Harnessing British Gothic and the New Weird

old_factory_dusty_large_space_emptiness_abandoned_outdoors_empty_oldToday’s guest post comes from author and Bristol Festival of Literature founder Jari Moate. His latest novel, Dragonfly, ventures into the territories of British Gothic and New Weird. Here he explains how he found himself harnessing these niche yet powerful genres.

Some writers are born to a genre, others reject it as formulaic. Some have genre thrust upon them. At its best, genre gives useful shapes and a ready-made audience.

For ages, ‘Literary Thriller’ was as far as I would go, after my first novel, Paradise Now, was tagged as such by a marketing chap at a London Book Fair depopulated by an Icelandic volcano – weird enough, already. I still think the tag is broadly right, though.

Dragonfly - cover art by Joe Burt, Tangent Books, 2018When fellow Tangent author Mike Manson told me that my novel Dragonfly was ‘the New Weird,’ I was puzzled at first, but I quickly took it, like a coat I’d been wearing suddenly had pockets where I needed them. Into those pockets I’ve since added ‘British Gothic’ and it feels like I can finally leave the house with somewhere to keep all my kit!

But why did it feel this way? And what is the New Weird? Isn’t it just a bit… weird? And what’s all this talk of ‘British’ Gothic?

So this is my very rough and ready, personal take on it.

Reorder the world

Have you ever woken from a nightmare, feeling scared to your bones but also renewed, refreshed even, as if the world has been ever so slightly reordered? The deck reshuffled? That, in essence, is the New Weird.

Examples of the genre include the work of China Miéville, beginning with Period Street Station and its mind-consuming moths, or his City And The City dramatised for TV in 2018 with its invisible wall no one must breach. Or David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and its creepy harvesters. Or consider Neil Gaiman.

Some describe it as alt-reality or horror-related, eschewing happy or moral endings, although I’d argue its authors have profound morality.

old disused factory stairwell

For me, although I don’t write fully inside the genre, it’s about the freedom to express ideas. So if I say in Dragonfly that a derelict building is coming alive, then I really do want you to tingle with the thought that I mean it, those bricks have swallowed us, or if parrots fly out of derelict ground, it serves a purpose in the story where you, and I, have joined forces to discover something truer than by simply avoiding what ‘couldn’t happen’.

At the very least, it’s a form of playfulness – a reshuffling of the cards. And it feels different from Magical Realism because of its implied threat, or spiritual jeopardy.

Disobey all limits

My writing is often about disobedience – not just about breaking a few taboos, but something harder.

St Paul storm drain_original uploader was Brockert at English Wikipedia. Transferred to Wiki CommonsIn Dragonfly, a working man, a soldier known only as Marine P, returns from a war that’s propped up a world in which the suffering he witnesses – and causes – is crushing him. He can’t see how to disobey it but he knows that he must. He fails, at first, as he tragically obeys orders, wrecking his love-life and running aground on protest politics until he’s homeless and out of his mind.

But then his quest really begins, in a monstrous building with a cook who burns water, a lost map-maker, a heretic chaplain and a fake-tan villain whose sidekick dresses as Red-Nosed Rudolph… The pack is dealt for disobedience – against what people say is possible in life.

We all have times when we want to disobey the limits placed upon us, but how could my traumatised Marine P do this? Exploring this meant taking Dragonfly, beyond Realism. Within its military and political themes there had to be a grounding in some ‘facts’ but it’s not a documentary. It’s a metaphor.

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality,” said TS Elliott – so we’ll have a beer, watch the Great British Bake Off, bury ourselves in spreadsheets and bedsheets… or in a book that bends ‘reality’.

Adding my themes of love, addiction, madness and faith, I also needed Coleridge’s “suspension of disbelief” to hang from the ceiling by its fingernails – while trying not to lose the reader, nor, indeed, the plot. Weird indeed.

Make sure it rings true

All fiction is unreal. But it has to ring true. The fiction I enjoy most gets beneath the skin of life, into its soul, where we may find alarming and alluring shapes. The New Weird tag allows me to bend those shapes as far as they want to go. What decent writing must never do, though, is make those shapes feel untrue.

At times it hatches angels, at times monsters, and truest of all are the angel-monsters.

Which leads us to British Gothic. There are good reasons for a culture to bounce away from demons, mythical settings and so on. But what can result is a version of art using only the verifiable, as if fiction can ‘colour in’ what we might call the priestly religion of our times: the scientific method. But fiction refuses to be governed by those priests. As, I think, does the human soul.

walpole horace gothic 2nd edition

Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto 1764 was the first novel to call itself “Gothic” pitching “imagination and improbability” against “a strict adherence to common life,” he said, summoning his ghosts from Shakespeare.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley book coverFor me, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the sharper attack, electrifying British readers against scientific hubris, ensuring the Gothic steamed into the mechanised scientism of the industrial age, its ghostly tales piling up, taking a leisured-class trip with Lewis Carroll’s  Alice in Wonderland before its apotheosis in Dracula by Bram Stoker.

