it that way when you’re actually getting on with it?

victoria: I’ve never felt overly concerned with the need to write for a particular audience, except in the cases I’ve been asked to contribute to a certain anthology. But even then, I’ve been driven by the need to write my story more than anything else. I just hope the readers, whoever they may be, like it.

laura: I don’t think so, no. I just write whatever comes into my head and hope that someone will enjoy it.

reiko murakami
reiko murakami

greydog: Which other female writer(s) in the field, early or contemporary, do you admire?

laura: Horror readers are extremely fortunate at the moment as there’s an absolute goldmine of fantastic female writers out there. My favourite horror novel is ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver, which is one of the only stories I’ve read that genuinely scared the life out of me. I recently read ‘White Rabbit’ by Georgina Bruce in the latest Black Static, which blew me away. There’s a list of brilliant female horror writers as long as my arm and I will inevitably accidentally leave some of them out, for which I apologise – Cate Gardner, Alison Littlewood, Thana Niveau, Helen Oyeyemi, Priya Sharma, Carole Johnstone, Lynda Rucker, VH Leslie, Sara Saab, Sarah Pinborough, Helen Marshall, Alyssa Wong, Nina Allan, Kathe Koja, SP Miskowski, Rosanne Rabinowitz. This isn’t just a laundry list of female writers – all of them have written stories which have left me thinking ‘wow, we’ve got a good thing going here’. I’d love for things to reach a point where it’s just taken as read that women write horror fiction, and good horror fiction.

victoria: Besides the writers listed above I enjoy the fiction of Daphne Du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, A.S. Byatt, Angela Carter, Doris Lessing, Sarah Waters, Nina Allan, Thana Niveau, Laura Mauro, Alison Littlewood, Lynda Rucker, Karen Russell, Lucy Wood and many, many more!

reiko murakami
reiko murakami

greydog: And finally, as we’ve got you here, where next for your writing? Tell us what we might be seeing from you in 2016.

victoria: My debut novel Bodies of Water is due out from Salt Publishing in May. And while we’re talking about women in horror, I should add that it has a very feminist flavour. I’ve just had stories published in Black Static and The Hyde Hotel and have a few others intended for anthologies later in the year.

laura: I’ve got a couple of short stories coming out in anthologies in the coming months, which is nice, including the title story in NewCon Press’ 10-year anniversary collection ‘Obsidian’, which features a whole load of great horror stories by female writers. I’m also planning to write a novel, although I’ve been saying that for at least two years now…

reiko murakami
reiko murakami

greydog: Many thanks to both of you for taking part. We hope listeners will seek out some of the names you mentioned – as well as your own work, naturally.


Some of the art today is by the fabulous Reiko Murakami, and you really should visit her site to see more – raqmo. The previous Scary Women, with Anita Stewart and Clarissa Johal, can be found here – scary women.

Victoria, writing as V H Leslie, has a blog you can check out,  v h leslie.  Laura can be found here, the crunchiest blanket .And as mentioned, Nina Allan‘s essay, which is a great read, is here – where are we going?

Next week on greydogtales, we have lurchers, lighthouses and more weird things than you can possibly imagine (please note: this is not a legally binding statement).

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David Senior: An Antiquary goes to Dunwich

We hope that all our listeners are crouched around their radio sets with the lights turned down low, for today we have a man who has walked in M R James’s footsteps (literally) and taken a touch of H P Lovecraft with him at the same time. Photographer and writer David Senior joins us, snatched from the Folk Horror Revival to talk about both his photography and his writing.

November 08
earlham cemetery, david senior

With the almost lost town of Dunwich in the news again, we are surprisingly timely in our posting. We do have a vested interest. Our own period horror story My Lips Shall Speak No More, concerning one of the legends of Dunwich, should be anthologised later this year.

Coastal Doom
coastal doom, david senior

If that weren’t enough, M R James, who set a number of his stories in East Anglia, is still the hottest medieval scholar and provost to hit the weird bookstands. And we shouldn’t ignore the Lovecraftian connection with regards to his The Dunwich Horror. He didn’t make that name up, you know.

dunwich, david senior

“How much of this once populous city with ”fifty-two churches’ is left at the moment I will not undertake to say.” M R James

To cap it all, we grew up on a North Sea coastline similarly being dragged into the sea year on year (see  whale-road, widow-maker ). If the Deep Ones wanted anywhere to hide, forget Innsmouth. There are plenty of drowned villages off the Yorkshire coast where they could share gutteral anecdotes and plan a day out in Hull. Ravenser Odd, now under the grey waves off Spurn Point, would seem a suitable host.



