Friday night, I spent in solace once again. This time at a talk with Intan Paramaditha and Syd Moore at the Essex Book Festival. Brought together by their love of horror and feminism, yet, incredibly different in writing style, they created the most stimulating conversation.
Intan Paramaditha read from her collection of short stories Apple and Knife. Intan has rewritten traditional fairy tales, placed them in an Indonesian context, and given them a feminist and Intan twist. Her version of Cinderella was hilarious and horrific at the same time. She describes the scene at the ball:
“We were merchandise in the market and Prince Charming was the sole customer. Of course, he couldn’t purchase everything on display. He had to choose the best to be his queen.”
How disgusting this passage was, the blatant misogyny oozing out intensified by the dehumanization of the marriage process. And yet, for centuries (and sometimes even now I think!) it was like that.
Syd Moore read from her most recent book Strange Fascination, and boy was it intense. Syd is reclaiming the stories of the women murdered under the guise of witchcraft, in particular the narratives of her home county Essex. In Essex, there were 503 witch deaths, and in the rest of the neighboring counties there were 135 in total. She wants to know why.
Then, Syd asked Intan the standard horror writer question: Have you always been interested in the dark side? Intan said yes. For her undergrad thesis, she wrote on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. (Everything connects!) From Frankenstein, she learned that you can say a lot about society using horror, and sees the book as Shelley’s critique of the romantic sublime from a feminist perspective. Intan thinks that feminism and horror are very similar in that both are a disruption and questioning of reality, often resulting in shock or disgust.
Syd shared that what happened and is happening to witches is horrific. Most women were labeled as a witch because they were too loud, too ugly, or too powerful, and thus deemed dangerous by society. Syd works with DINNødhjælp, a charity that fights for children in Nigeria where people are still killed or tortured for being accused of witchcraft. Witchcraft is on the rise all over the world, including in the US where protest groups are taking up the pointed hat.
Both agreed that when reading fairy tales as children they were more intrigued by the evil witch, than the princess. The witch got to go on adventures, write spells (poetry), and fly around on a broom, while the princess sat bored in a tower waiting to be “kissed without consent.”
Intan shared with us poet Toeti Heraty‘s retelling of the cruel witch Calonarang who murdered villagers and wore their organs as jewelry because no one would marry her daughter. Heraty reclaims the narrative as “the story of a woman sacrificed to patriarchy.” Fear of strong women still pervades society. In Indonesia in the early 80s, members of the women’s movement were accused of witchcraft, and thus raped, killed, and prosecuted. Since then, women’s groups have been very weak.
Intan said how happy she is to see younger writers breaking out of this tradition. We were fortunate to have Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie in the audience, an Indonesian fiction writer and one of the Writers-in-Residence for the Essex Book Festival, who shared that ‘her generation’ have begun to talk openly about sex, atheism, and other taboos, and are working to create change. She also shared her concern about the lack of reading amongst her peers.
Then the conversation opened up to the audience and we talked about privilege, the state of reading, publishing, and libraries in Indonesia and Britain, and what can be done to help.
Oh it was an inspired conversation, and I felt charged. I went up to Ziggy afterwards and said, “So, are we the same generation?”
“Yep, me too.”
Here we were, two female writers at the prime age of 25 meeting in an arts center in a small town in Essex. Both loud, educated, and literate. Funny how bitches and witches are only one letter apart.
Find out more about Intan Paramaditha’s work.
Find out more about Syd Moore’s work.
Find out more about Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie
Find out more about the history of Feminism in Indonesia.
Find out more about the Essex Book Festival, ongoing until March 31st: