{Interview} Daughters Of Darkness: An Interview By Lee Murray

Daughters Of Darkness: An Interview By Lee Murray

A quartet of established female horror writers from both sides of the Atlantic have joined supernatural forces to bring you – Daughters of Darkness – a publication from the women-run indie press Black Angel.

These stories will take you across the centuries, from Whitechapel to New Orleans, from dark humour to Gothic, weaving the weird with the macabre.

Within these pages, meet the myriad monsters these female writers have conjured, letting them loose to roam and cast long shadows.

Beware – this is only the beginning …

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I recently had the pleasure of writing the foreword for Daughters of Darkness, a horror anthology by writers, Theresa Derwin, Ruschelle Dillon, Stephanie Ellis, and Alyson Faye. Releasing from Black Angel Press on 14 February 2021 for Women in Horror Month, Daughters of Darkness is the perfect sampler of uncanny poems and stories from some of horror’s rising stars. I was able to get the coven together to discuss the anthology and their future horror plans.

Lee Murray: How did this clutch of dark ladies meet? How exactly did Daughters of Darkness come about?

Aly Faye: I floated the idea of this particular dark quartet—I knew Ruschelle’s work through Horror Tree and we’d shared a couple of TOCs in anthos, and we’re online a lot, trashtalking and telling jokes. Theresa, I knew more through Steph, but I’d read her fiction and liked it a lot. I’d met her also at a horror con in the UK.

Steph Ellis: Aly had been talking to both Ruschelle and Theresa about a project together and then sounded me out. I already knew the other two, especially Theresa – who goes back to the start of my writing career.

Theresa Derwin: I’m just here for the books…

Lee Murray: Daughters of Darkness is so varied, with a selection of work from each of you, including fiction (short stories and novellas) and poems, and while there is a strong feminist theme running through the anthology, it is not the only focus of the book. How did you decide what work to feature?

Aly Faye: Like Steph, a couple of my stories/poems had been on shortlists with other mags but didn’t quite make the final cut; for instance, A Forest in France, which Linda D. Addison had kindly praised and said I should keep sending out. Then the other work I felt demonstrated a range in my writing from Gothic to historical horror.

Steph Ellis: I had a couple of ‘almost’ stories which editors had said they were reluctant to let go but it was a matter of fit. I felt both were good examples of my writing and ‘Painted Ladies’, in particular, was one whose message I wanted to get out there.

Lee Murray: Theresa, without giving out any spoilers, can you tell us about your story ‘Tummy Bug’, which appears in Daughters of Darkness? How much of your own experience is reflected in this story?

Theresa Derwin: Well, Tummy Bug is an interesting one and does speak of my personal experience. I’ve recently completed a mini memoir for the non-fiction assignment for my MA in Creative Writing, and within that, I talk about feminine issues and endometriosis. I’ve included an extract below about this disease and how it has been systematically ignored or minimised by—historically—a predominantly male GP environment.

Nov 2020, I attended a virtual zoom event hosted by The British Library where author and memoirist Sam Baker read excerpts from her latest non-fiction book The Shift, a memoir on feminine issues, the menopause and everything in between, even covering the recent #MeToo movement. She also answered questions from the host and the virtual audience. She read from chapter 3 ‘The Last Egg’. Though I have never wanted children—and couldn’t carry them to term—I heard my own story woven between the lines of Baker’s words. At times funny, yet heartbreaking, Baker covers everything you could wish to know about menopause and feminine issues with brutal honesty. She talks about the ‘Puddle’—the hot flashes and sweats, what it’s like to be all out of eggs, the emptiness of a ‘never-will-be mother’, and, in particular, the ‘gynaecological mayhem’ she experienced. ‘Futile appointments with numerous GPs. Polyps, fibroids. Hammer horror levels of blood.’ All the while the doctor gave her internal exams and looked at scans ‘as if she were looking in a fridge not my ovaries.’ Like me, she also “carried on bleeding and got on with it.” The expectation was that as women we should just stop complaining or—keep calm and bloody well keep on.

Endometriosis is one of the many feminine illnesses which is often ignored or worse, not heard of. According to the simplistic explanation I found on the NHS website:

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Endometriosis can affect women of any age. It’s a long-term condition that can have a significant impact on your life, but there are treatments that can help. Symptoms include:

    • pain in your lower tummy or back (pelvic pain) —usually worse during your period
    • period pain that stops you doing your normal activities
    • pain during or after sex
    • pain when peeing or pooing during your period
    • feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee during your period
    • difficulty getting pregnant

Or… It was like ‘a thousand tiny knives were burrowing under my skin, flaying me alive, hot and eager for torture.”