David Senior has done extensive photographic work across East Anglia, and his pictorial path runs from moody, pastoral scenes, through ruined churches and all the way to modern dystopian decay, which means that his work has something for everybody. Not many kittens playing with balls of wool, though.

sparham, david senior
sparham, david senior

He’s a prolific photographer, so we’ve only been able to chose a few that caught our eye to illustrate his interview. His writing draws on today’s landscape and is edgy with menace, and we ask him about that as well. Do listen closely…

david senior

greydog: Welcome to greydogtales, David, and thanks for joining us. For those who don’t know you, we should really start with Eastscapes, which is the website you use to display the range of your photography. Your work on Eastscapes covers many aspects of East Anglia, from contemporary neglect to the broad landscape. Do you find the area has a particular vibe or feel to it, one which resonates with you?

david: Absolutely. I’m not a ‘native’ East Anglian – I’m originally from West Yorkshire, and moved to Norfolk when I went to university at 18. As soon as I began to explore the landscape of the city and the surrounding countryside, it began to have an increasing hold over me: there’s something about its location – jutting out by itself, on the road to nowhere, much of it rural, its coastlines eroding – that I find tremendously powerful. There’s a genuine sense of isolation in a lot of the landscape, yet with rich reams of history and meaning lurking beneath the surface.

cawston woods 01
cawston woods, david senior

greydog: We’re going to pretend to know something about photography, although we clearly don’t. Are you a hi-tech, expensive SLR expert weighed down with extra lenses, filters and sensors, or a quick digital sort of guy?

david: Quick, digital. I actually know very little about the physicality of photography, and far less about Photoshop and high-end digital techniques. Usually when I shoot it’s either with an iPhone or digital bridge camera. I appreciate the low economic barrier to entry with photography at the moment: if you have a phone, you have a camera. It allows the potential for capturing spontaneous imagery wherever you are without needing to think too far ahead, plan in advance, or have to be able to afford the necessary equipment. I like that.

walberswick, david senior
walberswick, david senior

greydog: What we see in many of your shots is a very bold, even stark capturing of light and dark. Does this mean that you deliberately trek out under certain weather and lighting conditions, or are these opportunistic shots taken as you go along?

david: Usually opportunistic: I think I’m simply drawn to places and imagery in which darkness somehow threatens to overwhelm the image. Even on sunny days, the shadows are the strongest… I often prefer heading out very early in the morning to shoot, though – I want to find landscapes devoid of people, which, even in Norfolk, can sometimes be tricky! Plus it puts me in a more appropriate mindset to shoot: feeling as if I have this silent world to myself, free from distraction or crowding. I photographed Norwich city centre on Christmas morning. It was emptier than I’ve ever known it, and of course my thoughts turned to post-apocalyptic, ‘28 Days Later’ scenarios…

station approach 06
station approach, david senior

greydog: Your site is sub-titled The Abandoned, the Forgotten and the Curious. This is immediately reminiscent of M R James, and of course you have photographed a number of sites mentioned by James in his guidebook ‘Suffolk and Norfolk’ (1930). Can we assume that you’re an enthusiast of his ghost stories as well?

david: I adore James’ stories, and if anything am perhaps even more fascinated by the 1970s BBC adaptations of his works for their ‘Ghost Story at Christmas’ series. Many of which were both set and filmed in this neck of the woods, so I’ve embarked upon the odd James pilgrimage from time to time! There is a variety in James’ work, and not everything is set in East Anglia, but recurring motifs do stick with me. Bleakness, loneliness, half-seen figures on an empty coastline. Even when not photographing anything explicitly ‘Jamesian’ – whatever that would even mean – his themes are almost always lurking there somewhere.

aldeburgh church 04
aldeburgh church, david senior

“Aldeburgh…has a special charm for those who, like myself, have known it since childhood; but I do not find it easy to put that charm into words.” M R James

castle acre
castle acre, david senior

“…no finer ruin is to be found in Norfolk.” M R James

greydog: It might be worth mentioning that we came across you initially through a connection with folk-horror, an area of growing interest and examination. Perhaps we should put you on the spot by asking what the term means to you personally.

