#Gothtober – Gothic Fiction 101

Gothtober

Before Pride and Prejudice could create an idyllic wonderland of Georgian Society, before Charles Dickens could address the poverty and hypocrisy of London life, before Matthew Lewis could creep us all out with The Monk (honestly, I’m not sure I’d recommend you read it) Walpole created The Gothic, a literature movement which would go on to shape countless genres, books and authors, with elements and tropes undisputable and almost undefinable.

I mean, I love Gothic Fiction, but have you ever tried to look up a definition?

Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled “A Gothic Story” – Wikipedia.

Seems a bit of an oxymoron – how can Gothic Fiction be a subgenre if the origin is attributed to a book over two hundred and fifty years old? I love Gothic Fiction. It’s spooky and moody, and full of creepy monsters. And it’s not super obvious because it was created during a time of great change.

That said, all the great Literature movements were.

In April 1721, Sir Robert Walpole became the first prime minister – sort of. He was made chancellor of the exchequer, and given 10 Downing street, and his responsibilities were not dissimilar to the responsibilities our current prime minister has (when he remembers… *cough cough*). This continues, no matter his failures, wars with the Spanish, and other messes, right up until 1742 when Walpole resigns as prime minister. He would die three years later.

His son, Horace, aforementioned creator of The Gothic, was Eton and Cambridge educated – though he never completed his degree. He started hanging out (and this is the part where it should be super clear this isn’t a real essay) with Conyers Middleton – a clergyman against superstition and bigotry. Noteworthy due to its rarity. H Walpole also became a politician, but wasn’t as committed to it as his father, choosing instead to focus on his writing, and his beloved palace – Strawberry Hill, Twickenham.

Image result for strawberry hill

If you haven’t been – I’d definitely recommend it.

You see that bit of building which isn’t painted bright white? That’s where I studied Gothic Fiction. In the home turf of the creator. In a cute little lecture room with wallpaper which had about six different greens in it, and spooky paneling and a genuine real hidden door which popped open when I leaned on it. It was just a cupboard full of paper towels, but it was still cool. It created a new trend for architecture and became the template for spooky Ghost castles.

Anyway, back to Gothic Fiction. Travel had become a cosmopolitan luxury. People were traveling further, experiencing more than ever and writing all about it. And everything that was ‘other’ and ‘alien’ was terrifying. And literature, being the easiest and most accessible sponge, allowed the world to see without ever leaving their homes. Walpole had been all over France and Italy. It took him years to visit places it can take us two hours to fly to. (Sixteen if you’re flying Sleazy jet). 

Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto in 1764. The second in a long list of books he’d write developing his Gothic tropes. And thus an era was born.

Welcome to #Gothtober

Gothtober

Okay, so… your first question might be – what is Gothtober? Or it might be, why? Both are reasonable. And I can explain.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess. *Cue the sicky noises. But, after my mum introduced me to some real princesses (the pageant kind) who wanted to borrow her very expensive dresses, parade about in them and smile – a lot – I decided being a princess probably wasn’t for me.

Skip twenty(ish) years – I’m definitely NOT a princess. Thank (insert preferred deity here). But that doesn’t mean my interest and love of the fantastical has died. In fact – quite the opposite. I get to visit castles, wear ball gowns, tame dragons (though the last bit isn’t in the literal sense) all the time. And I realised some months ago – I’m really lucky, and I had the opportunity to let people in on the party.

So back to your first question: What is Gothtober? Well, it’s 31 days of blog posts, pictures, games, videos, giveaways, and Q&As about Gothic Fiction, Ghost Stories and the dark underbelly of the fantasy worlds living in our heads. It’s a calendar count down to my event – Creative Writing Workshop – Gothic Fiction – and a sneak peek to the event itself. You see, Gothic Fiction is the Great Grandfather of all your favourite genres – Murder Mysteries, Horror, Thriller, Fantasy, Historical Fiction and Science Fiction. They all stem from the Gothic. And if you want to develop your writing – it might be a fun little exercise to try writing some Gothic Fiction of your own.

And – why Gothtober? That’s easy.

Image result for morticia addams gif

You see, once I got over the whole ‘wanting to be a princess’ I decided I wanted to be Morticia Addams. She has way more fun.

So enjoy this excuse to lacquer your nails in black, pull out your darkest lipstick, and listen to some dark and moody tunes, and don’t forget to comment below with your favourite Goth. 

Flash Fiction #2 – Date with Death

Writing.Prompt.s (Instagram) – A dating service where matching is based on people’s search history exists. You’re a serial killer. You go on a date with a writer. 

I check my bag again. Wire, cheese wire to be specific, with wooden handles in the first pocket. Duct tape, and a bin liner in the third. Purse, keys and my Urban Decay in Venom lipstick in the second – middle – pocket. It’s a dark purple. I haven’t put it on yet. My bag is just a handbag. Nothing special. Nothing expensive. Nothing I mind getting blood on, and then dumping. New though, so it shouldn’t have my DNA in it. Purse is also new. Keys are in a plastic baggie. More plastic baggies in the middle pocket, just in case.

