Scary Tales event January 17th at the British Library

Posted by Stephanie Bryant on March 10, 2015 in Guest Blog, Steph Bryant, Uncategorized tagged with , , , ,

scary talesI stumbled across this event quite by accident; my initial reason for visiting was to see the Terror and Wonder exhibition being held there. At £5 I couldn’t grumble and one of my favourite authors (Chris Priestly) would be there.

Taken from the British Library web page, the event was advertised as a ‘special event for young adults and older children, meet some of the most brilliant creators of Gothic and nightmarish stories’. I was intrigued. I glanced around the auditorium and saw that over 90% of the audience was adults ranging from educators, parents and students. There was a distinct lack of children and this made me curious, why was it then that an event for older children and young adults drew in an audience with such a high proportion of adults?

The authors present, Chris Riddell, Chris Priestly and Sally Gardner sat on stage and each read an extract from one of their books. Noticeably, the Gothic genre strongly came through with the audience held in anticipation, wide eyed and shocked, but most of all, we all wanted more. Each author’s ability to create fear left us horrified, like a double edged sword we both wanted and wished to deny the images and knowledge that the text provided.  What amazed me most was that we as adults were caught up in this whirlwind, in a world created for young adults; something inside all of us became a teenager again and rekindled fears that are universal, the dark, the loss of a parent and death. Chris Priestly, the ‘modern master of horror’ made an interesting point regarding the increasing influx of Gothic in contemporary YA/children’s fiction as well as adult concerns surrounding this. Priestly commented that if you read something that is advertised as horror then expect to be scared. Likewise, if a book in the children’s section has the words ‘scary,’ ‘horror,’ ‘suspense’ etc and you as a parent allow your children to read them then expect them to be scared, the word horror is a pretty big giveaway. It is this language that also draws in the adult reader and in Chris Riddell’s reading of Goth Girl and the Pirate Queen and address to the audience afterwards that the Gothic influence on his text and language became evident. Riddell’s intertextual plundering of Gothic texts such as Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights spoke to the older members of the audience and introducing old classics to a new audience. Those present laughed at the references made, made nods of acknowledgement and revisited their own adolescence. Those children that were present could only smile at the illustrations, they had yet to be initiated to these classic Gothic texts, their point of reference failed to reach beyond the contemporary incarnations that the authors had written.

Sally Gardner’s read from her book Tinder. A very adult passage that was presented tastefully yet highlighted the poignancy and futility of war on young soldiers. Discussing her research for the book, Gardner had had the opportunity to talk to soldiers from the Iraq conflict and when the soldiers were asked what they had learned from the experience of war they replied, ‘nothing.’ There was a tangible feeling in the room to this nihilistic response, the atmosphere changed and the audience applauded Gardner’s discussion and presentation of this topic, there was a universal response as human beings to the atrocity of war, as adults and children who have witnessed the horror only on the television. This is a point that emerged from this event, that although there are scary texts written for young adults, the horror of the real world surpasses the horror that these authors present in their work. This is a safe sense of horror, one in which that parents believe that by policing or protecting children from will preserve their innocence by not allowing them to read. In our modern technological world, children have the ability to access horrors far worse than the made up worlds that authors create. For this reason contemporary Gothic children’s fiction is a safe world where the unreal comes to life and is safely vanquished at the close of a page, we all enjoy a good scare but one where we can control in a safe and distanced way. I asked Chris Priestly how he felt that adults read his work and his response was pragmatic, I write what I want to write, I don’t have a particular audience per se in mid. Priestly writes the work that he wants to, not to fit a certain criteria and this was the same for Gardner and Riddell. For this reason there is no boundary between the adult and child reader, because horror is a universal genre that taps into our most primitive fears no matter what age we are. My favourite is Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror, a collection of short stories written within an overarching tale of a boy who visits his uncle in a creepy house and listens to stories that are attached to various curios dotted around the house. What I particularly like about how the book ends overall, is that there is not an entirely happily ever after ending. The reader is left disturbed and as an adult I could relate to this feeling, that things do not always have a happy resolution.

Each author held the audience spellbound for an afternoon with moments of horror and comedy It was hard to believe that this was a children’s event because I think the adults present got a lot more out of it. I think we all reverted back to a happier time for that afternoon and those children that were present had an experience that went beyond the pages of their favourite books and for a short period of time I was that eleven year old reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time and being initiated into the dark world of the Gothic.

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