“Welcome home, dear”: my first encounter with the Gothic

Neither of my parents like horror but, luckily for me, my mum has poor memory. So it was that, when I was five and enamoured of Roald Dahl, she let me watch an episode of Tales of the Unexpected.

The episode we watched, for reasons unknown to me – it falls directly in the middle of the first series – was The Landlady. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of watching it (and if you haven’t, you can do so here!), but suffice to say that it was not made for five-year-olds.

This prompted a thirst for all things spooky, and I spent my afternoons at my grandparents’ house after school watching Scooby-Doo and Mona the Vampire. When Doctor Who returned to the airwaves in 2005, it became an all-consuming obsession – especially with the more horrific episodes. At school, where I was usually shy, I exploited our permission to move around the room and talk in art lessons to ask my classmates if any of them knew any ghost stories.

It was also at this time that I first began exploring Gothic literature, reading and rereading my copy of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights until it fell apart. I had a friend who loved Tim Burton and convinced my dad to rent his adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd for me on the basis that it was a musical. My phone at the time could only store three songs, so henceforth I spent my journeys to and from school listening to “The Worst Pies in London”, “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest” on repeat.

When I went to college, my horizons were expanded further. In English literature, I was taught by the writer Michael Donkor, who introduced me to my first tastes of queer Gothic – Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and the work of Ali Smith, still one of my favourite writers. In media studies, meanwhile, we spent an early lesson dissecting the opening scene of Wes Craven’s Scream, which terrified and delighted me and began my love of slashers.

During my undergraduate degree, I became infatuated with Matthew Lewis’ The Monk – still possibly the most shocking book I have ever read, though Sayaka Murata’s wonderful Earthlings certainly gives it a run for its money – and wrote my dissertation on the queer Gothic, then applied to the Manchester Centre of Gothic Studies for my Masters.

It was during my MA that I returned to my first great love: television. Perhaps because of Roald Dahl’s early influence, much of my favourite fiction is anthology horror – Nigel Kneale’s Beasts, Hammer House of Horror, Black Mirror and, in particular, Inside No. 9. I also fell in love with Kneale’s other works, particularly The Stone Tape, and with Stephen Volk’s infamous Ghostwatch.

I now research what I term the Televisual Gothic – television horror about the horrors of television, from anxieties surrounding technological advance to deaths associated with reality broadcasting – and I have my mum’s early lapse in parental judgement to thank.