I was so pleased when I was asked to write about my latest book for the Goldsboro readers. But how would I begin to explain my own fascination with creating gothic novels?
One reason might well be that, like so many other writers, I was a solitary child who would spend hours concocting daydreams, telling stories in my mind filled with imaginary friends. Books became another friend, especially dark fairy tales. I also vividly remember all the Sunday afternoons spent on the sofa with my mother, the curtains closed against the world as we watched the old film noirs. (Anything starring Bette Davies would always be an added bonus.) As I grew older, I would often stay up late to see the horror movies shown on Friday nights, being both thrilled and terrified at the sense of fated doom in The Haunting of Hill House (the 1963 version, directed by Robert Wise), or the vampiric Hammer Horrors.
At university, I loved reading Victorian novels, with those of Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy, and the Brontes still remaining firm favourites. From there, the interest carried on, and I would scan the bookshop shelves for new historical novels, especially if they combined supernatural elements. And finally, I decided to try and write one of my own, conjuring to life all the classic elements that first became so popular in Horace Walpole's gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto.
Published in 1764, that book inspired a whole new genre often labelled as 'romances', but which were based on twisting plots in which an isolated protagonist, usually female and alone, was engaged in a mental and physical battle with monsters, madness, and murder, where ghostly visions could be real or the fevered delusions of a drugged and tortured mind. The atmospheric settings were threatening and claustrophobic. Scenes in crumbling castle crypts, or ruined abbeys were common. Angela Carter also featured this tradition in her work, reweaving fairy tales and folklore and coming up with something new, or – as the author said herself – she poured new wine into old bottles ending up with a heady and explosive recipe, but with the core of the stories still immersed in what we know as the traditional gothic landscape.
This is the landscape in which The Fascination has been set, with its gritty rural fairgrounds, the gothic glamour of the theatres, and an anatomy museum based on one that did exist in a shop on Oxford Street. My own fairy tale illusions to Snow-White and Rose-Red, and also Beauty and the Beast are running through the narrative to emphasise the themes of children being orphaned, or lost along dark forest paths – an allegory for the real world of dangerous obsessions, where anyone born looking 'different' may become a social outcast or be exhibited in freakshows. In such a world my characters must seek a way to survive, to find acceptance and love among a family of friends.
My novel is set in the nineteenth century, but the themes of the story are as relevant today as they were in the past. Just as Beauty sees the light within the soul of The Beast, I hope my story throws some light into the darkness of our times.