Gothic Intersections: Writing on a Split Screen

Posted by Tracy Fahey on September 01, 2013 in Guest Blog, Ms Tracey Fahey tagged with

First of all, thank you to Dale Townsend for inviting me back to blog on The Gothic Imagination.  I’ve already blogged here back in 2008 about the Big House in Irish Gothic and how it manifests itself in architecture, literature, folklore and lived practice – http://www.gothic.stir.ac.uk/category/guestblog/ms-tracey-fahey/.   I’m back, but this time I’m different…This time I’m going to write about a whole set of different  intersections in the Gothic. Essentially, I’m here because I lead a double life.  The last Tracy Fahey posted as a bona fide researcher in the Gothic.  This Tracy Fahey is an altogether different animal, a mongrel writer, a hybrid beast.

Let me explain.  In July 2013, I had a short story published as part of a new anthology, Impossible Spaces, published in July 2013 by Hic Dragones, and previously flagged here on the Gothic Imagination web-site at http://www.gothic.stir.ac.uk/news/press-release-impossible-spaces-anthology-now-available/.  Editor Hannah Kate asked writers to respond to a haunting statement – “Sometimes the rules can change. Sometimes things aren’t how they appear. Sometimes you can just slip through the cracks and end up… somewhere else.”

One of the most fascinating things about this project (apart from meeting and sharing a stage with fellow-contributor, the wonderful Ramsey Campbell) was the number of writers involved who were leading ‘double lives’ in academia.  Jessica George (‘New Town’) is a PhD student writing about and producing weird tales.  Nancy Shumann (‘The Hostel’) writes about vampires, both academically and recreationally.  Keris McDonald (‘Nepenthes’) has another alter ego; she also writes as Janine Ashbless.  Maree Kimberley (‘The Meat House’) writes fiction as part of her academic career, as she is completing a PhD in creative practice.  Daisy Black (‘The Carrier’) is another PhD student, writing about medieval mystery plays as an academic and about wizards and towers in her fiction.  As for our editor herself, I first met our Hannah in her ‘other’ life as Dr. Hannah Priest, when I gave a paper on ‘Invisible Monsters; Gothic and the Diabetic Body’ at the ‘Monsters; Subject, Object, Abject’ conference she had organised in Manchester.

This got me thinking.  Are we all secret fiction writers? Do we all have  crumpled manuscripts and furtive notebooks hidden like guilty secrets in our desks?  And if so, does this desire stem from constant reading of the work of others?  Is that how the contagion spreads, as a kind of fiction-by-osmosis?

Thinking about this led to more questions- Is the idea of a double life inherent in writing fiction?  Is the persona of the writer seen as distinct from his or her ‘real’ self – the everyday side that leaves out the bins, pays the bills, takes the dog for a walk?

Of course, we have the tradition of the pseudonym to create distance between the writer and the self, especially the use of the male pseudonyms by female writers such as Charlotte Brontë (Currer Bell), Emily Brontë (Ellis Bell) and most famously, Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot).  This creation of an alternate persona through appropriation of the male sex they felt, would lead to their work being taken more seriously.  Happily, this is no longer a requirement to command an audience.  In fact, the tables may have turned.  Just last month, my fellow Impossible Spaces writer Douglas Thompson, a veteran writer of some seven published novels confessed to having several short stories published under a female pseudonym (http://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/guest-blog-douglas-thompson/)  But I digress.

Writers have played on the trope of the writer/doppelganger.  Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland blithely stride in and out of their own novels.  In Coupland’s JPod (2006) Part One: Never Mess With The Subway Diet starts with a cry “Oh God.  I feel like a character from a Douglas Coupland novel.”  Later Coupland himself appears, like a deus ex machina, to raise the plot to impossible levels of oddness.  Ellis’ Lunar Park (2005) takes this ploy even further, purporting to be a memoir  and expertly mingling fact with dark fiction.  The title of King of the Doppelganger, through, must surely go to Stephen King.  A horror writer, he has also published five non-fiction books, including the excellent Danse Macabre (1981) and On Writing (2000).  He has also famously written under the name Richard Bachmann.  Other King works betray a fascination with the division of self that arises when writing – there’s the possessed writer Jack Torrance in The Shining (1977), the captive, helpless writer in Misery (1978) and the alter ego that just won’t die in The Dark Half (1989).  As Catherine Drinker Bowen remarked ““Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living.   The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”

And that’s just a summary.  There’s a lot more weirdness to be plumbed.

For the next month, courtesy of the Impossible Spaces blog tour, hosted in September by the Gothic Imagination, I’ll be musing on overlaps between the creative and critical life, blogging on ideas about Gothic transformation; what happens when roles collide, when stories become history, when invented history becomes art.

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The paperback version of Impossible Spaces is available direct from Hic Dragones or through Amazon.co.uk. Online stores carrying the eBook version are listed on the Hic Dragones website here: http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/impossible-spaces/

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