Tag Archives: gothic

A little bit of gothic fiction

This is a recording of me reading the first chapter of New England Gothic. It’s a prose novella set on Hopeless Maine.

I come from Gloucestershire in the UK, and in terms of accents, I can sound more, or less like I come from Gloucestershire. I have thus made zero attempts to capture the speaking voices of people living off the coast of Maine at time unspecified, in a slightly uncertain reality. I have no idea what they should sound like!

We’ve been doing a kickstarter to publish this one, and two weeks in, are fully funded, which is wonderful. The support has been amazing – in terms of people pledging, pledging more than we asked for, and sharing the project to get more people onboard. It’s been a really affirming experience. I’ve not written much fiction in recent years because there didn’t seem to be much point – getting novels in front of people isn’t easy. I’m moving away from novels anyway, and clearly there are ways of getting books into people’s hands, so, forwards!

The kickstarter is over here, should you feel moved to check it out  – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine

 

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Rural Gothic

I have really mixed feelings about rural gothic stories – on one hand I love much of it as a reader/viewer. But I do worry about how it impacts on people’s feelings about wild places. In rural gothic stories, the landscape itself tends to seem hostile and threatening – trees and forests especially. The darkness beyond the human settlement can only be a place for horrors. These aren’t the stories I most enjoy.

The best known rural gothic tales concentrate on the big house in the middle of nowhere (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights etc) – in these the role of the natural world is often simply to provide remoteness, with the fear of it a force for isolation and a lack of humans to help, witness or explain. In the gothic house in the middle of nowhere, the horrors are all human – living, dead, mad, murderous, guilt ridden, incestuous and so forth. The landscape may initially take some of the blame. The subtext in such stories is often that, without other humans to keep an eye on them, some humans go very wrong indeed.

My preference is for tales where the main characters are not the massively rich inhabitants of manor houses, and the countryside is not absolutely hostile. I’m very happy to have some creepy landscape features – some landscapes are, after all, rather creepy. Just the one sinister tree in an otherwise benign forest. Just the one haunted landscape feature, or the one location for the malevolent dead, so that wild places can be a mix of the dangerous and the restorative. Marry Webb does this very well indeed, and it’s also there in Daphne De Maurier’s work and Sabine Baring Gould.

The Blair Witch Project is for me a fine contemporary example of a story that takes the landscape horror too far. That whole landscape is presented as hostile and dangerous. It becomes banal after a while. How much more powerful would the film have been if the landscape also held beauty and promise, so you could never be sure if you were safe or not, or what was imagined and what was real. And really, what are we doing telling each other to be afraid of woodlands when in practice, trees are incredibly benevolent beings who do us massive amounts of good?

Fear of the wild places is a very human response, but in practice, as well as in fiction, what we might reasonably be afraid of are the choices of the unwitnessed human, not the landscape itself.


Hopeless Victims

A few days ago, copies of Hopeless Maine Victims landed at my door. For those of you who haven’t been following my exploits for long, an explanation… I do a gothic/steampunk graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. I do most of the writing and I now also colour it. The artist and originator of the island setting is my husband – Tom. We got together through working on this.

I admit I was anxious – this is the second graphic I’ve coloured and the first time I’ve worked on all the art for a Hopeless book. I coloured chapters and two pages spreads in Sinners, but that didn’t quite feel the same. On the whole, I’m pleased with it. There’s an inevitable process whereby you know more at the end of a book than you did at the start, but the only thing to do is accept it – if a person tried to re-write, draw or colour a book the same thing would happen at the revision stage and the book would never be finished… Deciding when a thing is good enough is never a comfortable process.

This book represents a significant chunk of my working life last year. I learned a lot – and not just the experience of colouring. I learned what my hands cannot take. For the next book we will be moving at a slower pace so as to put less pressure on my hands and give me options on music and crafting. I have the willpower and discipline to push a hurting body and keep working, but that doesn’t make it a good idea! Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

This weekend we had some of the two page spreads from the new book out at an event – the coloured images are definitely stronger for display than the black and white ones – much as I love Tom’s original pencils. I’ve gone from starting early last autumn anxious about messing up his drawings to feeling reasonably confident that I’m adding something good to the mix.

