Librarian’s Choice: Holiday Reads

This blog comes from Rose, Central Library Manager.

Whatever type of holiday you are planning this year, at home or abroad, it is always a great time to relax and enjoy some wonderful books. If you’re planning to lie on a sun lounger or sit in the garden a good book (or several good books) is a must have for a great holiday. These are a few on my summer reading list which will take you on a journey across India, challenge your views on racism and intrigue with a psychological thriller.

Rose Her last breathHer last breath by Tracy Buchanan

Food writer Estelle Forster has the perfect life. And with her first book on the way, it’s about to get even better. When Estelle hears about Poppy O’Farrell’s disappearance, she assumes the girl has simply run away. But Estelle’s world crumbles when she’s sent a photo of Poppy, along with a terrifying note. Estelle has no idea who’s threatening her, or how she’s connected to the missing teen, but she thinks the answers lie in the coastal town she once called home, and the past she hoped was long behind her. Estelle knows she must do everything to find Poppy. But how far will she go to hide the truth – that herperfect life was the perfect lie?

Rose Sister, SisterSister, sister by Sue Fortin 

Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life. Alice thinks Claire is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family. One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac. Two sisters. One truth.

Rose Into the waterInto the water by Paula Hawkins

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool.

Rose I see youI see you by Clare Mackintosh

When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation, no website: just a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that. Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make?

Rose The ministryThe ministry of utmost happiness by Arundhati Roy

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ transports us across a subcontinent on a journey of many years. It takes us deep into the lives of its gloriously rendered characters, each of them in search of a place of safety – in search of meaning, and of love.

Rose Small great thingsSmall great things by Jodi Picoult

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

 

 

 

 

 

Librarian’s choice: Dog Books

As the owner of one of those troublesome, mischievous, beautiful, loyal creatures known as dogs, I thought I would write about some of the interesting books I’ve recently come across on the subject of our canine companions. When you look through the library catalogue, there are so many great books covering everything you might want to know.

Here is just a small selection:-

Lisa Clever dogClever Dog by Sarah Whitehead

Clever Dog is an easy to read, fun book focusing on behaviour and communication, with plenty of handy tips, examples and case studies bringing her theories to life. Plus it’s also the first book that made me think about my dog’s learning style! I think we’re both mainly visual.

Lisa Dog TalesDog Talk by Bruce Fogle

Dog Talk has some lovely photos of the author’s own dog at various stages throughout his life, smiling the whole time! This one provides bite size segments of information but goes deeper into the relationship between humans and dogs, looking at subconscious needs. There are some quick ways of teaching basic commands and also of dealing with aggression and other unwanted behaviours, although I think some of his advice is a little old fashioned.

Lisa Being a dogBeing a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

This book is like nothing else I have ever read, and that’s saying a lot! Its main focus is on the dog’s nose and how they experience the world through smell, although the author has done some smell research herself, so it does also go into the human sense of smell. The writing style is really accessible and quite humorous but there’s some seriously scientific research in here, and some myth-busting.

Lisa Rescue MeRescue Me – Dogs Trust

Thought I ought to include this one as our dog came from Dogs Trust! The adoption process was straightforward but fairly rigorous and they’re always available for advice afterwards. The book is very clear and step by step with case studies and lots of useful information for anyone thinking of adopting a dog. Believe me, it’s worth it!

Lisa Test your dogTest your dog’s IQ: how clever is your canine? by David Taylor

I was given this for a Christmas present one year and of course I’ve tried out some of these tests on my own dog and my sister –in-law’s two dogs. There are lots of fun activities in here for all ages – one we tried was covering the dog with a blanket and timing how long it takes for them to free themselves. Not long with ours it turns out, which apparently means she’s intelligent!

