Sunday 9 February 2014

My Favourite Fictional World... a guest post by Tracy Fahey and Laura Brown

As part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour currently being run by Hic Dragones, I've been inviting some of the authors onto my blog to talk about their favourite fictional worlds. So far, I've had guest posts from Douglas Thompson and Margrét Helgadóttir. Today I'm very pleased to welcome Laura Brown and Tracy Fahey to the blog.

A lover of all things strange and unusual, Laura Brown is a fantasy author and artist from Hampshire, England. A self-proclaimed Goth, geek, bookworm and bunny-rabbit, Laura has been writing and drawing ever since her fingers could manage a pen. She is also a writer for online magazine EGL Magazine (under the penname Blackavar), for which she writes lifestyle articles, music reviews and interviews. Since the summer of 2012, she has been writing fiction professionally, with her first short story, ‘Alone in the Dark’, being published in an eZine in July 2012, and ‘Candlelight’ appearing in print for the first time in October 2012. ‘Skin’ (her short story in Impossible Spaces is her third story in print.

So, Laura, what's your favourite fictional world?

This is a question not easily answered! I'm sure depending on what day of the week it could have been different (and my recent leisure activity has possible influenced my answer!). However, I'm going to be a bit of a cheat by choosing... the worlds of Kingdom Hearts.

You have may have noticed I've used the plural word, 'worlds'. Hehe, yes, I've cheated.

For those unfamiliar with it, Kingdom Hearts is a video game series that combines Disney and Square Enix's Final Fantasy characters and aesthetics - the short description could possibly be Disney meets Final Fantasy. The game series has been hugely popular, and brings a wonderful sense of nostalgia combined with a storyline that is sweet and heartening but not without its depths and dark side. The adventures take the player through various Disney-inspired worlds, such as Wonderland, Halloween Town, Agrabah, and even the Hundred Acre Woods. But the worlds I enjoy the most are the original ones created for the series.

They are beautiful - some are ethereal, or grand and Gothic structures, or mystical looking landscapes. Some are dark and mysterious, and others are sweet and cosy. Some even manage to appear cyberpunk. Creating already set worlds did not stop the creators of the game series from flourishing with their own creativity.

What is it in particular I like about these worlds? Well, despite their differences and individuality, all have a lovely dreamlike quality about them that particularly appeals to me. Fiction is a living dream state for me, taking me away from reality, and these worlds work in the same way (arguably more vividly, as they can be seen on the screen, although I have certainly never had trouble painting a landscape mentally). Combining the emotional aesthetic of the games' storylines with these surroundings that are beautifully crafted and lovingly presented (be they frightening places or comforting ones), that dreamy quality is what appeals to me so strongly. I enjoy looking at the tiny details, and find them very inspiring in my own work also. As a fantasy writer who spends much of her time in a dream-world, it would make sense that these fictional environments would appeal to me so much.

Thanks, Laura! And today's second guest... Tracy Fahey.

Tracy Fahey is a Gothic devotee whose research interests lie chiefly in Gothic domestic space and its various interactions and intersections with literature, art, design and folktales. She works as Head of Department of Fine Art at Limerick School of Art and Design. She also runs a fine art collaborative practice, Gothicise who have carried out a number of site-specific projects in Limerick, including ghostwalk/ghosttalk (2010), The Double Life of Catherine Street (2011) and A Haunting (2011). Tracy has published in the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies and the Gothic Studies Journal. She has given papers in New Zealand, California, Denmark, Scotland, Wales and England on a variety of topics including Irish castles, domestic Gothic, folklore and the Gothic, fairy-tale architecture, and werewolves.

So, Tracy, tell us about your favourite fictional world...

I started this piece still wondering which of all these fictional worlds I would choose. In The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter’s velvety, sinister prose paints all kind of unlikely and glittering worlds, half-fairytale, half-nightmare, wholly sensual. I feel like I’ve lived through Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, attending enchanted classes in Greek culture, and lolling round ancestral homes soaked in gin and murder. But if I had to choose one fictional world which has haunted me since I first read about it, it has to be Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the supreme novel of dark domesticity.

Be warned. This is not a pleasant place. From the second chapter, the world shrinks to the size of one intimidating, watchful, sepulchral house. The opening sentence tells you everything you need to get your bearings in this universe:
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
So. Not sane. Holding darkness within. And worst of all, the awful, casual reference to “whatever walked there”. From the beginning, the figure of Shirley Jackson stands to the side of the Victorian monstrosity that is Hill House, arms folded. You are warned. Last chance to get off the rollercoaster before it starts.

Ostensibly a story about a group of paranormal investigators, the novel is much, much more. The world of Hill House is a waking nightmare, a swelling undertow that pulls you in, and traps you within its dark walls. The interiors are designed to confuse and chill:
“It had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all dimensions, so the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible tolerable length...”
Hill House is sentient, that much is apparent from the first paragraph. But it is also malicious. It preys on the protagonist, timid Eleanor, freed at last from servitude to her bullying mother and unpleasant family who treat her with a calculated brutality. Eleanor is a non-person, a service provider, someone who has been almost painted out of existence. All she wants is to find her place in the world: “I never had anyone to care about... I want to be someplace where I belong.” When Hill House wraps itself around her, calling to her, knocking on her door, writing messages to her on its own walls, she is terrified, excited and ultimately seduced.

So come in. Visit. This is not a pleasant world. But I do guarantee that once you’re in, you’ll never forget the experience. Once you step into the world of Hill House it will grip you. Even when you come out of it and close the covers of the book, darkness will seem a little darker, noises heard in the night will be just a little more frightening.

Be warned. Now come in.

Laura Brown's story 'Skin' and Tracy Fahey's story 'Looking for Wildgoose Lodge' are among the short stories in Impossible Spaces - out now from Hic Dragones.

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