david: There doesn’t seem to be a strict definition of folk horror, which is fine with me. I find it handy to see it as a vague umbrella term which covers aspects of a horror aesthetic which refers back to our more rural, folk-culture roots. That difficult-to-define uneasiness that one can feel simply walking through an otherwise picturesque village out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t necessarily think folk horror as a term has to be limited to the British Isles, but there’s a great deal of the British collective imagery tied up in it. Pagan vibes nestling alongside derelict Christian churches, scarecrows and sinister villages and forgotten copses.

trees hum 02
david senior

greydog: Now, on to your writing. Do your photographs inspire your fiction, or are they two strands which you keep separate?

david: Intertwined. The locations I photograph make their ways into my writing, and I hunt out locations to photograph that resemble the locations in my head. The Sinners of Crowsmere is punctuated with black and white photography, and one chapter is little more than a series of descriptions of faded Polaroids found in an old box. I try and write how I think my photographs would sound, if that doesn’t come across as horrendously pretentious!

house in woods 08
house in the woods, david senior

greydog: Your first novella, The Sinners of Crowsmere, has been described as transgressive, art-house and Jamesian (“Highly recommended… Wonderful arthouse / video nasty vibe on the Norfolk coast” – M. R. James Podcast). As we’re not sure what those terms mean when bundled together, can you give listeners a brief idea of what themes they might find in the novella?

david: It’s a sparse book, slight, spindly, haunted by ghosts literal and figurative. Yet it’s also about people in a small town, and the flaws and weaknesses that make us who we are: depression, violence, obsession, boredom, regret.

kings lynn 12
kings lynn, david senior

greydog: You then went on to write Agony Pages. We cover a lot of Lovecraftian influences on greydogtales, and Agony Pages certainly has some of that feel. Did this spring from an existing interest in Lovecraft and similar writers?

david: I’m a sucker for Lovecraft and I’m a sucker for video nasty and gore culture. That indescribable thrill you’d get as a kid when you got your hands on some unmarked VHS cassette that had been copied off some friend’s older brother, and that promised untold violence and nudity… Agony Pages is an unabashed delving into the appeal of the sleazier side of horror. Whereas Lovecraft had sinister grimoires unfit for human eyes, the equivalent here are underground porno mags of mythical reputation that allow glimpses into darker and grosser worlds. It’s not particularly gory or explicit in itself, but all that gloopier, nastier stuff is lingering round the edges.

austerity dogs 02
austerity dogs, david senior

greydog: And as we like to look forward, we usually ask this. What might we expect from you in the future – more photographic work, more fiction or both.

david: Both. And hopefully together! I photograph constantly, even if I update my blog less frequently than I should. I’m working on the follow-up to Crowsmere, amongst other things, and am still trying to piece together a horror novel told entirely through photographs… Which may take a while, admittedly, but I’ll get there. Until then, I’ll just continue to wander with my camera and my notebook, trying to capture that indefinable sense of weird.

anglian gothic 07
anglian gothic, david senior

greydog: Many thanks, David.

You can find more of his work on his website eastscapes, and a link for The Sinners of Crowsmere is up on the sidebar now, under Things of Interest.


Given our concurrent nautical weird theme and our last post (see stranger seas three), we had to add one more of M R James’s comment, from his Anglian guidebook:

“A merman was caught at Orford in the thirteenth century, and kept for some time.”

So there.

creepwood, david senior
creepwood, david senior

At the end of this week: It’s Scary Women 2, a double interview with UK horror writers Laura Mauro and Victoria Leslie. We might still have a midweek medley though, so stay in touch.



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Santiago Caruso and The Songs of Maldoror

What’s this strangeness? Illustrated book covers from Spanish language editions? And of weird or obscure books? But look, the marvellous Santiago Caruso is involved. So we did it. We are fearless. Our weird art theme has returned.


We’ve long been admirers of the exquisite covers on the books of Editorial Valdemar, an independent Spanish publisher based in Madrid. The company was set up by Rafael Diaz Santander and Juan Luis Gonzalez at the end of the eighties, and now has a fantastic range of Spanish language gothic fiction, horror, fantasy and science fiction literature. Thomas Ligotti, H P Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes in Castilian, no less.


Not only do Editorial Valdemar cover some of the greatest classics in weird literature through their Gothic collection, but they have also introduced translations of contemporary works via their Insomnia range. They now offer Caitlin R Kiernan, Graham Masterton and others as well.


