Australia is a land of extremes. One minute the country is ravaged by drought and bushfires, the next it’s drowning in devastating floods. The continent is a combination of enormous red deserts meeting sprawling metropolises meeting ancient tropical rainforests meeting endless coastlines. Some of the largest — and tiniest — deadly predators on the planet are hidden out in the wilds, but are also unearthed in suburban backyards. Over it all, the harsh Australian sun beats down. Casting the longest, darkest shadows.
And right there — right where the glaring light gives way to shade — a population of Australian horror writers thrives. It’s a great position to be in. Looking at stories published by independent presses in the past two years, we find that Australian horror can plunge wholly into the black, even more tragic and disturbing by contrast to the brightness left behind; it can be light-hearted but nuanced, love and joy limned in darkness; or it can tread both worlds, supernatural and terrifying and endearing all at once.
Peter M Ball’s novellas Horn and Bleed (Twelfth Planet Press) instantly come to mind when thinking about this last category. Set in Brisbane, they are supernatural noir fantasy horrors, and may or may not involve unicorn porn. Angela Slatter’s stories ‘Brisneyland by Night’ (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press) and ‘Sun Falls’ (Dead Red Heart, Ticonderoga Publications) are also perfect blends of fantasy and gut-wrenching shock in Australian settings, while ‘The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter’ (A Book of Horrors, Quercus) takes readers beyond our world, into a dark fairy tale land of psychological terror. And as an exploration of horrific abuses of power, Deborah Biancotti’s five-story collection Bad Power (Twelfth Planet Press) also fits in here.
Paul Haines’ The Last Days of Kali Yuga (Brimstone Press) and Kaaron Warren’s Dead Sea Fruit (Ticonderoga Publications) contain some of the blackest, and simultaneously most beautiful, short horror stories in the market today. Whether they are set in Australia, Fiji, or imaginary lands, Haines and Warren’s horrors are grounded in the awful realities of our world and are utterly chilling as a result. My own collection, Bluegrass Symphony (Ticonderoga Publications) falls on the darker side of the fantasy/horror line, offering stories set in a pseudo-Midwest America peopled with characters from rodeos, trailer parks, myths and nightmares — all of which reaches a nadir of horror in my reinterpretation of vampire lore, ‘From the Teeth of Strange Children’. Dead Red Heart: Australian Vampire Stories (Ticonderoga Publications) also revisits tales of the bloodsucking undead. With stories by established and emerging horror writers, such as Joanne Anderton, Alan Baxter, Felicity Dowker and Jason Nahrung, this collection removes Dracula from his Victorian fog, and thrusts him into the broad landscape of Australian gothic. Meanwhile, Kirstyn McDermott’s multi-award-winning novel, Madigan Mine (Picador) is literary Australian gothic, which returns readers to the streets of Melbourne, and shows them a wonderfully haunting side to the city and its denizens that they won’t soon forget.
Several Australian anthologies have recently been published which veer into the paranormal, the pulp, and (dare I say it) the bright sides of horror. Ticonderoga Publications has just announced the table of contents for Damnation & Dames, tales of paranormal noir, which follows hot on the heels of the success of Scary Kisses and More Scary Kisses, both of which are
collections of dark fantasy/horror short stories with a raunchy twist. Jason Fischer has been working on a rollicking series of zombie novellas (Black House Comics), while Fablecroft Press offers readers a sense of hope after the apocalypse with the forthcoming anthology, Epilogue. Finally, Midnight Echo and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM) are Australian magazines that publish horror in all its incarnations, the former specialising in all things creepy, and the latter running the gamut of speculative fiction.
Back in 2005, Wolf Creek reminded movie-going audiences that horror stories didn’t need castles, seedy alleys or claustrophobic attics to be terrifying. Out in the middle of nowhere, in this vast sunburnt country, nobody can hear you scream. This fear is something Australian horror writers have been tapping into for a long time. And no matter how drought-ridden this country might get, it’s hard to see how this source of unsettling fiction will ever run dry.
LISA L HANNETT
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