Lisa Dog ShamingDog Shaming by Pascale Lemire

This is a great book for cheering you up – dog photos never fail to make me smile, especially when they’re posing with a sign blaming them for having done something ridiculous or naughty. It’s basically a book of photos so won’t take you long to read, but I can guarantee at least some of them will raise a chuckle. I particularly liked the dog who chewed the face off an antique stuffed panda bear, and was pretty surprised by the dog who ate a starfish!

Librarian’s Choice: Women in Music

This blog is from Allison, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the west of Leeds.

As the music festivals are now in full swing, I thought a few good music related reads were in order. To narrow it down, women in music took my interest. There are plenty of good books to choose from at Leeds Libraries. Here’s a starter selection that you can read in the comfort of your own home without mud, queues for porta-loos and overpriced food and drinks. Although, if you are getting out to a festival, happy camping!

Allison M TrainM Train by Patti Smith

I anticipated this would be an emotional read. I picked it up a few times before finally straying from the first chapter. I wondered how deep it would be and if it would feel too intrusive. Autobiographies don’t shove things under the carpet; they take hold of the carpet at one end, waft it in the air and let the ‘dirt’ fly where it may. I also knew this was going to be a read that would make me repeatedly pause and search the influential figures in her life. I am not sure now why I saw any of this as reasons to delay reading the book.
My predictions weren’t wrong. Not even half way in and the words became misty for me as she shared simple but moving memories of her deceased father. But the real hits came from the one liners that she deals about her late husband; her ‘angel with the lank brown hair and eyes the colour of water’. When she commands him to come back because he’s been ‘gone long enough now’ it makes me want to have been there to offer comfort on that long flight to Tokyo.
Of course, my mind was kept from wandering to the maudlin side too much by my desire to research the historical characters of fiction and nonfiction that have inspired Ms. Smith. She spoke so poetically about the scientist Wegener that I just had to know more. I knew this would happen but it is not in any way a bad thing; she herself rightly describes books as ’portals to the world’. What I didn’t expect is that I would be checking travel advising sites for ‘small favoured’ hotels in London and that my heart would fill up as she talks about ITV3 detective shows, ironically meeting Robbie Coltrane and elderberry water with popcorn. How did she do this; turn even small details into emotional gems? Her dialogue with statues and table ‘thieves’ is intellectual clowning at its best and her devotion to coffee is commendable. I smiled as my own imagination took over by picturing fictional coffee fanatic Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks being the one sat in her spot in her favourite cafe.
While I won’t rank any of the other books in order of preference, M Train comes out as my absolute favourite. I lingered before embarking but once on board, the ride was both comfortable and thrilling. I read the book in one day; one scorching, humid day off from work. It was Frida Kahlo’s birthday and here I was reading about Patti Smith visiting the artist’s home in Mexico. Every detail in this book became even more poignant. I did also get quite star struck when she mentioned travelling to Leeds. Patti Smith, THE Patti Smith, wandering around in my hometown; although I just know she would have blended right in to the places and the crowds without any fuss. She came through Leeds on her way to visit Sylvia Plath’s grave; adamant that she’s wasn’t leaving her best pen there! As I get to the end chapters it is here she describes losing her husband and her brother within a month of each other. By now it doesn’t feel intrusive. I know exactly why she is telling us and I am thankful.
Throughout the book, Ms. Smith is led by her dreams (and coffee) and we follow her. Her words are as beautiful as ever, elegiac yet uplifting and lyrical. I could hear her music; I’d like to imagine it being all around her as she travels the world. By the end of the book, I had the lines from a nursery rhyme in my head: ‘see a fine lady upon a white horse, with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes’. I now know that I must seek out her 2010 offering, Just Kids; without hesitation.

