By Catherine Spooner
When it comes to Young Adult Gothic fiction, Twilight gets all the press. Stephenie Meyer’s teen saga of heroine Bella’s love triangle with vampire Edward and werewolf Jacob is not only a massive commercial success, with a film franchise and spin-off merchandising, but provokes impassioned discussion amongst vampire fans, feminists, educationalists – even Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has weighed in to the debate.
I began thinking about Twilight as part of my current research project, a book entitled Post-Millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic – due out from Bloomsbury in 2014. I thought that Gothic had changed its sensibilities in the last decade or so, and one of the factors in this change was the boom is children’s and young adult Gothic publishing led by Twilight. But I was unprepared for the diversity and complexity of what I found. It became clear to me that Twilight was only a very small part of the picture, and that many of the other Young Adult Gothic novels being published were much more complex and sophisticated in their embrace of the Gothic literary tradition.
I was supported in this discovery by PhD student Chloe Buckley, who is currently researching Gothic series fiction for the 9-12 age group – which often merges into the category for older readers. Chloe kept on bringing new authors to my attention – and providing fascinating new angles on many of them. In the course of our discussions, we fantasised about how great it would be to bring several of these authors together in a room and talk about Gothic with them – and so Beyond Twilight was born.
Beyond Twilight: Young Adult Gothic Fiction, a symposium bringing together readers, writers and scholars, takes place at Lancaster University on 27 September 2013. We will be joined by some of our favourite Young Adult Gothic authors, who have produced, in our opinion, some of the most exciting recent novels in the genre. Chris Priestley’s Mister Creecher is a fiendishly clever mash-up of Frankenstein and Oliver Twist that plays wicked games with its supposedly innocent reader. Celia Rees’s Sovay takes the historical subtext of the original Gothic novel, the French Revolution, and makes it the text – with a highwayman heroine to boot. Marcus Sedgwick’s My Swordhand is Singing strips the vampire myth back to its folktale origins, renewing the vampire’s radical, terrifying otherness. Sarah Singleton’s Century echoes numerous classic Gothic novels, playing with the reader’s expectations before offering something ingeniously new. Paula Morris’s Ruined uses the ghost story to explore the legacy of slavery and racial tension in post-Katrina New Orleans, the ‘ruined’ city of the title. These books may not be as commercially successful, or as controversial, as Twilight, but we think they are equally (if not more) worth talking about.
Now Chloe and I have started on this project, we don’t want to leave it there: there is just so much still to explore! This blog will provide an ongoing forum for discussion of Young Adult Gothic fiction. In the future, we hope to extend the project through further publications and events, and we will post news of them here. We also plan to post YA Gothic fiction related other news, interviews, articles and reviews. We are very keen for this conversation to extend more widely to include readers of these novels – so we warmly invite you to comment on our posts and tell us what you think!