Exploring Horror Fiction in Africa By Enajite Efemuaye

Panelists: 'Pemi Aguda, Geoff Ryman

I don’t like horror because it is about scaring people and scaring people is a way of controlling people. – Geoff Ryman

Speculative fiction covers a wide range of writing: science fiction, fantasy, magical realism and horror. For a lot of African writers, genre is almost often not quite the target but telling stories. And so there is a lot of fiction crossing over from one genre to another.

The panelist started by giving a summary of their thoughts on African horror.

Geoff Ryman who is the author of several works of science fiction had an interesting perspective on African horror stories. “Horror talks about the areas of life we don’t want to face. Horror in Africa has a very special role to play and it is very different from horror in the west. Where western horror appropriates stories from other cultures, there is a cultural connection to horror stories in Africa.”

Pemi Aguda, whose work has appeared in Omenana magazine and winner of the 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize shared a similar views. “The African horror stories aren’t necessarily make-believe. There is already a lot of speculative fiction stories that are horror but don’t necessarily carry the tag.”

Chinelo Onwualu noted that “how primordial fear is manifested is a little different for different cultures. Africans are more afraid of the spiritual in such a way that is different from the west.”

The panelists gave example of horror stories from African writers that were touching on issues beyond just scaring people. “The horror story may not just make you fearful but capture different emotions,” Chinelo said.

With genre fiction there is a fear of falling into a formula. How do they avoid this?

“Don’t follow the formula. Originality is important. If you’ve read an idea in someone else’s fiction tread a different path,” was Geoff’s response. For Chinelo, tapping into your own fear was an effective way of avoiding the formulaic writing. “It’s not about the monster so much as the anticipation of the monster.”

The panelists took questions from the audience most of which were around how to write horror fiction. The replies sum up as

  • Avoid being disgusting, it’s not scary.
  • You don’t get licence to write badly because you’re writing a horror story.
  • Don’t limit yourself to a genre.
  • Just write your story and don’t worry about genre.

Enajite Efemuaye works as enterprise editor at Kachifo Limited, one of Nigeria’s foremost independent publishers, and is also the Manager of Farafina Trust. Her work has been published in African Independent, This is Africa, Ake Review, Sabinews.com, Guardian Life Magazine and Brittle Paper. 

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