In Haunt

By Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes

As was recently explored in another Haunt article, the city of Manchester and its surroundings has long influenced Gothic and horror fiction writers. Apart from inspiring Jeff Noon and Ramsey Campbell, the city has received Gothic treatments in Stephen McGeagh’s Habit (2012), which was made into a film director by Grimmfest director Simeon Halligan in 2017, and in Rosie Garland’s The Night Brother (2017), which is set around the turn of the century and follows the adventures of a very queer Jekyll and Hyde character.

Other writers, like Nicholas Royle, Jeanette Winterson and Andrew Michael Hurley, author of the much-lauded The Loney (2015), work here and have occasionally delved in the Gothic. What is perhaps less obvious and well-known is that Manchester is also a hub of Gothic publishing, being the home of various presses dedicated, fully or partially, to the promotion of horror and Gothic writing.

Hic Dragones, run since 2010 by Hannah Kate, a Manchester-based writer and academic (with artist Rob Shedwick joining in 2012) is one of them. Specialising in ‘dark fiction’, this press has published various collections of short stories, such as Wolf Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny (2012), Impossible Spaces (2013), Hauntings: An Anthology (2014) and Into the Woods (2017), which have included the work of writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Nancy Schumann, Tracy Fahey and Margrét Helgadóttir. Their digital periodicals section also offers a modern take on the serialised pulp fiction of the Victorian era; it reprints, in a serial fashion, remastered and reformatted versions of penny dreadful classics like The Mysteries of London (1845), The String of Pearls (1946) and Varney the Vampire (1847), as well as less well-known but fascinating novels like Thomas Peckett Prest’s Angelina: or the Mystery of St Mark’s Abbey (1841) and Vileroy; or, the Horrors of Zindorf Castle (1842).

Another significant independent publisher is Nightjar Press, run by Nicholas Royle, which takes its name from a ‘nocturnal bird with an uncanny, supernatural reputation that flies silently at dusk or dawn’. The press specialises in limited edition single short story chapbooks, and has published the work of writers like the prize-winning M. John Harrison, Conrad Williams, Alison Moore, Tom Fletcher and Michael Marshall Smith. Two new titles, by Mike Fox and Philippa Holloway, are at the printers and next year Nightjar Press will be celebrating its tenth birthday.

Although not a publisher as such, Curious Tales, a publishing collective run by the Manchester-based writers Richard V. Hirst and Emma Jane Unsworth and Jenn Ashworth (Lancaster), have worked with the local printer New Leaf Press in the production of limited edition print books such as The Longest Night: Five Curious Tales (2013), Poor Soul’s Light: Seven Curious Tales (2014) and Congregation of Innocents: Five Curious Tales (2015). The writers have also worked on digital books, such as the interactive novel Bus Station: Unbound (2015), by Ashworth and Hirst, and performed live readings, most notably for the launches of their collections (at the Portico Library, John Rylands and Chapter One, respectively) and for their read-by-torchlight evenings at The Church Inn in Prestwich.

Comma Press, a publishing house based in Manchester which specialises in short story collections and single-author anthologies, has also brought out a couple of horror anthologies worthy of notice: Phobic: Modern Horror Stories (2007), edited by Andy Murray, and The New Uncanny: Tales of Unease (2008, reissued in 2018), edited Ra Page and Sarah Eyre. The short story ‘Possum’, by Matthew Holness, included in the latter volume, was made into a film in 2018.

Manchester’s Gothic publishing credentials do not end with fiction, though. Academic publishing in the area of Gothic Studies has flourished too, mainly thanks to Manchester University Press (founded in 1904). MUP was, up until 2018, the home of Gothic Studies, the pioneering official journal of the International Gothic Association, which, as its name suggests, is an international association that aims to bring together scholars, teachers and artists with an interest in the Gothic. Its first issue appeared in 1999, and the journal has continued to be published without interruption since then. It is still the foremost journal in the field.

Although the journal is moving to Edinburgh University Press this year, MUP’s reputation in Gothic publishing will continue through their various print publications, now collected under the label Manchester Gothic on their website. Their extense catalogue includes over 40 books from leading figures in the world of Gothic Studies and, importantly, the growing International Gothic Series, which offers, as its website puts it, ‘cutting-edge analyses of the great many variations in the Gothic mode over time and all over the world, whether these have occurred in literature, film, theatre, art, several forms of cybernetic media, or other manifestations ranging from “Goth” group identities to avant garde displays of aesthetic and even political critique’. These books include new and exciting subfields like the globalgothic or the ecogothic, which are receiving sustained attention from scholars.

It would be perhaps too easy to suggest that there is something inherently dark about Manchester that is conducive the proliferation of the Gothic. Instead, what these various fiction and academic ventures show is that Manchester has a strong interest in reading and studying the Gothic. Thanks to its large Goth subcultural community, its many talented writers and the hive of Gothicists populating the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies (founded in 2013), the Gothic is sure to continue to be produced here and to find an eager readership.

Image Credits:

- Hic Dragones stall: © Hannah Kate and Rob Shedwick

- Nightjar Press publications: © Nicholas Royle

- Manchester Gothic banner: © MUP 

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