Isabella Hunter & The Book of Demons

Isabella Hunter talks to us about her story ‘Behind the Mask’ in The Book of Demons, the new short story collection curated by A J Dalton. Miss Hunter is a queer Gothic author whose work appears in numerous anthologies from Iron Faerie, Kristell Ink, and others. Be sure to follow her on Twitter for more news about her upcoming work.

How did you come to write ‘Behind the Mask’?

I first heard tell of The Book of Demons project quite a while back and, although it had still yet to be given the greenlight, I felt immediately inspired. Straight away, I knew I wanted to write about the kuchisake onna, the split-mouth woman, from Japanese folklore, even though it doesn’t sit neatly into the category of ‘demons’ as is so prevalent in popular culture.

Luckily for me, after chatting the idea over with Adam, I got the go ahead to start writing. Kuchisake onna are a relatively modern yokai dating back to the Edo period, which started in 1603. My story predates this period a little, being set in the Sengoku period, and focusing on the Soma clan.

It was interesting writing more historical fantasy, and I spent ages finding the right husband for my kuchisake onna, trawling through the hundreds of daimyo, and then researching into the setting and specifics of Soma Moritane.

I had the most fun though getting to showcase lots of different yokai and little snippets of Japanese folklore. Throughout my piece there are lots of nods to different bits of folklore, superstitions, and mythology that keen eyed readers will notice.

Besides Akane, my favourite characters are Horse and Ox who guard the entrance to the city in the demon realm. This pair appears quite frequently in Asian mythology as the guardians to the underworld and I did something similar with them in my story, although I played around a bit with some of the details. Writing their characters and interactions was a lot of fun and I can’t wait for readers to experience the story for themselves.

A Kuchisake-onna in a scene from Ehon Sayoshigure by Hayami Shungyōsai, 1801

Thanks to Isabella Hunter

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