We’ve got two more books to do to complete the story I first created more than a decade ago. (Tom’s been working on this idea for much longer.) It’s been through a lot of developments since then, and the process of evolving work over that time frame has been interesting. What happens after the final book I’m not sure – the project has expanded with more people coming in to explore it, including music, and a role play game. I’m going to be working more on the role play game soon – which I’m very much looking forward to. I don’t know what happens next, and I’m looking forward to discovering that in the company of fellow explorers.

Hopeless is easy to get in the UK – any bookselling site is likely to carry all three titles – The Gathering, Sinners and Victims. You may see copies of Personal Demons and Inheritance – these are both in The Gathering and we don’t get any money if you buy them as separate titles.

If you are outside the UK, your best bet is Book Depository with its free worldwide delivery…

The Gathering 

Sinners

Victims


The Forgotten Room – a review

As psychiatric nurse Maura Lyle pulls up to Essen Grange, you know what kind of story this is going to be. Essen Grange is a vast, crumbling, sinister, mouldering pile of a place and inside it is a crazy old guy who needs sedating, locking in his room and taking care of. The cleaning lady has, as Maura quickly identifies, been to the Mrs Danvers’ school of running big, creepy old houses. This is a gothic novel. It is such a gothic novel, and I really enjoyed it.

Of course it isn’t long before the first body appears – or rather, the first bones, hinting at a family secret and a troubled past. There’s a gardener with only one ear and a tragic back story. Maura herself is recovering from the death of her partner and worrying about the sinister doctor who appears to have got her this job. There are people who are not saying things, and not saying them so loudly that you can almost hear the words. Except when you find out, nothing is what you might have expected in this tangled, tormented web of lies and cruelty.

With its claustrophobic, almost incestuous atmosphere, its mysteries and deaths, Essen Grange rivals anything Daphne Du Maurier came up with for sheer gothic presence. The house itself exerts a supernatural force on the lives of people it touches, drawing them back, drawing them in, as though there is some malevolent awareness here that is able to pull all their strings for its dance macabre.

The plot is intense, twisty and complicated, and there were times in the middle when I felt I wasn’t keeping up with who was who and who had done what to who else – and I was right. What at first seems like an unravelling of the mystery turns out to be a deepening of it, and nothing is as it seems. Slowly, the question of who, and why is properly answered, and the answers themselves are deeply uneasy. There are horrors here, but they’re more psychological than graphic – although there are a few moments of full on grossness in the mix.

I had trouble putting this one down. The need to make sense of it, to find out what had happened, and how, and why, was compelling. I too kept getting sucked back into the madness of Essen Grange. It proved a deeply satisfying read, and it is a story I expect will stay with me.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Forgotten-Room-Ann-Troup-ebook/dp/B01BW633TA


A Lament for Gothic Romance

I was invited at rather short notice to contribute to a Friday the 13th, Unlucky in love night of miserable poetry. I wrote the piece especially, not having anything suitable. as laments go… it seemed to elicit a lot of giggling. Words below for anyone who can’t get along with video.

 

Gothic romance

I wanted a black dress, damn you to hell

With a hearse to arrive in and mourners as well

A bunch of dead roses to hold at my thigh

With brown crisped up leaves all crumbling dry.

I wanted a honeymoon, somewhere remote

With a host and a ghost and a sacrifice goat

And rings on my fingers and bells on my toes

And a bloody great raven as mournful as Poe’s.

Then back to the castle for cobwebs and gin

Things claw at the window and try to get in.

Where others than we would go bump in the night

Surrounded by those most unfond of the light

I wanted to sleep in a velvet lined coffin

While down in our basement some misshapen boffin

Makes mechanised prayers to evoke elder gods

And hatches unspeakable things out of pods.

I wanted the spiders, the webs and the dust

The squeal of a hinge overtaken by rust

A pendulous promise of doom in the air

And decay and delusion and also despair.

 

You took me for afternoon tea, in Cirencester.

Sure. I like scones as much as the next person

But I knew, from that moment, we were doomed.

And not in a good way.

 

You hand picked me roses all sprinkled with dew

And proceeded to write me a sonnet or two.

Then hired a man with a lute and a hat

To sing under my window. He looked like a prat.

Oh you took me to dances, you took me to France,

You spoke of eternity and of romance.

