In Haunt
A local author celebrating the city’s thriving alternative culture whilst also turning her talent to immersive Gothic, horror and fantasy fiction – it’s Isabella Hunter.
Isabella HunterHaving graduated in English and Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, Isabella has gone on to make an impact, with her work featuring in a range of magazines, as well as being widely anthologised. 2019 marks the year that the Creep horror anthology – in which her short story ‘Husk’ is featured – has been included in the Horror Writers Association reading list!
This is writing is infused with a strong awareness of place, the power of nature, folklore and fairy tales; perhaps inspired by Isabella’s own upbringing in the East Lancashire town of Bacup. Yet it is here in Manchester she has gone onto embrace alternative culture; not only modelling in her own right but also for the local independent Kiku Corset Boutique (a business that previously featured in a full Haunt Manchester article here, on the boutique turning 10 years old in 2018) – and was present with Kiku at the Haunt Manchester Networking Fair and Gathering, part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019.
And just like a fine garment, Isabella’s approach to writing is attentive to detail – and certainly makes an impression. With story titles including the likes of ‘The Spider Sister’ and ‘The Dragon Daughter’, a sinister exploration of domestic themes makes her work particularly unnerving. Also powerful is the exploration of the natural world within her work and its links to the Gothic, with ‘Dead Sand’ and ‘Vines and Frost’ being two of her stories featuring in the Divinity collection.
Isabella has continued her writing even in the face of great personal difficulty; having been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and receiving chemotherapy over the course of last year. Inspiringly, and with great dignity, she has blogged about her experience, whilst also raising vital awareness for charities helping others.
This is creative, expressive artistry - with a number of inspirations. Another aspect approached in Isabella’s work is that of Japanese culture and folklore, featuring in some of the key motifs and settings of a number of recent stories; including ‘The Koi Girl’, which is published in Fable anthology.  In turn, Haunt Manchester decided to speak to Isabella herself, to find out more…

Hello Isabella. You are a published writer of horror and fantasy short stories – what inspired you to explore these themes in your writing?

"I was brought up on fantasy and horror. That was my dad's bread and butter, so he was reading Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even the Necroscope series to me. We used to watch The Lord of the Rings together and horror movies well above my age rating. So, naturally, when I started writing I wrote what I was familiar with. It also means that I have complete creative freedom with my world. I can use any fantasy or horror elements I want. I don't need to base my ideas on what is plausible in this world."

When writing horror – is there a particular sensation you are hoping to evoke in your audience?

"I am particularly fond of disgust. I feel many writers will write what scares them and that is true for myself. I have a lot of fears but the most prominent one is my fear of vomit. A prominent part of my horror writing will often focus on vomit, or people coughing up water/dirt/blood. Otherwise, I tend to write uncanny pieces where there is a growing sense of things being not entirely how they seem, building tension throughout."

Having grown up in the North of England and now living in Manchester – would you say these locations inspire your writing approach?

"When I first read Wuthering Heights it felt familiar to me. I grew up in Bacup - a small, isolated town surrounded by moorland. It feels innately gothic, especially now that I live and work in Manchester, whenever I go back to visit my family it feels like a different world. None of my writing is set in cities, instead it features remote locations, surrounded by large expanses of forest or moors. I love Manchester though, it has a great alternative scene; both in the writing community and for music events as well, which is something I'm looking at experimenting with in future work."

Some of your recent work is also significantly inspired by Japanese folklore – why this focus?

"Japanese folklore has been a massive interest of mine for a long time and it isn't something that is seen in Western writing as much. My creative writing dissertation is where it all started though, with a collection called Henshin Monogatari, or 'transformation story' in English. These stories all focused around a different piece of folklore from Japan and I fell in love. When I am working with Japanese folklore I get to draw on the significance of different kimono or musical instruments, even colour schemes. To the right reader a girl playing the biwa is ominous due to the cultural significance of that item in the legend of the jorogumo."

Are short stories the medium in which you first started writing – if so, why? And can you tell us about your current work and future writing plans?

"Naturally I default to short stories, but I am working on a novel at the moment - of which I am hoping to have my first draft finished by spring 2020. It is based around the 'Japanese expression' -  a child that does not resemble its parents is the child of an oni. However, I am still writing and submitting short stories as I work on that, to keep content coming out.
"My last publication for this year is in the Divinity anthology (released by Iron Faerie publishing) in October, which includes two stories - though these are not based on Japanese folklore. Instead, one is based on the Myth of Osiris and the other is a completely original fantasy about two female adventurers waking a god. In addition, one of my Henshin Monogatari stories which hadn't been published yet has just been accepted into an anthology for 2020 and I have a horror called 'Through the gate' which is out for submission at this moment."

As well as a talented writer, you are also a model and are involved with the local Kiku Corset Boutique. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?

"I was very lucky when I moved into Manchester to meet Lynn (McKay) from Kiku Corset Boutique. We have worked together on photoshoots and catwalks which is always a pleasure. I just love all things creative - whether that is writing, drawing, baking, or modelling. What is great about Lynn is I can go to her with a vague idea and she can turn it into something physical. I'm hoping to continue my modelling, using it like a visual story-telling medium. Hopefully I will have some new images to show later this year, as in November I'm shooting with both Jamie Mahon and Matthew Maddock."

Do you think it is important to embrace alternative culture? Why?

"Alternative culture is important to myself, as someone who is a part of the alt scene. I don't want to lose the place that I can dress how I feel comfortable and where I have many happy memories with people who enjoy the same things that I do. With the refurb of Oxford Road Station a large portion of the alternative pubs and venues were threatened, along with the iconic former Cornerhouse building (now No 70 Oxford Street, part of Manchester Metropolitan University, where The Manchester Writing School is based) where I studied Modern Gothic and Creative Writing in my third year of University. However it isn't just spaces that are important... the people are the ones that need the respect and acceptance. Luckily, in Manchester the police do take alterophobia seriously along with other forms of discrimination."
For more on Isabella Hunter, she is also on Facebook and Twitter
Kiku Corset Boutique also featured in Haunt's '5 Weird and Wonderful Places to Shop in Manchester' selection here
By Emily Oldfield 
Image Credits
Photograph -  by Jamie Mahon
Outfit -  by Kiku Corset Boutique
Headdress - by Hysteria Machine
Make-up - by Joanna Strange

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