After the real horrors of two World Wars, it feels quiet until Tolkien and non-Narnia CS Lewis refuel it, flying into the Transatlantic jet age with rediscovered Lovecraft, even Vonnegut and Burgess, cruising into Stephen King’s haunted hoovers and now Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, or the masterful Beast by Paul Kingsnorth.

What’s ‘British’ about the Gothic is its rootedness in shadows that need no translation to its natives, but which like the Queen or Chicken Tikka Masala, may need justification to others.

Embrace the Absurd

Talking of others, the Absurd has its impact. Borges, Calvino, Ionesco or Albert Camus spring to mind, especially La Peste: in a merciless universe, a doctor is unable to save a child in a city of rats flanked by a beast – the sea. French Gothic?

The Loney book coverIn Arto Paasilinna’s The Howling Miller, industrialism sparks absurdity in darkest Finland. Forest Gothic? It certainly disobeys.

When the science-priests seem unable to explain our souls to us, in our age of encircling tech and algorithms it feels ok to explore New Weird-leaning representations of who and where we are. Even Crime gets more fantastical, dipping its toe again in the mystery, Nosferatu-like. And Gothic gains energy as Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney steps out of a niche imprint to stand in the English mudflats abandoned by technology, calling to us to be bone-scared of all our absolutism, pagan and otherwise, while winning polite book awards.

If some disobedience is healthy, then perhaps allow the ghosts to step beyond the machine, to speculate and thrill, in new and weird revelations of the flesh beneath. And to ring true.

Jari Moate by Paul BullivantAbout the author

Bristol writer and founder of Bristol Festival of Literature, Jari Moate has been a finance worker, folk musician, soldier in Finland, an arranger of investment into buildings that create social good and, in his own words, “always a writer”. Previous work includes Paradise Now and stories such as This Brick In My Hand, published by various independent presses. His latest novel, Dragonfly, is available from Tangent Books.

Author pic by by Paul Bullivant.

Milk Poetry review

Tom DenbighUnfolding in Foyles Bookshop Bristol as part of Bristol Festival of Literature, Milk Poetry wound through our ears, hearts and minds, reminding us that words have a life beyond the page. This group of skilful poets and their guests each imbue their lines, rhymes and musings with startling individuality and honesty.

Malaika Kegode founded Milk Poetry in January 2015. “Milk Poetry was conceived to be a friendly, nurturing night that treated all performers with equal respect, warmth and room for growth,” she says. “The impetus behind the night was to offer equal billing and opportunity for up and coming poets, with a focus on artist development. Many poets can get stuck in limbo after performing for a couple of years; not quite a headliner but creating work more advanced than standard open mic fare. So Milk Poetry was created to bridge that gap and offer chances for people to hone their skills on stage and perform shoulder-to-shoulder with ‘big name’ acts, so they can feel like the true artists they are!”

She adds: “As Milk Poetry has grown, I think that nurturing backbone has just become stronger, and some artists who started performing for the first time at Milk Poetry have gone on to be major players in the poetry world.”

Tom Sastry

The evening opened with the wit and self-depreciating humour of Tom Sastry. Tom is one of the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets. He brought us the first and only use of the word “ersatz” and wrote of “ganging up on our past selves who we secretly love” and “dead cakes in cellophane.” Many of his poems were a whisper away from being reclassified as flash fictions, pouring whole lives into our ears distilled down into a few vivid lines.

Malaika Kegode. Photo by Judy Darley

Next up, Malaika Kegode’s poem rattled through and over us, drawing us into a train journey, a relationship gone awry, and an ending so tragic that it made my teeth shake. There’s something powerfully filmic about her composition, so that you see the train carriage and its passengers, see the passing fields with their excess of sheep, and see the moon and the sun each highlighting what went wrong.

Next up, multiple slam winner Tom Denbigh (picture at the top of this post) delivered a story in the form of a poem, setting word choices at curious angles that created a sense of eavesdropping, and getting caught. He brought us the evening’s first use of the word “cardigan.” Offbeat and comic, the poem twitched with a sense of the search for identity, and of trying to solve the puzzles that make up the people we encounter.

Sam Grudgings. Photo by Judy Darley

Milk co producer Sam Grudgings, who describes himself as a poet perpetually on the edge of collapse, had rather delightfully brought his granny along. Taking us collectively by the hand, Sam led us on an excursion into a haunted house, speaking not to us but to the ghost herself, with her “arson fingers.’ Exquisite imagery drew us into a gloriously painterly scene, pegged with emotion.