You bought me a cottage, a pony, a ring,

But darling, you see it just isn’t my thing.

And yes, your whole family seems very nice

But I picture them bloody and frozen in ice.

 

I wanted a poet whose heart had been broken

Whose tears were all real and whose bleeding not token.

I wanted the raw and the driven insane

But you sent me kittens, not pathos and rain.

I wanted the tortuous depths of your soul

Not this shiny courtship, I fear it’s your goal

To marry me, make me a comfy old wife

Condemned to be cheerful the rest of my life.

And so sweetest darling there’s nothing to do,

But create my own tragic ending for you

A wedding day accident, that would have charms

So cruelly snatched from your new wife’s pale arms

Then I can weep and float round in a veil

Faint for no reason, from time to time wail.

 

Who dares to say gothic romance is dead?

You’ll find all you need, in my coffin shaped bed.

 

(If you want any more silliness, there’s also Intelligent Designing for Amateurs)


For the love of gothic islands

Back in 2010, Tom and I were contacted by some people who were making a web-tv series about a spooky island off the coast of Maine. Back then, www.hopelessmaine.com had been going for about a year as a webcomic, also featuring a spooky island off the coast of Maine. We eyed them up and concluded that we fictional gothic islands should stick together. And thus began a beautiful relationship.

Ragged Isle  is made of love and enthusiasm, a startling plot line, and wonderful people. It goes to show what truly amazing things can be done when you have great ideas and motivated people. You don’t need massive special effects budgets to tell a good tale. The whole story is now available to watch online, and I heartily recommend that you do just that thing.

People who look very closely may spot the Hopeless Maine orphan reading a book called Ragged Isle, and may also spot Hopeless Maine on a bookshelf in Ragged Isle. When book 3 of Hopeless comes out, you’ll see another tie in – we borrowed Ragged Isle’s Deputy Dan – Eric Moody – as a model for a character. And, in what isn’t that startling a coincidence, Tom’s son Cormac recently did the soundtrack for a short film Eric was staring in (more on that another day). We’ve formed friendships between the two islands, and I look forward to seeing what Eric Moody, Barry and Karen Dodd, Greg Tulonen, Rick Dalton and others get up to in the future. They’re a very talented bunch.

 


All Hallows Read

It is Neil Gaiman’s most splendid idea that Halloween should be the time to give someone a spooky book. (You might consider Hopeless, Maine as a good candidate, if you know someone who doesn’t have a copy.) Mr Gaiman himself is the author of The Graveyard Book, which is a fine piece of child-friendly creepiness, and ideal for the season.

Talking about death and fear is important. Acknowledging the unknown and the anxiety of living. We don’t do it enough, our culture preferring to drown out the dread with ever louder background noise and bright shiny things. People who get to grips with death are a lot less afraid to live. A creepy book can be a good way into that, a safe place in which to explore and encounter fear and come to terms with it.

I’m fascinated by the fake and unfrightening ‘scares’ that Halloween puts on the supermarket shelves. Made of plastic, brightly coloured and sanitised, they can scare environmentalists, destined as these objects are for an early burial in landfill. Otherwise what commercial Halloween mostly does is turn horror into something safe and unthreatening. That’s rather counterproductive. We need to fear and respect death in order to live well. We need to look into the darkness now and then so that we can properly appreciate the light. We need to own our fears rather than trying to bury them. If horror stories can tell us anything it is that trying to bury alive things (like fear) is not actually a very good idea. They always come back, the gnarled hand reaching up through the piled earth of the grave, ready for another go.

I love gothic work. I’m not a huge fan of more visceral and bloody forms of horror – it gets dull after a while. There’s only so many severed body parts and unspeakable monstrosities a person can take before apathy floods in. A good creepy story sneaks in, and does not allow complacency. It turns the mundane into the uncanny and unnerving. It reminds us that mystery lurks around every corner and uncertainty abounds. Creepy fiction encourages us not to get too comfortable in our assumptions. Anything could turn out to be other than it is. If we can balance that with the art of not getting too paranoid and frightened, it’s a good lesson to learn.

By way of a contribution to All Hallows Read, I have a free story for you. It’s short and available as a PDF from http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/NimueBrown I wouldn’t give it to a younger child, but it’s no worse than the later Harry Potter books for overt scariness, (children tending to miss the layers…) although there are a few rude words in it! You were warned.


