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Guest blog post – Australian fauna in horror

Animals and the horror genre are a perfect match. Australia has no end of killer creatures – sharks, crocodiles, snakes, and spiders, just to name a few common ones – but I try to utilise the more obscure species in my stories.

My latest release, the novella Thylacines (Severed Press), is about the Tasmanian tiger, hunted to extinction some eighty years ago, and brought back to life via genetic engineering. Like a weird mash-up between a dog, cat and kangaroo, the thylacine was a carnivore that, ironically, the Australian state of Tasmania boasts on its coat of arms despite its citizens having killed every single last one of them.

The idea for Thylacines came to me while I was researching de-extinction science. A group of real-life scientists in Sydney, headed by Professor Mike Archer, came within a hair’s breadth of resurrecting the thylacine by cloning DNA from a preserved specimen. Their sample of DNA was too degraded – but not mine! My thylacine pups are born, yet something went wrong during the process. They are more like monsters than thylacines. A group of animal activists hears about the litter and decides to set them free. The result? Havoc. It’s a horror story, after all!

My collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (IFWG Publishing Australia) features monsters of all kinds, including those that are particular to Australia. The story, “Species Endangered”, is about a couple driving through Far North Queensland who decide to pull over and take a dip in the ocean. Out of the scrub emerges a cassowary, a giant bird that stands about two metres tall, armed with claws that can disembowel. The idea for this story came from my desire to write about a deadly Australian animal but not the “usual suspects”. If you take just one look at the cassowary, you’ll believe that dinosaurs evolved into birds!

Another story in my collection, “Stagecoach from Castlemaine”, features the yowie. This mythological ape-like creature is Australia’s version of Big Foot or the Abominable Snowman. I wanted to write an historical tale – “Stagecoach from Castlemaine” is set in 1880 in Melbourne and its surrounds – so an ancient terror as my antagonist seemed appropriate. This is perhaps one of my personal favourites in the collection. The research was exhaustive and painstaking, but I think I managed to capture some of the feel of the era and the Australian bush with its vast empty tracts, isolation, and creepiness.

My novel Devil Dragon (Severed Press) is about a monstrous lizard from Australia’s Megafauna age, a time when the animals were huge, with ducks the size of emus and wombats the size of hippos. I stumbled across this giant lizard, called Varanus priscus, while hunting for inspiration and researching deadly Australian animals. Devil Dragon was supposed to be a short story, but the creature was just too fascinating – and big! – to be contained.

I have a “parochial” approach to fiction because I believe that Australian writers should be free to write Australian stories. There is a push from some quarters of the publishing industry for books to have “universal appeal”, which is a kind of shorthand for American or European settings. This smacks of “cultural cringe” to me. Writers from the United States, in particular, are proud to document their culture in books and films, and I think Australian writers should be encouraged to be similarly passionate. I love reading stories that are firmly rooted within an authentic time and place, especially if the setting is completely foreign to my experience. Bringing a story alive with verisimilitude is, in my opinion, what makes a story universally appealing.

And that’s why I’ll return to Australian settings, characters, animals and monsters again and again in my fiction. My next project, a novel, includes various Australian creatures – sorry, no clues as to which kind! – but it will be 2019, at the very earliest, before the finished product hits the shelves. Thankfully, I’ll have no shortage of killer Aussie animals to choose from.

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Deborah Sheldon is a professional writer from Melbourne, Australia. Her latest releases, all traditionally published, include the horror novella Thylacines, the horror collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, the romance-suspense novella The Long Shot, and the horror novel Devil Dragon.

Upcoming titles in 2018 include the dark literary collection 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, and the horror novel Contrition. A retrospective dark fiction collection is scheduled for release in 2019.

Her short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo, as well as in various anthologies. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, and award-winning medical writing.

Website: http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3312459.Deborah_Sheldon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Deborah-Sheldon-936388749723500/

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