Allison Girl in a BandGirl in a Band-A Memoir by Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon writes with a broken heart; the opening chapter describes Sonic Youth’s last gig intertwined with the end of her marriage to Thurston Moore. Throughout, she scatters seeds of information that we can peck at to discover reasons for the breakdown of the relationship. However, I prefer to graze on more fulfilling morsels that she throws out to us. I wouldn’t read this book for marital gossip but instead for an insight into insightfulness. She knows her stuff. She knows music, she knows about people and she knows herself…without always realising it.
“I’m not a musician” she tells us. Thankfully, under any self-doubt was a heap of fearlessness that helped her share her talents with the world. Kim Gordon seems the type of person I would be happy being friends with, simply because she is just so cool. And what makes her cool is that she hates cool; that’s quite cool. What captures me more is her perceptiveness about people. Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Karen Carpenter, Henry Rollins and her own family, she has looked them all up and down. She then deduces their personalities and without appearing a tell-tale she explains, we listen and we nod because we recognise that what she is telling us is probably correct. There seems an innate bluntness to her deductions.
For all fans of her music, this book also goes deep into the writing, the recording and performing. It also skims the art world and she takes us with her as she wanders in and out of her childhood. In the final chapters she reflects on rock and roll parenthood:
“…even if they were in their forties or fifties, they still had a banked fire in them, raised finger, a sneer, hidden under years of living.”
Swoon. I am available for a chat and a pint anytime you are, Kim Gordon. I promise not to ask what it’s like to be a girl in a band; I just know how much you hate that.

Allison Clothes Music BoysClothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys- A Memoir by Viv Albertine.

All the names are here: Vicious, Jones, Levene, Lydon, Letts, Hynde, Harry, Sioux and so on. The places and the stories we’ve heard are all transmitted to us first hand. We remember so much in our own little time pockets. This is a book, however, that requires you to leave your preconceived notions at the door before you step inside. If you think you know punk (which everyone over a certain age thinks they do), if you think you know women in punk or if you just think you know women please note the advice that I whispered to myself- ‘shut your gob’ and read it. It wasn’t the punk paradise of tales that captured me; I got drawn in more when her life inevitably moves on. Domesticity often spat on her worse than any punk crowd yet it’s her honest vulnerability and resilience that made it raw to read.
Nice quick chapters. She gives you a guide to skip to the subjects you want to read about, easy. Even if you just want to know about The Slits; it’s all here with warts and all, easy. However the content doesn’t always make for an easy read. But, come on, what did you expect? A Bunuel quote that Ms. Albertine uses pretty much sums it up:
“l’m not here to entertain you, I’m here to make you feel uncomfortable”.
She did make me feel uncomfortable but I needed to be in order to relate. She also mesmerised me, made me cry, laugh and cringe at times. Most importantly, her words made me think. So here’s to all those who may not have ‘aspired to be musicians’ but thankfully became ‘warriors’. Give it a read, you won’t get the feeling you’ve been cheated.

Allison Here she comesHere She Comes Now: Women in Music that have Changed our Lives edited by Jeff Gordinier and Marc Weingarten

First, I must say that I am duly impressed that one of the editors managed to compare the feeling he got when seeing Gloria Gaynor’s live performance of ‘I will survive’ to emotions felt by Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. I love that book and for him to somehow squeeze that in so effortlessly made me smile. An over the top comparison? Not really, not when you realise that he wants to move away from the predictable stories about women in music. The book’s contributors are relaying to us how much music has enriched their lives and in some cases, saved them. They are all novelists, bloggers and poets who are writing about the ‘voice to listener’ experience. The editor starts the book with an apology for the many influential names that had to be left out but we understand; how big that book would be if they included them all, right? So, the writers do the cherry picking and what we get is a wonderfully eclectic crop of stories.
Allison Clock does not mince words as she declares her thoughts on those who hate Dolly Parton. She isn’t wrong in my view; I wouldn’t trust anyone who disses our Dolly. Sandy Denny’s life and tragic, untimely death is seen through the eyes of another writer. Rosie Schaap captures her ‘ghost friend’ Sandy with deep eloquence. Ian Daly writes a letter to PJ Harvey and we could almost feel intrusive reading it as it is so personal and profound. This book is for people who feel the same way about music as the writers. That is why I could relate to it. From a young age, I realised the power music had in my life; music will always be my sword and my shield.