Hunting the Egret

One of the things I’ve been able to do as a consequence of having more internet and electricity, is look into a bit of self-publishing. I’ve written far more books and short stories than are currently available, and I thought it would be fun to put some of it out there. Ebook land is a shifting and unpredictable place, in which publishing houses come and go, so much of the work I have lying around has been published by someone at some point, and then reverted back to me as houses fell by the wayside. Not to imply that I am some kind of publishing kiss of death…

For the last few weeks, while clearing my head between drafts of the next Druid book, I’ve been working on revising Hunting the Egret, which previously went out into the world under my old name. This was the first book cover Tom ever did for me, so it was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me. However, Tom hadn’t had chance to read the story, so I tested it on him during the revision process. It’s a gothic love story, full of Pagan magic and messed up people. It comes from what I now think of as my messed up romance period. The basic premise that even the most weird and troubled person might be able to find a soul mate motivated me to write a great many stories, often for the erotica market. Many of them do not strike me as worth dusting off. However, having gone back to Hunting the Egret, there’s a lot of things going on in it about how the characters see the world.

I’ve managed to rework it so that it remains very much about the dynamics of power exchange in relationships, without being excessively adult. 50 Shades it most certainly isn’t, and there’s a kind of irony in toning down what could have been a BDSM erotica novel, now that sort of thing is really popular, to bring out the gothic lovestory aspect instead. When it was first published, BDSM erotica was niche and hardly discussed. Yeah, I’m clever like that.

However, I felt the original version was unbalanced, with too much time spent on the sex lives of the characters and not enough else explored in detail, so I’ve redressed that in a number of ways, and I feel better about it. I think when you’re putting content into a book in order to make it sell, you’re on a losing streak already, more often than not. I figure, the vast majority of books do not sell in the thousands anyway, so I might as well do the work I love, put that out and see if I can find a few people who like what I do. I’ll save the trying to do it for money for projects where someone offers to pay me upfront, because the rest is just gambling anyway. And who knows, maybe gothic romance with a dash of Paganism is poised to be the next big thing. I sincerely doubt it, but it would be a great deal of fun if that happened to be the case.

I’m going to blog a few excerpts and some wider reflections on the project over the coming days, but in the meantime if you are curious, Hunting the Egret is on kindle – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EKJCPY6 with a createspace version one day, and there is a print version over at Lulu – http://www.lulu.com/shop/nimue-brown/hunting-the-egret/paperback/product-21147485.html It could show up other places too, but there’s no knowing how long that might take.

I like feeling in control of my work some of the time, and I like how it feels to be sharing a story that really matters to me. Only when I came back to rework this tale did I realise how much it was about my own desire to find a soul mate, someone who would accept me as I am. That he created the cover for me, and I did not know that I had already found the person I needed, is a strange thing to look back at.

In regular fairy tales, beautiful princesses live happily ever after with the elegant prince of their choice. In my fairy stories, poverty stricken freaks with outlandish backgrounds and serious hang-ups manage to connect with each other and heal their wounds, and overcome their demons a bit. Looking across the table at the lovely man drawing on the far side of it, I know that kind of story is actually possible. Oddly ever after…


Reworking

A big part of my creative time is going into radically re-working a book. This is unusual behaviour for me. Often when I’m creating something I feel more like a midwife than anything else. I’m not inventing, I’m bringing something into the world that was already fully formed and ready to go. That makes taking bits of it apart about as weird a thought as re-knitting a recently arrived baby.
The trouble is that the things I make do not all arrive fully formed, perfect and ready to go. Many of my word-babies are sorely miss-shapen and missing vital bits of themselves such that I ought to drop the baby metaphor before this becomes a bit icky.

I expect to go through at least three drafts on any given creative piece – the initial writing down, the serious tidy up, the final polish. Some books turn out to need far more.
Then there’s the issue that I’m not just making these things to amuse myself. I’m aiming to unleash them upon the world and have them be read by others. They have to fit somewhere, and that can inform the shape. Or in this case, the re-shape.

