Saturday, May 19, 2012

In the Gothic Tradition: a guest blog by Sara Foster

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's no secret we Reds have a fondness for Gothic. Whenever we talk books-we-have-loved, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is always on the list, along with any assortment of other novels featuring Young Governesses In Peril, Lonely Houses Perched on High Cliffs, and Mysterious Brooding Masters. (I'm tempted to make an argument here that 50 Shades of Gray cut such a wide swath because it appeals to a gothic-starved audience. I'll leave it to you, dear readers, to hash that conceit out in the comments section.)

You can imagine my reaction, then, when I got a copy of Sara Foster's Beneath the Shadows (which you will be able to read starting June 5th!) Beneath the Shadows wasn't a parody, it wasn't an ironic reimagining - it was the genuine article, a classic gothic updated to a believably modern tale. It was not surprising when I discovered Sara was already a bestseller in her adopted homeland, Australia.

Is there a cold wind creaking the ancient oaks outside? Do you hear a mysterious howling out on the moor? Pour yourself a pot of tea and let Sara tell you how it all began...

I didn’t set out to write a gothic novel. The seed for Beneath the Shadows was my vivid imagining of a vulnerable woman called Grace, who is utterly alone, undone by the mysterious circumstances of her husband’s disappearance, and trapped by her own fears and uncertainties. Only as I began sketching out the details of the story did it become clear it was a gothic suspense. By that time, many of the elements were already present: a woman in distress, threatened by her surroundings; dark symbols and disturbing local legends; and a touch of romance. 


I shouldn’t have been surprised. My favourite writers as a teenager were the Brontes and Daphne du Maurier, who could pull me into their spine-tingling stories of love and loss so completely that I would sometimes be part of them in my dreams. Du Maurier’s classic Rebecca even wound its way into Beneath the Shadows. My character Grace reads it and is absorbed, just as I was, while her external life occasionally touches on or parallels the second Mrs de Winter’s.

For a truly gothic story, you need a fabulous, foreboding setting. My knowledge of the North Yorkshire moors was a gift given by my in-laws, whose cottage is not dissimilar to Hawthorn Cottage in Beneath the Shadows. They introduced me to this stark and beautiful landscape, and by the time I had learned many of the old stories and symbols, I had an abundance of material I could use. The hardest part was deciding what to leave out.

However, despite these traditional gothic allusions, Beneath the Shadows is also intended to be a thoroughly modern tale of a woman ensnared in shifting circumstances. Grace is caught between the past and the future; the city and the country; modern and traditional life; the safety of the familiar and the courage required to face the unknown. On top of it all, she must confront supernatural as well as psychological explanations of everything taking place around her. In gothic literature, the fortunes of female protagonists can be varied, and the stories I love most are not only concerned with thrills, but also highlight the determination of these women in extremis. These heroines might be pushed to the edge by fear and intimidation, but they also find ways to confront and move past their fears, however insurmountable, to ultimately set themselves free.

Intrigued? You can find out more about Sara Foster and her books at her website. You can also read her blog, follow her on Twitter as @SaraJFoster and friend her on Facebook. Sara also writes for Holiday Goddess, one of the most popular woman-oriented travel sites on the web. All you pack-a-bag-and-go gals need to check it out!


  1. Welcome to Jungle Red, Sara. I can't wait to read this book.
    I love a good Gothic and in fact Gothic must be in the air right now as the latest book in my Molly Murphy series takes place at a brooding mansion with a face in the turret window. I just thought it would be fun to write that sort of book.

  2. Welcome, Sara! I think perhaps we're seeing the beginnings of a new surge of popularity for Gothic and historical novels. I hope so, at any rate. BENEATH THE SHADOWS sound absolutely fascinating. I'll have to order it. Best of luck!!

  3. Hi Sara--Can't wait to read your book--and it comes out on my birthday! I grew up reading Gothic romantic suspense. Loved Mary Stewart's books, and Elizabeth Peter's back in the day when she wrote those sorts of books.

    And I love the Yorkshire moors, and the plot premise--oh, and your cover! All in all, I think this book is meant for me...

  4. Sara, can't wait for Beneath the Shadows to release! Doesn't it come out in early June? Red Julia Spencer-Fleming calls it... "a moody, modern Gothic for today's generation....keeps you guessing right up until the last atmospheric page and establishes Foster as a new master of the psychological suspense genre.”

    But what Reds would MOST like to the origin of the term "Sandgropers" Can you enlighten us?

    Readers bear in mind that, thanks to Reds pinpoint timing and organizational skills, it is now approx. 3:48 AM in Perth, so we expect comments from Sara a BIT later, after her cup of tea ;)

  5. Oooh, can feel the chills already. I will order your book.I cut my teeth on Gothics, and I think they speak to something very basic in us. Especially the determined heroine.

  6. Excellent trailer. I'm looking forward to this book.

  7. Hello everyone from a sunny morning in Perth Western Australia! Thank you so much for your warm welcome.
    Rhys - your book sounds wonderful, I agree that writing gothic is a lot of fun!
    Linda - I certainly hope that the gothic is coming back! I'd love to try my hand at an historical novel someday.
    Deb - Happy birthday! I too loved reading gothic romance/suspense when younger - in fact you're inspiring me to find some more. And I feel very lucky to have such a fantastic cover.
    Jungle Reds - the book is out June 5th, and Julia's quote is absolutely fantastic, isn't it! As for sandgropers, it's a little burrowing insect - unfortunately! However, the term became popular because when the first Europeans arrived in Western Australia in the nineteenth century, the whole place was a huge sandpit!
    Lil - I agree, gothics are very powerful because they address our deepest fears.
    And Anonymous - thank you - I really hope you enjoy it.

  8. Once again I thank you for introducing me to a new to me author. I have put this book on my request list at the Library.
    Welcome Sara Foster. Dee

  9. Thanks Dee - hope you enjoy the story!