I realised earlier today that my journey towards horror books is the same one I took with music during my teens.
Growing up, our house wasn’t particularly musical. Nobody really played an instrument or much music, and we didn’t really grow up with radio or tapes playing in the background. I enjoyed listening to music but didn’t or couldn’t access much of it. When I did start listening and buying my own, I played it safe. Not wanting to be seen to be uncool (oh how I worried about such things then), I got into classical music, (oh yeah, so cool Kevin).
Looking back it seemed a safe bet, you see? Classical music being so old meant nobody would judge me on the grounds of not being up-to-speed on current trends, what and who was popular at the time. Oh I enjoyed it.
A large part of my appreciation of music came from the same place as my appreciation of cinema: the construction, the pace, the description of a scene… the imagery. Today, I own loads of soundtrack CDs and MP3s. My taste for classical music morphed into an enjoyment of film music. My reading journey took a similar path, and certainly up to my very recent appreciation of the wider horror genres.
Like many, I started out with the ‘old stuff’… Yes, Lovecraft (you can all roll your eyes). But it’s the same thing again, playing it safe.
I could access these older books more easily. They’re what sits on most general bookshop shelves – safe bets for them too, I suppose. I devoured the collections and bought my way through the more obscure pieces and the longer novels.
And that was it…
Nothing else of Lovecraft’s to read, and my appetite for (what I knew of) the horror genre satiated, or rather replaced by fantasy novels. Off to read all of Robert E. Howard instead.
By now I was happy with my own likes and dislikes, not interested in appearances and comfortable reading wider and wider. I put together reading lists for friends, first on paper and later on Shelfari (oh yes). Neal Stephenson, Michael Marshall Smith, William Gibson, Robin Hobb. Little realising that I was often skirting horror, especially with MMS’s weirder books and shorts.
Decades later and my reading has expanded to encompass as much as I can get my hands on. Still a big fan of fantasy and sci-fi, having read all the amazing and unique Culture novels by the late Iain M. Banks (noticing a pattern of a completionist?). Horror was still there though, with the amazing The Fisherman by John Langan freaking me out – and connecting me with a contemporary (and much improved) take on Lovecraft’s otherworldliness. And then a particular book caught my eye.
Published by Grey Matter Press, Karen Runge's Seeing Double opened my eyes to a type of horror I hadn’t read before. So different to contemporary titles that hadn’t grabbed my interest. This was something else. Not psychological horror, but… more real.
Runge has crafted a tale that is the epitome of ‘uncomfortable’. Beautiful in its disturbing excellence. A shape and form I hadn’t experienced before opened me up to what horror could be. Something I wanted to read more of.
Enter The Gregory!
The Town’s blurb clicked with me straight away, reminded me of Runge’s tone and approach. Of things unsaid. BP Gregory’s terrifying tale is another very different horror novel. The fact that both The Town and Seeing Double are written by women isn’t lost on me. Where do they go that they see such things, and bring them back for us?
Years later, and I’m still absorbing the story. I’m not even sure I understand it all. Gregory’s prose style is itself ‘the unreliable narrator’. Her books are slippery icebergs where you struggle to stay afloat.
On opening Scarlet Ferret, I just had to stock The Town as a founding title.
Gregory’s horror isn’t always there. It hides in the background. It sits in the shadows of words and phrases, looks and suggestions. It’s a horror of uncertainty. ‘Am I reading what I think I’m reading? What’s really happening?’
Sometimes: ‘Am I smart enough to read this?’
But Gregory’s books don’t judge. She’d likely tell you herself they’re more like little chubby ceramic doll arms, reaching out to you while whispering in a Village of the Damned child’s voice “...hug me…hug me...”
(I’m still scared of duffle coats)
When I asked Gregory about her books, and how she describes them, she answered:
"I write kind of a mishmash of horror, magic realism, scifi and urban fantasy. I don't worry too much about genre boundaries, though - as you've discovered, there are people who say 'I don't like horror' who will pick up a horror-adjacent novel and really enjoy it for its human aspects. It's the universality of fear that makes horror so inclusive. We've all been afraid. We've all felt small and helpless, or out of control. Experiencing it again in the controlled safe environment of reading is a kind of therapy."
Our newest additions to Scarlet Ferret are a pair of B.P. Gregory’s tales. Both take us beyond. Even when we don’t want to go.
The world is frozen. The animals ascendant. And, locked in desperate pursuit of 'the other father' across a grim icy apocalypse, Jim will do anything to keep his daughter alive. Anything...
With its Saturday morning TV-like title juxtaposing with the unsettling feeling that the blurb is lying to you, get ready for a hell of a journey. Many reviewers seem as unsure as I am about what’s happening. But they’re all certain about one thing: this is a fantastic book!
The setting itself is a character, the cold, the wind, the… food.
Who is Jim chasing, or who is he running from? Time stretches, compacts, bends like rubber...
I’m father to a two year-old daughter. Flora & Jim is a book that forces you to look at your life, your family, your future, and consider. What would I do?
Why I ate bugs
The author's 'research' into.. eating bugs. For research. For the book. Seriously.
An oppressed world locked inside a shell, without a single star to wish on. Now the void beyond has spat back Michael Formir, splintered in mind and body. And he may have brought something terrible with him.
An entire world of claustrophobia. A planet of fear, anxiety, playing along, being normal, not looking up, not wondering, what’s out there?
Gregory has written another book that will take me years to absorb. I already have the feeling that the author’s work is a very Australian take on horror.
Like its cinema, Australian horror includes a suggestion of isolation, loneliness, being cut-off. Outermen takes that feeling and applies it to wider society. What if there’s nothing out there? How would society behave? How would we as individuals live our lives in a constant sense of isolation? And in our real lives, isn’t this where we’re headed?
An exclusive short story set in the world of Outermen.
Read wider and deeper
Our expanding collection of Special Edition ebooks by B.P. Gregory is itself a recommendation of her work. These are modern horror stories that opened up my reading to wider and deeper fields.
My reading has expanded hugely over the last few years. I've learned about books and authors I wouldn't have discovered if not for buying independent ebooks. It's forced me to consider and read titles I may have skipped past before. I've grown as a reader, and am now in a place to share and recommend what I've found.
If you’re looking for books that run an itch down the back of your brain. That sit in the corner of your mind, whispering disturbing secrets about the very life you're living, you’re looking for B.P. Gregory!
Launching today, buy the Special Edition ebooks of Flora & Jim and Outermen. Support an author who is taking independent horror to places you’ve always been scared of going. I know I was. But not any more.