Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Guest post by Claire Fitzpatrick: Body horror: the gory ‘what if’ of speculative fiction.

Body horror: the gory ‘what if’ of speculative fiction

There seems to be this idea that body horror, or splatterpunk, is not worthy of literary credit. A lot of people think horror needs to raise its game, specifically in our postmodern capitalist world, constantly changing and evolving. Some people feel horror needs to change, too. But I think they’re reading the wrong books. People say they’re just not scared by literature anymore, that they’re numb to horror because of all the exposure to the overload of Netflix original paranormal films. But there is so much more to horror that has not yet been embraced. Specifically, body horror.

I am a speculative fiction author, though I mostly write body horror. I first stumbled across the term after I discovered Clive Barker. My friend gave me his 1987 dark fantasy novel Weaveworld and I instantly fell in love. I immediately requested more books. So, my friend sent me more, and I gradually fell under the spell of Barker’s highly imaginative writing, and his tales of body horror, and I begun to focus my own writing on body horror, firstly because I loved it, and secondly because I realised it was a way for me to put pen to paper my frustration and grief over the struggle of having Epilepsy. Since my diagnosis at 12 years old I always felt my own body betrayed me, but with body horror I found comfort, I found solace. I found a way to write about how I felt disconnected from my body in a therapeutic way.

Earlier this year, Breach magazine editor Bartholomew Ford called me ‘Australia’s body horror specialist.’ The title was extremely bizarre, as I don’t feel like any kind of specialist at all. Sure, I’ve been a panellist at speculative fiction conventions, but a specialist? The idea was absurd. But then I realised I was one of the few Australian speculative fiction authors who wrote body horror. If you type ‘Australian body horror writers’ in Google, my name shows up on the first page. If you type in ‘Claire Fitzpatrick body horror’ a list of my published short stories appears. It’s very strange. Yet it makes me question body horror as a genre in Australia. Why is it not as celebrated as other types of horror? What makes it a sub-genre at all?

I think a lot of people tend to assume body horror authors can’t write anything else, which is simply not true. I describe myself as a speculative fiction author as I also write paranormal, science fiction, and even dark fantasy. However, body horror, for me, is deeply personal. There are an overwhelming number of horror authors in Australia, all fantastic storytellers, but visceral horror tends to be overlooked. And for me, it’s very strange.

Horror boomed in the 1980’s, and when Clive Barker dropped like a bombshell on the scene it was truly a revolutionary time. Clive Barker pushed horror to its limits, then twisted them up and spat them out with his writing that was so incredibly original there was no one to compare him to. His writing – about sexuality, pain, pleasure, seduction – was so deep, so grotesquely beautiful, and pushed all taboo subjects out the window. Yet Barker didn’t care. For him, he was just getting started. But his writing, as grotesque as it is, is gargantuan, outlandish, and incredibly erotic. I suppose, for me, his writing gave me confidence in my own.

When I first started writing I had no idea my stories fell under the body horror umbrella term, and it wasn’t until I discovered Clive Barker that I realised there were other people, other writers, who understood just important the genre means to me. Body horror explores the ‘what if’ of horror. What if a person’s body suddenly grew into a tree overnight? What if you woke up with an eye on the back of your head? What if you shed your skin like a snake, leaving one aspect of yourself behind and embracing another? The idea is boundless. And it’s this ‘what if’ idea that excites me and fuels my own writing.

Clive Barker

My forthcoming short story The Eagle (to be published by Disturbed Digest as the June feature story) is a culmination of all my experiments with body horror wrapped up into something I couldn’t dream of writing when I first started. Although my first professional publication Madeline (published in Midnight Echo Issue 11 and republished in Dead Of Night: The Best Of Midnight Echo) was a tale of pubescent body horror, it was only after it was published that I began to take myself seriously as a body horror writer. My short story Synthetic (First published in Breach Magazine, republished in Phantaxis magazine) is a story I consider to be a cousin of Madeline, as I realised my writing had a theme to it, and it was something I wanted to continue writing. While I love being called ‘Australia’s body horror specialist’ I prefer the term ‘speculative fiction author’ to describe my work, since my other upcoming story Deep Sea Fishing (to be published soon by Black Beacon Books) is a paranormal tale with a twist. But I think that’s the good thing about being a speculative fiction author – you can write about different sub-genres and explore your own creativity. And while body horror is my favourite genre to write, I understand it’s still a niche sub-genre of Australian horror, especially since a lot of magazines specifically mention they don’t like body horror or splatterpunk in their submission guidelines, so I tend to branch out and take my writing down different avenues.

The best advice I would give for authors thinking about travelling down the road of body horror is to just go with it. There are not a lot of Clive Barker’s in this world, but I believe in time body horror will rise up, and I know it’ll be bloody awesome. I look forward to sharing my forthcoming short stories with everyone!

Claire Fitzpatrick

 About Claire Fitzpatrick: 

Claire Fitzpatrick is an author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. She has been a panellist at Conflux in Canberra and Continuum in Melbourne. Called 'Australia's body horror specialist' by Bartholemew Ford, editor of Breach magazine, she enjoys writing about the human body and the darker side of humanity. Her short story Madeline - first published in Midnight Echo 11 - was republished in Dead Of Night - The Best Of Midnight Echo. Several of her short stories have won minor university-level writing awards. She lives in Brisbane. Visit her at

Deep Sea Fishing will appear in Shelter From The Storm, an anthology from Black Beacon Books.
The Eagle will appear in Disturbed Digest, published by Alban Lake Publishing.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post by a great writer Claire Fitzpatrick. Claire goes all the way in her writing & I love reading her work. The latest writing of Claire's that I have read is "Ascension". It is a full on full tilt work of gore & splatter. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to read & I loved it.