I was at the Sirens convention in Denver last year, sitting on a sofa and talking about my all-Gothic-novels-all-the-time project. Rachel Manija Brown spoke up, with a conspiratorial smile on her face.
RACHEL: Have you read anything by Isabelle Holland?
SARAH: Oh yes. Yes I have had that experience. Yes.
I am going to tell you guys about TRELAWNY by Isabelle Holland.
TRELAWNY was published in 1974, so it is one of the MODERN GOTHICS, and it is (and I use these words advisedly, as a Professional Writer and an amateur reader of all the things) totally cray cray. It belongs to the period of a few years when I believe everyone writing Gothics all decided at once that they could get away with ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING. Personally I blame Virginia Andrews? I’m not saying my case would hold up in court, but Virginia Andrews has a shifty look about her.
TRELAWNY is also set in America, which is a modern Gothic thing. The Gothics stretch out to incorporate the New World! ‘Guys,’ said America. ‘We can have manors and people being inappropriate with their relatives TOO. Hello we keep women in attics all the time? Please read Charlotte Gilman’s THE YELLOW WALLPAPER? Pass us a slice of the Gothic action.’
A lot of the modern Gothic is set in the South, and it is known, with brilliant originality, as Southern Gothic. Which is a big favourite of mine! But TRELAWNY is set in Maine, which I also enjoy because the vampire city Justine Larbalestier and I created in TEAM HUMAN is set in Maine. I like Maine! Mysterious things go on in Maine.
And in TRELAWNY, oh boy, they do.
So let’s proceed with the story of the most hilarious twins in literature. Because of course, a Gothic novel is nothing without its Gothic family.
STATE TROOPER: Ma’am I hate to ask but are you brutally murdering someone in the back seat of your car?
KIT TRELAWNY: That’s just my cat. She’s slightly Siamese. Since we’re talking, could you direct me to Poop Manor?
STATE TROOPER: …. Ma’am?
KIT: Uh. I mean, Trelawny. A huge mansion that used to belong to my snotty aunt, who despised my dying lower class mother, and my hotass but assfaced twin cousins Giles and Nicholas. My mother and I left the mansion never to return and I have built my life as a college graduate and successful book editor to show them I didn’t need them and spit upon them! And now they’re all dead and I get the mansion.
STATE TROOPER: I’m very happy for you.
KIT: I’m going to turn it into an artists’ colony. That will show my aunt! Take that, Trelawny assfaces!
STATE TROOPER: So you’re giving up your home, life and successful career in order to upset your dead aunt?
KIT: That’s correct, yes.
STATE TROOPER: Just take a left turn at ‘Emotionally Unhealthy Decisions’ and you’ll get there in no time!
KIT: Almost there…
DR BILL: Why hello, Miss Trelawny, welcome to town! I’m the local doctor. Let me know if you need any help at all. Going out on the town. Staying in with smooth jazz playing. Anything.
KIT: I’m not here to date, I am here to spit upon the graves of the Trelawnys. Them and their charmed lives!
DR BILL: Aren’t they all dead?
KIT: So what?
DR BILL: The twins both died in Vietnam, and their mother died all alone, and their house is basically cursed, and there is a long ancestral tradition of Trelawnys hanging themselves from a particular rafter…
KIT: I don’t take your point.
DR BILL: I’m just saying I wouldn’t describe it as the ideal life.
KIT: You don’t understand. Giles and Nicholas Trelawny were so hot. I mean they were so, so hot. Hot like burning. Hot like fire. So hot they made the eruption of active volcanoes seem kind of luke-warm.
DR BILL: Giles and Nick could probably have made it as underwear models, it’s true.
KIT: Everybody knows that people with perfect bone structure have perfect lives.
DR BILL: You know, I’m just a doctor. I’m not a psychiatrist. But I have the numbers of some good psychiatrists.
KIT: My aunt was mean to me! I said my cousins weren’t that alike and she said they were identical and I had a stupid face!
