Monday, 25 November 2013

Female authors of gothic, horror, fantasy & science fiction (part 5)

We now enter the 50s and early 60s, which is bringing some authors that are very popular right now:

Charlaine Harris (1951-) - Having experimented with poems about ghosts in her early writings and then moving into writing mysteries, Charlaine hit the big time when her Sookie Stackhouse series (2001-2013) gained wide exposure by being the basis of the TV show True Blood. Harris stuck with a supernatural edge in her follow up Harper Connelly Mysteries series (2005-2009), about a young woman able to locate dead bodies and see their last moments through their eyes.

Margaret Ogden aka Robin Hobb aka Megan Lindholm (1952-) - During the 80s, Margaret wrote contemporary fantasy under the name Megan Lindholm. However, she is most well known as Robin Hobb and for writing fantasy epics such as the Farseer Trilogy (1995-1997), Liveship Traders Trilogy (1998-2000) and The Tawny Man Trilogy (2001-2003). If you even have a passing interest in epic fantasy, then I highly recommend Robin to you. I’ve read all three trilogies above (which have sold over a million copies) and they really are immersive, intriguing adventures.

Suzanne Collins (1962-) - I’m not sure how many people know her name yet, but you will no doubt know her work. Suzanne wrote the Hunger Games Trilogy (2008-2010), which has been turned into a very successful film franchise. Suzanne began her career by writing children’s television, which led to writing children’s fiction in The Underland Chronicles (2003-2007). This influence carried through into Hunger Games, as did her understanding of the effects of war through her father, a US Air Force officer in the Vietnam War.

Laurell K Hamilton (1963-) - May be slightly under the popular radar at the moment, but Laurell’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series (1993-) has well over 6 million copies in print! While these have made her name, she is also writing the Merry Gentry series (2000-) about a Faerie Princess private detective under constant threat of assassination. I’m intrigued by how Laurell’s schooling at an Evangelical Christian college led her to write about faeries and necromancer vampire executioners

As always, feel free to leave comments. Tune in next week for some more authors born in the 60s.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Female authors of gothic, horror, fantasy & science fiction (part 4)

Now we finally move into living authors. As the genres have grown (and women’s presence in them), the output is increasing and some of these writers have huge back catalogues:

Ursula K Le Guin (1929-) - A prodigious writer of fantasy and sci-fi, Ursula has won several awards and is probably best known for her Earthsea series (1964-2001). This started with a short story, The Word of Unbinding (1964), and ended in 6 novels and 6 more short stories published up to 2001. Her books often explore themes of sociology, anthropology and psychology, which play out in treatment of gender, political systems and issues of difference/otherness.

Margaret Atwood (1939-) - A noted Humanist, Margaret is a Canadian novelist and poet who includes myth and fairy tale among her inspirations. She has won many awards, taught in many universities and been given many honorary degrees. She is included in this list for works such as The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Oryx and Crake (2003), even though they were described by Margaret as speculative fiction rather than science fiction i.e. they might actually happen rather than being stories about squids in space. Also, she was a guest character (playing a post-apocalypse self) on one of the episodes in the Zombies, Run! mobile phone game.

Anne Rice aka Anne Rampling aka A N Roquelaure (1941-) - One of the most widely read authors in modern times (with around 100 million book sales), Anne has produced an unusual mix of work that includes horror, gothic fiction, fantasy, christian literature and erotica (published under one of the pseudonyms)! She is best known for The Vampire Chronicles (1976-2003) spanning 10 books (12 if you include the new tales of the vampires), which also has some some crossover with The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series (1990-1994) in Blackwood Farm (2002) and Blood Canticle (2003). Her return to Catholicism in the naughties changed her literary direction somewhat and more recently she has turned away from organised religion while still retaining a personal faith.

Susan Hill (1942-) - Susan has the honour of being a Commander of the Order of the British Empire! She has an interest in the classic English ghost story and influences in this respect include Daphne du Maurier. I would say that Susan is most famous for writing The Woman in Black (1983), but she has written much more, including short story collections and children’s books. Other ghost stories include The Mist in the Mirror (1992), The Man in the Picture (2007), The Small Hand (2010) and Dolly (2012). She now has her own publishing company (Long Barn Books), which produced one work of fiction a year.

Tanith Lee aka Esther Garber (1947-) - Tanith Lee writes a lot (including 2 episodes of Blake’s 7!) in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Although brought up in a house full of wonderful and strange fiction and having struggled to learn to read (later diagnosed as due to mild dyslexia), Tanith was first paid for writing when she was 21 (for a 90 word vignette). Working for around a decade in ‘regular’ jobs (e.g. waitress, file clerk, librarian) it wasn’t until The Birthgrave (1975) was published as a mass market paperback that Tanith could become a full time writer (10 years of trying takes persistence). The Tales from the Flat Earth series (1978-1986) is also recommended, but there are so many books to choose from (for adults and for children), that I advise you to investigate yourself and see what takes your fancy.