Beth Calverley. Photo by Judy Darley

The potent Beth Calverley, co producer of Milk and Chief Operator of The Poetry Machine, performed Witchcraft, a poem laced with tenderness. Her words glimmered as though lit from within, with echos sounding quietly on the peripheral of our hearing. As Sam said in introducting Beth, her poetry is comprised of layers of meaning – there’s far more here than a single read or listen can reveal.

Rebecca Tantony. Photo by Judy Darley

Our final poet Rebecca Tantony shared a set of poems rooted in the complexities of family. Visceral, raw and compellingly intimate, Rebecca’s poems sent tremors oscillating the bookshop’s air, rustling pages and ricocheted empathetic shivers down listeners’ spines.

Find Milk on Facebook.

Seen, read or experienced anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

 

Imaginative city

Waterstones Bristol. Photo by Judy DarleyBristol Festival of Literature begins on Friday 19th October and runs until Sunday 28th October, with a variety of imagination-stirring events taking place across the city. I’ve written about it for The Bristol Magazine, and can’t wait to dig into the riches promising to well up.

You can read my feature in the October print edition, or online here: https://thebristolmag.co.uk/word-on-the-street-bristol-festival-of-literature/

Jari Moate. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Jari Moate. Photo by Paul Bullivant

I’ve already got my tickets for two of the highlights I mention in the piece The first of these is Festival founder Jari Moate’s launch of his novel Dragonfly, taking place on Saturday 20th October at Waterstones, the Galleries. It starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are free but need to be booked here: www.bristolliteraturefestival.org

The second is the very last event of the festival – Finding the Positive –Dystopias and Utopias in a Changing Climate.

This CliFi (aka Climate Fiction) workshop is from 2-5pm on Sunday 28th October at Bristol’s YHA, and promises to offer insights into how we can share stories of our changing climate and inspire action in a positive way. I’m looking forward to soaking up plenty of inspiration!

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Lots of other intriguing happenings are unfolding throughout the days of the festival, including Dark Confessions with Bristol Writers Group and friends. I’m one of the friends and looking forward to sharing my story Tunnelled in the setting that prompted it – Redcliffe Caves. Find out more and book tickets here.

And if you make it to anything on the Festival calendar, let me know how you get on!

Got an inspiring event, venue, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Bristol art – Autumn 2018

Before Nightfall by Nigel Shipley

Before Nightfall by Nigel Shipley

There’s so much art happening in Bristol at present that I barely know where to look first. Last weekend (6th-7th Oct 2018) was Art on the Hill – the ever-inspiring Windmill Hill and Victoria Park arts trail. The Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail will follow from 23rd till 25th November. Can’t wait!

Prior to that, HOURS Gallery is hosting Daydreams, an exhibition of Nigel Shipley‘s abstract paintings, accompanied by music and readings of poetry created in response to the works. Sounds really intriguing! I love work that transcends form in this way. The performers are all members of Bristol Tonic.

Bristol Tonic poet

  • Date: Saturday 13th October 2018
  • Venue: HOURS Gallery, 10 Colston Yard, Bristol BS1 5BD (HOURS is in Colston Yard, accessed from the top of Colston Street, through an archway between Bike Workshop and Blaze)
  • Times: Gallery open from 10am-10pm. Performance from 7-8pm. The exhibition can be viewed by appointment until 1st November, ring 07909874586 to arrange this.
  • For more details, go to: www.nigelshipley.com
Wind by Yurim Gough, part of her Elements artwork

Wind by Yurim Gough, part of her Elements artwork

And the RWA’s wonderful Open Exhibition has launched, revealing a spectacular array of works, including Yurim Gough‘s ‘Four Elements’. Definitely one for your calendar! The show is on until 25th November 2018.

Judy Darley in Redcliffe Caves

If you’re seeking further inspiration, don’t forget Bristol Festival of Literature, running from 19th-28th October. I’ll be reading in Redcliffe Caves on Tuesday 23rd October as a guest of Bristol Writer’s Group for an event titled Dark Confessions. There are masses of other curious happenings too, so I’m hoping to get to as many as possible. Hope to see you at an event or two!

Literary Bristol

Judy Darley in Redcliffe CavesBristol Festival of Literature returns from 19th-28th October 2017, with curious, intriguing, inspiring events popping up all over the city. I wrote a feature about it for The Bristol Magazine, titled Bookish Bristol, and was wowed by the options on offer. Events are already selling out, so get your tickets fast!

You can pick up copies of The Bristol Magazine all over the city, in cafes, hairdressers, estate agents and other businesses.

