I’ve long been interested in monsters; firstly that common monster slinking the streets, the female teenager. She’s poised on a threshold, waiting for magic, imagining, dreaming, wondering how she’s going to turn out. It’s the core question of those years; how will I turn out? Will I become one of the beauties with a stun gun in her belt, or one of the tortured and teased, so foul I force suitors to flee?
Literary monsters have to wrestle with the same fate; will your creator make you ugly or beautiful? Will you be the handsome broad shoulder slim-waisted Spiderman spinning webs to get the girl, or a creepy Caliban trapped and terrifying? The fact that all monsters in earlier life are preoccupied by sex makes this doubly hard to deal with.
In my earlier novels my monsters were fully human and pretty sexy, but lately I’ve stripped back the human and slapped on the hairy. For some reason after twenty years of writing pretty realistic contemporary fiction I’ve suddenly scratched out a stubbly fistful of stories about vampires and werewolves. The creatures who crawl out of these tales are not the hormonal hotties who’ve sashayed into my novels, but the lunatics at the other end of the breeding spectrum; menopausal malcontents.
If there’s a reason for this reimagining it’s that using monsters as characters re-enchants the ordinary. This ordinary being the next monstrous time of wondering, imagining transition, very different to the magic of adolescence: middle age. The shift from young towards old, when again we ask, how will I turn out? Will I be straight-backed, silvery, calm and wise – a Gandalf – or dribbling, warty, haggard and screeching – a Baba Yaga? We just have to wait and see.
For the female monster this menopausal transition is particularly powerful. No longer competing for mates she casts off the constraints of sex, of attracting, breeding and nurturing. Even better, she becomes less self-conscious, and so stronger and potentially more dangerous.
Recently I’ve published my first werewolf story, Fur, and my hairy heroine is approaching menopause. The Change leaves her transformed in more ways than one. It sees her turn away, alone and unnoticed, to face the dark.
Fur is narrated by this woman’s husband who can’t believe what is happening in his home as his wife gets hairier, begins to run at night and lets her blonde curls go grey. He doesn’t like it one bit; in fact it downright terrifies him and he plans to do something about it – but he hasn’t reckoned on the force of a woman transformed beyond his wildest imaginings.
The lifelong question for all of us, and certainly all monsters, is will I ever be truly loved? For the older, uglier, hairier, female monster the answer is, alas, probably not, certainly not in the way you once were.
But don’t despair, let yourself go, run for the hills; instead of love, for the first time, you have freedom.
Helen Cross is the author of three novels, many stories and regular plays for radio. Her werewolf story is published in the new anthology of female werewolf fiction, Wolf-Girls, Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny published by Hic Dragones.