Tauranga author Lee Murray is now a two-time Bram Stoker award winner and monster lover, yet she is still scared of the dark.
In a New Zealand first, Lee won two prestigious Bram Stoker Awards at this year's event hosted by the Horror Writers Association.
This jettisons her into an illustrious group of authors, with previous winners of the Bram Stoker Awards including Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Joyce Carol Oates and Neil Gaiman.
'In literary circles, the Bram Stoker Awards are the ultimate accolade for a dark fiction writer,” says Lee, 'so to win two is simply overwhelming. It's like bringing home gold in two events in the same discipline at the Olympics. I can hardly believe it.”
Unlike Olympic medal winners, there tends to be no-one meeting our award-winning authors at the airport.
'We don't have that mind-set here in New Zealand about our authors,” says Lee. 'Yet everyone flocks to watch Game of Thrones. Where do people think stories come from?”
Named after the author of the seminal horror novel Dracula, the international Bram Stoker Awards are presented annually for superior achievement in dark fiction. This year, due to the pandemic, the awards were presented at a virtual literary event which included attendees from 17 countries.
Lee's book Grotesque: Monster Stories, which Sublime Horror calls a 'compelling collection of diverse, thought-provoking worlds” won the fiction collection category.
Lee then took her second award of the night for her work on Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women - an anthology of Southeast Asian horror tales co-edited with her Australian colleague, author Geneve Flynn.
Both books have cover art by Australian horror writer Greg Chapman.
There are 14 short stories in Black Cranes with two written by Lee, and 11 stories in Grotesque: Monster Stories all by Lee. The shortest story in the book, at 600 words, was a finalist in the Ladies of Horror Fiction Best Short Story Awards.
The anthology is also a finalist in the Shirley Jackson Awards for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.
Lee believes the pandemic is one reason the books have been acknowledged internationally.
'I think there was a lot of interest in New Zealand dark fiction, escapism, and what we were living through because of the pandemic,” says Lee.
Black Cranes looks at Asian women's horror.
'That hadn't actually been done before. With the pandemic there was a lot of anti-Asian sentiment, particularly in the United States.
'Because of that tension, our contributors insisted on pushing the book out last year. We need to keep the dialogue open and have people talking about these issues.”
Lee says Black Cranes is a book about ‘otherness'.
'The sense that you don't belong, or you're different, or seem different to other people. Feeling like a stranger when you should belong in your own country.”
Space and Time magazine says Black Cranes 'resonates with bold originality throughout” and Nightmare Feed calls it 'an instant classic”. Lee, who has reached the Bram Stoker Award finals three times before, admits to being overwhelmed by the double honour. She hopes it will mark a new era in Kiwi horror fiction.
'We have so much undiscovered literary talent here in New Zealand,” says Lee, 'and our authors offer a unique perspective.”