It’s those illustrated covers, though. Valdemar recently announced that they were issuing The Songs of Maldoror (about which more later), with a cover and illustrations by one of our favourite weird artists, Santiago Caruso. In his honour, we have chosen his and some of the other striking Valdemar covers, to display today.


For those people interested in the particular book in question, here’s Valdemar’s release information in our (very) loose English translation, with the original Spanish below it.

Valdemar-cabra“Finally, three months late, we just sent to press the 100th of our Gothic publications. There have been some problems, yes, we have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but in the end it was worth it. It is a work that we wanted to edit almost from the beginning of the founding of Valdemar, and it would have been a perfect number 1 of the collection of “The Cursed” or “A Library of Hell” we never got to do. So we thought it was a good idea for it to be the 100th Gothic publication – The Songs of Maldoror. The edition is illustrated by the great Santiago Caruso, and is complemented by the poems and letters of Isidore Ducasse, and a profuse collection of notes by Mauro Ermine. I want to thank all the fans of the Gothic collection by making it possible that we have come this far.”


“Por fin, con tres meses de retraso, acabamos de mandar a imprenta el número 100 de la Gótica. Ha habido algunos problemas, es cierto, hemos estado al borde del ataque de nervios, pero al final ha merecido la pena. Es una obra que nos apetecía editar casi desde el principio de la fundación de Valdemar, habría sido un número 1 perfecto de una colección de “malditos” o “una biblioteca del Infierno” que nunca llegamos a hacer. Así que nos pareció una buena idea que fuera el número 100 de la Gótica: LOS CANTOS DE MALDOROR. La edición va ilustrada por el grandísimo SANTIAGO CARUSO, y se complementa con los poemas y las cartas de Isidore Ducasse, además de un profuso aparato de notas a cargo de Mauro Armiño. Quiero agradeceros a todos los seguidores de la colección Gótica por haber hecho posible que hayamos llegado hasta aquí.”


Despite the fact that we really want to look at the pictures, we feel that we should tell you a bit about The Songs of Maldoror. The work itself is somewhat mad, and has been compared to a romantic version of William Burroughs going off the rails. It’s not exactly a greydogtales recommendation because quite frankly some people say that it’s too difficult to follow. Others find it inspiring (it has some good imagery in it, certainly).


It’s either a prose poem or a poetic novel, with six long cantos (or chunks). It’s not exactly linear, and it is rather surreal. Written around 1868-69 by Isidore-Lucien Ducasse when he was in his early twenties, it has no plot as such. It might be easiest to use the Penguin Classics blurb to try and describe it:

“…it follows the experiences of Maldoror, a master of disguises pursued by the police as the incarnation of evil, as he makes his way through a nightmarish realm of angels and gravediggers, hermaphrodites and prostitutes, lunatics and strange children. Delirious, erotic, blasphemous and grandiose by turns…”


The world of Maldoror is violent and confusing, and is said to have been a major influence upon the surrealists, French symbolism and the Dadaist movement.

el horror sobrenatural en la literatura valdemar

Ducasse, a French writer born in Uruguay, wrote it under the pseudonym Comte de Lautremont. He died at the age of only 24, probably from fever during the 1870 siege of Paris.

Amazingly he thus managed to endure two sieges in his short life. When he was a boy he was caught up in the siege of Montevideo which was part of the war between Argentina and Uruguay. This makes his misfortune at being besieged in Paris by the Prussians rather weird in itself.


Apparently Ducasse had meant to write a ‘good’ counterpoint to The Songs of Maldoror, but never finished it. Paris surrendered two months after his death, by the way.



Regular listeners, who will therefore have no need of laxatives, will know that we love trivia here, and so we cannot help but mention that Valdemar the Great won the battle of Grathe (Grey) Heath in 1157 and went on to ruled Denmark. Greyheath, greydog – we couldn’t miss that out.

In addition, Bodegas Valdemar in Spain produce a nice rioja, and Valdemar is the overall title for Mercedes Lackey‘s famous series of fantasy novels, starting chronologically with The Black Gryphon. Which brings us back to weird fiction rather nicely.


You can drool over more Editorial Valdemar covers here (or even buy some of the books if you read Spanish)

valdemar main site

And there is a sadly Caruso-less translation of The Songs of Maldoror still available from Penguin. Nice cover, though.

41-0W3Oc2qLthe songs of maldoror


Next time on godknowswhatwe’redoingtales, David Senior shares his striking photography and talks about his writing as well.

