Blood Bath Literary Zine – The Bodies Issue
Edited by Katy Lennon
Review by Callum McSorley
From the wonderful black-and-white cover art by Jo Ruessman, you know you are in for something special as soon as you pick up a copy of Blood Bath Literary Magazine’s inaugural issue. Called The Bodies Issue, it features thirteen short stories and poems on the theme of ‘bodies’, edited by Katy Lennon.
The opening story by Ever Dundas, ‘Miss West’s Requisitions’, lives up to the name of the magazine, delivering the kind of gore of which Tom Savini would be proud . The image of irritating colleague Ken’s body dismantled and wired up to become a scanner and printer (scanning with gouged eyeballs, printing with blood, of course) is one you’ll find hard to shake, although as part of a tale of nine-to-five, office-work drudgery, it’s as comical as it is gruesome.
Another stand-out short story in the collection is Scott Clark’s ‘Family Pool’. A Cronenbergian body-horror piece, it’s about a troubled family’s new swimming pool which appears to be infested with something that loves eating steak and is causing them to swap body parts and melt together. The way the narrator’s voice shifts and changes until you are no longer sure whose point of view you’re experiencing is a clever touch, and its epistolary form (usually the reserve of gothic) works well.
‘Feed Them’ by Mary Crosbie is also about water monsters, though in this case they’re internal. Protagonist Vera has agreed to an experimental weight-loss programme which finds her wanting to eat people. Crosbie’s tale captures one of the central themes of The Bodies Issue: shame. The feeling of shame about the way your body looks and smells and its natural functions is the core feature of many of the stories here. Vera was ashamed of being overweight and made miserable by her embarrassed mother, causing her to take drastic action.
Elizabeth Guttery, in Rita Hynes’s ‘The Unrecalled’, is similarly shunned for her body odour, but unlike Vera, she defies those who would make her ashamed. She refuses to wash and is fascinated by the natural smells and functions of her body, and is almost morbidly interested in her periods, convinced she is “dying all the time”. Hynes directly tackles mainstream culture’s traditional squeamishness around female bodies, which seeks to hide and cover-up and control them.
Unfortunately, what we learn in Hynes’s tale is that outsiders must change or die, which brings us to the other big theme of The Bodies Issue: transformation.
A character turns to stone in ‘Petrified’ by Felicity Anderson-Nathan, a werewolf narrates Laura DeHaan’s poem ‘Enclosed in Clothes’, Vera is drastically losing weight, and Scott Clark’s pool-dwelling family is merging together and becoming each other. Both horror and triumph come from transformation. It can be both terrifying and freeing.
We also have transformation of old stories into new, with retellings of Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid by Alys Earl and Angie Spoto, respectively. In Earl’s ‘The Eye That Offends You’, the princesses’s beauty is so great it is unbearable to look at and drives people mad – beauty itself becomes something terrible. However, if there is a small criticism to be made, it’s that these particular pieces don’t offer the kind of fresh subversion of the horror genre found in the other stories and poems. Recent times have seen fairy-tale revisions in the style of Angela Carter having become a popular horror subgenre in their own right.
That said, the magazine as a whole is not only brimming with gruesome menace, it has a relevant place in the vibrant Scottish indie publishing scene. In her introduction, Lennon writes of the stories she has collected: “None of them can be read without leaving you with a dark comment on an aspect of modern society.” And this is true. Whether it’s about fat-shaming, period-shaming, or fear of the Other – something that has forever been inextricably linked to people’s bodies inside and out– these stories have something to say beyond just grossing you out or giving you the creeps (though they do that just fine too!)
The magazine is a political statement in its itself. As Lennon says, Blood Bath Literary Zine is “Confirmation… that the type of horror I wanted to see on the literary scene could exist. It could be weird, emotional, it could subvert genre and literary conventions, it could be lyrical and politically aware, and did not have to be wholly dominated by cis white men.” This is the joy, and importance, of independent publishing. Small publishers can implement the changes they want to see in the larger industry with ease. Blood Bath is not dominated by cis white men, it’s diverse and inclusive and for the next issue (on the theme of ‘demons’) it is focus is diversity of publishing, including a focus on people colour.
Horror, as a genre, shook off its reputation as juvenile and trashy some time ago, and this generation’s rediscovery of its greats, like Shirley Jackson, has pushed it into the mainstream to serious, critical appraisal. But horror will always be at home with independent creators, the B-movie makers and the zine-staplers, where you find things at their most weird, their most unique, their most terrifying.