a terrible treasure

I decided to pick a work to feature in a “Horror’s Hidden Treasures” section of my own since SFX failed so spectacularly to ask women to promote an under-rated horror gem.

I’d encourage other women to do the same. There’s no pressure to pick a woman’s work, but I’m doing so because this writer hugely impressed me with her work.

Since the debacle last year about the lack of representation of women in horror I’ve been paying more attention to the subject. Even I was under-educated in the variety of women working in the field, but I’m hardly immune to a system that promotes men’s fiction and accidentally forgets to give women’s fiction equal attention.

The Women in Horror Recognition Month spurred me on to start addressing the imbalance in my own reading in advance of World Horror Convention. And believe me, there are a lot of works to read.

That’s how I came to find and read the short story collection Kissing Carrion (Prime, 2003) by Gemma Files.

The horror genre is particularly suited to fearless writers who are unconcerned about smashing a few taboos in order to explore new and scary territory. Files is such an author. She demonstrates a deft touch with dialogue, her characters are instantly alive and complex–especially the screwed-up ones–and Files always take the story to its awful conclusion without sparing any details. It’s never exploitative, but rather Files is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of her stories, no matter how difficult or strange the subject.

She attacks the perennial topics of horror – sex and death – with an intense prose style, unique scenarios, and an utter lack of inhibition. This all adds up to a short story collection that should be on the shelf of any serious horror aficionado.

The stand-out stories for me are: “Kissing Carrion”, “Skeleton Bitch”, “No Darkness but Ours”, “Bear-Shirt”, “The Diarist” and “Dead Bodies Possessed by Furious Motion”. I was particularly taken by that last story, featuring a female vampire called Elder Tallbie, who is anarchic, lethal and scornful of living within the restrictions of the past. It was like watching a punk with a love of science fiction set loose to explode an Anne Rice novel. Except Files establishes the world and the character journey in the span of a short story.

Files has another collection out, The Worm In Every Heart (Prime, 2004), which I haven’t read yet. It features “The Emperor’s Old Bones”, which won the 1999 International Horror Guild Award. Her first novel, A Book of Tongues, the beginning of the Hexslinger Series, will be available from CZP Publications next month.

I’m certainly looking forward to reading the novel, and I hope it gains Files a wider audience and deserved critical attention.

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