Is Brexit To Blame For The Rise Of The Gothic?
Updated: Feb 16, 2020
2019 has been quite a year. Brexit loomed large over us and it looks as if it will do so for a while yet. World events continue to be turbulent. Personally, it's been a rollercoaster of a ride too. In the last twelve months I've had three jobs, our youngest sat his GCSE's and my debut novel was published.
I signed with Salt at the end of 2018 and in May this year Haverscroft finally become a book. Since then, there have been requests for articles, questions about inspiration and influences for the novel. Suddenly, I had to examine why I had written a ghost story; a gothic dark tale with a good dollop of domestic noir thrown in. We read and write what we enjoy, surely? But why all this scary stuff and where do these tales of ghosts and ghouls all come from? Why so suddenly were agents and publishers wanting to put chilling dark tales into bookstores?
Ghosts appeared in Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad, so we have had them in literature for a very long time. As for the gothic novel, Horace Walpole got things started in 1764. Horace had a passion for the gothic and had the money to indulge it. He was the son of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister, an MP in his own right. He wrote The Castle of Otranto when he was the Whig MP for Kings Lynn in Norfolk, only a few miles from where I live now. Walpole’s story combines the supernatural with realist fiction, the plot devices used in today’s Gothic Novel are all there. The castle is haunted and as much a character as the people who populate the story, pictures move and doors close by themselves. All things that go bump in the night and send shivers down readers spines are in Walpole’s creepy tale.
The Castle of Otranto inspired other writers such as MG Lewis’ The Monk, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The gothic novel was well underway by the mid ninetieth century, but this does not explain why we like to be scared; just that scary books have long been a popular genre.
When Haverscroft was out on submission in 2018 I chatted with an agent who was predicting a rise in gothic fiction and ghost stories. There had been a surge in T.V and film adaptations for gothic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and The Little Stranger. By the time I signed with Salt Publishing in October that year, it was clear popularity for the gothic was rising. Vampire stories had entralled us with titles such as Twilight and psychological thrillers continued to be popular. There are always fashions and fads in literature by why the gothic now?
When we read a book, watch a film or take a fairground ride that scares us, it triggers the fight or flight response, floods our bodies with adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine. We love that feeling, deep down though, we know we are perfectly safe. We can stop reading, switch off the film or enjoy the ride on our own terms. We are in control.
So is Brexit to blame for the rise of the Gothic? A contributing factor, the agent thought. We live in uncertain times. The UK Parliament sat on a Saturday for the first time in thirty-seven years in October and next month brings another general election. There are other concerns so enormous they are beyond our control and sometimes our comprehension, the threat of climate change, is perhaps, a good example of that. The more difficult life becomes, the more we like to escape reality for a while and books allow us to do that. The Victorian period was one of huge change, both socially and economically. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), was a social comment on Victorian Society. The novel highlighted the gulf between rich and poor which all sounds rather familiar does it not?
The Victorians’ particularly loved vampires and we have certainly had a revival of those. Dystopian fiction, psychological thrillers and domestic noir all allow us to look at aspects of the real world, things that might be happening in our own lives, but from the safe and reassuring distance of a story.
In Haverscroft the domestic noir was a thread both for the main character Kate Keeling and the previous owner of the house. Currently, legislation is trying to make its way through Parliament to deal with our society’s issues of domestic abuse. Kate battles with her mental health and is terrified she cannot trust her own mind. Issues such as the rising number of people suffering with dementia regularly make the news headlines. The fear again, of losing control.
When I was writing Haverscroft, often with my laptop on my knees in the car while waiting for one of our children to come out of school, I was utterly lost and absorbed in the fantasy world of my characters. For that time, I left everything behind and revelled in the escape to an imaginary place, to live in the mind of someone else whose life and troubles were not mine. When the novel was finished, the edits signed off and the manuscript with the printers, I felt bereft, cut loose and alone, pushed back to reality where Brexit is real.
As things currently stand, the Gothic is likely to be riding the crest of a wave for a long time yet. We have tickets to see A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic Next month and my pile of books beside my bed waiting to be read is heavy on the gothic with titles such as A House of Ghosts - W.C.Ryan and Ghostland - Edward Parnell. With more due to be published next year such as The House on the Lake - Nuala Ellwood we will not be short of a scary story or two for sometime.
Meanwhile, with Haverscroft out there doing its own spooky thing, I’m making friends with a crowd of new characters. They keep me busy and distracted, facinated and entranced. But the way things are going in the real world, Book Two will need to be a very chilling affair.