I’m taking part in a least two events. The first is Bristol Writers Group and Friends Go Into The Dark, taking place in Redcliffe Caves from 7-9pm on Tuesday 24th Oct. Tickets have already sold out! I’m one of the friends, and very excited to be invited back. Reading in the caves is a really magical event – it’s a wonderfully spooky environment. I’ll be sharing my tale Merrow Cave. The pic at the top of this post (photo taken by Sally Hare) shows me at a previous year’s event.

Tickets cost £5.50 each.

Novel Nights Oct 2017 readers

Novel Nights Oct 2017 readers

The second is Novel Nights, which I’ll be co-hosting with founder Grace Palmer from on Wednesday 25th October. Three local writing talents, Alison Brown, Kate Simants and Deborah Tomkins, will share novel extracts before Cornerstones literary editor Dionne McCulloch offers her insights on novel-writing and answers questions from the audience. It’s happening at The Square Club, 15 Berkeley Square, Bristol. Get tickets for £8 here.

There are so many other fabulous literary happenings to choose from too. Find the full programme and ticketing details at unputdownable.org. Hope to see you at an event or few!

Submit to Novel Nights

Novel-Nights-Literary-Events-Bristol4-photo credit Sophie Carefull

Novel Nights © Sophie Carefull

Having an audience for your prose, whether it’s a short story or a novel extract, is a great way to build up a loyal following as well as get a sense of the story you’re telling.

The session of Novel Nights on 25th October is part of Bristol Festival of Literature 2017, making it a really prestigious event on Bristol’s lit scene. There are three slots of five-minutes for writers, and I’m helping to select the stories, so why not submit?

Closing date for submissions is 1st October 2017.

Grace Palmer, the organiser, says: “We want to hear prose which delights, tells a story with skill, hooks a room of people and won’t make them fidget. If you are chosen to read you get free entry to Novel Nights, your name on the programme and publicised on Twitter, Facebook and on this Novel Nights website.”

The audience are a group of friendly writers and readers, so you’re bound to come away with a buzz.

Submission guidelines  

Please submit the following:

  • An 800-word extract of your writing; no more than 5-minutes reading time
  • Choose a scene from your novel or a short story that will work as a piece to listen to – not too much dialogue but something self-contained that shows off the story and your writing style. Don’t choose a scene with lots of characters in it
  • A photos of yourself  – please label with your name 
  • A cover photo of your book or books, if you are published
  • Your name (or writing pseudonym), and twitter handle
  • Writer Bio – a 30 word version for our programme, a longer version for our information about you, your writing etc

How to send 
Send your work and bio in the body of an email to submit@novelnights.co.uk  
Photos can be sent as an attachment

How we choose

We look for strong, well-crafted writing that will delight and excite an audience.

We choose extracts that fit in with the theme of the night or that fit with each other. If you are not chosen it doesn’t mean we think you are not good enough! These things are subjective.

Good luck!

Find out more at www.novelnights.co.uk/submissions-for-novel-nights.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at Judy(at)socket creative(dot)com.

A flurry of short stories

CarolPeace-sculpture-reading

Reading © Carol Peace

October is aglow with literary happenings, and I’m happy to be able to share the news that I’ll be at several literary events in the coming weeks, reading short stories and flash fictions.

First, on Friday 16th October, I’m excited to be heading over the Severn Bridge to the launch of Skylark Journal, a brand new literary magazine from publisher Little Lantern Press. I’ll be reading my story Breathing Water during the annual Made in Roath Festival in Cardiff on the 16th of October in the Waterloo Gardens Tearoom from 6.30-8.30pm.

Then, with Bristol Festival of Literature kicking off on 15th October, I’ll be preparing for two very different events. The first, led by Mike Manson, is Unreliable Histories on Tuesday 20 October, and takes place down in Redcliffe Caves, so wrap up warm! I’ll be reading a tale based on the life of World War II aviator Elsie Davison, better known among her friends as Joy.

The second is Written from Art, led by me and hosted by sculptor Carol Peace in her beautiful studio at Bristol Paintworks on Wed 21 October. Ten writers will be reading stories and poems inspired by art. It promises to be an uplifting evening. Tickets are free but essential due to the small and atmospheric setting of Carol’s studio. Get yours here.

Getting people writing!

Tomorrow I’m taking part in an event as part of Bristol Festival of Literature aimed at encouraging aspiring writers. 

Remember Me To The Bees cover smlSouthville Writers will be staging an ‘instant flash fiction’ workshop, while writers, including me, will be sharing their experiences and advice on getting started, maintaining motivation and sending your words out into the world.

We’ll also be performing a few stories – I’ll be reading a short tale from my soon-to-see-the-light-of-day collection, Remember Me To The Bees.

I’m really excited to be part of this event with such a great group of talented writers.

It’s all taking place at Hooper House Café from 1.30-4pm. If if you make it along, please come and say hi!

hooper-house-illustration