Killer Creatures Down Under: Horror Stories with Bite
‘Behind the Scenes’ – Part Three
KILLER CREATURES DOWN UNDER: HORROR STORIES WITH BITE, conceived and edited by award-winning author and anthology editor Deborah Sheldon, will be released worldwide by IFWG Publishing Australia on 15 May 2023. From creepy-crawlies to crocodiles, you’ll have plenty to fear in this anthology penned by Australian authors. Killer Creatures Down Under: Horror Stories with Bite offers disturbing tales that range from the action-packed and visceral, through the historical and futuristic, to the phantasmagorical and supernatural.
In this four-part series exclusive to Ginger Nuts of Horror, the contributors have agreed to pull aside the curtain and reveal the inspiration behind their nightmarish tales.
PART THREE includes insights from writers Renee De Visser, Charles Spiteri, Robert Mammone, Paula Yates, and J.M. Merryt.
Renee De Visser on “Twisted”
Oh boy! That sounds like a bit of fun. I was thinking great white sharks. I was thinking rabid pigs and muscled kangaroos. Swooping magpies and writhing snakes. Oh yeah. I was here for that, as the cool kids say. If there is something uniquely Australian, it is the number of animals we have that like to bite.
“Write what you know,” someone famous once said, and I knew this beastie. I’ve watched it move around humans many times, so casually menacing and opportunistic. We Australians tend to take them in our stride. We acknowledge them. We are not scared of them, for the most part, but we certainly don’t fuck with them, either. We know what they are capable of, and there is something quietly disconcerting about running into one unexpectedly. “Oh shit, that’s a big one,” we’d say with a nervous laugh. And we’d watch it closely until it moved way. There’s no scaring them, no shooing them away. To approach one is to challenge it in its territory, and one thing you need to acknowledge in Australia is that you are always in an animal’s territory. You just might not know it’s there.
Writing about a killer animal, by its very nature, is always going to be quite a physical tale. I might be writing about a creature I knew, but fortunately I had never been in quite the same position as my protagonist. Which meant that I had to put myself in that position, quite literally.
Anyone who happened to glance through my office windows on the days I was writing my story was in for quite a sight. Often, I would leave my laptop and get down on the floor, enacting the movements to ensure they were just right. I wanted my readers to be in that moment, to feel the sheeting rain that we experience so often in the tropics of Australia, to feel the pain and the desperation mingled with the utter disbelief about what was happening. Mostly, I wanted readers to understand that it could happen. To them. And so, I acted and wrote, and acted and wrote some more. I had a resident Huntsman spider on my ceiling at the time, and I wondered how much he saw of this crazy human shuffling along the floor.
By the way, the Huntsman spider doesn’t kill people. I don’t particularly like them in my house because I don’t like running into one at 3am when I am sleepily making my way to the loo. But this one was smart enough to stay up high and out of my reach, and so it stayed there, a witness to my poor acting ability.
But I digress. To the readers that take the time to read my story, I hope my efforts come through the pages. I hope I am able to put you in that place, at that time, cold and wet and feeling so ridiculously helpless in such an ordinary situation.
And I hope that, if you ever do find yourself in that situation, your story ends very differently.
Charles Spiteri on “A Pack Apart”
I never dare analyse the meaning behind my stories; I leave that to the reader. In the case of “A Pack Apart”, I can certainly remember what was going through my mind when I wrote it.
I arrived in Melbourne at the age of eight, not sure what I was in for. I was a thin, imaginative child from a tiny island in the middle of Europe coming to live in a vast continent that took six hours to fly over. I didn’t know anything about Australia, but I wanted to fit in.
However, I was the kid with the weird accent, the nerdy glasses, who was terrible at sports and couldn’t stand up for himself. It was the eighties, a time of ‘the Aussies’ versus ‘the Wogs’ and I was living in a rough neighbourhood. It was made clear to me by all the kids (the girls and the boys) that I should just go back to where I came from. I was too ‘wog’ to be Australian, but when I went to Malta in my twenties it seemed I had become too Australian to be Maltese.
My dad couldn’t decide whether he wanted to stay here or go back, but whereas he was caught between two worlds, I felt that I didn’t belong to either.
I have met a lot of people who, for one reason or another, hovered at the fringes. Like attracts like I suppose. For a while this troubled me, but as I reached my forties, I began to realise that not belonging can be a shared, unifying experience. It can strip away preconceptions and stereotypes and reveal points of view I never could imagine.
And, by now you’re probably wondering where the killer creatures come into the picture?
Well, I guess you’ll just have to read the tale...
Robert Mammone on “The Seaside”
H.P. Lovecraft didn't like the sea, or seafood. He was also a terrible racist. I, on the other hand, love my fellow man, and absolutely delight in scoffing down as much seafood as I can force into my gob. For all of H.P.’s numerous failings, his horror of the sea helped influence my little tale for Killer Creatures Down Under.
Whether it is Christmas lunch, or a night out at the restaurant, or just a barbie with some mates, if there is seafood – any sort of seafood – I'm all over it. Hell, I'll even have a seafood pizza (though the Gods surely have damned the man who first came up with the idea). Which is why my short story “The Seaside” exists. The little blighters, whether they be crabs, lobsters, oysters, octopi or mussels, or anything else thrown up by the sea, are, in my story, having their moment of revenge against an uncaring, and frankly hungry humanity. Which would no doubt make good old Howard shudder in nameless dread in whatever Stygian gloom he now resides...
