In Haunt

Manchester has more literary connections and is likely responsible for inspiring more material than you may first think. The city and its surrounding area has a rich literary legacy. Many writers, from Shelagh Delaney and Carol Ann Duffy to Anthony Burgess and even Karl Marx, have called it home. As a city with a rich industrial past, hidden quarters and frequent grey skies, it is perhaps no wonder that Manchester and the wilds that surround it have inspired a range of writers to try to capture its unique spirit.

Whilst early gothic novels tended to look towards the Catholic south for inspiration, the wild and hostile ‘north’ has cast a shadow as a mysterious and dark setting, inspiring authors right up to the present day. This means rather than 'Gothic' as a particular time period, it can be seen through certain elements of literary style; an interest in the macabre, themes of darkness, otherness, the uncanny.

 From the fantastically freaky to the gruesomely gothic, here are five novels inspired by Manchester, its surrounding area and sharing more than a touch of the Gothic.  It really is grim up north, says Lucy Simpson...

The Night Brother by Rosie Garland (2017)

Set in nineteenth century Manchester, Rosie Garland’s third novel explores belonging within relationships and how well we can really know ourselves. Siblings Edie and Gnome have grown up together, squabbling their way through Manchester’s city streets. However, as they begin to grow apart, Gnome comes to revel in the night-time and all things dark, while Edie awakes each morning with feelings of unease about the night before. Garland’s vibrant writing style creates a detailed historical backdrop - allowing themes such as gender identity to be explored in the struggle between two souls, the darker side of ourselves, and the difficult separation between who we really are and who we want to be.

Favourite quotation: “I’m so sleepy I’m no longer sure where he ends and I begin. Nor does it matter: I have never known such bliss and I know he feels it also. I know everything he has ever known, feel everything he has ever felt. It is so simple.”

Vurt by Jeff Noon (1993)

The Gothic mode is often aligned with science fiction, with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1818 being a key example. Vurt continues in this tradition, outlining a near-future version of Manchester, in which society has been moulded by the presence of a hallucinogenic drug named Vurt. Dreams become reality as hallucinations hold a truth of their own. It is within this society that Scribble and his gang, the Stash Riders, search for his missing sister, Desdemona.

In a novel that particularly explores the blurring of boundaries in a Mancunian cityscape populated by hybrid creatures such as Shadowgirls and Robo-crusties, it seems apt that the novel itself treads the line between Gothic fiction and sci-fi. In examining the limits of what it means to be human, Noon explores the hybridity that exists within us all, if we only look for it. After all, there is much monstrosity in discovery.

Favourite quotation: “I heard an owl calling, from the Platt Fields. Real, Vurt or robo – who can tell the difference anymore? No matter. It had a longing to it.”

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner (1960)

A children’s story, Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is shaped by local folklore and landscape of Alderly Edge in Cheshire, where Garner himself grew up. In the story of The Wizard of the Edge, a wizard guards the entrance to a cavern in which many warriors are sleeping. Garner writes this wizard into his own story, naming him Candellin Silverbrow.

When children Susan and Colin find a strange jewel, the Weirdstone of Brisingamen itself, they are hunted by the minions of the dark spirit, Nastrond. Silverbrow leads the children to safety within the caves. But when the Weirdstone is lost, it is up to the children to return the gem to prevent evil from being released.

In an adventure depicting the richness of stories set within and inspired by local places, Garner’s novel shows how both fiction and landscape are vital in shaping our sense of the world around us, whether we are children or adults.

Favourite quotation: “It was strange to find an inn there on that road. Its white walls and stone roof had nestled into the woods for centuries, isolated, with no other house in sight: a village inn without a village.”

The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley (2014)

Winner of the Costa Book Awards 2015, Andrew Michael Hurley’s debut novel, The Loney captures the desolate surroundings of the Lancashire coastline in a story of 70s remembrance. The narrator explores his lost teenage years alongside his mentally disabled and mute brother, Hanny, as their family and congregation take the children on a Catholic pilgrimage to a shrine for ill children in the hope Hanny will be cured.

Inspired by his own experience of Morecambe Bay and the surrounding area in Lancashire, Hurley remembers tales of ships and people being lost to the power of the landscape in an exploration of timelessness, the power of belief, and religion. Hurley inflicts his text with an unseen and inescapable horror that never truly manifests but lurks carefully beneath each sentence and in the landscape within which the story exists. Terror exists in your imagination.

Favourite quotation: “No one can have invented Hell. It’s like saying someone invented air. It’s just always been there.”

Mist Over Pendle, by Robert Neill (1951)

Seventeenth century Lancashire was home to mystery and fear. Regarded at the time as a wild and lawless area, Pendle Hill became the scene of some of the most famous witch trials in British history. The Pendle area can still be accessed from Manchester via the place-inspired 'Witch Way' bus (X43). When fears of witchcraft captured the imaginations and anxieties of the British public, death and destruction could only be the work of something paranormal.

Mist Over Pendle gives a fictionalised account of the very real Pendle witch trials, as Margery is forced to look into the deaths of several local people and rumours of a devilish coven of witches. Finding a lot more at play than just witchcraft in the mist of Pendle, the novel reflects upon what else arises from accusations of witchcraft.

Favourite quotation: “Nothing in Pendle, Margery told herself, ever went as it should. There seemed indeed to be a curse on the place.”

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