Guest Post: Darkness and Light

“Out of the Darkness, in collaboration with Together for Mental Wellbeing, challenges some of the most exciting voices in horror and dark fantasy to bring their worst fears out into the light. From the black dog of depression to acute anxiety and schizophrenia, these stories prove what fans of horror fiction have long known – that we must understand our demons to overcome them.”

“Horror isn’t just about the chills – it’s also about the healing that comes after.”

Dan Coxon, editor at Unsung Stories, contacted me about a new short story anthology the press will publish later this year. A quick glance at the list of contributors and I was immediately interested. The theme that draws the stories together is mental health, which feels particularly appropriate given the way people have been required to live during the global pandemic. I asked Dan if he could provide a guest post explaining how the book came into being. Funds for the print run are being raised via a Kickstarter campaign that has some impressive rewards for those who pledge their support. All royalties and fees from this collection are being donated to the mental health charity Together for Mental Wellbeing. Over to Dan.

Out of the Darkness is an anthology of short stories about mental health, but with a twist. The authors we’ve invited are all in some way writers of horror, dark fantasy and the uncanny – strange stories, sometimes scary ones. Our aim wasn’t just to publish a book – we also wanted to start a conversation within the genre fiction community, and help those suffering from mental illness to find support and understanding.

I first started work on Out of the Darkness in the winter of 2019/2020. Covid-19 was still unheard of, and the idea of a global pandemic was something for the thriller writers. But before any of this happened – before the cracks in our world were exposed – we were already facing a mental health crisis. According to a study in 2019, it was estimated that one in four people in the UK would experience mental health issues every year, ranging from schizophrenia to mild depression. On a global scale, that figure rose to 792 million. Over 70 per cent of people suffering from mental health problems would receive no treatment at all.

You don’t need me to tell you that things have only got worse since the coronavirus pandemic. The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that 10 million people will need mental health support in the UK as a direct consequence of Covid-19. We’ve all been struggling to one degree or another, whether it’s due to isolation, anxiety, job-related stress or bereavement. 2020 was a year of widespread suffering, and suddenly my little anthology felt more important than ever.

Some of the stories in Out of the Darkness were written before Covid-19 hit; some during the pandemic. What binds them all together is more than just the topic of mental health, though. It felt particularly important that they should engage with the topic in a productive and positive way, rather than dwelling on negatives. The aim was to encourage conversations and help those suffering from mental health issues, not send them spiralling into even deeper despair. None of the authors involved have sugar-coated their stories, but they do suggest a light at the end of the tunnel, a way of coping with and living with mental illness, rather than succumbing to it. Together we’re moving out of the darkness.

Having said that, the authors involved vary widely in their backgrounds. Some – Simon Bestwick, Eugen Bacon – are best known for their horror and science fiction. Others, such as Gary Budden and Aliya Whiteley, are better known for writing weird fiction – fiction that unsettles and challenges the reader. We even have two Booker Prize longlisted or shortlisted authors, in Alison Moore and Sam Thompson. What brings them all together is their interest in the strange and the unusual, and their willingness to explore different mental states through their writing.

Out of the Darkness is available for pre-order now via our Kickstarter campaign, which, in addition to the regular paperback and ebook editions, includes an exclusive, limited and hand-numbered hardback edition. More importantly, we’re supporting the charity Together for Mental Wellbeing with the book – all the author’s royalties and my own fees as editor are being donated to the charity. Backing us on Kickstarter doesn’t just get you a fabulous book – it also puts some money where it’s most needed. Because if we all pull together, we can find the light at the end of the tunnel.

Dan Coxon

Do please consider supporting the Kickstarter – details here

Updates may be found on Dan’s Twitter

 

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