Turn and face the strange…

I loved the British Library’s Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition so much I went twice. So you can imagine how happy I was to see that there’d be a panel discussion with some of my favourite authors.


Picture courtesy of Rhiannon Cook @rhicook

I will spare you the four pages of notes I made in my Edgar Allan Poe journal, but here are some highlights.

It opened with readings from each of the authors. An excellent way of conveying the wondrous diversity of the Gothic.

Chris Riddell was all urbane charm masking a naughtily weird streak as he read from his World Book Day £1 special ‘Goth Girl and the Pirate Queen’. Humour and send-up has been part of the Gothic since it began.


Picture courtesy of Rhiannon Cook @rhicook

Anyone who can pitch a book with a major character who is ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Gnomes’ has to have a sense of the absurd. He did lay some of the blame at Mr Priestley’s door – saying that his friend’s enthusiasm for the Romantics ( Byron et al – not Georgette Heyer) had let to this celebration of the weird.

Then we had the much more serious Sally Gardner. She read from her dark masterpiece ‘Tinder’ which I had read for Serendipity Reviews. Her reading was uncompromising. I loved how she said:

I had to use a fairytale to make it powerful.

Disney it ain’t.

From Sally’s website: The Lady with the Long Nail in Darkness © David Roberts

The readings ended with two short but eerie tales from Chris Priestley. They were from 247 tales, a Bloomsbury initiative sadly no longer with us. The remit was a story in 247 words (which inspired me to write my own) . I grinned with agreement at his call for short fiction to become more available to younger readers.

It was intriguing to hear how the narrator’s story in his Tales of… collections took over.

Julia Eccleshare invited questions from the audience. It too exemplified the broad appeal of the scary tale – parents and children, teens, full-dress Goths, several SCBWI writers and at least one PhD student.

How do you gauge the level of fear?

CR – constantly on the edge of terror when faced with a blank page

SG – to write true you have to tell the story from the gut

CP – writes what the hell he likes – writers can only write what they can write

What kind of fear do you ‘enjoy’ in books or films?

CR – slow realisation that something is wrong

SG – not seeing the monster, left to the imagination

CP – wants to create psychological terror for 9-12 year olds – not enough about

Where do you get your ideas from?

CR – always carries a notebook round and picks up words anywhere to set him off [he showed us several wonderful pages – and drew ‘live’ ]

SG – ideas are everywhere. She walks and tells her stories aloud – with earphones in so no-one knows she’s talking to herself

CP – there’s no special pot that only writers are allowed to get to. His ideas go round like a tumble-drier. You need an eye to spot the shape of a story.


Which books would you have loved to have written?

CR – doesn’t read fiction when writing for fear of unconscious mimicry

SG – Holes by Louis Sachar, Great Expectations by Dickens,  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness ( who was in the audience)

CP -The Road by Cormac McCarthy – a book so good it put him off writing for a while. The Cat in the Hat,  Tom’s Midnight Garden



There were plenty more fascinating remarks. If you were there and want to correct or add something please comment or talk to me on twitter @lockwoodwriter.


3 thoughts on “Turn and face the strange…

  1. Pingback: Ten-Minute Blog Break – 20th January | Words & Pictures

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