Weird Fiction was, as far as Lovecraft was concerned, pioneered by Edgar Allan Poe, and is a term that is used to describe a slippery melange of science fiction, fantasy, horror and the supernatural/paranormal genres. A ‘Weird Tale’ is a story that doesn’t fall into the category of ‘Ghost Story’ or ‘Gothic Tale’, both very popular in the 19th and early 20thCs, but may contain elements of either or both of these. It is essentially reaching for something beyond the rational and the known into the terrifying void beyond, in an atmosphere of dread and terror.
Weird Fic is often cathartic: it expresses the fears of the Rational and Enlightened Age by playing on the dichotomies of known and unknown, ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’, order and chaos. Often this is played out in the delicate mental balance of the main character, and here is the common Gothic trope of an isolated protagonist whose mental health deteriorates drastically and irreparably throughout the course of the story.
You can read more about Weird Fiction here in The Weird: An Introduction.
People tend to vehemently disagree with me, but because I find this sort of existential dread hysterically funny, and I deal with my own mental health issues by laughing at myself a lot, I honestly think Weird Fiction is hilarious. But my sense of humour is death-dark, so that’s a given, really. I honestly read these stories when I need a much-needed mood-boost. If you wanted an introduction to my writing, that’s it, that’s what I write: characters up to their eyes in existential dread who find the whole situation so ridiculous they can’t help laughing at it. Yes, of course it spoils the mood, but that’s sort of the point.
So, why do I have the full gamut of paranormal things in my stories too? Well, mainly because not all the stories in my town setting are Gothic Weird – some are thrillers, some are mysteries, some are something else… and I find non-human characters more fun to write about. ‘Monstrosity’ is a big theme in my work, and I like to explore that with actual ‘monsters’.
You will also find tentacles galore, as well as ‘tendrils’ that are not tentacles but do have leech-like mouths along their lengths that secrete anesthetic mucus. Some people can be 5’5″ tall and also shift into a 12′ tall Thing that’s all coils, mouths and eyes. No, you don’t get to have that described to you in any more detail that that, because when it’s described it’s plainly ridiculous. Buuuut also there are punk-rock werewolves, re-imagined Revenants (a type of British undead not to be confused with vampires), demonic entities like succubi/incubi, and other Cryptids. I’ve thrown fairies in there too as part of the British folklore kitchen sink, and they are especially unpleasant.
So is what I write ‘Weird’? Well, I mean yes, all that’s pretty weird, but is it Weird weird?
Well… yes and no.
In the 1990s and early 00s, New Weird arrived on the literary scene. It seems to me that this is a term for all the stuff you can’t adequately box into a neat genre category. Some stories don’t have a plot. In many stories, place and setting are of primary importance and world-building is as key as it is in a Fantasy novel. Some stories are LitFic on LSD, while it’s anyone’s guess what others are about.
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology, New Weird, describes it like this:
“New Weird is a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy. New Weird has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that often uses elements of surreal or transgressive horror for its tone, style, and effects – in combination with the stimulus of influence from New Wave writers of their proxies (including such forebears as Mervyn Peake and the French/English Decadents). New Weird fictions are acutely aware of the modern world, even if in disguise, but not always overtly political. As part of this awareness of the modern world, New Weird relies for its visionary power on a “surrender to the weird” that isn’t, for example, hermetically sealed in a haunted house on the moors or in a cave in Antarctica. The “surrender” (or “belief”) of the writer can take many forms, some of them even involving the use of postmodern techniques that do not undermine the surface reality of the text.” (p. xvi)
Gothic Weird – at least the kind of contemporary-set stuff that I prefer to write and read – is a bit to the left of this, or basically this but with the traditional Gothic settings subverted and the same atmosphere or a lot of the same Gothic tropes (e.g. darkness, isolation, corruption) and characters consciously put into New Weird or traditional Weird or just plain weird situations. In my case, I deliberately title my chapters after tropes I use. If you can’t play Gothic Horror/Weird Fiction Bingo then why bother, is my philosophy. This is also why I describe my work as “character-driven”: the plot is solely there for character development, a means of dropping these poor people into various scenarios and watching the chain reactions kick off.
I also describe my stuff as Contemporary Adult Suburban Fantasy, but Gothic Weird sounds cooler and is quicker to say.
If this sounds like something you’re into, then check out the Pagham-on-Sea posts and stay tuned for news on my forthcoming novel, The Crows, which I am currently editing/proofreading. You can also follow @OverheardPoS, a twitter account I use for micro-fiction about the town, “overheard” conversations from around town, and playing world building hashtag games.