Just in time for Halloween I’m pleased to welcome Sandra Ireland to the blog today. Now Sandra isn’t scary, but she is sharing her five favourite scary novels with me today. I have only read two of them – Jekyll & Hide and The Book of Human Skin – how many have you read?
Sandra is an award-winning writer, poet and artist. Born in Yorkshire, she was brought up in the North East and lived for many years in Éire. Her work has appeared in various women’s magazines and publications such as New Writing Dundee, Dundee Writes and ‘Furies’, an anthology of women’s poetry. Beneath the Skin is her first novel and was inspired by a love of all things curious and unseen.
Sandra’s debut novel, Beneath the Skin, was published by Polygon on 15th September in paperback and ebook. You can order a copy online here: Beneath the Skin
From the back of the book
Taking a job in the studio of an Edinburgh taxidermist probably isn’t Walt’s wisest decision. Suffering from combat stress and struggling to outrun the demons from his past, he now finds himself confronted by the undead on a daily basis.
His enigmatic boss, Alys, and her sister, Mouse, have their own uneasy relationship with the past. Someone doesn’t want to let them go. Can Walt save Mouse’s eight-year-old son, William, from becoming the next victim? And can he save himself?
Deliciously disturbing, this psychological thriller peels back the skin of one modern family to reveal the wounds no one wants to see. It deals with the effects of trauma and how facing up to vulnerability is sometimes the only way to let go of the past.
My Five Favourite Scary Gothic Reads by Sandra Ireland
I’ve always loved the ethereal, disorientating landscape of the Gothic novel, so I was delighted when The Scotsman dubbed my debut novel Beneath the Skin ‘Stockbridge Gothic’. It set me thinking about my own writing influences, and what it is about the Gothic genre that draws me to it. It was quite tricky to select just five books, but here goes!
The Monk. Matthew Gregory Lewis. (1796).
This was written in ten weeks by Lewis (who became known as ‘Monk’ Lewis) when he was just twenty. The book met with outrage and condemnation from critics, but was hugely popular with the reading public. This may not be your go-to novel for a spooky winter read, but it is original, ground-breaking and surprisingly modern in places. It marked a shift in the development of Gothic literature from the implicit terror of earlier authors such as Horace Walpole, toward full-on, explicit horror. The plot is convoluted and considered quite scandalous in its day, involving spectral bleeding nuns, violence, sorcery, murder and incest. Not for the faint-hearted!
The Book of Human Skin. Michelle Lofric. (Bloomsbury, 2011).
I read this book just before I embarked on my debut novel Beneath the Skin, and, apart from it being an excellent read, it proved to be quite inspirational for me. As you turn the pages, you’re never certain where, or how far, this novel will take you. That, for me, is a hallmark of the Gothic. It keeps you disorientated and slightly fearful. There should be a point where you want to close the book and tiptoe away, but you just can’t. And that is the cleverness of this novel- at the end, it questions you, the reader. You didn’t like it, but you kept reading, didn’t you? The best Gothic novels mirror our own insecurities and self-doubt.
The Woman in Black. Susan Hill. (Vintage, 1998)
This is the eponymous ghost story, and the fact that it has never been out-of-print since 1983 bears testament to its popularity. It has all the tropes of a true Gothic supernatural tale: an isolated, crumbling pile, an eerie location (treacherous marshland),persistent fog, fearful locals (‘his face flickered with…what? Alarm, was it? Suspicion?’) and unquiet nights. None of this is overplayed, however. This is a disturbing psychological thriller, as much as it is a ghost story.
Sugar Hall. Tiffany Murray. (Seren, 2014)
The pale ethereal moth on the front cover of this novel is a tantalising taster of what lies between its pages. Murray’s main characters, the Sugar are from the outset fragile creatures searching for their own personal light. It’s obvious from page one that they will not find it in Sugar Hall, the crumbling mansion which is the young Dieter’s inheritance. It boasts green silk wallpaper ‘patterned with gigantic open-winged butterflies and hairy moths’, which sometimes, the boy notes, appear to flutter. And upstairs is a blue room, scattered with abandoned toys, which is always kept locked.
When Dieter Sugar says that he’s seen a naked boy wearing a silver collar in the red gardens of the hall, the scene is set for a bizarre ‘friendship’ which threatens to spill the dark secrets of Sugar Hall. This can definitely be classed as ‘modern Gothic’!
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson. (1886).
No list could be complete without the ultimate Scottish Gothic! As we approach the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson on November 13th (and the 130th anniversary of his most popular novel Kidnapped), here’s a nod to this master of the dark and dastardly. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is really a novella, but a must-read for fans of the Gothic genre. It is a compelling exposé of the male psyche in all its layers, from the intellectual to the base. A foggy Victorian London provides a deeply-symbolic stage-set of interiors, doorways and streetscapes which the author uses to represent the twists and turns of the disturbed mind. Read it this Halloween!