Giving a classic new life

Keeping teenagers reading books for fun has long been a challenge for parents and the publishing industry alike – although the young adult market has exploded over recent years with authors like Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins hitting the big time when they successfully made the crossover from the shelves to the big screen. But while the YA market is booming for paranormal, dystopian and coming of age novels, encouraging a new generation of readers to embrace classic novels is an entirely different challenge.

Wuthering HeightsI recently went to an exhibition at the British Library that looked at the history of the gothic theme in literature, and one thing I found really interesting was an example of a 2009 reprint of Wuthering Heights. The cover had been completely redesigned in the style of the hugely popular Twilight books to try and win over the notoriously difficult teenage market by enticing avid Stephanie Meyer fans would relate to the colour and style of the new cover.

It might sound strange, but the two books both have gothic themes in common and there are apparently repeated references to Wuthering Heights throughout the Twilight series. The new cover actually proved remarkably effective. In fact, it was so successful that sales of Wuthering Heights, originally published in 1847, increased fourfold between 2005, when the first Twilight book was published, and 2010. Continue reading

Terror and Wonder at the British Library

If you’re interested in gothic literature, the British Library is currently running an exhibition called Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.

From the birth of the vampire to Frankenstein’s monster, from creepy houses to cobwebs and capes and from driving rain to flashes of lightening and roaring thunder, it has it all. The setting and the lighting, combined with the natural hush of a library, all contributed to a brilliantly creepy atmosphere and there was an amazing selection of rare and old books and notes on display.

The first part of the exhibition focused on how the ‘gothic’ theme really came into being, with a focus on the first gothic texts. While this gave me some good ideas for potential reading material, I really enjoyed the second part of the exhibition, which looked at gothic in the Victorian times all the way through to the impact of gothic style on modern clothing, film and culture. Particular highlights for me were the handwritten draft of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the vampire slaying kit and an original newspaper with illustrations and speculation on Jack the Ripper.

I also really liked seeing how the gothic theme is still being given a new lease of life today for children and teenagers, both in literature and in popular culture. The ever popular Twilight series made an appearance, alongside Coraline or even Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.

The inclusion of Victorian mourning dress next to what we now think of as ‘goth’ clothing was really interesting and there were some great photographs that also helped to give the exhibition a more modern element.

If you’re interested in going, ‘Terror and Wonder’ is on until 20 January, so you still have a few days left to catch it!

A modern gothic ghost story

‘Bellman and Black’ is the latest offering from Diane Setterfield, whose bestselling novel ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ was recently adapted as a TV drama.

Bellman and BlackAt the age of ten, William Bellman makes a perfect shot with a catapult. His target, a rook, falls to the ground. As an adult, William Bellman seems to live a charmed life. His drive, determination and willingness to learn have helped him to make his fortunes and build a happy, healthy family around him. It seems as though nothing can go wrong. But then one horrific, unstoppable incident has a devastating effect on the world that William has created. A chance encounter with Mr Black, and a promise of a business deal made in darkness, casts a shadow over his future that he can never shake off or outrun.

Business wise it seems that he can’t fail. From the mill, where he started his career, to the Bellman and Black emporium of mourning that he creates, William has an unerring sense of how to succeed. He fills every minute of his day in a frenzy of activity, trying to block out the darkness by sheer force of will. But as his life goes on, we end up longing for him to turn the same attentions and intuitions to his personal life. Continue reading