Allyson Bird is the recipient of the Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel for her book Isis Unbound.
1. Tell us about what inspired you to write Isis Unbound?
I’ve always been interested in Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. So I combined the two in an alternate history. I knew that there was so much to be explored if Anthony and Cleopatra had actually won the battle of Actium. Add to that Egyptian gods who lived on earth and the aim of one to be superior over her sister (interwoven with what happens to mortal sisters in the novel) and I hoped I would have enough to make it interesting.
Well. Horror is ‘any medium which intends to scare, unsettle or horrify.’ If we just take the last 2,000 years we could mention revenge tragedy written by the Roman stoic philosopher/dramatist SENECA and also OVID both mentioned as being sources for SHAKESPEARE’S Titus Andronicus (one of the more famous full blown blood bath revenge tragedies, cited as having been written during Shakespeare’s Quentin Tarantino period). In this play we have rape, murder, and so much mutilation that the Victorians put it to one side. It has seen a revival lately and was put on at the Globe Theatre in London 2006, directed by Lucy Bailey.
Think about original fairy tales for children – quite gruesome sometimes, told perhaps as a warning to children and so for didactic reasons there is the good old fashioned ghost story too. DICKENS wrote A Christmas Carol (by the end of that tale Scrooge indeed treated people a little better). Oscar WILDE—The Picture of Dorian Gray. There are always consequences for usurping the natural order of things. Be careful what you wish for— for indeed it may come true; The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. JACOBS comes to mind. Be careful what you dabble with, it might just come back to haunt/kill you—Frankenstein by Mary SHELLEY.
Exotic places and travel are often featured in weird tales. We have stories set against a background of ‘arctic ghostliness’ in The Captain of the Polestar by Arthur Conan DOYLE. A quote from TENNYSON, ‘nature—red in tooth and claw,’ aptly introduces a story by David MORRELL called They. Incidentally this story which appears in Best New Horror 18, edited by Stephen JONES focuses on the creatures that I am most afraid of—snakes.
We could look at the gothic novel Northanger Abbey by Jane AUSTIN, Wuthering Heights—Emily BRONTE. Lovecraftian cosmic horror—which explores our place in a chaotic universe. In The Willows by Algernon BLACKWOOD travellers camp by the Danube river in the worst spot possible where another dimension touches our own.
H.P. LOVECRAFT can conjure up more identifiable characters such as the witch in The Dreams in the Witch House. Robert AICKMAN—simply read any strange story by him. Fritz LEIBER presents us with 1970’s modern eerie scariness in Our Lady of Darkness.
There are writers who explore reality and madness, Robert BLOCK’S Psycho. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas HARRIS and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken KESEY. Alice SEBOLD’S Booker prize winner, The Lovely Bones. This one is a compelling read about the murder of a child.
Horror elicits an emotional response. We need to feel. Happiness is such an odd concept for me. Occasionally I can live in the moment and experience it…perhaps at a party or when something in nature stirs me but I’ve seen too much first hand. My mother and sister after death. Surviving a fire where the children next door died and knowing the awful circumstances. Our own mortality. The evil we can do to each other. We need horror fiction to know that we can displace it away from us and can survive what is thrown at us. Defiance in the face of terror.
3.What are you writing now?
Nothing at the moment. I’ve just taken more than a year off to move and settle in New Zealand. But I’ve written for Joe Pulver. I enjoyed writing for his new anthology, A Season in Carcosa. My contribution is The Beat Hotel:
‘The Beat Hotel had come close to being closed down in 1963. Madame Rachou had cleaned it up a little, it was a thirteen-class establishment after all, and so it didn’t require much work. Any crumbling brickwork was put right. Bugs killed off. It was still the 60’s and the place was still filthy but the authorities tended to look the other way.
Vietnam in the headlines daily and she played Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay as she painted. Only that song—nothing else.
The paint brush still oozed more yellow paint than it should hold and had found the gaps between floorboards. Half the floor was covered with linoleum and inundated with scores of stiletto heal marks from a previous occupant.
I smell like the fish I ate last night she thought.
Juliette smiled. She knew Rimbaud. ‘Life is the farce we are all forced to endure.’ And his descent into madness or truth. Juliet had decided long ago that poets don’t re-create the world. They create worlds.
Rimbaud again. ‘In the morning when, with Her, you fought in the dazzle of the snow, the green lips, the ice, the black flags and blue rays, and the purple perfumes, of the polar sun – your strength.’
The door opened again and the cat came in. It seemed in a good enough mood but kept its head low and didn’t look at the walls. It sniffed at the yellow paint and sat with its back to Juliette. Its eyes—almost totally eclipsed by the black iris in each. Twins suns. Black holes. For a moment she was reminded of the giant dogs in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Tinder Box. Those enormous saucer eyes.’
4. What advice would you share with new horror writers? What do you think are the biggest challenges they face?
Just try to get on with the writing. The more successful you become the more jealousy you can attract. I’m sorry to say that there can be other writers who will do unscrupulous things to you. Be sock-puppets for others, use pseudonyms (I firmly believe that reviewers should use their own names, for transparency) for reviews to discredit your work. I’ve even had all my first copies of Isis Unbound stolen from the WHC dealer’s room just as it came out on sale. None of this stopped me from writing. If anything it just made me more determined to get my work out there. And what goes around comes around. I’ve watched these writers fail and their reputations suffer as a consequence.
5. What are three of your favorite horror stories?
Joe Lansdale. The Big Blow
Lisa Tuttle. The Nest
Shirley Jackson’s book We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
6. What’s your favorite Halloween memory or tradition?
Exploring old broken down buildings alone. Walking into the woods at night. Turning the lights of the house and exploring with torches. Playing hide and seek.
7. Given a choice, trick? Or treat?
ALLYSON BIRD lives in the Wairarapa, New Zealand., with her husband and youngest daughter. Occasionally she is drawn to strange places and people, and occasionally they are drawn to her. Her favourite playground, both as an adult and child, is the village graveyard. Once she wondered what would happen if she took one of the green stones from a grave. She has been looking over her shoulder ever since but has never given it back.
Her debut collection, Bull Running for Girls, won best collection, in the British Fantasy Society awards, 2009.
Dark Regions Press published her second collection of stories, Wine and Rank Poison, in October of 2010.
She is co-editor, with Joel Lane, of the anthology, Never Again, from Gray Friar Press. Never Again is an attempt to voice the collective revulsion of writers in the weird fiction genre against political attitudes that stifle compassion and deny our collective human inheritance. The imagination is crucial to an understanding both of human diversity and of common ground. Weird fiction is often stigmatised as a reactionary and ignorant genre—we know better. The anthology was published by Gray Friar Press in September 2010.
Isis Unbound is her debut novel and it won the HWA Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel 2012. http://www.darkregions.com/allyson-bird/
Her first collection, Bull Running for Girls, which won a British Fantasy Society Award for Best Collection, is being republished by JournalStone next year.
Her website is www.birdsnest.me.uk