The gothic has moved beyond its 18th century origins, but we can still rely on the unfamiliar and uncanny to scare readers.
In the suitably dark and cavernous ACMI Cube, audience members gathered coven-like to hear writers Mike Jones, author of the upcoming The Mothers: Transgression Cycles and Kelly Link discuss the uncontainable feeling, the uncanny and the unknown in the genre with Meg Mundell.
Link opened the session with a reading from her recent collection of stories Get In Trouble . The audience knew they were in for a gripping hour as both Link and Jones spoke with passion on their topic from the start. Both authors’ readings set an eerie tone for a discussion on what is the gothic in contemporary literature.
Link spoke of how the signature 18th century novel that launched 'gothic' Castle of Otranto would seem slapstick today with its helmet falling from the sky. Both authors suggested that gothic works today should contain unlikely things attached to a symbolic meanings, there should be an emotional tone and there should be large, difficult-to-contain feelings.
Gothic literature, they insisted, lives in the gap created by the rational colliding with the irrational. In that place writers, characters and readers seek to explain the unexplainable, tod test reason and put right what is broken.
What draws readers to the genre is how the simple is intertwined with the uncanny. In describing this esoteric notion, Jones referenced the 1999 pseudo-documentary The Blair Witch Project and how such a simple object (such as the pile of sticks) becomes terrifying to audiences when associated with the unknown.
Mundell quizzed Jones and Link on what scares them and the question that writers and readers alike are keen to know: how do they approach writing stories that send chills up their readers’ spines? For Link it was a love of ghost stories but for Jones it is the thrill of eliciting an emotional response from the reader.
When the discussion moved towards the craft of writing gothic stories, Jones spoke of ‘setting’, suggesting there needs to be a sense of isolation and a dislocation from ‘the known’. This is exemplified in his upcoming work The Mothers: The Transgression Cycle which relies on a labyrinth in order to give the story shape.
Link spoke highly of the workshopping she does with others and how this helps her in her writing. Creating stories has always been collaborative for Jones too, as he started on stage and in television. Working in teams is an advantage for Jones because he picks the skills he needs to create stories from a group of voices. Mundell remarked that it was unusual for both writers to take a collaborative approach to their work.
The session concluded with Jones and Link discussing how they view the future of humanity, as they write such dark stories. Link wants to believe in redemption, but always expects the worst. Jones said he eschews complete nihilism and that he believes readers want to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Edited by Emmyrose Hobbs