For me, through ‘Tummy Bug’, it was important to highlight the lack of recognition by the medical profession for such illnesses. I used to frequently have a horrible, metallic taste on my tongue. That, folks, was the overflow of blood in my system making itself known in my body.

Lee Murray: You’re the recipient of the 2019 HWA Mary Shelley Scholarship. Can you tell me what impact the scholarship has had on your work and career? In your view, how important are women-only scholarships to women, and horror in general?

Theresa Derwin: Thanks for asking this, Lee. It’s vital that we recognise the contribution that female authors make to the horror industry, because, put simply, women are marginalised in this business. Even last week, I was seeing ‘best-of lists’ of ten with only one woman included. And the thing is, it’s often a lack of awareness rather than any intentional bias. So, awards such as the Shelley Scholarship, WiH anthologies, presses like Kandisha Press and WIHM itself, give us space to ‘tell our story’; to be seen. In being seen, not only do we ensure we work towards diversity in Horror, but we give much-needed careers to women in horror. I don’t feel I’m exaggerating when I say the scholarship has changed my life. It has boosted my confidence, allowed me to experiment and go for those bigger markets, paid for subscriptions to magazines and bought technical books on writing to enhance my skills, future cons for networking and resulted in invites to projects as well as resulted in the job from Crystal Lake Publishing interviewing writers, including you, Lee, where I engage, share my thoughts, and learn as I go. It’s truly a game-changer for me.

Lee Murray: ‘Painted Ladies’ by Stephanie Ellis is one of my favourite stories in the collection, its themes reminding me a little of Angela Yuriko Smith’s fabulous short story ‘Skin Dowdy’ (in Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women) and also Joanne Anderton’s ‘Hideous Armature’ (in Midnight Echo #15). What inspired this story, Stephanie, and what message do you hope readers take from it?

Steph Ellis: I’m so glad you enjoyed ‘Painted Ladies’. It is very much a story aimed at the issue of appearance and what true beauty meant. It’s something that resonates with me in terms of appearance when I see how women present themselves and treat each other based on this—and that’s not even with men in the equation. The number of times I’ve seen profile pics of female horror writers and felt I don’t belong as I am not young and glamorous. I think many older women writers must see all this and think how are they supposed to compete when, in theory, it should be the writing that counts. Women can be their own worst enemies. It rankles that no one ever, or rarely, comments on the men’s pictures. Image should not sell a woman in the industry, but the truth is, it is still a huge part of it.

Lee Murray: Nice to meet you, Ruschelle! In Daughters of Darkness, you very cleverly turn a couple of age-old tropes on the head with ‘Catatonic’ addressing the cat-lady stereotype, and ‘The Dollhouse’ employing the spooky doll trope. Was this a deliberate strategy? Do you recommend subverting well-known horror tropes as a way for emerging writers to break into the genre?

Ruschelle Dillon: Very nice to meet you as well. All tropes have the same squishy guts on the inside. But it is when the writer can flay the skin, fingerpaint with the blood and contort the features when the usual becomes the UNusual. When a writer starts out, they should write what they know and enjoy. They need to give the story new life. A new voice. A retelling.

Lee Murray: Your work leans heavily into what I would call body horror. Can you define what body horror means to you, and what is about the subgenre which appeals? What kind of reaction do you get from readers/family when they discover you write this specialised form of horror?

Ruschelle Dillon: Most people cringe at the thought of something happening to their fleshy bits, and rightly so. People, usually, do not like pain. To me, body horror is all about pain. Sometimes that body horror causes physical pain, as Garland finds out when dealing with his possessed penis in, ‘Is That Your Dead Wife or Are You Happy to See Me?’ And sometimes, it causes mental anguish—again, like Garland, whose dead wife is cramping his sex life since she is possessing his penis. People can identify with the subgenre because, well, every one of us are meat suits with nerve endings. It doesn’t mean everyone ENJOYS body horror. Some prefer the quaint ghost story—as long as it isn’t haunting their junk.

The reaction I get from readers is usually, “Ewww” and “what is wrong with you?” My favourite is, “something really bad happened to you, didn’t it?” I often wonder if they would make those statements if I had Garland’s penis. I am a female and I am no stranger to blood and guts. Hell, for years it was as if I had a baby seal bludgeoned in my pants every month. Crime scene? Oh yeah, CSI would have had a field day at my house. Leave the luminol at home because let me just tell you, it is probably everywhere. I think there is even a chalk outline of my uterus in my bathroom. Unfortunately, there are those that do not feel women can be effective writers of gore. Because of that, they are missing some horrific voices who can rip and gut with the best of em. And my family- they are used to me being simply a horror/humour writer.

