Weird Fiction ~ a guest post by James Everington

James is the author of The Other Room, a collection of short stories I enjoyed reading a few months ago. Some are reminiscent of Lovecraft, some of M.R. James but all have a unique Everington flavour. Over to you, James:

 

Why I Sub-titled The Other Room a collection of “Weird Fiction”

My self-published collection of short stories, The Other Room, sits firmly in the horror section of the various virtual bookshelves it is for sale on. In terms of commercially defined genres there wasn’t really any other choice – and after all it does feature a brace of ghosts, a parallel universe or two, and many a scary noise and sinister figures glimpsed out the corner of the eye.

Horror fiction is a broad genre though, despite what those who have never read it might believe, and I wanted to give readers an indication of the type of horror fiction they might expect within its virtual pages. Hence the subtitle: Weird Fiction by James Everington.

‘Weird fiction’ is a term that was first used with reference to short stories by the likes of Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, and has been used intermittently by writers ever since. It’s a term which seems to have come into vogue again, especially with the publication of

The Weird, a vast (and I do mean vast) new anthology.  In a similar vein, Robert Aickman called his fiction ‘strange stories’ meaning much the same thing, I think – horror fiction that wasn’t quite horror, ghost stories that didn’t necessarily feature ghosts – weird, odd, strange, ghostly, uncanny fiction.

But what exactly is ‘weird fiction’? Well, like anything interesting, it is hard to define.

Maybe a definition of what it isn’t will help. Imagine a basic horror story plot:

zombies rise up

zombies start to kill people, who turn into zombies themselves

the central characters struggle to survive the growing zombie hoard

some die, some don’t.

the end.

The zombies in this story are scary, if the writer is any good, but within the context of the story they aren’t any more scary than a man-eating tiger or a tsunami, say. They are a physical threat to be overcome.

Now let’s imagine a weird fiction take on the zombie story:

zombies rise up

zombies return to where they used to live. They are silent and placid, but not dangerous

One man, finds his wife’s first deceased husband has returned and has his (somewhat smelly) feet back under the table.

He is gradually usurped by this imposter, and kicked out by his wife. He lives in a big camp of the similarly displaced.

He ponders suicide, as a way of coming back as a zombie and maybe winning back his life.

(I might actually write this one now I’ve thought it up!)

These two examples are somewhat contrived, but they illustrate the point: weird fiction uses the tropes of horror, but it’s tone is likely to be creepy and ambiguous rather than all-out carnage and loud screaming. What tends to be at stake for the protagonist is not simply their physical survival, but murkier questions of identity, ethics, or the nature of reality or perception. Examples abound, many from writers not always considered horror authors: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kafka, Joyce Carol Oates. And of course many of the best horror writers are firmly in this territory.

One of the key things that distinguishes this kind of writing, for me, is ambiguity. At the end of a piece of weird fiction questions will remain unanswered (one reason, I think, why this type of fiction’s natural home is the short story).

For certain it’s a sprawling and largely undefined tradition of writing, but one I feel very much a part of. It is more a feeling that anything that can be strictly defined. You know it when you feel it. And for me that feeling is like stepping into the ‘other’ room. One where everything initially seems familiar and safe, but you still feel that something, somewhere, is off-key…

For those who are intrigued I will finish with a ‘Weird Fiction 101’ reading list – not necessarily the best stories, but a good introduction:

The Swords -Robert Aickman

The Willows – Algernon Blackwood

The Turn Of The Screw – Henry James

The Summer People – Shirley Jackson

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Afterward – Edith Wharton

The Companion – Ramsey Campbell

#

Bio:

James Everington is a writer from Nottingham, England. His first collection of ‘weird fiction’  The Other Room is available from

Amazon UK, Amazon US, and SmashwordsHYPERLINK “https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/69127”.

Along with some other great horror authors, he is one of the

Abominable Gentleman, writers of the semi-regular anthology Penny Dreadnought.

He talks nonsense on his

Scattershot Writing blog or on Twitter as @JHEverington .

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