Allison Black by designBlack by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir by Pauline Black

I remember seeing Pauline Black in music videos and magazines for the first time when I was barely sixteen. I feel so lucky that my era had such amazing female role models in music. I wanted to dress like her, dance like her and wished I could sing like her. She looked confident, cool and beautiful. I didn’t think of her as trying to be like the men of the group or the men of 2-tone; she was just being herself. 2-tone never seemed to bow down to the usual media selling tactic of ‘girl in a band’. Pauline Black always looked like she was soundly aware of any elephants in the room and that she wasn’t afraid to bring down to size anyone who pointed them out. After reading her book, I now know how that strength of character was built and why it shines through.
Black by Design is beautifully written with honest words. There were times that I could literally not put the book because my fingers were holding on so tightly in horror as certain childhood traumas were revealed. Most of her childhood milestones were met with challenges; these are my understating words. You will need to read her own account as my frustration and anger from looking in would not do any justice. She lets us be a part of it all as she seeks to unravel the threads:
“So, why did my mother chose a black child if she had so much antipathy towards black people? Didn’t it occur to her that my ‘colour’ was going to be a future issue, which couldn’t be swept under the carpet…”
“I cannot say that I wasn’t loved. I know I was. But I grew up feeling like a cuckoo in someone else’s nest.”
Pauline Black reads, she grows, she reads some more. As she reaches her teens her reading material becomes more radical; she thanks the Librarian of Romford Town Library for ordering books that provided her with the information she ‘required at sixteen’. She doesn’t stop reading; she studies and becomes a hospital radiographer.
Naturally, the meetings and formation of The Selecter then dominate with pictures that capture the essence of the time. One story comes from good old Leeds again and the infamous F club where she states: “In Leeds, everything came together, the harmonies, the Selecter sound, the songs, Gap’s dance routines, my stage persona and cockney patter.”
The rest is Sta-Prest history and the Queen of Ska occupies her throne. Without giving any spoilers, the reunions that dominate the last chapters will in no doubt take centre stage. I have seen Pauline Black in recent interviews and it is hard to believe that she is in her sixties. She is ‘not for resigning’ and she is still giving us goals to aspire to.

Health Information Week – Mood Boosting Books

There is strong evidence that self-help reading can help people with common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, sometimes on its own or with other forms of treatment.

In a report commissioned by GALAXY® chocolate on behalf of the Reading Agency’s Quick Reads initiative, which produces short books by well-known authors for busy people and less confident readers, it is revealed that regular reading has the unique ability to empower us to embark on positive journeys in life, connect us with others and make us feel happier in our own skin.

The Reading Agency have lists of books recommended for their mood boosting effect, and last year’s list, chosen by readers groups can be found in full here, http://reading-well.org.uk/books/mood-boosting-books/chosen-by-reading-groups-2016

Here are some of their recommendations and ours from our catalogue:-

HIWF ReadersThe readers of Broken Wheel recommend by Katarina Bivald

Sara has never left Sweden but at the age of 28 she decides it’s time. She cashes in her savings, packs a suitcase full of books and sets off for Broken Wheel, Iowa, a town where she knows nobody. Sara quickly realises that Broken Wheel is in desperate need of some adventure, a dose of self-help and perhaps a little romance, too. In short, this is a town in need of a bookshop. With a little help from the locals, Sara sets up Broken Wheel’s first bookstore. The shop might be a little quirky but then again, so is Sara.

HIWF DannyGoing to sea in a sieve: the autobiography by Danny Baker

Danny Baker was born in Deptford, South East London in June 1957, and from an early age was involved in magazine journalism, with the founding of fanzine ‘Sniffin’ Glue’, alongside friend Mark Perry. This is a biography of his life and career in television and radio.

