Defining the Seaside Gothic
Is it any surprise that living beside the sea has ignited within me a fascination with the gothic? Just the other day, a storm blew in that raged so hard, the widows of our house were streaked with salt. That storm threw waves across Portobello's promenade, broke one of the spiny groynes that stretch out into the sea, and shifted a massive pile of black seaweed onto the beach.
The Figgate burn, a small river that tumbles through Edinburgh and eventually meets the sea at Portobello, was slightly diverted due to a busted sewage pipe. The pile of seaweed remained unshifted due to the diverted burn, and more than usual sand and shells were thrown on the promenade nearby. It's a testament to the sea's fickle nature.
One small change, one storm, one shifted thing can alter the landscape dramatically. For over a week, the piles of black seaweed rotted and stank. Gulls and the scruffy, tough sea crows notorious to Porty appeared in droves, shrieking as they snatched welks from among the weeds and slammed them down onto the promenade bricks to get at their soft insides. Eventually, the council came out with a bulldozer to plow through the seaweed and discard it. Now, the burn has returned to this usual flow, and the seaweed is manageable, though the crows are still there, cracking open any shells they can find.
This story reminds me of the gothic, which is all about the edges of things, liminal places filled with uncertainty. The gothic isn't just about old manor houses or ghosts. We can take the gothic and move it outside onto the shore, where it feels quite at home.
Mist over the water, storms that dredge up dead things, funfairs that have seen better days. My current novel in progress has, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a gothic story set along the coast. I call this genre 'Seaside Gothic'. It's a term I'll be exploring in more (academic) depth in 2022. My paper 'Taking the Gothic Outside and Onto the Coast: Defining the Seaside Gothic in British Fiction ' will be included in the programme for the Once and Future Fantasies Conference held in Glasgow next summer.
Angie Spoto is an American fiction writer and poet living in Edinburgh. In 2020, she completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Her doctoral thesis was a fantasy novel, called The Grief Nurse, and a collection of essays on grief, madness and language. The Grief Nurse has been shortlisted for the First Novel Prize 2021 and The Bridge Awards Emerging Writer Award in 2020. Angie is represented by Robbie Guillory from Underline Literary Agency.