- sean wai keung
A Conversation with Katy Lennon and Blood Bath Literary Zine
There’s nothing wrong with being fascinated by death and danger....
Blood Bath Literary Zine is a Scottish print and EPUB zine dedicated to horror writing and visual art. To date, their themes have included BODIES, DEMONS and HAUNTINGS, with a VAMPIRES issue coming next. They are also deeply committed to inclusivity within this remit, actively seeking to amplify under-represented voices within the genre. I had the great pleasure of asking EIC Katy Lennon about Blood Bath as well as some of her own experiences with horror.
SWK: What made you want to start Blood Bath in the first place?
KL: Well, I’ve been a horror fan my whole life and I’ve always had a desire to bring it into literary spaces, although I also always received pushback on that, which honestly just made me more determined to do it! The more I see what incredible work horror can do, the more I’m convinced that it’s totally wrong that it’s not better represented and respected in cultural and literary circles. But the idea for BB in particular really came from a lack of horror literary magazines in the Scottish lit scene. I write a lot of horror and struggled to find places to send my work that were Scottish and kept the focus completely on horror. I think a lot of places here are really open and accepting of it, but I just thought we needed a dedicated horror publication and I couldn’t find any. It was one of those things where I would talk about it all the time and complain and then one day just decided to make it happen myself. When my Dad died I inherited some money, and when I thought about the things I wanted to do with it, Blood Bath just seemed like an obvious choice. I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to do it, and it feels right to use some of the money to contribute to the literary community. I think maybe the best thing about it is that it’s played at least a small role in showing other people that genre fiction can be represented in this cool, stylish, legitimate way. Watching other genre publications pop up and have those creators say BB was part of what inspired them to do it is just the best feeling ever.
SWK: Is there a particular style or sub-genre of horror writing that you feel a particular affinity with?
KL: I think body horror touches a particular part inside all of us! I love the fact that the horror comes from within our own bodies, our supposed safe space. Like we’re living in instruments of terror all the time and most of the time we don’t even realise it. That is one of my favourite things that horror does. And I love just weird stuff. Anything that breaks out of tradition or is unabashedly strange or surreal will get me going. But honestly, I love almost everything in horror! I think there’s a way to do almost anything and make it work. This is a tough question because there’s so much I love out there.
SWK: One of the many things I love about BB is that you’re so upfront about wanting to promote voices from under-represented backgrounds. Do you feel that horror writing offers particular opportunities for exploration of ‘minority’ experiences?
KL: Yeah, I do, and I think it’s always served as an avenue to explore these kinds of issues. I think it’s always been attractive to people forced or choosing to live outside of the “established norm”. I mean this has come up more than a few times, but there is real, tangible horror in the lives of Black people, POC, queer people, trans people, those with disabilities and people who live at the intersection of those identities. So, I think horror feels like an obvious choice for a lot of folk, to process that horror in a safe environment, where they are in control. I think for me it has served as that too, and I almost haven’t noticed I’ve been unpacking that stuff while writing what I thought was just “a scary story”. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but I think for many it can be liberating. Even without processing trauma or writing about racism or whatever else, (I also think it’s important that creators aren’t expected to air their trauma in order for their work to be shared) it’s incredibly important to elevate the voices of marginalised people, it’s a responsibility I feel every publisher has. Especially when so many of the gatekeepers to these spaces are white. But really to undermine these restrictions, we need to make real systemic changes to the publishing industry, so it’s not just about taking part in another white-run institution. It can’t always just be about “a seat at the table”, but getting rid of the table entirely as it exists today.
SWK: BB is also not afraid to play with formal choices, including how you present text within the zine, doing black-font-on-black-background covers and using things like pull-outs or expandable pages - as an EIC, how do you approach which texts go with which aesthetic?
KL: I think mostly it’s been a case of falling in love with a piece and then having to figure out how best to present it within the issue. Like the pull-out print came about because I wanted to display it with enough detail, and so I was forced to figure out how to do it with the help of the design team. I think all of them have been a consequence of going over the pieces and figuring out what aligns with my personal aesthetic. It feels wrong to say I just go with what feels right, like there should be some more legitimate way of doing it, but that’s really it, for me at least! The black-on-black cover for HAUNTINGS was actually a really last-minute change, myself and the designer had a totally different cover in mind up until the week or so before it went to print, but my heart was just telling me to do it. I think sometimes that’s the best decision to make, to just trust your gut rather than what your brain is telling you.
I have to say also that most of the credit should go to our designers, Mitchell at Warriors Studio designed the last 2 issues and I feel like the team there really pushed me into new and exciting ways of doing things, as well as finding ways for any out-there ideas to work within a design context. But yeah, I think it’s mostly the pieces that inform a lot of the aesthetic choices, for most of the issues I’ve ended up with pieces that just naturally speak to each other, so they end up getting printed together because it’s just so obvious. I think that’s been my favourite part of including visual art in the last two issues, I think there’s such magic in seeing threads line up in works done by totally different creators in totally different mediums.
SWK: I hate to bring it up, but let’s face it, the COVID19 pandemic has been one of the most universally fear-inducing real-life global events to have happened in living memory. Do you feel like the role of horror lit has had to change in any way to adapt to this escalation of real-world fear?
