weird thoughts

I’m a fan of weird – the word, and what it suggests.

Its meaning is rooted in the Old English wyrd, which is associated with fate (it translates as Urðr in old Norse, which is the prophesying Norn of Norse mythology). If you look back further you see that the base *wer- means “to turn, bend”.

Nowadays, weird is associated with something that seems odd, strange, bizarre, or uncanny (another fine crop of words). Its link with modern speculative fiction was cemented with the publication of the short story magazine Weird Tales in 1923.

Today, it’s in vogue again with the arrival of what is termed new weird fiction. In essence, it’s today’s weird. It has evolved, as fiction always does, to encompass current sensibilities and proclivities. There is even a new anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, with the title New Weird, and the editors are running a competition on Jeff’s website to allow people to win a copy of the book.

Just this week I wrote a piece of flash fiction (not yesterday’s piece) that I consider weird. In my opinion the power of weird is that it prompts a feeling of disjunction in the reader. Everything appears normal and then something very odd happens in the story. It’s not enough that that the event is awful or grotesque. That brings up a different emotion. In my opinion weird is not primarily about fear, although it often evokes it as the story progresses.

For me weird fiction is the sideways step that alters your perspective of a subject. It’s first reaction is surprise, quickly followed by curiosity. Weird fiction is about that moment when Alice spots a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and clutching a pocket watch. It is a gateway to possibilities. It suggests strangeness, fluid boundaries, and that the world is not all it seems. It reminds us that our ideas and concepts are subject to sudden reversals or scary interrogation.

That’s why I love the fact that at its root weird is about bending or turning. It’s the warped shadow at the bottom of the garden at dusk, that’s not there when you look again. It’s the stretched eerie grin on a friend’s face when s/he thinks you’re not watching. It’s the elastic moment of shock when you realise someone has died, before you pick up the ringing phone.

I aim to write weirder fiction.

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