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Archive - Monday, 25 October 2010
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Painting the town red
As Halloween nears, author Paul Magrs takes a wander around Gothic Whitby.
DARK SPLENDOUR: Whitby Abbey
HALLOWEEN in recent years has meant a trip to Whitby. This is the venue for the worldfamous Goth Weekend, when the streets of this time-locked Victorian harbour town are suddenly aswarm with holidaying vamps and monsters – trekking up to the Abbey at the top of the hill and round the tea shops, pubs and antique stores.
Whitby is gently invaded by wonderful fancy dressers, tottering on spiky heels through the cobbled streets, swishing their velvet capes, and parading around in full regalia: everything from classic Eighties Bauhaus-style to the more recent Steampunk innovations.
I’ve been there in recent years because Whitby is the setting for my series of Gothic Comic novels, The Brenda and Effie Mysteries.
There’s a wonderful independent bookshop in Church Street, on the road that takes you to the foot of the fabled 199 steps where Dracula once roamed.
PAUL MAGRS: A Gothic fascination
The marvellous staff there have thrown a bookstore party in order to launch each of the Brenda books when they are published each October.
It’s become a kind of ritual – with the staff there staying late and laying out nibbles and wine and preparing to open the doors to all these readers dressed up in corsets and capes, elaborate hats and boots, masks, make-up and top hats. They sit me on a red velvet chair up a step in a doorway in the middle of the shop – and listen as I read them a little bit of the new book.
Staying in Whitby on those Halloween weekends is rather like stepping into my own books. We end up having tea and cake in just the kinds of cafes that my spookhunting elderly ladies would do.
We stay in a B&B not unlike the one Brenda owns. We traipse round junk shops of a similar ilk to Effie’s, and we go up to the Abbey to stare down at the vista of the town and the wild North Sea... and I can never help wanting to fall into some kind of supernatural investigation and adventure.
I love it when readers tell me that they’ve spent the weekend going round town, trying to match up the real places with the locations in the books. I get questions such as: “We found what we think is the actual Deadly Boutique – are we right?” In the most recent editions, we’ve included a map in the book’s end-papers, so people can play the I-Spy game with a little bit of help.
Most evenings in Whitby for us wind up in the hotel on the West Cliff that feels most like the Christmas Hotel in the books. In Brenda’s world it is a decadent place ruled over by Mrs Claus and her army of elves and it’s Christmas every day. What’s great about the real life hotels up on that clifftop is that, in October, Christmas is just about starting for them.
THEIR Christmas trees are up and lavishly strung with tinsel and lights – and it’s cabaret hour in the grand ballroom just about any time of night or day. We always go to have a look at who’s up, doing a turn.
I see my little visits as a chance to soak up the atmosphere again and to charge my creative batteries once more with the Whitby vibes. When we’re walking around, night or day, around those strange old streets, I usually start to hear voices. Voices telling me all about the weird stuff that’s been happening in town recently: voices from the Whitby that is only partially mine. Familiar voices of characters I know pretty well by now...
A Gothic fascination
PAUL MAGRS, 40, was born in Jarrow. After seven years at the University of East Anglia teaching English literature and creative writing, he now lives in Manchester and lectures part time at Manchester Metropolitan University.
He devotes the rest of his time to writing and has published fiction for both adults and children. He writes for Dr Who and his books, including Never the Bride, Something Borrowed, Conjugal Rites and Hell's Belles, feature the adventures of the inimitable Brenda and Effie.
He will be celebrating the publication of his new book, The Bride That Time Forgot, at Whitby Bookshop at 7pm on Saturday. Complimentary wine and nibbles will be available and Paul will be signing copies of his books.
■ For details, contact the bookshop on 01947-606202.