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Stranger Seas 3: Ray Cluley Surfaces for Air

Our seas are full of mysteries.” Yes, the award-winning author Ray Cluley joins us today for our series about the nautical weird. We talk about oceanic awe, merfolk, writing techniques, what the heck is ‘literary horror’ – and his own works, of course.

Ray writes on the darker side. His work has been published in Black Static, Interzone and Crimewave from TTA Press, Shadows & Tall Trees from Undertow Press, and Icarus from Lethe Press, as well as featuring in a variety of anthologies. He’s from the UK, younger than us and a fine writer. It’s all very depressing for old greydog, who will now have to work twice as hard.

Still, put on your swimming costumes and dive into the darkness with us. Oh no, it’s Stranger Seas 3

ray cluley, with ocean

greydog: Welcome to greydogtales, Ray, and many thanks for coming.

ray: It’s a pleasure, thanks for inviting me.

greydog: We shamelessly hauled you into the Stranger Seas net because of your most excellent novella, Water for Drowning, so let’s begin with the aquatic side of your work. You told us in earlier correspondence that this is your favourite setting for horror, closely followed by the cold (which we might get to later). Putting it simply, what do you think is the appeal of stories set on, around or even under the sea?

ray: Yeah, I love the sea. It terrifies me. There’s so much of it, and we know so little about what’s in it, so it’s a great setting for making something monstrous plausible. I mean, if the blue whale, the biggest living thing on our planet (that we know of) can prove so difficult to find and track, what else might be out there evading our notice? And there’s such diversity of life in the sea. Have you seen the Blue Planet series? Such a wide range and variation of things, with new species discovered all the time. And truly weird things, like squids that turn themselves inside out, fish that naturally produce lights to help them hunt or survive other predators, transparent creatures that float around like their own x-ray. Our seas are full of mysteries, and creepy alien-like things.

Of course, the environment itself can kill you, so that makes it a pretty useful setting for horror, too. The threat of drowning, the destructive power of waves, the intense pressure of great depths. I remember a quote from Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, a chapter heading I think, that says of the fishing trade, “It’s not fish you’re buying, it’s men’s lives” (Sir Walter Scott said it, I believe) which really highlights how dangerous the sea can be, and danger is great for any story. With so many losing their lives at sea it’s also a superb setting for anything ghostly. All those lost vessels. All those lost souls.

Plus as well as the sea itself you’ve got ships, oil rigs, submarines, all of which are excellent story settings due to the isolation, the confinement, and the limited cast of characters.


greydog: We don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the mythology surrounding mermaids has a certain relevance to Water for Drowning. You also wrote the terrific I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing. Was mer-lore something which you needed to research at the time, or did it spring from a pre-existing interest in the area?

ray: I’ve always loved the idea of mermaids. The symbolism of them, their beauty, the idea that they can be used to depict a doomed love story or the dangers of sexual allure. And regarding stories, mythology, I’ve always been particularly drawn to the ones that mix and merge creatures together with the human. I find centaurs fascinating too, werewolves, satyrs, the lamia… Interestingly many of these are also often associated with sexual desire, as if such a thing should be considered animalistic, primal, base, and with this you also get that frisson of the taboo, emphasised by the idea of interspecies breeding. All good stuff for horror stories.

mermaid, bech

greydog: We have a policy of not interbreeding with anything that has sharper teeth than us. Now, one of the things we worried about, when planning the Stranger Seas theme, was settling on a definition. Which we didn’t, so we just looked at everything wet and scary we could find. What, for you, is the quintessential nautical horror story?

ray: The first thing I thought of after reading that question was a film – Carpenters The Fog. Such a great film, and one I’ll watch whenever it happens to be on. And Jaws, of course, that’s a classic for all sorts of reasons. But my favourite nautical horror story to read is probably Lovecraft’sThe Shadow Over Innsmouth’. Not only are the Deep Ones themselves disturbing, but the idea of trading with them, making pacts, mating with them to produce strange hybrids? There’s a lot in that story about what it is to be human, and a lot of that is scarier than any Deep One. Plus there’s that lure of the sea, calling its children back to its depths… Wonderful stuff. We crawled out of the sea, once upon a time, to become what we are today. Anything that takes us back, devolves us to an earlier state, and puts us in an environment we might have crawled away from in the first place because it’s so damn deadly, gets my vote as quintessential nautical horror.

