Monday, January 16, 2017

Mary Shelley and the Ghost of Frankenstein

Just in case you wondered what I've been up to, this blog should give you a very strong hint:

And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart . . . Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley and the Ghost of Frankenstein's Monster

It is nearly two hundred years since the 1818 publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but the nameless creature that would make her name famous continues to haunt our dreams to this day. (In the novel, Victor Frankenstein is the doctor; his monster is never given a name.) It is as surprising to us as it was to the public back then that one of the most terrifying stories every penned sprang from the imagination of a eighteen year old girl. But although Frankenstein brought Mary Shelley a degree of wealth and fame, it also seemed to unleash a curse that haunted Mary throughout her life.

                                                          Portrait of a young Mary Shelley

The Year Without a Summer

Mary’s early years were stained by scandal. At age 17, she eloped with the ethereal (and frequently histrionic) poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Accompanied by her sister, Claire Claremont, the three fled England for Europe trailing a comet’s tail of angry parents, public disapproval, and disgruntled creditors. The English public was outraged because Percy was a married man who had abandoned his young wife and child. Living like penniless vagabonds, the three traipsed across the Continent dodging bills and sleeping where they could. Sadly, it was a pattern that would be repeated for many years.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

The three absconded to Switzerland, where they met up with Lord Byron, the most notorious romantic poet of the age. The publication of Byron’s first book of cantos Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, had brought the aristocrat instant fame and made him the toast of Regency London. With his good looks and scandalous reputation for love affairs (with both men and women, and his half-sister) Byron became the Regency equivalent of a rock star, most famously described by his one-time lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, as “Mad Bad, and Dangerous to know.”

Lord Byron, "Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know"

Accompanied by his personal physician, Dr. John Polidori, Byron rented the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Lucerne. Despite being in one of the most romantic and idyllic landscapes in the world, 1816 was known as the “year without a summer,” as the volcano at Mount Tambora erupted, hurling tons of dust into the atmosphere and darkening the world’s skies to a degree that crops failed in Europe and North America, causing famine. On the rare occasions of fine weather, Byron and Shelley sailed together on the lake; however, on most days incessant rain and violent storms confined the party to the villa’s gloomy rooms. Here, before a roaring fire, they would talk long into the night, reading poetry and indulging in deep philosophical discussions about social justice, atheism and other forbidden topics. 

The Villa Diodati

Lord Byron’s Challenge

It was on one such night that marked the nativity of Mary Shelley’s undying monster. Byron was fond of reading from a book of German ghost stories, and on this occasion he threw down a challenge, suggesting that each member of their cadre (Shelley, Byron, Claire, and Polidori) should attempt to write a ghost tale. Percy Shelley was the first to abandon the challenge, complaining that he was a poet and not a prose writer. Byron also scribbled something but soon expressed dissatisfaction with his effort and abandoned the project. Polidori wrote a story about a lady who peeked upon something forbidden and was punished by having her head turned into a skull. Although the others made fun of the story, Polidori’s second attempt, The Vampyre, is generally acknowledged as the progenitor of the modern vampire story.

Dr. John Polidori

Mary Shelley remained uninspired for several days, but on an night of apocalyptic thunderstorms she awakened from a dream in which she glimpsed a vision of a darkened garrette and a doctor of medicine who had fashioned a man sewn together from corpses stolen from a charnel house. Brought to life by the workings of “a dread engine” (although the book is filled with electrical allusions, she was coy about the actual creative mechanism), the creature stirs, the yellow eyes peel open, and the doctor flees in terror from is own creation. But abandoning his unnatural child invokes a curse that will follow Victor Frankenstein so where he flees, bringing death, destruction and tragedy. Given Mary Shelley’s tormented life, it could be argued that the author of Frankenstein became a victim of the same curse.

Later Portrait of Mary Shelley

A life of Turmoil

The author’s life began tragically, with the loss of her own mother who died just three weeks after giving birth. Over the years, the toll of tragedy would mount and Mary suffered from terrible depression at the loss of so many friends and family. Mary’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned after recklessly taking out a sailboat during a storm. He would later be cremated on the beach and for the rest of her life Mary would carry around his heart in a silk bag. (Percy Bysshe Shelley’s heart, calcified from an early bout with tuberculosis, failed to burn.) Mary would suffer the loss of three children either in birth or by disease in childhood. During one such pregnancy she haemorrhaged and only Percy Shelley’s insistence that she staunch the bleeding by sitting in a bath of ice water saved her life.  Shelley’s first wife, Harriet Westbrook, famously drowned herself in Hyde Park’s Serpentine River. Mary’s maternal half-sister took an overdose of laudanum. Byron would die of fever while fighting with the Greeks against the Ottoman Turks, and Dr. John William Polidori, crushed by depression and gambling debts, swallowed a fatal dose of Prussic Acid.

Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster

Even in later life, Mary was dogged by scandal. On three occasions she was blackmailed by male acquaintances who threatened to compromise her by publishing intimate letters she had sent to them. As if that was not suffering enough, Mary’s final years were marred by headaches and paralysis from a brain tumour that finally took her life at age 53.

Robert Deniro as the monster

The Ghost of Frankenstein

Despite her tragic life, Mary Shelley is celebrated today as one of the great innovators in literature. Frankenstein was arguably the first science fiction novel and has inspired countless television and movie versions and left an indelible mark upon the human psyche. 
Boris Karloff, Arguably the most famous Frankenstein's monster of all

Friday, October 21, 2016

Night Owl Suspense Give Five Star Review to The Angel of Highgate

Does reading suspense novels keep you up late at night? Yes? Have we got a web site for you. Night Owl Suspense reads and reviews the latest and greatest titles in suspense/thriller genres.

Recently they gave The Angel of Highgate their highest rating, 5 Stars, and named the novel a "Top Pick."

You can read the very well review on their website by clicking the link below:

Night Owl Suspense Review

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Angel of Highgate is one of six shortlisted titles for the Dracula Society's Children of the Night Award

The London based Dracula Society recently released the shortlist for its Children of the Night Award, which is given each year for the best gothic novel.

I'm pleased and proud to announce that The Angel of Highgate is one of six nominated novels! Winner to be announced some time in September Yipppeeee! And as they say, "it's an honour just to be nominated."

Here below is the shortlist as published in the Dracula Society's monthly newsletter. Some very big names in there, such as David Mitchell, author of The Bone Clocks and Sky Atlas!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dracula has shortlisted me!

Well, okay, not Dracula per se, but a very kind lady recently Tweeted to let me know that The Angel of Highgate has been shortlisted for The Dracula Society's Children of the Night Award.

The COFTN award is given annually to the previous years best novel employing aspects of the gothic. As they say at the Oscars, it's an honour just to be nominated, especially when you hear some of the names of authors who won the award or were shortlisted:

Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Sara Waters, Kim Newman, and so on. Talk about being in some stellar company!

Needless to say, I recently joined The Dracula Society and will be releasing updates as soon as I hear more. The shortlisted authors were announced in a recent copy of the society's journal and are not yet up on the website, but you can check out the London-based society and the COFTN award at their website:

The Dracula Society website:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What is your literary wisdom IQ? Five stars!

The website Literary Wisdom recently posted a review of The Angel of Highgate and it was an absolute five star corker!

Now and then you run into a review who absolutely "gets" what the book is about and that is the case in this instance book reviewer Lauren (a Scots lassie) was sucked into the book from the very opening.

In fact, she was so taken with the novel we ended up doing an author interview together that you read directly after her review:

Literary Wisdom interview with Vaughn Entwistle

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A "Fun and intense book": Web Site SF Reader Reviews The Angel of Highgate

SF Reader review Jack Primus gave The Angel of Highgate a solid 4 1/2 star review. His only reservations were the lack of solid supernatural underpinnings to the novel. It is an observation I soundly agree with, for I wrote the novel to be open-ended (especially the ending) so that a reader could decided for his or her self whether the supernatural elements were real or imagined by the protagonist, the louche Lord Geoffrey Thraxton.

Mister Primus' excellent review can be in full at:

SF Reader review of The Angel of Highgate

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Rising Shadows' Review of The Revenant of Thraxton Hall

Even though the Revenant of Thraxton Hall has been out for more than a year now, it is still managing to generate terrific reviews, including this one from the largest sic-fi and fantasy site, Rising Shadows. The reviewer, Sirgil of Rhiminee, had recently reviewed my latest now, The Angel of Highgate and pronounced it "one of the best Victorian novels of the year."

The reviewer expressed interest in seeing what else i had written, and then shortly after this killer review of the Revenant appeared on their site.  It's a long and well-thought out review, which makes it all the more sweet for me.

You can read their terrific review here:

Rising Shadow's review of Vaughn Entwistle's The Revenant of Thraxton Hall