DR BILL: Identical twins are usually pretty alike,
KIT: And my Cousin ‘Hottest Relative Ever’ Nicholas was also mean to me! And my Cousin ‘Also Super Foxy’ Giles saved me from drowning and from a runaway horse!
DR BILL: That doesn’t sound too bad to me…
KIT: He saved my life twice in a very superior manner, and I am still mad. Now excuse me, I have a lot of plotting for revenge against dead people to do.
DR BILL: …. Call me!
SIMON THE CARETAKER: Hello Miss Trelawny. You look so like the Trelawnys.
KIT: No I don’t. I am blond and they were tall and dark and so, so burningly fine…
SIMON THE CARETAKER: Ahem.
KIT: And I hated them so burningly much! Anyway, thanks for caretaking the place, Simon, you’re a pal.
SIMON THE CARETAKER: I just wanted you to know that if you hear anything in the attics, it’s rats. Large, possibly radioactive rats.
SIMON THE CARETAKER: It might sound like a person up in the attics, but it’s definitely the rats. They behave erratically because they all have rabies. And they’re mutants. Rabid mutants.
KIT: Jesus! It sounds like we should do something about the rats.
SIMON THE CARETAKER: Oh no, no, I wouldn’t bother about a little thing like that. Best just not to go up there. But if you hear anything in the attics, remember: totally the rats. Definitely the rats. In conclusion: rats.
KIT: … This strikes me as irresponsible caretaking. Oh well. So is Simon your first name, or your last name, or what do I call you?
SIMON THE CARETAKER: Just Simon. Like Madonna.
KIT: Time to welcome my artist colony! Good day, Unpleasant Frank!
UNPLEASANT FRANK: ‘Sup.
KIT: Unpleasant Frank’s Bullied Girlfriend Tess, a pleasure.
BULLIED TESS: ‘Scuse me, I gotta take Frank’s heavy art supplies upstairs.
KIT: My freeloading cousin, Jeremy!
FREELOADING JEREMY: Just point me to the family silver and I’ll be out from under your feet in one minute.
KIT: My cousins from my mother’s side of the family are so much less hot. Welcome, Pogs the amiable aristocrat artist!
POGS: Please put me in the worst room! I don’t want to be a bother! I like to make pottery and apologise mainly!
KIT: Excellent. And Rod, Pogs’s dull love interest.
ROD: I am composing a sonnet. What rhymes with ‘Pogs’?
KIT: You are very welcome too.
PETE THE HANDYMAN: Did someone ring?
KIT: Oh yes. I keep hearing these weird noises in the attic…
PETE: That’ll be the rats. Nothing to worry about! Best not to check, though. The rats will bite your face right off!
KIT: But that’s nothing to worry about.
KIT: I’ve found a secret door up in the attics and I want you to unlock it.
PETE: … Touching the door of the rats will anger the rats.
KIT: Do the rats own this house? Are the rats aliens from Planet Rodentia with death rays?
PETE: That depends. If I say yes, will you keep the rat door closed?
KIT: If you do not open this door I will kill you with a hammer.
PETE: All right. I will unlock the door but you have to promise not to go in there!
KIT: … This is my house.
PETE: It’s rat territory in there.
KIT: I hear footsteps up in the attic!
PETE: It’s an echo. Or the rats.
KIT: Are the rats up there wearing BOOTS?
PETE: Do not question the rats.
KIT: My cat has gone missing. To the attics! She’s probably after the rats. I must go save her from the mutant rats! Here kitty, kitty, kitty…
NOT THE CAT BUT THE DUDE LIVING IN THE ATTIC: Hey.
KIT: Well, I guess in retrospect the rat story was a little thin. Excuse me for one moment. Ahhhhhh ahhhhhh a dude has come back from the dead and is lurking creepily in my attic ahhhhhh ahhhhh ahhhh! Okay, better now.