My story, like I imagine a lot of the stories in this collection, was born during the dark days of the Covid 19 lockdowns. When the world is spinning out of control beyond your hermetically sealed doors and windows, how better to regain some measure of influence than to inflict an even more dire punishment on the world through frightful thoughts put down on paper? Horror is like that; a safe space to explore humanity's darkest fears and emotions, and then to close the book on them (literally) and return to the disaster that is life.
I banged out the first half of the story during lockdown on a whim and a fancy; I just liked the opening image of a gourmand shovelling seafood down his throat in a restaurant on the beach, while a family at play on the sand discovers something utterly horrible has drifted ashore. Those opening images cemented themselves in my brain, and when I took up the story some months later, after the submission call, I absolutely knew how the story would end – in catastrophe!
The writing of it was easy, even taking into account the break. I wanted it to be as matter of fact as possible, so there is minimal dialogue, as the imagery and story do all the heavy lifting. If there is a theme, it is, ironically (waves to Howard), that in the face of nature, man is but a puny speck before its awesome majesty and fury.
So, as you sit down to a plateful of delightful spaghetti marinara, or a scrumptious soft-shell crab burger, or lobster mornay dripping with so much butter your cardiologist would turn white in horror, remember, beneath the ocean, nature waits its final vengeance...
You can catch me on Twitter @DreadSinister or experience the full terror of my witterings on my rarely updated blog found at
Pauline Yates on “Hell Gully”
I almost didn’t submit to this anthology. I was busy with other writing commitments, and thought the submission call was out of my league. But I’m immensely proud of the fact that Australia is home to some of the world’s most deadly creatures, so when a deadline reminder popped up on my social feed, I thought I’d give it a go. Luckily, I work best under pressure because I only had eight days to submit a story. I’m so glad I did. Deborah Sheldon, the editor, loved it and accepted it in her anthology.
My story, “Hell Gully”, is about an America army unit participating in ‘friendly war games’ with the Australian army in a remote North Queensland region. I wanted to showcase my chosen deadly animals through the eyes of foreigners who were not familiar with our country’s hazardous fauna and flora. One of the animals I chose is perhaps the least likely you’d expect to cause harm. I chose this animal because I live in its habitat, and during summer, we cross paths every day. Everything I know about this animal, I backed up with research, and was pleased to discover even more fun horrific facts which I’ve weaved into the story.
Because of its vicious bite, I have high respect for this animal. However, from our interactions, I’ve learned how intelligent this critter is. Since our first (painful) meeting, we’ve developed an understanding, and I’m happy to say we now peacefully coexist.
I hope you enjoy reading “Hell Gully”, especially if you’re the adventurous type who likes bushwalking in Australia. You never know, this story might save your life.
J.M. Merryt on “Myiasis”
I decided that the real main character, the hero and villain, was to be the animal and I needed an Australian native animal that was interesting or bizarre enough to sit at the core of a medical horror story. I scoured books and YouTube top ten lists, looking for any animal that was truly odd or dangerous, from deep sea fish to cassowaries.
I didn’t want to go with something cute and cuddly, nor did I want to further damage the already abysmal reputation of sharks, and I’ve always been fond of snakes. I didn’t want to write slapstick horror (killer numbats are a little too close to killer bunnies), and I wanted something realistic: I’m always most afraid of what is feasible so I try to stick to truth as close as I can. Few people earnestly fear the boogie man, but helplessness and death are common things that can and do strike anyone and everyone.
This meant I needed to think of an animal that was commonplace but weird, and I decided to use my childhood fears of the worst thing an animal could do to you. I abandoned the top ten lists, and I started reading medical journals. I’ve not written medical horror before and this was quite a journey, requiring a lot of research, and I’ve seen a lot of photos that I can’t unsee. That said, I loved being able to indulge my passion for forensics and mycology. This story was also very much inspired by the bushland near my home, and the scenery is actually based on a real hill I pass every day on my way to work.
More than anything, it was great fun designing a character who would be guided by hubris, and because of their choices would allow me to explore worst case scenarios. I’m a fan of 1000 Ways to Die and the Darwin Awards, and I had both in mind when writing this.
Ultimately, I am interested in cause and effect and narrative consequences, and I wanted to see what would happen if someone afflicted by serious self-indulgent pigheadedness fell into a disaster of their own making. A disaster that they refused to remedy. This was very much a character study and an opportunity to really get into the motivation of my main character, which is partly why I chose the setting I did: no distractions, just choices and consequences.
I truly enjoyed working on this story over several lunches of rice bowls, and I hope you like it too. It is a cautionary tale in several ways and I wonder what you’ll make of it.
Check out the previous entries in this series below
KILLER CREATURES DOWN UNDER: HORROR STORIES WITH BITE ‘BEHIND THE SCENES’ – PART ONE
KILLER CREATURES DOWN UNDER: HORROR STORIES WITH BITE ‘BEHIND THE SCENES’ – PART TWO
KILLER CREATURES DOWN UNDER: HORROR STORIES WITH BITE