Madwomen and attics – WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View

It was a dark, but not a stormy, night at the Arts Centre last Wednesday, when four mysterious black-clad ladies entered the room. With flickering candles held aloft, they took their places on the stage for an evening of great hair, literary tropes and another chapter in the ongoing battle between Team Rochester and Team Heathcliff (*).

There was no attempt at cool professionalism, as our panellists to a man woman unashamedly confessed their enduring love for that most passionate of genres, the Gothic novel. And the audience was right there with them – many of us had been present earlier in the evening for an outstanding performance of Jane Eyre by Rebecca Vaughan of Dyad Productions.

Rachael King, Rebecca Vaughan, Karen Healey, and Moata Tamaira

With chair Rachael King guiding the discussion, we heard from an actor, a novelist and a librarian as they each confessed to teenage years spent wafting about in nighties and imagining themselves in the arms of a dark and brooding hero of uncertain temperament. Rebecca Vaughan had of course literally just come from her performance as Jane Eyre, while Karen Healey and Rachael King have both written novels with a strong Gothic flavour themselves (if you have not read Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead, or Rachael King’s Magpie Hall, I beseech you most strongly to do so at once). And our very own Moata Tamaira has never been afraid to profess herself as a fan of all things Gothic.

Rachael King, Rebecca Vaughan, Karen Healey, and Moata Tamaira

The evening’s discussion ranged from the literary – Gothic tropes in literature and film; to the awesomely ridiculous – a slideshow quiz where every answer was Wuthering Heights. We contemplated the various forms of Heathcliff in multiple movie castings (Tom Hardy a clear winner here, although this possibly was rigged by chair Rachael); and slipped sideways into a robust conversation about whether Wide Sargasso Sea had altered anyone’s perceptions of Mr Rochester (is it a true prequel? an early form of fan-fic homage? a completely separate stand-alone story?). I was waiting for someone to mention my own personal fave Jane Eyre “character” Thursday Next, from the Eyre Affair series, but perhaps that’s making things a little too tangled even for this panel and audience.

Rachael King, Rebecca Vaughan, Karen Healey

Finishing with a glorious set of illustrations from pulp fiction novels of the ’60s and ’70s, featuring women with great hair running from Gothic houses (credit to this magnificent blog), we were then sent out into the moonlit surrounds of the oh-so-Gothic Arts Centre, I think each with a new commitment to go back and re-read ALL our favourite Gothic novels. Possibly while dressed in wafty white nighties and floating about on the nearest moor.

Christchurch Arts Centre

(* Of COURSE it’s Team Rochester, all the way)


Quick Questions with Rebecca Vaughan – WORD Christchurch

We are asking quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to Shifting Points of View, WORD Christchurch’s suite of events at September’s Christchurch Arts Festival.

Today, it’s actor Rebecca Vaughan who is performing in Jane Eyre: An autobiography and also appearing in Madwomen in the attic:

An actor, a novelist and a librarian share their views, their favourite heroines, and improvise their own tales of women with great hair fleeing gothic houses. Rebecca is joined by Karen Healey and Moata Tamaira (librarian from our very own Christchurch City Libraries), in a session chaired by Rachael King.

Rebecca Vaughan. Photo by Ben Guest. Image supplied.

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

It’s my first time in Christchurch, so I’m really looking forward to having a good explore of the whole city!  I absolutely love just wandering the streets of a new city, and seeing where my instincts take me.  I also imagine I’ll take a visit to the Art Gallery (one of my passions!)

What do you think about libraries?

Libraries are a hugely important, and often underestimated part of forward thinking culture.  To allow free access to so much information: literature, history, reference books, geography, children’s literature, the list is endless, is vital to towns and cities.

And although we have so much information at our fingertips via the internet – libraries are places where communities can meet: storytelling for children, and reading groups for adults, just for starters!  An invaluable resource.

What would be your “desert island book”?

Gosh – that’s hard!  For fiction – it would probably be Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body – although I’d also love an unending supply of historical biographies – probably by Alison Weir!


Share a surprising fact about yourself.

To the surprise even of myself, I became a vegan two years ago.  I thought I would miss cheese so much it would be impossible, but it’s amazed me how much of it was habit, and now I don’t miss it at all!  (Oh and I also performed for the Netherland’s Royal Family!)

Madwomen in the attic — Rebecca Vaughan, Karen Healey, Moata Tamaira, chaired by Rachael King
Great Hall, The Arts Centre, Wednesday 6 September, 8.30pm

Following a performance of Jane Eyre: An Autobiography with Rebecca Vaughan, sit back and enjoy dark tales of Gothic houses, damaged men, plucky heroines and secrets lurking in attics. What is the enduring appeal of the Gothic women of literature? Who are the forgotten women, and the doppelgangers? An actor, a novelist and a librarian share their views, their favourite heroines, and improvise their own tales of women with great hair fleeing Gothic houses. Rebecca is joined by Karen Healey and Moata Tamaira, chaired by Rachael King.

If you like women with great hair fleeing Gothic houses, follow the faaaabulous @PulpLibrarian on Twitter.



Loathly ladies: Women writing horror

Women writing wickedness: salute our sinister sisters by horrifying yourself this Halloween with some monstrous madams.

Horror can appear in different forms, and means many different things to many different people. It’s in whispers from an empty attic, it’s in jerky movements beyond the edge of the campfire, it’s in vast and unstoppable forces of evil or, scariest of all, in the things people do to each other. Like any emotion, it’s hard to perfectly pin down and describe, but these are books that may send a frisson of fiction down your spine…

Cover of 'Frankenstein' by Mary ShelleyIf you want to dig deep into the roots of the genre, one of the first horror writers of all was the fantastic Mary Shelley with her Frankenstein (also, basically the first science fiction writer ever, go Mary!)

Cover of 'The Lottery and other stories' by Shirley Jackson

Or prove to yourself that the classics still have the power to freak you out with Shirley Jackson. She’s inspired greats like Stephen King with her short stories, and her novels have a splendid atmosphere of terror. Her legacy is so great that the Shirley Jackson awards, given for outstanding physiological suspense, horror and dark fantastic fiction, commemorate her annually.

Cover of 'The Summer That Melted Everything' by Tiffany McDanielWant to know the best fictional name I have come across this year? In Tiffany McDaniel’s ‘The Summer that Melted Everything‘ one of our heroes – if you can call a man who publishes an invitation for the devil to come visit his sleepy backwater town a ‘hero’ – carries the incredible name of Autopsy Bliss. Strange accidents, deadly fevers, personal demons, and scariest of all, it’s set in the 80s…

For thirteen creepy, bloody, chilling tales, look beyond the more publicised male authors into the sinister hearts of these ghoulish gals:

Loathly ladies: Women writing horror – A Christchurch City Libraries list

Cover of 'Rise' by Mira Grant Cover of 'The Grownup' by Gillian Flynn Cover of 'Mayhem' by Sarah Pinborough  Cover of 'The Hidden People' by Alison Littlewood

Want even more? Head to Novelist Plus with your library card and pin, and try this list of horror titles by female authors.

Happy haunting… and keep the lights on.