DUDE LIVING IN THE ATTIC: Cool. ’Sup?
KIT: Despite the fact I never thought you twins were that alike, I can’t tell whether you’re Cousin ‘Hottest Relative Ever’ Nicholas or Cousin ‘Also Super Foxy’ Giles. Which is it?
DUDE LIVING IN THE ATTIC: … Nicholas?
KIT: Hi, Nicholas!
OBVIOUSLY GILES: Hey, baby.
KIT: Ew, you’re all covered in scars.
OBVIOUSLY GILES: That would be from the war I was involved in, Little Miss Insensitive.
KIT: Oh the war where you made broadcasts saying you’d switched sides? You are a traitor!
OBVIOUSLY GILES: No no no. That was… totally Giles. And I am… totally Nicholas.
KIT: So why are you hiding up in the attic if you’re innocent?
OBVIOUSLY GILES: Oh silly me, did I forget to mention that I am wanted for murder?
KIT: … Who did you murder?
OBVIOUSLY GILES: Uh, Giles’s fiancée. But it wasn’t me who murdered her! It was totally Giles. And I am totally Nicholas.
KIT: And you expect me to just believe all this?
OBVIOUSLY GILES: Yes indeed, because I have no proof at all! I am the most innocent and most frequently accused man in America.
KIT: … I’m going back to bed.
KIT: You know I’m feeling in an inexplicably bad mood about men today! Unpleasant Frank’s Bullied Girlfriend Tess, you shouldn’t let Frank bully you!
BULLIED TESS: HDU FRANK IS A PRINCE AMONG MEN.
KIT: Sometimes he talks to you impolitely.
BULLIED TESS: I am going to tip rat poison into your stew!
KIT: …. Sure. That’s a reasonable response.
KIT: … And now I’m in a bad mood about all of humanity.
KIT: Nicholas! I remember you teasing me as a child!
TOTALLY GILES: … Yes, that was totally me. But honestly with all the murder and treachery, it’d slipped my mind.
KIT: You were so mean! You stole the blankets in the airing cupboard! You stole a deck chair! And you laughed at me when I was twelve!
TOTALLY GILES: I’m all eaten up inside.
KIT: You are a mean person who is just being mean! *cries*
TOTALLY GILES: … Seriously?
KIT: Shut up you are a poopface!
TOTALLY GILES: But seriously, this is what you’re upset about? Don’t you think that’s a little immature?
KIT: I’ll have you know, MISTER POOPY, that I’m VERY mature.
TOTALLY GILES: … I see that.
KIT: YOU’RE immature. Yeah, that’s right. I – I am rubber *weeps* and you – *blub, blub* are glue and it bounces offa me and – and-
TOTALLY GILES: There there little lady. You’re overwrought. Let Totally Nicholas make it all better.
KIT: Come to me, convict traitor murderer cousin LOVAH!
KIT: Wait I’ve changed my mind I hate you again!
TOTALLY GILES: Too bad, I am going to force a kiss on you!
KIT: You’re lucky I’m too mad about being teased when I was twelve to make a fuss about being physically assaulted.
TOTALLY GILES: I have a fever!
KIT: I will nurse you!
TOTALLY GILES: … Someone tried to poison me!
KIT: Are you telling me all that hurt and also comfort was plot relevant?
DR BILL: Hi Kit I just wanted to come by Kit and tell you that you’re good-looking Kit and I find you attractive Kit and I want to take you out Kit!
KIT: Somewhere in public and not up to the attics? Seems odd…
DR BILL: I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so come out in public with me and let me buy you flowers and dinner and compliment your hair and generally be respectful and admiring… maybe?
KIT: Does this dude know he’s in a Gothic novel? His behavior is most peculiar.
KIT: Dr Bill took me out on a date and told me that either you or your twin fathered the surly fourteen year old girl who works at the grocer’s! Explain yourself!
TOTALLY GILES: … That was totally Nicholas. