I wrote this a while ago for one of my writing groups, and I came across it when I was looking through my files trying to work out what to present to the group next Monday. It was not meant to be a novel, but something longer than a short story, maybe a novella… re-reading it I was intrigued and I”m now wondering whether I should continue with the story of…
Who could have predicted, who could have told through casting the runes or casting a horoscope, reading the tea leaves or reading the tarot, who could have foretold the curious and strange events surrounding the end of the Gorman’s Gaston reading group?
Gorman’s Gaston is a small Somerset village, about four hundred yards from the sea and four inches above it; despite the new sea defences, on dark nights, when the tide is high and the wind howls off the Bristol Channel and the rains inundate the Mendip Hills, the Quantocks and the Poldens, and flood down onto the Levels, the people of Gorman, as it is known, fear for their properties and check their insurance policies.
The name of the village is lost in antiquity, the most likely origin is Norman and there were Normans who settled in the area and there are town’s which bear their names such as Bridgwater, the brig or wharf of Walter… but there is a yearning by some incomers for more ancient roots, Arthurian and beyond… Arthurian names were even banded about, Guiron le Courtois, Gornemant, Gaheris… All most unlikely as in past times the site of the village would have been below the sea… and doubly unlikely since these are fictional names created in the thirteenth century
To return to the reading group… Inspired by the name of the village which had a resonance with the Gormenghast trilogy, written by Mervyn Peake in the 1940’s and 50’s, Jeremy Turner had moved to the village on his retirement. His passion was gothic literature, and especially the works of Peake, and within a few months he had started a reading group, a gothic reading group. The group met at first in the local pub, appropriately named The Bloody Judge, and then in Jeremy’s own home, which he had named Otranto, after the Walpole novel.
Otranto had been the gatehouse of a now vanished manor; in the 1880’s it had acquired crenellations, towers and other additions which afforded the villagers much private amusement and much work on these renovations. In the 1920’s another owner addressed the interior, and indeed, dressed it with suits of armour, war hammers, maces, spears, cutlasses and sabres, and other paraphernalia of an imagined medieval castle.
Now Turner was in residence he added to the furnishings, dark curtains, dark crimson suites and leather armchairs, blood-coloured throws and rugs, the large fireplaces with their chimneys swept, containing huge iron basket grates and menacing looking fire dogs which weighed too much to be practical except as weapons. Indeed one former member put his back out quite badly, trying to stoke the fire and used that as a convenient excuse not to attend the meetings again.
The rooms were dark, with lamps and lanterns and no central light; and another member left claiming her poor eyesight could not cope in the gloom. Upon the wall were tapestries and hangings, and grim paintings of sometimes unmentionable acts, which some of the members of the reading group found quite disturbing and unsettling, and they would choose to sit with their backs to the worst of these pictures… however that was unsettling too as there was a sense of the gory scenes almost coming to life behind them…
It was no wonder then, that the original ten or so members of the group dwindled to six, plus Jeremy Turner of course.
Maybe they remained in the book club, now renamed (by Jeremy) Gorman Gothique Groupe, because they too were passionate about the genre, maybe it was the excellent wine and refreshments which Turner served, each inspired by the novel they were reading, or re-reading. A riotous and splendid night was had by all when looking back at Dracula, a novel unexpectedly full of humour and excitement, and they were offered Tokay wine (have you seen the price of it?) and slivovitz, chicken and pickled herring (no garlic) In the earlier days when the group had been larger, there had been a certain reluctance to sample the lamb, having just read ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ by Roald Dahl… a frozen leg or lamb used as a murder weapon… Lamb? Um, not thank you Jeremy, it always repeats on me… I’ll have a little more of the Valpolicella… (This particular Valpolicella had been seen reduced in Majestic Wines by two of the group at £29 a bottle… reduced!