By Ruth Cornish
On Sunday, the Gothic Manchester Festival 2014 hosted one of the UK’s most legendary Gothic icons, Rosie Garland, at the John Rylands Library. Rosie delighted the audience with readings from her work and a revealing question and answer session before rounding off the event with book signings and a delicious cake.
But who is Rosie Garland? Well that is not an easy question to answer. Rosie is famously difficult to pin down. She performs as cabaret chanteuse Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen, sings in post-punk gothic band The March Violets, and writes fascinating poems and, more recently, novels too.
You’d think she must be so busy, that one of her diverse talents would have to give. But no, Rosie reassured her audience on Sunday, that although now writing novels too, her other professions would not suffer.
“I’m not being a jack of all trades and a master of none,” she told us, “I am diversifying.”
The readings took place in the incredible Historic Reading Room, its high ceilings and sense of Victorian grandeur making it a hugely apt venue for one of the final events of the Gothic Festival.
“I’m a Goth icon,” Rosie announced to the audience, “apparently.”
Although aware that her material appeals directly to a Gothic audience, Rosie appeared to be uneasy about consciously defining herself as a ‘Goth’. She explained that she knew she was different when she was growing up; when she realised she didn’t fit in with the ‘normal world,’ but didn’t immediately realise that this meant she was a Goth.
In terms of literature, Rosie knew she wanted to venture down a darker path after reading Edgar Allen Poe’s work, “It was thrilling and exciting, but not terrifying.” And Rosie wanted terrifying. One of her first poems The Lights Go Out reflects this feeling of indifference to normality and fascination with the Gothic. Rosie graced the audience with an enchanting performance of it.
The audience were also treated to a reading from Garland’s first novel The Palace of Curiosities. The critically acclaimed novel is based on a girl Eve, who is born lion-like, covered head to toe in hair, and Abel, a boy who has no idea how he has arrived in the world.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey getting weird literature published,” Rosie admitted. But is this ‘weird’ literature, Gothic literature?
“Sort of,” Garland says, “as the two main characters are profoundly different from ‘normal.’” This indifference to normality, a trait she clearly holds dear to the Gothic.
One of Rosie’s main aims in writing the novel was to, “allow the freaks to speak for themselves,” and so she read out two passages that expressed the imaginations of such ‘freaks’, Eve and Abel. Passion exuded the performance of her work, bringing the characters to life. I could almost see Eve up there, pawing gently away at Rosie’s leg as she read.
The final reading was from her latest book, Vixen. Vixen is a tale of superstition and devotion, set around the time of The Black Death. A dark and morbid era, when approximately 50% of Europe’s population died from the plague, thus fitting in neatly with the Gothic. However, the extract she read from the novel, actually received many laughs. It depicted a priest giving a sermon warning the village people that, “the path to hell is up a woman’s skirt.” However, it was with wit and energy that Rosie delivered the piece, bringing humour into her performance.
Why did Rosie want to write about the plague?
“I’m interested in times where the world changes,” she explained, “something that I am also focusing on with my new book.” Members of the audience audibly squealed with delight at the revelation of a new novel, showing just how devoted and passionate her fanbase is about her work.
After the readings, it was time, to everybody’s delight, for cake. The cake was a fantastic creation of a fox lying down in some flowers -a recreation of the cover of her latest novel, Vixen. It was almost a shame to cut into it. Audience members munched on cake, got their books signed and had a chat and photo with Rosie. It was a fitting end, to a hugely entertaining event.
I had indeed loved it, but had Rosie thought it had gone so well? I managed to catch up with her after the signings came to a close.
It was evident how much it meant to her to be performing in John Rylands Library.
“It’s been a dream of mine to perform here,” She told me. Built in the late 1800s under the jurisdiction of Enriqueta Rylands, a passionate woman, “who didn’t fit the mould,” Rosie tells me.
She also spoke excitedly about the other events that she had been to at the Gothic Festival,“I’ve had a great time. It really has been amazing.”
And I couldn’t have agreed more. Rosie passed me her card before I left. I looked at it, ‘Author/ Poet/ Performer’, it read, followed by her details. Not many business cards would show such diversity, and what a wonder it was to have a performer at the Gothic Festival with such a multitude of talents.
Ruth Cornish is UniLife Editor in her third year studying English and Creative Writing, she likes Christina Rosetti and Daley Blind. Follow her on Instagram @remilycolec