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The Slob by Aron Beauregard (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

SlobNovellaThe Slob has a premise that can be summarised in a single succinct line: a door-to-door saleswoman ends up in the house of a cannibal-rapist-necrophile and must figure out a means of escaping. Not exactly a groundbreaking concept for an extreme horror story; even the title recalls Rex Miller’s seminal 1987 splatterpunk novel Slob. But such a pat summary does little justice to just how engagingly twisted this book is.

The story takes a while to get going: discounting the in medias res opening chapter, protagonist Vera Harlow does not wind up in the clutches of The Slob until more than a third of the way through the slim volume. The chapters leading up to this point are put to good use, however. What could have been mere padding becomes a narrative that takes pains to set Vera up as the polar opposite of the uber-slovenly villain, with particular emphasis on her preoccupation with cleanliness

We learn that this trait began during her childhood when she visited a friend and realised the squalor of her own home (“There were places they could sit in their house… Piles of clothing that would never be worn didn’t comprise whole rooms… No dead or dying mice emitting shrill cries of agony, twitching in insensitive traps”); her troubled upbringing, sharing a family with a war-traumatised father and a sister with untreated bipolar disorder (“We were just entering the 70s and mental health and its myriad of deficiencies were still mostly a mystery”); the personal trauma of cleaning up the aftermath of her sister’s gunshot suicide (“I felt queasy looking at the mashup of tissue strewn about; there was even still one of Lisa’s eyeballs surrounded by meaty slop and wedged inside the partially cracked heating vent”).

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Great Moments in Gender Bending

I’ve been reading Harriet Salisbury’s book The War on Our Doorstep: London’s East End and how the Blitz Changed it Forever, and came across this anecdote from one Lucy Collard (born 1915) which I present for your delectation…


On one occasion, we had a party and my brother’s dare was to dress up as a woman and we had a very vinegary-type lady next door who was a very large lady who had a very tiny meek husband. She was bout three times the size of this poor little man, Mr Prager — and my brother’s forfeit was to dress up as a woman, put a pillow underneath the dress and go and knock and ask for Mr Prager and sat what was he going to do about his forthcoming baby.

So Arthur came and knocked and Mrs Prager came to the door and it must have been about eleven o’clock at night and she said ‘What do you want?’ and then there was something about ‘we were in bed’. And Arthur put on a very high-pitched voice and said, ‘I don’t know about you being in bed — what’s he going to do about the baby?’ And they never had any children, and she said, ‘What bloody baby?’ He said, ‘Well, what do you mean, can’t you see that I’m expecting a baby, and it’s your Ernie’s, it’s your Ernie’s baby.’ She said, ‘Not my Ernie, he wouldn’t do anything like that.’ My mother was in the back bedroom, saying, ‘No, he wouldn’t dare!’

Of course, we were absolutely in hysterics, trying hard not to make any noise. And then she called, ‘Ernie! Come down here!’ And she set about poor Ernie. of course, when that happened, my mother said, ‘Oh no, we can’t have that’ and she came out and said, ‘Oh, they’re only playing forfeits’ — and then, of course, Mrs Prager walloped Arthur. After that, I don’t think she ever spoke to us again.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell on How to Become a Werewolf (1912)

This week I’m returning to Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves, which previously provided the account of Estonia’s luminous lycanthrope. In the fourth chapter, O’Donnell discusses how a person might become a werewolf; once again, his seeming inability to actually cite his sources gives the general impression that he’s just making things up on the fly, but his book nonetheless has interest as a stage in the development of werewolf literature.

O’Donnell lists a few alleged methods of obtaining lycanthropy: “by eating a wolf’s brains, by drinking water out of a wolf’s footprints, or by drinking out of a stream from which three or more wolves have been seen to drink”. These sound to me as though they may be genie folkloric concepts, although I have yet to find earlier attestations to them (the detail about footprints turns up in a number of later publications). O’Donnell, meanwhile, is unimpressed: “but as most of the stories I have heard of werwolfery acquired in this way are of a wild and improbable nature, I think there is little to be learned from the modus operandi they advocate.” Given the fanciful nature of the stories he chose to include, this really does raise questions about the ones he rejected.

O’Donnell notes that “in some people lycanthropy is hereditary”, possibly drawing upon the theme of the cursed werewolf family found sometimes in nineteenth-century literature, “and when it is not hereditary it may be acquired through the performance of certain of the rites ordained by Black Magic.” The author states that these rites “vary according to locality” before outlining what he apparently considers to be a typical werewolf ritual.