HIWF FrankThe extraordinary life of Frank Derrick, age 81 by Bob Jim

Frank Derrick is 81 … and he’s just been run over by a milk float. It was tough enough to fill the hours of the day when he was active, but now he’s broken his arm and fractured his foot, it looks set to be a very long few weeks ahead. He watches DVDs, spends his money frivolously at the local charity shop and desperately tries to avoid the cold callers knocking on his door. Emailing his daughter in America on the library computer and visiting his friend Smelly John used to be the highlights of his week. Now he can’t even do that. Then a breath of fresh air comes into his life in the form of Kelly Christmas, home help. With her little blue car and appalling parking, her cheerful resilience and ability to laugh at his jokes, Kelly changes Frank’s life.

HIWF WonderWonder by R. J. Palacio

 ‘Wonder’ is the funny, sweet and incredibly moving story of Auggie Pullman. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, this shy, bright ten-year-old has been home-schooled by his parents for his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the stares and cruelty of the outside world.

HIWF HumansThe humans by Matt Haig

Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog. Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder?

HIWF RosieThe Rosie project by Graeme Simsion

Meet Don Tillman. Don is getting married. He just doesn’t know who to yet. But he has designed a very detailed questionnaire to help him find the perfect woman. One thing he already knows, though, is that it’s not Rosie. Absolutely, completely, definitely not.

 

Helen Cadbury

This is a short blog to say how sad I was to hear that Helen Cadbury died last week. I was lucky enough to meet Helen several times, when she was talking about her books in our libraries. Helen was the author of two crime novels about PCSO Sean Denton with a third in the series out later this year. Her first volume of poetry is also due out later this year.

Helen was always very supportive of libraries and did events in not just Leeds but many across the country. She had a warmth and a way of speaking to an audience that made it very difficult to wrap an event up as the audience always wanted to linger to talk to her more.

The first time I encountered Helen was at an event in Bramley Library when she was talking about her first book to the Crime Readers group there. We held the event while the library was open. This can bring its challenges and indeed I cringed as one member of the public insisted on browsing the bookshelf just behind Helen’s head while musing loudly about the books to a friend. Helen took this in her stride, dealing with the situation with good grace and humour.

When Helen’s second book was selected for Read Regional for 2016, she visited Pudsey library to talk to the readers group there about the book. Helen’s honesty about her writing and writing process provoked a readers group discussion that I am sure the group will remember for some time.

The last time I saw Helen was at an event she did about writing at Central library in Leeds. Again her candidness about her books and writing and indeed about her recent cancer treatment made the event a memorable one for those that attended.

I will miss Helen, and my deepest sympathy goes to her family for their loss.

To catch a rabbit

Helen To catchTwo young boys stumble on a dead prostitute. She’s on Sean Denton’s patch. As Doncaster’s youngest community support officer, he’s already way out of his depth, but soon he’s uncovering more than he’s supposed to know. Meanwhile Karen Friedman, professional mother of two, learns her brother has disappeared. She desperately needs to know he’s safe, but once she starts looking, she discovers unexpected things about her own needs and desires. In this gripping story of migrants, love and the sex trade, Karen and Sean’s enquiries begin to throw up the same names. While Sean comes up against a corrupt senior officer, Karen finds she’s falling in love. Played out against a gritty landscape on the edge of a Northern town, both of them risk losing all they hold precious.

Bones in the nest

Helen BonesThe Chasebridge Killer is out; racial tension is rising and the mutilated body of a young Muslim man is found in the stairwell of a tower block in Doncaster. As he gets drawn into the case, Sean Denton’s family life and his police job become dangerously entwined. Meanwhile a young woman is trying to piece her life back together, but someone is out there; someone who will never let her forget what she’s done.

 

Health Information Week

This week is Health Information week. It is a multi-sector campaign to promote good quality health resources that are available to the public. The campaign also aims to encourage partnership working across sectors and help improve health literacy. Further details can be found at www.leedslibraries.nhs.uk/resources/health-information-week

Here at Leeds libraries we are happy to be part of the Reading well scheme. This collection of books helps you to understand and manage your health and wellbeing using helpful reading.

