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Northern chills: conversations on Canadian horror literature

Helen Marshall


What was your entry into horror writing? I came very late to the love of horror. As a child, the few encounters I had scared me witless, so I kept as far away from the genre as possible. It was only once I began as an assistant editor at ChiZine Publications that I was exposed to a much broader range of horror writing.

What I found was that horror literature is far more capacious than I had given it credit for; it extends so much further in all sorts of interesting directions. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s sad; sometimes it’s heroic, sometimes it’s nihilistic. But it’s exactly that capaciousness that excites me about the genre. There’s so much it can do, and there’s a freedom to it, a surprising streak of experimentation that comes from the fact that good horror doesn’t repeat itself.

How would you describe the genre? We have much more in common with British horror writers whose tradition is far more firmly embedded in the ghost story and the Gothic narrative than in American pulp presses or B-movies. I would point to the work that editor Michael Kelly has been doing with Undertow Publications through the anthology series Shadows and Tall Trees and The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, both of which are heavily influenced by a British sensibility.

Canadian horror tends to be morally ambiguous and more focused on atmosphere and setting than violence and overt monstrosity. Our multicultural values are often a strong theme, which runs against the grain of stories that appear in the U.S. We are far more likely to see stories from a range of cultural positions. The work of Hiromi Goto and Larissa Lai shows this, as does that of Nalo Hopkinson, Sandra Kasturi, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. – Alison Lang