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Red Station by Kenzie Jennings (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

redStationA stagecoach journeys through a desert in the American West carrying passengers from varied walks of life. They include Montgomery Pickering, a medical doctor; Leeartus “Lee” Shurchell, a gunman; a woman named Patience Wilkson and her husband Finch Henry; and foremost of all, Clyde Northway. Clad in a striking red dress, Clyde gets tongues wagging with talk about her engagement to one Commodore Darrow – a man who, despite not being present on the stagecoach, somehow looms large in the narrative. The coach’s route is known to be dangerous: travellers have gone missing there, their fates something of a mystery as the area has no readily evident places for bandits to hide.

Eventually, the stagecoach reaches the home of the Adlers, a family of German extraction. The passengers disembark to shelter in the Adlers’ household away from a storm outside – and, in the process, learn the hard way just what happened to those people who went missing. The Adlers are killers, although their motives extend beyond greed and into something rather more perverse…

Like Christine Morgan’s The Night Silver River Run Red, Kenzie Jennings’ Red Station belongs to the Death’s Head Press Splatter Western series. The pace is slower this time; indeed, for its early stretches Red Station is notable for both a lack of splatter and a general lack of Western. The setting is the old American West, granted, but the story has little to do with the obvious iconography of the Western genre.

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Reviewing the Hugo Graphic Story Finalists

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This is around the time of year i usually start reviewing the prose finalists at the Hugo Awards. All that’s on the way, but I’m also branching out: if you’re a subscriber of the Women Write About Comics Patreon, you’ll also be able to read my reviews of the comic category. The post covering Die, Ghost-Spider and Invisible Kingdom is now up for subscribers, with the second and final set of reviews due for next month. If you’re not already a subscriber, then sign up today for an in-depth piece of comic analysis every month!

How I Spent June 2021

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In terms of creative output, I spent most of the month working on something that I still can’t talk about. Just this week I sent it off for approval, so fingers crossed (and I mean that in the “good luck” sense, not the “everything I just said was a filthy lie” sense). In other news: progress on the next issue of Midnight Widows, and the beginnings of a short story (the present draft of which contains a placeholder line saying “WEREWOLF SEX GOES HERE” so you know it’ll be good).

Articles of mine published elsewhere this month:

Article topics for July and beyond:

July21

June 2021: A Month in Horror

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This month was not a happy one for the small-press horror community. On 10 June, author Janine Pipe announced that she was teaming up with Cynthia Pelayo on a book called Triple 9, which she described as “a Cop V Monster short horror story anthology”. Pelayo’s publisher Burial Day was set to put out the book. Less than 24 hours following this announcement, Pipe revealed that the project had been cancelled.

“It is with sadness I announce that this project is no longer going ahead”, she said. “Please make sure you all continue to support Cina in any way you can. I am crushed at what has happened.” The next day, Cina Pelayo published a blog post discussing the attacks that she had received, and which prompted her to cancel the anthology and end Burial Day; towards the end of the month she posted a further essay on related matters. Both posts are deeply personal pieces of writing on her part. I will offer no comment, merely encourage you to read her words which speak for themselves.

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Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell’s Luminous Lycanthrope (1912)

Elliott O’Donnell (1872-1965) was a writer who presented himself as something like a real-life version of the occult detectives found in Edwardian weird fiction. H published volumes of purportedly true supernatural encounters, not only describing the stories but providing his own theories as to the supernatural underpinnings. Across his oeuvre, he depicted a world haunted by many varieties of occult entity that he was nonetheless able to fit into a generally coherent theoretical framework.

How seriously any of this should be taken is a matter of debate, however. His habit of removing names and locations (and therefore corroborating details) from the accounts he relates does not inspire confidence; not, indeed, does the fact that these narratives – even when supposedly recorded word-for-word from the people who shared them with O’Donnell – share a remarkably similar writing style. Whatever we make of his claims to veracity, however, we can hardly deny that his prolific output has earned him a place in the history of supernatural literature.

In his 1912 book Werwolves [sic] O’Donnell expresses a belief in the literal existence of these beings beings and dismisses as “grotesque and ridiculous” the idea that lycanthropy can be anything other than supernatural in origin. He acknowledges the possibility of psychological lycanthropy amongst the “bloodthirsty and ignorant” people of West Africa, but cannot see how such a thing could ever affect the “kindly and intelligent” populations of Germany, France and Scandinavia. In an idiosyncratic touch, O’Donnell speculates that certain werewolves may actually be the ghosts of people who showed a specific set of traits in life:

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