‘The Two Rosies: Life as a Goth Icon’ – John Rylands Library, Manchester. Sunday 26th October, 12pm – 1pm.
By Neil Harrison
“To my thinking, Manchester has always had a Gothic heart,” says Rosie Garland, aka Rosie Lugosi: Vampire Queen. High praise indeed for the original city of satanic mills, ahead of this weekend’s Gothic Manchester Festival.
“The word ‘excitement’ doesn’t do justice to how I feel about reading at John Rylands Library. Quite simply, it is one of the most stunning buildings in Manchester, if not the UK. It’s been a dream of mine to read there for a long time.”
As the event’s title suggests, there is no easy way to describe Rosie Garland. Known to fans around the world as a singer with resurgent post-punk Goth band The March Violets (the band toured their album Made Glorious to packed venues along the east coast of the USA this year) and to many others as Goth-Cabaret performer Rosie Lugosi, more recently, Rosie has been accruing yet more followers as an award winning and critically acclaimed author. So perhaps ‘Two Rosies’ doesn’t quite do her justice?
“I don’t see the different things I do as being compartmentalised, I’m just diversifying what I do. I don’t really see that there’s any difference between the Twisted Cabaret of Rosie Lugosi, which is very camp and funny, and Rosie Garland the literary novelist. They both have the same message at heart. The same goes for the performance poetry that I do, the short stories that I write, the conference presentations, the writing workshops or when I sing in The March Violets.
“For me, it’s a diversification of the creative energy and drive that I’ve got. The things I do are all very different, but they feed into each other and make up a whole. I mean, I love Thai food but I wouldn’t want to eat it for breakfast, dinner and tea, seven days a week.”
She makes a good point. Her contribution to the Gothic Manchester Festival will primarily be drawn from her two novels, The Palace of Curiosities and Vixen, however. “Although, I’m sure I’ll slip in a poem or two and I’ll be talking about some of the things I’ve learned from more years in show business than I care to reveal!” says Rosie, before explaining why the books are perfect for the festival.
“The first novel I had published, The Palace of Curiosities, is more obviously Gothic. It’s set in a Victorian circus and deals with a young woman who is visually very different because she is covered in hair. It’s about her journey towards self-acceptance.
“My second novel, Vixen, on the other hand, originally I didn’t think was Gothic at all. But others seem to think so. It’s set in an isolated community in the South West of England at around the time the plague first came to the UK in the 1350s. It’s almost like even when I’m not endeavouring to write Gothic, it just happens.”
It is abundantly clear when meeting Rosie that, in fact, the Gothic Manchester Festival is perfect for her. The unifying thread which intersects her many and various guises is the Goth theme. But just why has it had such an influence on her life and career?
“I think Gothic appeals to those people who feel thrust out from the mainstream. Being drawn to the Gothic is something that happened so far back in time, for me, that I don’t really remember it starting. I’ve tried to make sense of it since and I’ve done that by looking at my own personal background and my own sense of difference.
“I think I have always been drawn to stuff that exists on the edges, either by design or through circumstance. I’m sure that feeling resonated within me because I was on the edges myself. I was adopted. I always knew I was adopted, my parents were very sensible. But I also always knew that our family wasn’t like other families. I always felt wanted, but I knew I wasn’t like the other kids at school. I did go through phases of feeling like an alien – or feeling alienated.
“I didn’t necessarily associate it at the time with ‘Gothic,’ as such, but I grew up with a very keen sense of difference, of being an outsider. It was who I was and I didn’t find it terrifying. I realised when I was very little that, actually, difference is okay. That stood me in good stead for a lot of things later on.
“When I started reading I was drawn to speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy as a young child. It was through reading that one of my first Gothic experiences, if you want to call it that, occurred. One of my aunts married a G.I. and went to live in the United States. She used to send over books for us kids to read and one year she sent over the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. I was 9 and I distinctly remember reading The Pit and the Pendulum. It wasn’t so much that I’d never read anything like it before, it was like a light bulb went on. It felt like this was what I was always meant to read.
“I tried so hard to be normal when I was younger. I even got engaged to a very nice man who wanted us to go and live on a hill somewhere in Devon. I tried very hard to have the life my parents wanted for me, which was to be settled and get a job as a nice teacher in a nice country school and raise dogs.
“I managed that for about a year and a half. Eventually, I was really close to having a nervous breakdown. It’s just not me. I knew I was trying to force myself into a mould that I knew instinctively was wrong but I was trying to please other people.”
One thing is for certain: the dark worlds of Gothic music, performance and literature would have been a much duller place over the years had that young woman not eventually discovered the real Rosie Garland. Whoever that may be…
For more information on The Gothic Manchester Festival 2014 please visit www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/gothicmmu
Vixen is available in Hardback, ebook and audio now, published by Harper Collins.
Neil Harrison is Editor in Chief at Humanity Hallows. He is in his final year studying History at Manchester Metropolitan University, follow Neil on Twitter @looseriver