I’m stood outside the restaurant. You can’t really call it a restaurant. It’s a Nando’s. It’s a thing unto itself. I do love a Nando’s though. I’ll have to get something I can eat with a knife and fork. Can’t have Piri Piri fingers leaving a mess at the scene. My scene. The thought sends a shiver up my spine. I’m excited. Not just for the murder. For my date as well. I know he’s going to be tall; I’ve seen his bio. And we’ve talked a little bit about where we spend our time. Mainly work. Mainly late-night walks. His favourite tv series is Wire in the Blood. It gave me the idea for the cheese wire in the first place.

In my coat pocket are my thick leather gloves. They’re men’s, and a little too big for me. Hopefully I won’t have to lend them to him. I’m also wearing flats. I hope he doesn’t mind. I went on a date with a guy once and he made a nasty comment about me looking wider in flat shoes. My profile photo is me in heels. I left it three weeks, which is a personal best, before I broke into his house and skewered his testicles and his eyes. He was found three days later, because no one gave a shit enough to visit him sooner.

Prick.

My date arrives and he is tall, which is a relief. He’s got big hands too. I imagine them holding the wooden ends of my cheese wire and feel a bit giddy. A bit shaky. He seems timid though. He goes to kiss me in a greeting and panics. Pulls away so it looks like he’s bowing to me awkwardly. Never mind. Hopefully it’s just first date nerves.

We’re led in, given menus and chicken. I’ve no idea what to order. He talks me through the menu like a child, and I can’t decide if it’s sweet or not. I go for sweet. It’s safer for him. I think about the lipstick in my handbag and decide it was a good idea not to go for it. It might put him off. Everything about him is softly spoken, reflective, and he uses words he must have read in books because he’s saying them wrong.

I get up and order my dinner. Chicken wrap – I’ll pull it apart with my knife and fork – rice, halloumi and a bottomless drink. I’ll need my energy. He gets a chicken burger. Chips. Mild sauce. I don’t know how to feel about this.

Back at our table, I ask him what he does. He’s a writer. I ask what kind. He shrugs. Ghost writer. Works on murder mystery books for a company that supplies bigger named writers with new stories. FBI agents. Big explosions. Poisoned coffee and deep psychopathy.

My disappointment is tangible. He feels it as deeply as I do. A lightbulb has burst for me, whilst his barely flickers. He doesn’t know. Not yet. I start to pray the chicken is brought to us quickly before he can realise.

He asks what I do. I lie. Dentist. It’s what a friend said to say if you want a date to end quickly. But he’s interested. Am I private or NHS? Cosmetic or general? He knows more about dentistry than I do, and I’m starting to think he doesn’t believe me when – finally – our chicken arrives, and I can stop talking and start shovelling.

He brings up Wire in the Blood. Says he wants to write a series as good as that. That he’s been researching serial killers. Murders. Real, local crimes. I nod. Make a joke about having a passing fascination with the same things. He’s not convinced. The lightbulb is flickering more so now.

He asks how I spend my free time. We’ve mentioned it briefly over the website we met on. But I can’t remember whether I gave an honest answer. I make a joke about killing people. He doesn’t laugh. He finishes his chicken and looks at me. Asks me if I want to hang out after. I wipe my mouth; still glad I didn’t choose the dark lipstick. I’ve got hand sanitiser in my other coat pocket.  I squeeze more than I need to cover both my hands and rub it in over my wrists as well.

I’ve still not given him an answer. He seems genuinely keen though. And maybe this’ll be good for his next book.

Okay. I agree. But only if he promises not to scream.

