Tag Archives: gaslight fiction

The difference a day makes.

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Over thirty years ago an envelope dropped through my letter box, and the contents changed the direction of my life. It was my first acceptance from a woman’s magazine for a short story. The floodgates seemed to open after that, with articles, stories, even poetry, all accepted by various newspapers and magazines. But I always remember opening that first acceptance, the lightness of it indicating there wasn’t a returned manuscript inside. I remember the sheer joy of first success. No acceptance since has ever come close to that feeling. Until yesterday.

There was no flutter of the letter box, no weighing up the envelope in my hands before opening. Just an email, waiting in the queue for me to read. I knew what it was, and convinced myself it was bad news, to soften the blow of rejection. (That never works, but it’s a habit I’ve developed over the years.)

It wasn’t a rejection, but a charming acceptance of my short story for use in an anthology. What made it so special was the change of genre. This is the first gaslight short story I’ve written. I didn’t know if it was any good, although I loved writing it, and I loved reading it when it was finished.

Yesterday I sat in front of a blank screen, wondering if I should even bother with fiction writing. Maybe sticking to articles was the way to go. The problem with that is that the ideas don’t go away, they just keep scratching away at the back of my mind until I release them on to the page to frolic and scheme and cause all sorts of mayhem.

Today I am once again a confident fiction writer, thinking about the sequel to my finished novel, allowing the ideas for short fiction a breath of fresh air – just enough to get them moving. Confidence is a strange thing – totally divorced from reality. With the range of fiction and non-fiction I’ve written over the years, and the quantity of published work to my name, one acceptance shouldn’t make much difference. But it does. Today, I feel like a new writer with her first acceptance – enthusiastic, creative and hopeful. What a difference a day makes.

The allure of gaslight

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I don’t know what it is about gaslight fiction. I love reading it, and I love writing it. I think it goes back to when I read Jekyll and Hyde at uni. I peeled back the layers of the story through the social history of Victorian Britain and I was hooked. I think its got something to do with the duality of a society that covered up the legs on pianos and at the same time enabled, if not encouraged, a debauched under-society of prostitution, opium dens and every kind of depravity imaginable. That was for the men, of course. The women lived a life apart, on the whole, tied to house and family duty, either unaware, or deliberately ignorant of, the darker world beyond their front doors, just around the corner.

Edinburgh, where Robert Louis Stevenson was born, epitomised this duality, with its facade of wealthy, respectable houses masking all kinds of nastiness just a street or two distant. It’s this grey area, where the two worlds meet, that I’m drawn to. I am fascinated by liminal places, doorways, portals (real or imagined) and hidden entrances to ‘other’ places. There’s also the age-old battle between good and evil, an evergreen source of inspiration for writers. But again, the murky greyness is far more interesting. The flawed hero, the gentle woman who ends up as the mad woman in the attic.

But why gaslight particularly? For me, there’s a feeling that goes with either reading, writing or watching gaslight. It’s like eating a Belgian truffle rather than a dry biscuit, or handling velvet rather than sackcloth. There’s a sumptuous indulgence, almost a forbidden pleasure, in the language and the atmosphere.

Of course, there’s the esoteric side to it, especially when writing. The chance to bring the spirit world into the real, to hint at mysteries long buried, evils that rear their heads again to claim new victims. Wonderful stuff like that. In a gaslight story it seems natural to include ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. The Woman in Black was totally believable to me, because of the setting; the grey, drab, atmosphere. The same story wouldn’t have worked for me in a modern setting.

I am addicted to Lovecraftian language. I try not to use it, but I love reading it. It’s language you can swim in, it has deep texture and rolls like waves across the page. It undulates and pulses with barely described horrors. (See how easy it is to slip in to the mindset?)

Creaks and groans, things that slither and slide in the darkness. Un-nameable things from a dark past, conjured by some mad necromancer. The stuff of nightmares? Maybe. But let me dream on.