Three weeks ago I started writing just for the fun of it. Writing has always been a relaxing thing for me, a good way to quiet the mind and just let the words go from the brain, through the fingers and the keyboard, to the page. I did it as a kid, when I was learning to type on my mother’s Olivetti Lettera 32, and for a long time it’s been a way to get away from it all for a moment.
So I started writing, and for starters there were just two things – a piece of diary-like writing about an out-of-work actress/dancer looking for a job, any job, and an old dark house. That, and the idea that this would be a ghost story.
But Old dark house is, of course, shorthand for a certain genre of story, that is not exactly a supernatural ghost story – think The Cat and the Canary or, indeed, the old movie called… The Old Dark House…
Old dark house movies are what someone calls proto-slashers – you get a labyrinthine venue, a bunch of characters and an obscure menace. Characters get offed one by one.
In terms of old pulp fiction, weird menace/shudder pulps is where the old dark house stands – the strange genre in which strange monsters and madmen stalked the protagonists just because.
So, as I was writing those first pages, I thought I might do a weird menace ghost story – but then I remembered reading Rayne Hall’s excellent guide to Gothic Romance – Writing Gothic Fiction.
Now I have always wanted to write a gothic story – you know, one of those paperbacks with a Robert McGinnis cover with a young woman in a nightie, her boobage somewhat in display, running from an old dark house and whatever it is that scared the hell out of her. And as this that I was doing was, by all means, a game, a time-waster… why not try and do something different, and write a genre I never wrote before?
Then I might try and publish it – maybe with a silly nom-de-plume.
I dunno, Vulnavia De Wynter, or something like that.
It would be fun.
So, as the word-count increased, I steered the story towards the basic tropes of Gothic Romance. Poor lone young woman in an old dark house, confronted with eccentric people, an old curse, old legends, boobs…
The lot, set somewhere along a rocky sea-coast … Cornwall, or Oregon, or Maine.
In the 1950s.
Nice and smooth.
But then, as I was putting the pieces together, and complaining about the research, I found myself talking with my friend Lucy, about how certainly the proto-slasher of the Old Dark House and the nightie-clad young ladies of the Gothic collide into slasher proper at the end of the ’70s. A genre, I have to admit, I am not overly fond of.
But of course, the crucible in which the two main ingredients become one has to be the Italian Giallo. Indeed, you can take any major Gothic plot and filter it through an early ’70s lens, and you’ll get one from Mario Bava, or a young Dario Argento.
And so I thought, what would happen, were I to update the 5000-words or so I had at that moment, moving the action in Italy, and the time-frame up two decades?
I saved a copy of the original file, and then edited it to put in the new stuff – different colors, different sounds, a different way in which the characters talk and move…
Well, it works just fine.
And turns out that, for all practical purposes, and in a first draft, Gothic novels and Giallo are basically the same thing – you just change the time frame, make the sex and the killings a lot more explicit, and you’re set.
And as soon as I set all the dials to the correct tuning, the story started going like a Japanese bullet train. And the words rapidly became 10.000, and they keep going.
So here I am – and I am still writing this as a way to have fun and find distraction from the many problems of this autumn – and now eyeing a 45.000 words target for the first draft and a 60.000 words target for the final draft.
As I said, nice and smooth.
The story is set in the mid ’70s, in the countryside outside Rome, in a grand villa built by members of the Papal State aristocracy in the 17th century, and currently the summer resort of a rich playboy, the last heir of the family – forty-something, darkly handsome and subtly sinister prince Giordano Maria Galimberti. The lakeside palace comes complete with Italian gardens, its own graveyard, wine cellars and everything else.
But wait… did I say last heir?
That’s not correct – there is a poor relation, a cousin, Eleonora, that now comes to stay in the villa together with her two daughters: leggy, bitchy, scantly-clad nineteen years old Linda (a young Barbara Bouchet?), and “weird” adolescent rock-chick Martina, that listens to KISS.
They will stay in the house for the last weeks of summer, together with the current governess, forty-something miss Bruni, who’s cold and hostile (because you have to have Florinda Bolkan in there somewhere). She’s the only one that spends normally the night in the villa – all other servants leave before sunfall.
Because the villa is haunted, of course – by the unquiet soul of Elisa, who died mysteriously in the mid 19th century, and is said to still walk the corridors of the house, and does not like intruders.
And yes, before this story is over, people will die in the most graphic way – and there will be a party with cheap pseudo-prog music, and sex and nudity (not necessarily in that order), and a dark figure stalking the corridors. A room full of old dolls, a whole wing of the building closed and with furniture under white sheets. Lots of cigarettes and polyester. And a black cat.
And I’ll publish it. I won’t make it for Halloween – because I have a long list of beta readers that will have a go at it first – but I promise you’ll have the opportunity to read it.
Sure, I still need a title, and a cover.
But it’s going to be a lot of fun.