Lee Murray. It’s great to meet you, Alyson, and especially to discover your work in Daughters of Darkness. Your story, ‘Mr Dandy’, while thoroughly original, has echoes of Stephanie Ellis’ story ‘Painted Ladies’ and hints at the police procedural in Theresa Derwin’s story ‘Whitechapel Transfer’ also appearing in the anthology. What was the inspiration for ‘Mr Dandy’?

Aly Faye: Thank you, Lee. ‘Mr Dandy’ is one of my all-time faves from my stories. I wrote it two to three years ago, and as I often do, I’m influenced by old films, (one of my passions). In this case, the film was Ealing’s groundbreaking 1945’s ‘Dead of Night’, where, in one segment, Michael Redgrave plays a ventriloquist with a very scary dummy. I next set the story in a city where I used to live/work Birmingham, in the UK, chose the 1920’s, as it’s a decade I’m fascinated by both for the culture and the post-WWI fallout on society. So, my lead character is an ex-Great War vet with PTSD, who now tours theatres performing as a ventriloquist with his dummy, the titular, Mr Dandy. And Mr Dandy is quite a character with his own agenda!

Lee Murray: Your stories have been performed on radio as well as various podcasts. Is the audio performance something you keep top of mind while writing? Are there any plans for an audio version of Daughters of Darkness?

Aly Faye: Primarily I write the stories I ‘hear’, as it were, in my head, (OK—that does read a little weird, I know) and then when I’ve got them pinned on paper like virtual butterflies, I consider the audio option. Lately, I’ve had a few pieces accepted by BBC Radio and, before that, on podcasts for The Casket of Fictional Delights and Ladies of Horror, so now I do think more about how the story would sound if it was read out and I work my dialogue harder. Performing live at open mics has made me think more about which pieces read well out loud and get a response. There’s nothing like a live audience to get you rewriting afterwards.

Yes, I do think we will be talking about an audiobook of Daughters, as so many folk do like to listen to them.

Lee Murray: Please tell me more about Black Angel Press? What’s that all about? Do we really need another small press? Don’t you ladies have enough to do?

Aly Faye: I’ve surprised myself by coming to this point of setting up an indie press, Lee! I’ve known Steph for a few years, critiqued, supported and beta read for her, plus I secured an editor’s job with a British indie press a year or two ago, and all of this gave me the confidence and a wider skills base to go for it. I think we’re a good skills match—she is definitely the more techy one of the two of us and also designs the fab covers.

Our first collaboration was last year with ‘Inferno’, which she published through The Infernal Clock, and we found we worked well together, and we had very similar editorial/content views, which is a good start! No bust-ups!

Women writers still hold back from submitting their work for publication, for various reasons, including fear of rejection, and I’ve read that the horror genre is still roughly a 70:30 men/women split regarding published works.

We’d like to bring more women writers forward, and work with ones we admire, too.

There is room for all sorts of horror writing—it is a very wide genre, and we hope to carve our own niche with Black Angel Press.

Steph Ellis: Too much to do! And yes, I think we’re needed. There are huge swathes of women writers—and readers—who are not catered for in horror. There are those who write quiet horror, there are older female writers, people who can’t find a home. The market shouts about the latest ‘gritty’ storyline, the gut-punch tale but those featuring the life experiences of the (much) older woman? Where are they? I’ve joked with Theresa about doing a ‘Meno-lit’ anthology, tales of menopausal horror. That would be a thing.

Theresa Derwin: You had me at menopause…

Steph Ellis: As to who’s involved, that’s me and Aly. We both have similar outlooks and tastes -but not completely the same otherwise it would be boring. We also have similar standards. I spent several years as a Senior Software Author and was a Project Manager in a Technical Publications company before children, so I had a lot of experience of authoring, editing and the publication process from way back, even before I entered the creative writing field. I’ve done a lot of reading, critiquing, beta-reading since then, as well as my work at Horror Tree’s Trembling with Fear. Plus, my own writing experience of course—I know exactly what other writers are going through and if we can help others then that is all to the good. There is room for all in the writing world because reading is such a subjective thing, we are not competitors, we are allies.

Lee Murray: Let’s talk about the stunning cover art for Daughters of Darkness. Was this a collective decision?

Aly Faye: Theresa had bought the glorious image as a picture and she suggested we use it for our cover—we all thought, yes! It was one of those Eureka moments. Steph has done all the design work on it. Hey—I wrote the back cover blurb—so team effort!

Theresa Derwin: “Yes, it was I!!” said in terrible Allo Allo accent. I saw the artwork last year and had to have it, not knowing what project I would assign it to.

Lee Murray: You’re all already active participants in the horror community: Theresa is well known as a horror interviewer, for example, Stephanie is establishing herself as an editor of horror anthologies as well as co-editing The Horror Tree’s online magazine Trembling with Fear, Alyson is a regular contributor to radio and podcasts, and reviewer/interviewer on the Horror Tree site, and Ruschelle is a frequent blogger on horror topics. What’s next for you all?

