In Haunt

It was an evening devoted to delving into the themes of darkness and getting to grips with Gothic mode, as ‘Writing Manchester Gothic: An Audience with Tania Hershman and Rosie Garland’ took place at Manchester Metropolitan University on Tuesday 15 October. This event was organised and presented by Professor Dale Townshend as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019.

Writing Manchester Gothic

‘The Gothic’ is a term often argued over, attracting a range of diverse and often conflicting definitions. Equally, it is a term that is embraced and celebrated by some yet shunned and rejected by others. In a fascinating hour of readings, reflections and conversation, Tania and Rosie took to the stage, with questions from Dale (all pictured above, L-R: Tania, Rosie, Dale) – considering their own writing, its relationship to Gothic themes, and the cityscape of Manchester. After all, neither writer is a stranger to being inspired by Manchester and its environs: whilst Rosie Garland is the inaugural writer-in-residence at The John Rylands Library (covered by Haunt here), Tania is writer-in-residence at Southern Cemetery (also covered by Haunt).

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the themes of mortality, darkness and time permeate Tania’s work. A prolific short story writer with a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics, Tania’s third short story collection Some Of Us Glow More Than Others was published by Unthank Books in May 2017, whilst her debut poetry collection, Terms & Conditions was published in July of the same year by Nine Arches Press. Yet when she was initially approached to be involved in this event, Tania hadn’t necessarily considered her writing to be ‘Gothic’ at all. This was something explored and opened up in the course of the evening, leading her to reflect that:

“Since being asked to be involved in this event, I have considered The Gothic more and more in relation to my work… despite not having done so much before. Then yesterday, I was reading the Gothic Manchester Festival Symposium website, which said: ‘the Gothic mode has routinely placed the present moment under scrutiny, exploring the terrors of the age whilst calling into question the comforting fantasies upon which the established order rests’. That’s when it really clicked and I thought… I do that in my work!

“I place the present under a lot scrutiny in my writing – exploring the unsettling, the inherent weirdness in the every day. There is a line by the poet Louis MacNeice that connects to this: ‘ordinary people are peculiar too’. I don’t mind my work being seen as ‘Gothic’ – I let go of labelling my own work a long time ago – so I’m happy, excited, to embrace it. Since looking more into The Gothic I’ve already discovered new things - that it is not what I thought it was, for example. Perhaps it is a bit on the margins, like I think my work is… and on the margins is a great place to be!”

Rosie (pictured below, standing) was particularly supportive of Tania’s exploration of the Gothic in her work – after all, Rosie is a long-standing participant in the Gothic Manchester Festival, as well as a novelist, poet, and performer under the alter-ego Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen. She is the author of novels including The Palace of CuriositiesVixen and the The Night Brother - the latter set in late nineteenth-century Manchester. She is currently working on a novel inspired by The John Rylands Library in the 1980s.  Yet she is also determined to venture beyond the stereotypes of ‘The Gothic’, to reach beyond the surface.

Writing Manchester Gothic

As she reflected:

“In terms of The Gothic and Manchester – people often go on about the Gothic architecture here – the city has a wealth, after all, the likes of Chetham's Library, The Town Hall, The John Rylands Library itself. Yet it is ‘Gothic’ I think, in terms of its history too… a restless radical history that doesn’t always get talked about. I’m talking about the reality of the ‘dark satanic mills’, the suffering during the Industrial Revolution, the struggle endured for suffrage. There has been lots of hard work here historically, and I mean HARD.

“I do think that there’s something in the water here too. There’s a real atmosphere, though it’s hard to define – like The Gothic. After all, The Gothic is a definition that doesn’t slip down easily… it isn’t beige, it can be challenging, it often dances out of reach. I’d say Manchester is like that too… it is the opposite of beige – it keeps on reinventing itself, resisting definition… it is full of stories of discovering identity, radical politics, Queer history, scenes that won’t die. It still persists. Manchester adopted me and I am eternally grateful.”

Following the insightful questions posed by Dale to both writers in front of a live audience, Tania and Rosie then took questions from the floor. Dale reflected on what certainly was seen by many to be an inspiring evening: "It is truly fascinating to realise, in conversation with these Manchester-based writers, the extent to which the city itself has shaped and influenced their dark Gothic imaginings". 

For more information on further Gothic Manchester Festival 2019 events, visit the website – with content throughout October and into early November.

By Emily Oldfield

With thanks also to RAH! - Research in Arts and Humanities at Manchester Met - and Lucy Simpson also provided image 2

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