The books are all endorsed by health experts, as well as people with living with the conditions covered and their relatives and carers. You can be recommended a title by a health professional, or you can visit your local library and take a book out yourself. Further details of the scheme can be found  at https://readingagency.org.uk/adults/quick-guides/reading-well/

Health information covers everything from healthy living, diet, fitness, stopping smoking, mental health, mindfulness to living with long term conditions and much more, we have a wide range of titles that cover these topics and much more. Here are just a few that we have on our catalogue. Please remember that if we have a book on our catalogue you can reserve it free of charge to pick up at your nearest branch.

HIW AnxietyOvercoming Anxiety: A self help guide using cognitive behavioural techniques by Helen Kennerley

This book offers expert advice on managing the worries, fears and anxieties that can impair the quality of one’s life. Each problem is discussed and explained, and there is a self-help guide for those who wish to tackle their difficulties alone.

HIW Anxiety 2Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Panic: A five areas approach by Chris Williams

This title presents a series of self-help workbooks for use in self-assessing and managing the symptoms of stress, worry, panic and phobias. It is empowering and supportive, helping readers make changes to their lives in a planned and achievable way.

HIW Chronic FatigueChronic fatigue syndrome by Frankie Campling and Michael Sharpe

A compassionate guide to chronic fatigue syndrome, this book provides sufferers and their families with practical advice based solely on scientific evidence. Included in the book is a detailed guide to self-help, written from a patient’s perspective.

HIW Mind over MoodMind over mood: change how you feel by changing the way you think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky

Written by two clinical psychologists, this manual shows you how to improve your life using cognitive therapy. Step-by-step worksheets teach you specific skills that have helped thousands of people conquer depression, panic attacks, anxiety, anger, guilt, and relationship problems.

HIW OCDBreak free from OCD by Fiona Challacombe, Paul M Salkovskis and Victoria Bream

Are you plagued by obsessive thoughts, rituals or routines? Would you like to regain control over your behaviour and cast your fears aside? This practical guide, written by three leading cognitive behavioural therapy experts, enables you to make sense of your symptoms, and gives a simple plan to help you conquer OCD.

HIW PanicPanic attacks: what they are, why they happen and what you can do about them by
Christine Ingham

Drawing on her own personal experience of panic attacks, and those of others, Christine Ingham offers encouragement and help for a positive way forward.

HIW InsomniaOvercoming insomnia and sleep problems: a self-help guide using cognitive behavioral techniques by Colin A Espie

Being unable to sleep is one of the most common health problems. This manual explains; how to ensure your bedroom encourages a good night’s sleep, developing good pre-bedtime routines, establishing a new sleeping and waking pattern, how to deal with a racing mind, and dealing with special problems. 

HIW WorryHow to stop worrying by Frank Tallis

Frank Tallis explains how you can avoid stress and anxiety, if you know how to control it. You can learn to understand your fears, and face the possibilities of life calmly.

 

 

 

Librarian’s Choice: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

This blog comes from Ross, a Librarian Manager based in Local and Family History at Centeral Library.

Darken your summer with a little ‘gloomth’!

I like to imagine Horace Walpole as the Tim Burton of the eighteenth century. An author and art expert, he was obsessed with an aesthetic he called ‘gloomth’ – a mixture of gothic doom and mouldy bliss which, while fanciful, he approached with intelligence and a certain sense of mischief. Embracing gloomth with the kind of fervour today’s librarians reserve for hygge, he spent his early twenties swooning around the ruined cathedrals of Europe, before coming back with a truckload of cobwebby trinkets in 1741 to regale dinner guests with tales of castles and curses, probably on the darkest and stormiest of nights.