Steph Ellis: I’ve recently given up my day job and am in the throes of selling our house and moving nearer to parents and a more rural way of life. My husband is going to work and I’m going to have a bash at writing full time. There are a lot of things I want to do, whether with my own writing, or supporting others—especially new female horror writers, and even more so, those in the older age bracket, so I’ll be able to get a bit more involved in the horror community which I haven’t really been able to do with so many pressures on me. (And so much more time for reading!)

I have four horror novels out sitting in the slush piles of different publishers. I’ve sent a YA/teen fantasy novel out to a number of agents, and I’m currently working on a collection of stories based in the world of The Five Turns of the Wheel. I’m also working on a poetry project featuring poems based on nature, mythology, and folklore!

Ruschelle Dillon: My novella, The Stain, is still going strong. I just finished a novelette and I’m working on another with some folklore roots. I have other short stories and blog entries on my blog ‘Puppets Don’t Wear Pants’ on Blogger with a humorous tilt, waiting to be released on the world like a pack of chihuahua-hellhounds. Scary little buggers. Eventually, I do plan on setting up a small space in my home for recording audiobooks.

Aly Faye: I have a novelette about a haunted silent movie coming to completion, I am putting together my collection of dark poetry and drabbles and then I have a Y.A. supernatural novel to rewrite. Years ago, I used to teach, and my first pro-sales were children’s books—so I am returning to my writing roots but incorporating the dark side still.

Theresa Derwin: I have seven months left of my MA, so that involves completing my first script. I’m also working on a short film script plus a trilogy novel series ‘Shifter’s Legacy’ starting with ‘Children of Bast’ and cat shifters.

Lee Murray: Given it’s Women in Horror Month, can you name a work by a woman horror writer who you wish received more attention?

Steph Ellis: That’s a really tough question as there are so many and I would include everything by Aly, Theresa and Ruschelle! But outside of our little coven, I would say relatively recently Salt Blood by TC Parker. Horror written with a thriller vibe and if I could sneak in an extra—Coil by Ren Warom from 2019. Amazing body horror, which is not normally my thing, but this sci-fi/noir/horror mashup really grabbed me, and I haven’t ever seen it mentioned much.

Ruschelle Dillon: I’m going to agree with Steph. The ladies I have been writing with in our little coven are some of the most talented writers I’ve read. In my honest opinion, there are SO MANY fantastic indie and small press authors out there who surpass many mainstream women and men in the horror genre. I have been lucky enough to interview a few of them as well on the Horror Tree.

Aly Faye: Tough one that—I read/review a lot of horror fiction and there’s a lot of amazing work out there. OK, I will take the plunge. Two women authors whose work was first introduced to me last year, via our sharing the TOC of the NHS charity fundraising antho Diabolica Britannica—Beverley Lee (‘The Ruin of Delicate Things’), an outstanding Gothic magical read; she has such skill with language, and Catherine McCarthy (‘Door’) and many anthologies, who is equally talented. I rate them both highly.

Theresa Derwin: There are so many I would name including these, however I’ll go with CL Raven who are constantly working towards their goals and V Castro, who recently edited Latinx Screams. Her sexy, lyrical, and visceral voice needs to be read. She has a forthcoming collection from Flame Tree Press, so make sure you grab it.

Lee Murray: Thank you all so much for sharing your suggestions. I’ll be looking out for those titles. Best of luck for the release of Daughters of Darkness! I hope it’s a huge success.

Daughters Of Darkness

A quartet of established female horror writers from both sides of the Atlantic have joined supernatural forces to bring you – Daughters of Darkness – a publication from the women-run indie press Black Angel.

These stories will take you across the centuries, from Whitechapel to New Orleans, from dark humour to Gothic, weaving the weird with the macabre.

Within these pages, meet the myriad monsters these female writers have conjured, letting them loose to roam and cast long shadows.

Beware – this is only the beginning …

You can buy Daughters Of Darkness from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Stephanie Ellis can be found at www.stephanieellis.org

Her latest release is The Five Turns of the Wheel from Silver Shamrock Publishing.

Ruschelle Dillon can be found at www.ruschelledillon.net

Her latest release The Stain is from Black Bed Sheet Books.


Alyson Faye is on Twitter @AlysonFaye2, Amazon, and her Black Angel Press website.

Her latest release is Demain’s The Lost Girl & Spindleshanks.

Theresa Derwin can be found at www.theresaderwin.co.uk

Her latest release is a charity anthology Flashes of Hope, raising funds for foodbanks and those affected by Covid. Connect with her on Twitter @BarbarellaFem.

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer-editor from New Zealand. For her latest releases, and free dark fiction, subscribe to her website www.leemurray.info.

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