20 Women Horror Writers Who Can Keep You Awake All Night. How Many Have You Read?

Posted: August 17, 2018

Women are supposed to write of nice ‘womanly’ things, aren’t they? Here are a few women horror writers whose bone-chilling books will give you the heebie-jeebies.

A woman is meant to be sunshine and roses, daisies and picnic baskets. What a woman is not supposed to be is a horror writer. – A presumption that exists in the minds of people, even today. But let’s talk about some women horror writers who can send a chill down your spine, who prove that not all women are roses and sunshine, some of us are coffins and cauldrons.

Often when I tell the folks in my workshops, that I write fiction, one or two of them prompt, as if on cue, “Romance?” or “Children’s stories?” Oh the joy I get in breaking that bubble of precocious delusion when I tell them that I write ‘Horror’ and the ‘O’ that forms on those disbelieving mouths garners an evil laughter in my gut.

In fact, when I released my horror novella ‘The Door’, I had many folks reaching out to me, incredulous, because they never pegged me to write horror. They always thought that I was such a happy, joyous person. Meh!

Somehow, it defeats my comprehension when the 21stcentury men and women find it hard to believe that women can be dark, can imagine the unknown and pen horrifying narratives. The history of women authors who pen nightmarish tales is as early as 1789, with Ann Radcliff pretty much inventing the genre we now know as Gothic fiction.

And then there was Mary Shelley, who concocted the absolutely beautiful, yet horrendous tale of the mad Doctor who was obsessed with stitching various body parts from different corpses together and creates another human, or Frankenstein, as we popularly know him.

Well, guess what, she was only twenty-one, when she penned this novel. Imagine the horror of the society then, a young woman; albeit the progeny of one of the early feminist voices, Mary Wollstonecraft, had written a macabre tale with corpses, body parts and necromancy.

Of course when it comes to classic horror, who better than Shirley Jackson, with her seemingly normal short story, ‘The Lottery’, that tells the parable of a perfectly regular village, with its perfectly relatable residents, who have gathered in the town square for perfectly abnormal reasons. It runs beautifully mundane, right until it hits you in your gut with the twist in the end.

Or ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, deemed by Stephen King as the most important horror novels of the 20thcentury. A novel that juxtaposed supernatural phenomenon in an old house with psychological horror and went on to become a critically acclaimed example of the horror house story.

Often when people ask me, which is the one horror story that scared the life out of me, I have to say ‘Where are you going, where have you been?’ by Joyce Carol Oates. If you have ever read Oates, you would know there is nothing Gothic about her writing, but there is lot of gut twisting, tense, psychological fear that raises your heart beat, and makes your hands shiver as you read it further.

‘We Were the Mulvaneys’ is another great example of the deft hand with which Oates creates a sense of existential horror; the rape of a young woman, the denial of a mother and people with their running mouths, talking trash and dragging the image of an already damaged girl, through mud.

Or Ann Rice’s‘The Witching Hour’, that is set apart from the Vampire Chronicles, and speaks of the horrific family history of a group of witches from New Orleans. Nothing adds spice to Gothic than a bunch of ruthless witches, secret societies, rotting, abandoned homes and the Devil himself. Of course there is her more famous novels that are now major motion pictures, like ‘An interview with the vampire’ or ‘Queen of the damned’; but somehow the taut tension in ‘The Witching hour’ was enough to give me nightmares.

When speaking of horror, how can we forget about the author who established herself as the Queen of a possibly real, dystopian horror, Margaret Atwood? With her novel ‘The Handmaid’s tale’, horror took a diversion from Gothic and Psychological and moved to the fear of a horrific future.

When speaking of horror sans witches, ghosts and serial killers; there is nothing more terrifying than a mother sick in the head. Book on Munchausen by proxy like ‘From cradle to grave’ by Joyce Egginton and ‘Sickened’ by Julie Gregory are a must read, if you have the stomach for it.

In recent times, I have thoroughly enjoyed books by Helen Oyeyemi, especially her Shirley Jackson award winning novel, ‘White is for Witching’. A short, yet tense telling of a young girl with a rare hunger disorder, possibly passed on by a generation of women, and their home in England, that seems to have a mind of its own.

Gillian Flynn, with her psychological thrillers, like ‘Gone Girl’, ‘Sharp Objects’ and ‘Dark Places’ has created an insanely famous legacy. However, does she qualify as a horror writer? You would have said yes, if you had read her short story, ‘The Grownup’. Tad funny and a lot spookier, this read will keep you hooked right until the end.

If I were honestly representing all paranormal literature, I would have to mention the flurry of paranormal romance/urban fantasy authors like Stephenie Meyers, Charlaine Harris and Richelle Mead. But I won’t, because honestly the concept of a werewolf and a vampire falling in love with a teenage girl doesn’t give me nightmares; or at least nightmares of the scary kind.

As I was researching for this piece, I did wonder about Indian women authors, who dabbled in horror. While not an exhaustive list, three names did stand out during my research.

Jessica Faleiro, who wrote ‘Afterlife: Ghost stories from Goa’. Jessica’s debut novel is a Gothic dream. This book reads of the Fonseca family, that gathers at a mansion for a birthday celebration. What follows is a lot of tension, spilled family secrets and spooky ghost stories. A way more refined version of ghost stories by the campfire.

‘The face at the window’, Kiran Manral’s fifth book, and first attempt at horror. While the book has undertones of her tense, relationship oriented previous write-ups, it is more paranormal than an ‘in your face monster’ horror.

Ghost stories from Shimla hills, by Minakshi Chaudhry is a must read in my list. Nothing screams spooky like small towns in the mountains. And thanks to Ruskin Bond, we have it etched in our memories. Minakshi, continues his tradition of penning short scary stories from the mountains, of legends and folklore, of witches and warlocks. It helps that she is an avid traveler and trekker.

I believe the horror genre is an untapped market in India. Especially when it comes to women authors. And perhaps the reason for this has a lot to do with what publishers want versus what we women want to write about. I have often contemplated the idea of writing based on discussions by publishers, be it a rom-com or erotica. There is this desperation to give them what they want, so that I can get published. However, it doesn’t take me long to get bored of a genre that doesn’t naturally bring out my voice as a writer. Soon I find myself giving up on the storyline.

However, some day I would love to be featured in such a list of women horror writers along with many more Indian women.

So, my suggestion to you horror addicts out there, go read the amazing work by these unconventional women and be inspired to pen some nightmare inducing tales.

Oh and tonight, I will sleep with the lights on.

PS: Some more noteworthy women horror writers along with recommended reading listed below:

  1. Tananarive Due – My soul to keep and The Between
  2. Daphne Du Maurier – My cousin Rachel, Rebecca and The house on the strand
  3. Sarah Langan – The Missing and Audrey’s door
  4. Mariko Koike – The Graveyard apartment
  5. Cherie Priest – Boneshaker
  6. Charlotte Riddle – The Uninhabited house and Weird Stories

Image source: Gothic art

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Writer. Artist. Dreamer...and a Coach. Hi, I am Lakshmi Priya, but I respond better

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