This last weekend I’ve been in Canberra for my brother’s 21st (it was a dress-up party; I may put up some pictures when I get them from Mum — I did my usual trick of forgetting to take any). To get to Canberra from Sydney, there’s a three and a half hour bus trip each way, which I often look forward to. I love staring out the window, musing over things in my life, making plans or just playing make-believe. I also often use the time to catch up on my podcast listening.
I subscribe to a few, but hardly ever listen to them. I’ve probably got about fifty episodes of the Book Show left to listen to, for example.
So on the trip back yesterday I got through a couple of them. In one episode Ramona Koval was talking to Sarah Waters, who is known for her novels set in the Victorian era, usually with some kind of lesbian storyline. They were speaking about her then-new (the episode was six months old) book, The Little Stranger. I’ve not read the book, but its gothic nature appealed to me and I suddenly remembered the books I devoured as a teenager: Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw, Northanger Abbey, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
I loved gothic literature. As Waters mentioned in the interview, the supernatural is a wonderful space to explore anxieties and uncertainties, dysfunction and, possibly, mental illness. Of course, these are things I am obsessed with in my own fiction, albeit in a more realist way.
But as a teen I wrote creepy little gothic stories, which were probably really very bad. Unexpectedly empty houses with all the lights on, stormy nights, taps turning on by themselves, steep hills to walk up in the dark, footsteps coming from nowhere. All these things appeared in my stories. And they were fun!
I feel a return to the gothic coming on, at least in my reading. Now if I could just find my copy of The Woman in White…