It’s a good sign that there are more and more authors coming through as we get nearer to the present day. Tune in next week as we move into the 50s.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Female authors of gothic, horror, fantasy & science fiction (part 3)

Moving on we get to the 20th century, which brings a vast increase in the number of notable writers. Here are a few ladies born pre-WWII:

Daphne Du Maurier (1907-1989) - There are now a few links between authors: Ann Radcliffe to Jane Austen; Charlotte Dacre to Mary Shelley; Elizabeth Gaskell to Charlotte Brontë. Daphne extends this by writing a biography of Branwell Brontë and being influenced by the writings of Charlotte Brontë. A notable scary short story was committed to screen by Alfred Hitchcock - The Birds (1963). Although having written many novels, including Jamaica Inn (1936) and Rebecca (1938), it is short stories that reveal elements of terror and dark fantasy, such as Don’t Look Now (1971), The Apple Tree (1952) and The Blue Lenses aka The Breaking Point (1959). A recent discovery of short stories written in her youth expands the catalogue and includes The Doll (1937), a gothic tale about a mechanical male sex doll...

Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) - I’m not sure how fitting this is for such a list, but like Enid Blyton before her, the Swedish Astrid wrote several fantastical children’s book series that are well remembered. Her most famous is Pippi Longstocking (1945-1948, 1969-1975, 1979 & 2000), which tells of a nine year old girl whose father is lost at sea and who has superhuman strength and various other eccentricities.

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) - And another author of well-known children’s books, Tove is the Finnish writer of The Moomins (1945-1993). This fantastical world was created in nine books, with five picture books and a comic strip. It has spread into the formats of TV and film and even a theme park (Moomin World in Naantali, Finland).

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) - Shirley’s work just keeps growing in the strength of its appreciation, influencing the likes of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Richard Matheson among others. Apparently famous for her short story The Lottery (1948), I am more familiar with her for The Haunting of Hill House (1959). That said, she has written a massive amount of short stories with gothic horror titles like The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956), The Bad Children (1959) (and those two are children's stories!), The Daemon Lover (1949), The Possibility of Evil (1965) and The Very Strange House Next Door (1995). In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Awards were established to recognise outstanding achievements in psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic.

Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011) - Anne is a fantasy and science-fiction legend. She was the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction, the first to win a Nebula Award and had one of the first sci-fi novels to hit the New York Times Best Seller list, The White Dragon (1978). A prodigious writer, I will highlight her Dragonriders of Pern series (started in 1967 and still going via her son, Todd) and leave you to search out the wealth of other material.

These write-ups are getting longer (as is my ‘to read’ list). Please share your thoughts in the comments. Next week, we finally get to highlight some authors that are still alive!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Female authors of gothic, horror, fantasy & science fiction (part 2)

Continuing the expose on female authors, this week sees us move into the 19th century with the following recommendations:

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) - Her father was a Unitarian minister in Failsworth and although born down south was soon moved back up north and raised in Cheshire, eventually marrying in Knutsford to another Unitarian minister and settling in Manchester. Elizabeth also had connections, socialising with the likes of Dickens and Charlotte Brontë and having the conductor Charles Halle teach her daughter piano. Next summer you should be able to visit her home, 84 Plymouth Grove in Longsight, after extensive renovations by The Gaskell Society. Whilst famous for writing works such as Cranford (1851-3) and North and South (1854-5), Elizabeth also wrote some chilling tales. Novellas and short stories such as The Old Nurse’s Story (1852), Lois The Witch (1861) and Disappearances (1851) can be found in collections such as Penguin’s Gothic Tales (2000).

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) - Starting to turn the gothic exploration from outward horror to inner turmoil, Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (1847). That novel includes childhood terrors, nocturnal incidents, an isolated building, a pursued young heroine and a dark Byronic hero - gothic indeed.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848) - Her only novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is a gothic staple and his inspired many other artists (notably Kate Bush). While not clearly supernatural, it includes many gothic elements, such as a tyrannical father, imprisonment and escape, a dangerous suitor, revenge, adverse weather, bleak landscape and so on.

Enid Blyton (1897-1968) - Well known for children’s book series like The Famous Five (21 novels from 1942-1963) and The Secret Seven (15 novels from 1949-1963), Enid just creeps into this section, although only 3 years old when we leave the 19th century. Her inclusion is for bringing fantasy to life with series like The Wishing Chair (2 novels & a short story compilation, 1937, 1950 & 2000) and The Faraway Tree (4 novels from 1939-1951).