the shadow over innsmouth, kakobrutus

greydog: Another aspect of Water for Drowning is the indeterminate truth about the nature of the core character (as opposed to the narrator). Do you prefer an approach where readers end a story with their own speculations as to what they’ve witnessed, rather than laying it on the line?

ray: I do prefer that, yeah. I believe reading should be an active process as far as possible, more than simply following words across a page with your eyes and imagining what they tell you. If you can involve the reader more with the actual act of story telling then I think they’ll take more from the experience. I know I do. I try to write stories that don’t rely too heavily on it, though, trying to strike a balance that allows a reader to either sit back and be told what happens or do some of the work themselves. If I can put that option there, I will. And if they take the ‘do some work themselves’ option, I like to offer a few possibilities as to what routes they might take in the process. The most obvious thing to offer is a ‘straight’ story and a more metaphorical one, but I like to put in a few ambiguities that allow for different interpretations. I blame my lit degree and my teaching days.

What I don’t like are stories where the writer seems to offer this but has in fact just been vague, as if they themselves don’t really know what they’re writing. Some readers like that, but I consider it too easy, too lazy in fact.

a shark at work, yesterday

greydog: You won a British Fantasy Award for Shark! Shark! (another conveniently sea-linked story). Apart from the pleasure of the twists in the story, you play extensively, and very successfully, with the breaking of the Fourth Wall and shifts in how characters are observed. What made you abandon straight linear narrative and viewpoint for this one?

ray: I abandoned it just for fun, at first. I tend to plan my stories, or at least write a ‘plot-page’ for myself before writing, and as it’s for my eyes only it tends to use a colloquial style with notes for the technical stuff regarding where I want to put some symbolism or subtext, a play on words, that kind of thing. Then I’ll write it properly afterwards. With ‘Shark! Shark!’ I simply didn’t turn that colloquial style off or hide it, and when it came to writing it properly I merely made it more reader-friendly, more intentional. When I was studying and teaching literature I loved plays that broke the fourth wall, the Brechtian approach of drawing attention to the art itself, highlighting art as artifice. If you simply sit back and enjoy the show you might miss, or not give enough attention to, what is being said and/or how it’s being said. Besides, I was riffing on Jaws and a few other shark films and wanted to show the reader that I knew I was doing that. Beat them to the punch, in a way, before they could judge me for it. That, plus many of the people who read my work are either writers themselves or in the course of becoming one, so I thought it would be fun to highlight the writing process as a sort of shared experience or ‘in joke’.


greydog: And it works very well. Onto the bleak and the cold. Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow is another novella of yours which has been well-received. Can you give our listeners a taste of what we might find there?

ray: It’s very different to Water For Drowning, which is a bit lewd and crude. Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow is more psychological, with a far less colloquial prose style. It’s about a woman called Gjerta Jørgensen who is in fact the first woman to join an elite dogsled team called Slædepatruljen Sirius. Their job is to patrol the frozen coastline of Greenland. It’s a tough job with all sorts of risks, most related to the extreme weather conditions, and the cold landscape made for a great setting due to its desolation and the solitude. Gjerta is a haunted woman, with half of the novella told in flashback to her life in Denmark, again with a backdrop of cold isolation. It’s all a big metaphor, landscape and weather combining in an extended example of pathetic fallacy to represent Gjerta’s state of mind, but there are monsters, too. The darkteeth. The man of traps.

It was well received but unfortunately you can’t get hold of it anymore, not at the moment, due to some issues with the publisher. However, I’m happy to say it has since found a new home and will be republished later this year…


greydog: We’ll pretend to be hip and current now. Probably Monsters is your first collection of short stories, and it’s pretty damned good. We were interested to see it described as ‘literary horror’ in some reviews. As we have you trapped here, we wanted to get your view on this shorthand term, which is being used a lot nowadays. Do you think ‘literary horror’ has any real meaning – more long words, less hack and slash, or what?

ray: To me, ‘literary horror’ is a somewhat problematic term. It sounds defensive, for starters, as if you’re saying ‘it’s not really horror, it’s cleverer than that’. At the very least it’s loaded with the assumption that horror isn’t literary unless you tag that word on first. When it’s used like this it really bothers me, because it’s an unfair judgement of the genre.

However, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that, actually, there’s a hell of a lot of crap out there. I mean crap that shouldn’t be published due to the standard of writing, not crap because it’s horror. In this sense, ‘literary horror’ is sometimes a shorthand way of saying ‘this ain’t that’. In which case, it has its uses.