Up until fairly recently I had a pen name and a not very secret double life writing smut. There’s a pretty good internet market for smut books, which pre-dated all the enthusiasm for 50 Shades of Gray. Which by the standards of the people I was hanging out with, was, I have been told, a rather lightweight, unkinky sort of book. It’s a genre in which I’ve done a lot of editing, too. Sadly, my main house for that work, has folded, leaving me with some serious rethinking to do.

I have to say that much of my smut was lightweight and disposable fiction, and that most of it I can let go. There are a couple of stories that barely had enough smut to enable them to fit – two longer works that are innately mournful, gothic and deeply Pagan. These, I’m reworking with a view to self-publishing. It’s a funny process because for the greater part I’ve been un-writing scenes. There will still be an erotic element, but nothing you couldn’t find in, say, a Clive Barker.

At no point did I set out to be a Y.A. author. It was one of those interesting accidents. What will now be book 3 of Hopeless Maine was originally book one, with the first 2 instalments, the child narratives, being prequels written much later because Tom saw the appeal of mixing up gothic and cute. But now I’m the proud owner of a book the Young Adult Library Services Association (in America) recommends as a great graphic novel for teens. While I’m not going to restrict myself henceforth to the Y.A. market, I do feel a degree of responsibility not to put out stuff in the same name that is wholly inappropriate. So I’m toning down and unwriting, focusing on the dialogue, emotions and psychological content rather than who put what where.

In a lot of other creative forms, it’s possible to grow and change something in a gentler, more fluid way. Songs and spoken stories can be tweaked every time they go out. Messing with a novel is a much more involved affair, but, I’d like to offer something that won’t scare off more readers than it attracts. And I’m back to the curious issue that violence is far more acceptable than sex, in terms of what we depict for each other’s amusement. On the whole I find I prefer the sex, but, at the same time, getting away from the details and the mechanics seems to fit my overall style better.

Right, back to it, carefully skipping over any innuendos about being hard at work… because we all know how much Druids hate anything suggestive… (see previous post about Naked Men).


Why death is good for you

It’s generally claimed that awareness of our mortality is what sets humans apart from other animals. I’m wholly convinced elephants have some pretty good ideas about death, and I’ve no reason to think any species of mammal entirely oblivious. I find it harder to make any kind of guess about what creatures other than mammals are thinking, there’s so much less to go on.

Thinking about people though, most of us, most of the time clearly do not live with a consciousness of our own mortality. As the saying goes, no one lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office. Come the end of your innings, all the material wealth is of little account. I do not believe the culture I live in is particularly aware of death. We see it as something to delay and avoid (although we won’t drive slower to avoid it for ourselves or others). I think mostly we assume death is for later, or for someone else, and we act accordingly.

I gather (New Scientist article last year) people who are conscious of their mortality tend to move away from rampant materialism and towards a more spiritual way of life. Thinking about death, properly, will make you more willing to enjoy each precious moment you have, not squandering it on worthless things. Death makes you care for your loved ones more. The death consciousness can bring life into focus, making us work out what matters and what does not.

Looking at the consumerist culture I live in, where politicians preach long work hours and adverts sell materialism at every turn, I do not see an intrinsic awareness of our own mortality. Quite the opposite. I see a lot of distractions designed to help us forget that we were all born to die. We’d be so much better off if we gave a bit of thought to how we might feel in that death bed scenario. What might we regret? What will we look back on joyfully? That’s one of the best guides to living you could find. If anything, the animal kingdom is more death conscious than we are. They don’t go around repeating actions that are likely to kill them, whilst convincing themselves that it will be fine. (Binge drinking, drug taking, driving too fast, too tired, to drunk, never getting any exercise, courting heart attacks and diabetes etc).

If you feel the overwhelming need to raise your awareness of death, or someone else’s, I’d like to try and sell you a thing. (Yes, I know what I said before about materialism, and that there may be some irony here, but we all need to eat and I promise, this is a good thing!) It’s the tale of a girl who murders her family for money. This does not go well for her. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1412864360/clemency-slaughter-and-the-legacy-of-death

Clemency Slaughter and the Legacy of D’Eath: A Grim Gothic Tale without a Happy Ending, written by Steampunk author Jonathan Green and illustrated by gothic artist Tom Brown. (Tom being my other half). Having read it and seen the art in progress, I can vouch for this being both lovely, and full of dead people.