Hey folks, this is one of my surprises for Women In Horror Month – an interview with Lauren Beukes! (I’m still reeling from the first surprise, Ellen Datlow! Wow.) I first came across Lauren’s writing years ago in a South African horror magazine and anthology, Something Wicked. Something Wicked showcased some pretty cool authors (see also: Sarah Lotz, Cat Hellisen, Karen Runge, etc) and one of those was Lauren! She’s since gone on to serious fame and favour, after releasing a number of fantastic novels. I’m super thrilled to have Lauren visit my blog for a chat. Thanks so much, Lauren!
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’m an ex-journalist who got into writing cartoons for kids TV and then strange and twisty cross-genre novels, including Zoo City, The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, which have been translated into 26 languages and won awards various, including the Arthur C Clarke Award and the August Derleth Best Horror Novel Award. I live in Cape Town South Africa and growing up under apartheid has influenced the way I think about the world and the themes that show up in my work and how I define what evil really is. That Nietzche quote about looking into the abyss? The worst thing we’ll find looking back is us and all we are capable of.
Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where you something mad you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?
I love monsters and the terrifying things that lurk in the dark, under the bed, in the cupboard, creeping between the walls and in the shadows, especially as I absolutely don’t believe in the supernatural.
I’ve never specifically set out to write a horror story, but because I have this mash-up of influences, there’s always a darkness that emerges in my books. I was surprised to hear Broken Monsters described as a horror, but I’ll take it.
Oh, wait, with the exception of Survivors’ Club, the original horror comic I’m co-writing with Dale Halvorsen with art by Ryan Kelly. That’s straight up a riff on our love of the genre, with the premise: what if the 80s horror movies were real and where are those kids today? It’s been really fun to take old tropes and twist them in truly horrible ways. We’re always pushing the story and the characters to try to show you something you haven’t seen before, that pays homage to the classics.
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, two stories unfolding in parallel with crazy footnotes, like a “found footage” of fiction about a young man discovering a manuscript and what’s written in it, chronicling a house with unsettling dimensions. It’s creepy and claustrophobic and strange and riveting, as much as what’s between the lines and the white spaces of the page as the story itself.
Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
Moxyland, about a dystopian corporate-apartheid state where cell phones are used to control you, not like the real world right now at all… Oh god, it’s so depressingly like the real world right now.
Zoo City, which won the Arthur C Clarke Award, a phantasmagorical noir, about a young woman with a sloth on her back and the magical ability to find lost things who is asked to track down a missing pop star in the inner city slums of Johannesburg.
The Shining Girls, which won the University of Johannesburg Prize, the Strand Critics Choice Award, the RT Thriller of the Year and was a notable book on Amazon, Goodreads and NPR, about a time-travelling serial killer in Chicago and the survivor who turns the hunt around.
Broken Monsters about strange murders happening in Detroit, art parties, ruin porn, haunted places and haunted people, which won the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror.
Survivors’ Club is an original Vertigo comic by me and Dale Halvorsen with art by Ryan Kelly about six people who survived terrifying events straight from a horror movie as children, who find themselves drawn together as adults. But are they survivors or the chosen ones?
I have a short story collection, Slipping & Other Stories, coming out in the middle of the year.
I’ve also directed a documentary, Glitterboys and Ganglands, about Cape Town’s biggest female impersonation beauty pageant which won best LGBT Film at The Atlanta Black Film Festival.
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
I love the creative collaboration of writing comics and TV scripts, but if story is a drug, the novel offers the purest hit of fiction, straight to the vein. It’s the deepest and most intimate form for me.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
A new novel which will be out in 2017
Q. Is there any quality or skill etc that makes a good author specifically?
I have an illustration above my desk, which shows a girl who has ripped her heart from her chest and is eating it. That’s how you should write, fierce and bloody, with all your heart.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
Just one? Gah. Jennifer Egan.
Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with?
Sarah Lotz and I have been threatening to write a kids book for aaaages.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
The Apartment by SL Grey (aka Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) Zodiac by Sam Wilson, South by Frank Owen (aka Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer) – all South African genre writers, are on my TBR pile. I’ve just finished Joe Hill’s incandescently good The Fireman and Alexandra Olivia’s The Last One, most of which are still to be released, later this year, because I get to read a lot of stuff before it gets published.
Q. Are there any challenges encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges have you faced that are complicated by your gender?
All the usual – about how men are less likely to pick up a book by a woman writer, how female authors are less likely to be reviewed by significant percentages in the major papers. I once straight up had an acquaintance say to me, “Congratulations on all your success, but I’m never going to read your books because I don’t read books by or about women.” It’s tragic and absurd.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important?
To make up for the way female writers often get sidelined as I mentioned above.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Finish the damn book. Nothing else matters.
Lauren Beuke’s Links