Oddly, some people seem to use the term as a substitute for realism. It’s literary because the writer spends a long time talking about ‘life stuff’. I don’t have time for that definition. It’s not literary because you spent ages telling me about this character’s divorce or devoted several pages to the minutiae of their daily life. That’s just fucking dull.

If I use the term it’s to describe work in the genre that has made effective use of the tools available to a writer, work that utilises various techniques to allow a story to do more than tell a sequence of events. I like stories that are ‘just’ stories – this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and it was all very exciting and scary – but I also like stories that do this while at the same time showing me that it means something, that it stands for something, that there’s a message beyond the thrill of events or well chosen words. These tend to be the stories that stand the test of time, stories that might be studied later, stories that are reprinted in, or even inspire, anthologies. This, to me, is ‘literary’ horror. Doesn’t mean it should wave its arms around and shout about it, though.

Short version: I’m wary of the term and its usage. It’s often used incorrectly and/or comes, sometimes, with a certain arrogance. And yet I’m always flattered if my own work is defined as such. I’m a contradiction (slash, hypocrite).

sebastian cabrol
sebastian cabrol – yes, we’ve used it before, but we love its squirminess so much…

greydog: You been published in a lot of magazines and anthologies. As a writer, do you find the short story a satisfying vehicle, or do you prefer the novella approach to give your ideas room to grow?

ray: I love the short story form and believe it’s home to most of the best horror. Partly due to the whole ‘unity of effect’ thing and the idea that horror or terror is best accomplished in a small dose. There are novels that manage it too, of course, but many will consist of peaks and troughs rather than maintaining an extended unity of effect. In fact, a novel’s appeal is in its ability to disregard a single effect to instead tackle all sorts of different things, all at once, which a short story doesn’t have the space to do. I like the discipline of a short story. I like how well it lends itself to ambiguity.

I do like novellas a great deal as a middle ground, though, and just lately I’ve found myself writing more of them. I have to be careful that I’m not simply overwriting a short story (or being too lazy to develop a novel) but otherwise I find the form quite wonderful for horror – it doesn’t overstay its welcome, yet it allows the kind of development denied of a shorter work.

If a short story is a shot of spirits or hard liquor, then a novel is a more leisurely pint. A novella seems to fit somewhere between the two without diluting either. Half a pint with a depth charge, maybe.

Or perhaps I just have an alcohol problem.


greydog: Most of our stories are a bottle of pale ale  – or come from one, anyway. In our signpost role, we collect names and notes for others to follow. It’s not fair, of course, but who are you reading and enjoying at the moment?

ray: Right now I’m mostly reading non-fiction for research but fiction-wise there are a few good ones I read recently. The Convict and Other Stories by James Lee Burke was great. I love this guy, he’s a fantastic writer at both novel and short story length. The Loney by Michael Andrew Hurley was a very good debut, enjoyably slow paced, atmospheric and gothic. One of my favourites when it comes to recommendations, though, is Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It’s a wonderful post-apocalyptic novel, very engaging – I love it. I read it a while ago now but I still think about it, and it’s the first book that pops into my head whenever I’m asked to recommend something.

greydog: And finally, what are your immediate writing plans? More shorts, novellas or even novel length pieces?

ray: I’m working on a few things (as usual). A few short stories for people – one a sort of English folk horror, another a fantasy(ish) piece for a charity anthology, and something that’s a little more sci-fi. I’m working on a couple of novellas, too – one for me, home yet to be found, and one for a publisher who’s producing an interesting range from horror writer couples, so my partner is writing a companion piece for that one. And I’m still plugging away at the novel.

greydog: Ray, thanks again for joining us, and we hope that we’ll see you here on greydogtales later in the year with news of more dark offerings.

ray: Thank you very much for having me.

And you can also find more Cluley news here on his website:

probably monsters website


As Ray mentioned The Shadow over Innsmouth, and as we do obsess on audio here occasionally, we’ll take a moment to mention the version narrated by Richard Coyle, which we enjoyed. He gives the piece a very dark, worried feel. You can check it out on Amazon by clicking the link (and probably elsewhere, but we’re lazy).


the shadow over innsmouth

Next week on greydogtales: A return to folk horror with writer/photographer David Senior, who has walked in the shadow of M R James and survived, plus a return to finned horror in Stranger Seas 4. Can things get any more exciting? Well, yes, obviously, but let’s not be mean, now…

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