KL: Yeah it was only a matter of time until it came up! To be honest, since COVID happened I haven’t been able to read (apart from VAMPIRES submissions!) much so I can’t be sure what horror lit has been doing since then. But I guess if anything it will force us to get more creative! But to be honest, no horror fiction can ever come close to the true horrors of the world, anything we can make up pales in comparison to reality. Reality and history are excellent inspiration because there’s so much awful stuff there. I also wonder if the elevation in the visibility of real life horror (or at least the view that real life horror is now happening to more white people, which then fuels the “bad things only started happening in 2016 with Trump” narrative) is pushing people more towards horror as escape. I definitely see younger generations being more interested in horror, and I think the state of the world has to be playing into it somehow.
SWK: Historically speaking, horror hasn’t been the most inclusive of genres, often featuring tropes such as the sexualisation/victimisation of women and stereotypes around topics such as non-normative spirituality or social practices. How true do you think this still is and what is being done to move the genre away from that?
KL: Yeah, I think this is still very true. You still see really flagrantly racist, ableist, transphobic, sexist and generally uninformed and intolerant stuff, even in supposedly “woke” modern horror. It’s extremely frustrating. I think especially when you’re creating depictions of “evil”, we need to really think carefully and honestly about what informs our perception of what evil is and what it looks like. Like I think the big trouble we get in is thinking that we’re done learning and that we don’t have any implicit bias, that somehow that is just all gone from our collective consciousness because it’s 2020 and we’re all supposed to be completely educated on that stuff. But every single one of us has been raised in a white supremacist cis-heteropatriarchy, like that has a lasting impact. And the more privilege you have, the less aware you are going to be of these ideas that have been implanted into your brain since birth. I think it has to be an active, ongoing questioning, reading and listening with an open mind to people who are very different from you, and holding yourself and others accountable. I think the best thing we can do is remain aware, compassionate and humble, and call it out when we see it in ourselves and others. Again, this is why elevating the voices of Black, indigenous and creators of colour in every aspect of media creation is so important. When most of the people making horror are white, when all the big institutions making books and art and movies happen are inherently racist, that is how problematic stuff ends up being included in the final product. I can only hope that increased awareness and increased presence of non-white people in creative spaces can help combat that. But dismantling the institutions that control which pieces of media get made and in what way is really what’s going to solve it.
I will say as a side note, though, that while I do agree that horror is and has been bad for this, I think it’s interesting that other genres also known to perpetuate harmful stereotypes don’t seem to get called out to the same degree. Maybe they do! I’m not really in those spaces as much as I am in horror ones. But I mean, there’s still extremely insensitive, outdated and outright dangerous ideas that get perpetuated in crime, romance… and in general literary spaces too. I guess I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s a problem that’s exclusive to horror, but I know that’s not what you’re saying either!
SWK: Would you say that there’s a certain almost-universality that can be present in horror that is less possible in other genres? I’m thinking here that while a joke may fundamentally be untranslatable between cultures, there are concepts such as body horror which seem to invoke fear in audiences globally?
KL: Yes completely! And it’s funny because I already spoke about body horror. I think there definitely is a universality, because fear is something we all experience, but I also think there are a lot of people who resist being drawn into that experience, and I think that’s one of the big differences from other genres. I really think horror could be a big unifier, like if everyone could be open to experiencing real fear and terror that we could all be a lot more compassionate and understanding about life. But some folk are very closed off to it, and I think that’s interesting. Maybe it represents a lot of things that people don’t like confronting in the human experience; pain, trauma, death. Even just uncomfortable emotions. There’s definitely a difference between genuinely not being able to handle horror due to fear or trauma and not consuming it for that reason, and closing yourself off from an experience because it can be uncomfortable. At every event I’ve done there’s always at least one person who comes up to let me know that they’re very opposed to horror and don’t understand why I’m into it. Some have even insinuated that they are somehow more morally correct for not engaging in it. But they talk to me about it for ages and ask me loads of questions and they’re clearly interested, but there’s something inside them trying to keep them away.
I think that’s very interesting, the idea of why we feel the need to separate ourselves from things we see as “bad”, or deny that these things are fascinating to us. Like, the world is “bad”, we’re living in “bad”! Horror is just fictionalised “bad”. I also think people seek out horror in other, more socially acceptable ways. There’s nothing wrong with being fascinated by death and danger. It’s a part of life just like everything else, but we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s “wrong” to engage with these ideas, or to be fascinated by them means there’s something “wrong” with us.
SWK: What’s next for BB?
KL: I think like many things, BB is a little bit up in the air at the moment! 2020 has, for me and many other people, forced me to really think about what I’m giving to the world and what my work is doing. Honestly, I don’t know what’s next for BB. For now, I’m really excited about our next issue, VAMPIRES, and the potentials of releasing a zine in the age of COVID. I’m excited to think about what we’ll do for our launch, what the release process will be like. I’m also really excited to be freed from a lot of capitalist expectations for the zine, like I think when you’re caught up in the day to day you don’t really think about what concepts and ideas are spurring you on, or making you work the way you are.
SWK: And lastly, what makes the perfect Halloween for you?
KL: I love that you asked me this. I am pretty basic when it comes to Halloween, I tend to just stick to the classics; carving pumpkins, horror movies, dressing up to go to a party, autumnal walks in graveyards. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I am looking forward to having a quieter Halloween this year, as the past two have been dominated by BB launch parties, but I will miss getting together with the usual BB crowd!
You can support Blood Bath through their back catalogue here.