Today we are pleased to feature author Stephanie Ellis as part of our Women In Horror Series. Stephanie writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her latest work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the novella, Bottled, both published by Silver Shamrock. She has been published in Flame Tree Press’ A Dying Planet anthology, the charity anthology Diabolica Britannica and is included in Silver Shamrock’s Midnight in the Pentagram anthology. She is co-editor of Trembling With Fear, HorrorTree.com’s online magazine. She is an affiliate member of the HWA.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I’ve been writing in the horror field for six years or so now—and I still feel like a newbie! I’ve had a number of short stories published in magazines and anthologies and last year saw publication of my folk horror novel The Five Turns of the Wheel and my gothic novella Bottled, both by Silver Shamrock Publishing.
Until recently I worked as a librarian and literacy specialist in a secondary school but the current climate and the stresses of the job encouraged me—with the support of an understanding husband—to leave and attempt the world of full-time writing.
In addition to writing, I am working on a project, the women-centric Black Angel Press with writer Alyson Faye and I am co-editor at Horror Tree’s online zine Trembling With Fear. Seems my life isn’t just about the pen—or keyboard!
Out of all the possible ideas in your head, what inspired you to write The Five Turns of the Wheel?
I grew up in a rural country pub and in recent years, the memories of that part of the world, the rural landscape has come back to me. Writing in that sort of setting is almost like a ‘going home’—and in fact we are looking to move away from the city at the moment.
I also wanted to write about an aspect of women’s suffering—miscarriage, which I also experienced and which is so often dismissed. Aspects of dialogue and treatment in the book by the medical establishment are 100% true and still make me angry. I needed to get this out of my system.
Can you share a snippet that isn’t in the blurb or excerpt?
This is an extract from the Chapter One. It hints at the darkness behind Tommy, one of the main characters, the horror to come:
Tommy left him there. He was thinking about the Fifth Turn. The Night of the Unborn. There was a woman, a new mother. He could smell her on the air, the closer he got to Cropsoe.
Catherine. He could always smell a mother. He walked the back lanes of Cropsoe and made his way to her house. It was as if a thread pulled him toward her. He wove the web, and she was the fly. He gazed up at a lighted window. Used his third eye to see into the room, a nursery. A baby slept peacefully in her cot. A daughter. Small. She was one born too early. As soon as he detected that, Tommy’s anger grew.
This was a child who should not be here, should have remained in the womb. She was to have been the offering of the Fifth Turn, but her mother had thwarted them.
Catherine looked anxious, tense.
And so you should, my dear, thought Tommy. You do not take what is not yours.
The child should’ve been their gift to Hweol. Her sacrifice would’ve allowed the Weald to continue to prosper and, in so doing, give life to Umbra.
The Weald. He looked back along his path. Saw the landscape darken, charcoal hills hiding the red claw of nature—a weapon gloved in velvet that tore flesh from bone during the daylight hours. Pitch forests and woods wove their own canopy of black over other crimes. Every little death camouflaged so that only the rural idyll remained in view. The Weald was Mother Nature’s cradle, her cycle of life driving everything from birth to death.
“Thought you could escape from me?” asked Tommy.
Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart?
Bizarrely, it’s not the female leads but one of my unholy trinity, Betty. Betty, Tommy and Fiddler are much like characters from a mummers troupe. Tradition usually has a male dressed as a woman for comedic effect—in this tale, it is Betty. He is a giant of a man, more animal, if anything and he is certainly not funny, in fact his sometimes maidenish simpering is the prelude to a horrific act during the rituals. One aspect of his appearance—his hairiness—was inspired by one of the regulars in my parents pub.
It’s the juxtaposition of Betty’s name and appearance with the sheer violence of his nature, his sheer joy in whatever he’s doing, that I love.
I’m hoping Betty and his brothers and the world of the Five Turns will continue to live on in other tales.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I think a bit of both, give readers what they want but in an original way. Whenever I’m asked or I find a submission call for a theme, I usually have a few ideas and nearly always discard them. Those ideas are the ones everyone will write or expect to see. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be different. But ultimately, if I could only be one or the other, I would like to be original.
When I see the same tropes with my editor’s head on, it can become boring and even depressing—and if I feel that, I know the readers will.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Deciding on my byline led to a lot of umming and aahing. The element of bias in the horror industry, whilst lessening, is still there. There is still an unconscious view that women don’t write horror as well as men—which is most definitely not the case.
I thought about a different name, I thought about using initials and then I thought, no. If women spend their time hiding themselves behind other names, we are never going to get anywhere. Better to be true to yourself.
What are you reading now?
Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon. I’ve been reading a lot more folk horror fiction and reading up on folklore rituals and superstitions around the world as well as in my own country.
I’m very much a writer who likes to create atmosphere and I wanted to read books regarded as classics in this particular field of horror. Harvest Home kept being mentioned so I gave it a try. Absolutely chilling ending to it.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Silly question. Read! Reading is my escape. And listening to music—I’m a heavy metal fan, especially industrial metal but I also love the Nordic folk type music of bands like Heilung and Wardruna.
And when I have the energy, I have rediscovered the joy of long walks.
Would you rather always be an hour early or be constantly twenty minutes late?
An hour early, then I’d just pull out a book or listen to music to fill that time! That hour would never be wasted.
Movie or book?
Unlike a lot of horror authors, I don’t watch many horror films. I have improved in recent years but the films are not important to me in the way that a book is. A book is more absorbing than any film—in most cases.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
I’ve a number of projects. But there are two related to Five Turns. I have written—and had published—three short stories set in the same world. One of these, “The Dance”, is the story from which Five Turns grew. I couldn’t leave this world alone and so I’ve been building a collection of shorts which includes the three published plus a number of new ones. I’ve ten stories so far and just need to write another three or four. It’s temporary title is More Tales from the Weald but that might change. It’s very possible this might be self-published.
I also created a follow-up novel to Five Turns during last year’s NaNoWriMo and I hope to get back to that soon.
As a woman author, what are you most proud of in bringing into horror literature?
I think a different voice, my own voice and actually getting it out there, showing that even an older woman—I will be 57 this year—can find a home in the industry. Too often people push for ‘new young writers’ when what should be asked for are ‘new writers’. We need to keep age out of it because otherwise it excludes.
Who are your favorite women writing in the genre?
There are a lot of women around now. Three I am actually working with: Theresa Derwin, Ruschelle Dillon and Alyson Faye.
Those discovered in the last year or so Laurel Hightower, Hailey Piper, TC Parker, and Beverley Lee. Horror/dark poets: Cina Pelayo, Cindy O’Quinn, and Stephanie Wytovich.
There are so many good writers out there and I know I’ve missed loads, these questions are always impossible to answer—apologies!
Thank you, Stephanie, and we all look forward to seeing more of your work, whether in the Five Turns world or elsewhere!
Check out more of our Women In Horror Series here.
The Five Turns of the Wheel by Stephanie Ellis
Stalking the landscape of rural England are the sons of Hweol, Lord of Umbra. Creatures with a taste for blood and death, they lead the Dance—five nights of ritual, the Five Turns of the Wheel. Proclaiming these events as a celebration of Mother Nature, the grotesque mummers troupe of Tommy, Betty and Fiddler, visit five villages on successive nights to lead the rites as they have done for centuries.
In this blend of folk horror and dark fantasy, two women decide it is time to put a stop to the horrors committed in the name of the Mother. Liza and Megan, mother and daughter, fight back to protect the unborn and to weaken the power of Hweol. But will it be enough to destroy it forever?
Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.