Medusa’s Epic

I.
My family are immortal,
Born of Titans and sea.
My family are all monsters.
All, except for me.
My father is a creature with
Crab claws, a merman’s tail.
I have soft hands, soft features.
I am mortal. I am frail.
My mother is a goddess,
Her hair smells of sea and salt.
She has the strength of the ocean
And my beauty is her fault.
My sisters are both giants.
Their names mean strength and brawn
But my name means protection.
A curse to do me harm.
My brother is a dragon,
Full of venom and spite.
He’ll coil around his apple tree
And kill you with one bite.
Our name, Gorgon, means terrible.
But for me it isn’t true.
My hair is golden sunsets.
My eyes the deep sea blue.
My family are all monsters,
Nightmares in the dark.
Creatures of legend and myth.
Whilst I am beyond remark.
.
.
II.
My childhood clouds in mystery.
No one cared about my strife
I spent my time in solitude,
An isolated life.
At the utmost point of the mountain
is where I made my home.
My sisters rarely visited.
For the most I was alone.
I gazed upon the vale,
Watching the lives of little men
Thinking of the life I could have had,
If I’d been born as one of them.
But the fates had a plan for me
Which drew me down the tor.
They had a plan to destroy me,
To reveal the venom at my core.
I’d venture from my home sometimes,
To revel alongside mankind.
Amongst the drunken throng, you see,
Anonymity I would find.
No one saw my golden hair,
My face hidden in a mask.
To laugh and sing and dance to songs
Was my only happy task.
But a mid-June Panthenaia
Was where Poseidon spotted me.
Amidst Athena’s temple
He tore my dress with glee.
.
.
III.
I might have had a chance,
If I had been a titan.
If I’d had claws and a tail,
And the strength of a great python.
He kissed me harsh and fiercely
Freezing skin and bone.
Whilst cried for my mother.
Wished that I’d stayed home.
When Poseidon had filled the cup
And spilt mine on the floor
He left me crying, a sorry state,
Wanting me no more.
Athena understood me,
Because Athena is so wise.
She saw the anger in my stare
And burnt the venom on my thighs.
Athena gave me a choice,
To stay a mortal-torn.
Or curse me with a power which
Would make me a titan reborn.
If I had been a titan,
I might have had a chance.
So I accepted Athena’s gift to
Be able kill a man with a glance.
My golden hair recoiled,
Snakes sprung from my head.
Now anyone who touched me,
Would end up stone cold dead.
.
.
IV.
Perseus was a hero,
His start the same as mine.
His mother was a mortal,
But his father was divine.
Zeus, brother of my rapist,
Came to Danae one evening.
He showered her with soft kisses
In the form of a golden spring.
But King Acrisius of Argos
Had heard his fortune told
And believed Danae’s son would kill him
Before he could grow old.
When he learned Danae was pregnant,
He threw her in the sea.
Rescued by another king’s brother,
And as a hero raised to be.
King Polydectes fell in love with Danae,
But Perseus forbid their match.
The king would not give up easily,
And a plot began to hatch.
For the marriage of Hippodamia
He called people to bring offerings.
But for the horse tamer’s stable
Perseus could provide nothing.
Perseus was ashamed,
Unable to do his best.
So the King gave a command
And my head became his quest.
.
.
V.
I brought many men to ruin.
I was a formidable foe.
I was finally a monster
My family cared to know.
Rumours spread of my appearance
Many called it “punishment”.
But I knew Athena, wise Athena,
As only benevolent.
My appearance was grotesque,
I could turn men to stone.
And had I ever wanted,
I could have taken every throne.
I think Athena knew this.
She knew I’d never yield.
So when Perseus came for me,
She gave him a bronze shield.
Perseus fought bravely.
Fearless. Like a soldier.
And he swept that fatal blow
Took my head clean from my shoulders.
From my neck sprung my children
In a golden river flood.
Pegasus and Chrysaor
Of God and Gorgon blood.
Perseus took my head in a bag,
Carried it to his king.
Whilst Polydectes plotted revenge
Unaware of my continued sting.
.
.
VI.
Perseus was a hero
Everyone knew it to be true.
Having slain an evil monster,
His glory only grew.
He returned to Polydectes
Via Ethiopia
Plagued by Poseidon was this place
Full of drowning screams of fear.
For Poseidon had been insulted
And punished with fierce cruelty.
And only Andromeda could win the day
By sacrificing her beauty.
A story which sounds familiar
Yet she retains her fame.
Because rather than fight back, instead,
She let Perseus take the blame.
He killed a fearsome sea creature
He turned it to cold stone.
Then Andromeda’s father
Offered Perseus a home.
All the while I hung there,
My hair tangled in his hands.
Never getting the glory,
For saving those dry lands.
Athena took my head back
Placed me on her shield.
As a reminder to all women
Of the power that we wield.
.
.

Flash Fiction: #1

642 Things to Write About: Prompt:

You walk into your bedroom and discover someone going through your drawers.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked, leaning against the wooden doorframe. Terry was outlined by the falling light through the curtains, his hands wedged firmly in the top drawer of my chest of four.

‘Nothing,’ he said, his eyes opening wide and his face paling. His hands remained in the drawer.

‘Do you really think I’d hide it there?’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ Terry replied, finally releasing the shirts he’d been rummaging through and closing the drawer.

‘I wouldn’t leave your present just anywhere for you to stumble across it, now, would I?’ I laughed, coming over and wrapping my arms around his waist.

‘So, you have got me a present?’

‘Of course. Ten years we’ve been married, did you think I’d forget?’

Terry rolled his eyes at me.

‘What is it?’

‘I’m still not telling.’ I shifted to release his waist, but he pulled my arms back around him, locking me in with his thicker, tanned arms wrapping around my back.

‘Tell me. I hate surprises.’

This was true. Terry hated surprises. He’d said as much on our first date which, really, when you thought about it, was a terrible idea.

‘When have you ever hated a surprise from me?’ I joked, feeling my laughter press my chest against his. We were the same height, but he was wider across the shoulders than me. Hairier than me. I was greyer.

‘There’s always a first.’ His eyes looked sad the moment it escaped his mouth. We released each other and stepped back. I moved to my side of the bed and pretended I’d come in for a book that was sitting on my side table.

‘Dinner will be done in ten,’ I muttered.

‘James… I didn’t mean…’

‘I know what you meant,’ I said with a half-smile. ‘I’ll see you downstairs in ten.’

Terry was still stood by the chest of drawers when I walked out of the bedroom.