His infatuation with gloomth eventually inspired him to design the outrageous but stunning Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham in 1749, which is part English villa, part Hammer horror, and all Horace Walpole. The idea of someone remodelling a country home on a literary whim might not go down too well in these austere times (especially if that someone were the son of a Prime Minister, as Walpole was) but he at least had the artistic integrity to follow up his folly with a really good book – one that was published on Christmas Eve in 1764. (He wasn’t one for doing things by halves.)

Gothic The castle of OtrantoThe book was The Castle of Otranto, and Walpole went the full ‘found footage’ route by pretending it was a translation of a manuscript discovered in ‘the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England’. Not only that, but it was purportedly originally based on a story traced back to Italy in the High Middle Ages. Whether the ruse was designed to whip up maximum interest from the gloomth community – or simply give Walpole something to hide behind if the book was a critical disaster – isn’t entirely clear but, in any case, Otranto was deservedly well received, and Walpole was happy to take full credit as the author of the second edition.

Truth is, he’d actually dreamt up the basis of the novel at Strawberry Hill, during a nightmare he experienced involving a giant armoured fist and a spooky staircase. In The Castle of Otranto, this translates into the surreal scene that starts the story, where an enormous helmet inexplicably falls from the sky, crushing the son and heir of the main character, Prince Manfred. It’s also the moment at which you’ll probably become gripped if you decide to read the book yourself. From this point on, the plot descends into a tangle of family secrets, manifested by the actual labyrinths Manfred’s relatives and servants spend the book blundering into – from the dark catacombs beneath the castle, to the deadly network of caves beyond its walls. There are murders (some accidental); there is madness (lots of madness); and, looming in the background throughout, the monstrous owner of the giant armour threatens to make an appearance of its own…

The text is a little dense, and Walpole packs more secret passages and moving portraits into one paragraph than J.K. Rowling manages in an entire term at Hogwarts, but otherwise this is a refreshing read, with a lightness of style that contrasts humorously with the ominous trappings. This being the very first gothic horror novel, you’re also never safe from a shiver of true fear… Mario Praz explains the sensation perfectly in his introduction to the edition I borrowed from Armley Library: ‘what begins as an arabesque, in time breeds teeth and nails, and after having pleasurably tickled this skin, gnaws through the very vitals’ (from Three Gothic Novels, Penguin Classics, 2006).

It’s a disconcerting description of a novel inspired by a dream inspired by a house – and about the warmest invitation you’ll ever receive into the velvety, vicious world of gloomth.

If this has whetted your appetite for Gothic fiction try some of these other classics from our catalogue:-

Gothic The MonkThe Monk: a romance by M.G. Lewis

Ambrosio, a pious monk, finds himself drawn to his pupil, Matilda, a young woman in disguise. Unable to control himself, he sates his lust, and soon tires of her. But Matilda has more than her body to offer. As his desperate acts become more and more depraved, it becomes clear that Matilda is not everything she seems.

Gothic Mysteries of UdolphoThe mysteries of Udolpho: a romance by Ann Radcliffe

With The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe raised the Gothic romance to a new level and inspired a long line of imitators. Portraying her heroine’s inner life, creating a thick atmosphere of fear, and providing a gripping plot that continues to thrill readers today, The Mysteries of Udolpho is the story of orphan Emily St. Aubert, who finds herself separated from the man she loves and confined within the medieval castle of her aunt’s new husband, Montoni. Inside the castle, she must cope with an unwanted suitor, Montoni’s threats, and the wild imaginings and terrors that threaten to overwhelm her.

 

Gothic The Fall of the house of usherThe fall of the House of Usher and other stories by Edgar Allan Poe

The eerie tales of Edgar Allan Poe remain among the most brilliant and influential works in American literature. Some of the celebrated tales contained in this unique volume include: the world’s first two detective stories — “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”; and three stories sure to make a reader’s hair stand on end — “The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”.

Gothic DraculaDracula By Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker’s novel became one of the masterpieces of the horror genre, brilliantly evoking a world of vampires and vampire hunters whilst simultaneously exposing the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and frustrated desire.