Guest post: Introducing mental health anthology Out of the Darkness by Dan Coxon

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Risingshadow has the honour of featuring a guest by Dan Coxon.

Dan Coxon
Dan Coxon

Dan Coxon is an award-winning editor and writer based in London. His non-fiction anthology Writing The Uncanny (co-edited with Richard V. Hirst) won the British Fantasy Award for Best Non-Fiction 2022, while his short story collection Only The Broken Remain (Black Shuck Books) was shortlisted for two British Fantasy Awards in 2021 (Best Collection, Best Newcomer). In 2018 his anthology of British folk-horror, This Dreaming Isle (Unsung Stories), was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award and a Shirley Jackson Award.

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Guest post: Introducing mental health anthology Out of the Darkness by Dan Coxon

Out of the Darkness isn’t your average mental health anthology. It’s not quite what you’d expect from a horror anthology, either.

When work first began on the book, back in the winter of 2019/20, I wanted to do something a little different to what I’d seen elsewhere. Horror can be a brutal genre at times – filled with bloodshed, gore and body counts worthy of a Michael Bay film. More than that, it can really put its characters through the wringer. Take the title of Adam Nevill’s brilliant novel No One Gets Out Alive, as just one example. There aren’t always many survivors at the end of a horror story – and sometimes there aren’t any at all.

It may seem odd, then, to marry the concept of an anthology raising awareness and funds for a mental health charity with the horror genre – but to me they seemed made for each other. I’m active on the British genre scene (at least when there’s not a pandemic keeping us all locked up tight), and I know from the conversations I’ve had that there are many people within the genre – from writers and publishers to fans and bloggers – who have suffered from mental health issues in the past. These might range from anxiety to more severe problems like eating disorders and schizophrenia, but it seemed to me that it was an unspoken truth that we have a large number of people in need of help and support within the genre community.

I also felt that the horror genre itself was in an almost unique position to discuss the topic of mental health, and potentially help those who need it. I suspect that’s why the genre has so many fans and followers who suffer from mental health issues – it’s not, as the tabloids might have us believe, that horror turns you into some kind of slavering psychopath, but that it allows those who suffer from problems like depression and anxiety to explore those fears and traumas within a safe environment.

Personally, I’ve suffered from depression since I was in my teens, although it was only diagnosed recently. I’ve always gravitated towards horror too, and it was in these stories that I found both self-acceptance and self-knowledge. There was something empowering about facing down those monsters on the page or screen, then emerging back into the sunlight, unscathed.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that I feel horror and mental health go hand in hand – and Out of the Darkness acknowledges that. While some of the stories go to dark places, they also allow us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully explore and unpick some of the traumas and anxieties that some of us live with on a daily basis.

As I said at the start, this isn’t your average horror anthology. We’ve also spread our net wider than the standard genre writers (although we have a few of those, too). Out of the Darkness also includes new stories by Booker Prize shortlisted author Alison Moore, and Booker Prize longlistee Sam Thompson. There’s unsettling and uncanny fiction from Jenn Ashworth, Nicholas Royle and Gary Budden. We’ve got weird fantasy from the likes of Aliya Whiteley, Tim Major and double British Fantasy Award winner Laura Mauro. What binds them all together is their interest in exploring the darker places in the human psyche, and their commitment to great storytelling.

As well as raising awareness, we’re also raising funds for the charity Together for Mental Wellbeing – all the authors’ royalties will be donated to the charity, as will my editor’s fees. Every time someone pledges to buy an ebook or paperback – or the special, hand-numbered hardback edition, limited to 100 copies worldwide – they’re also putting money towards all the excellent practical work the charity does, helping people with mental health issues on their journey towards better mental wellbeing and independent lives.

Out of the Darkness is being published by award-winning independent press Unsung Stories, and can be pre-ordered now via their Kickstarter campaign, until the campaign closes on 8th April.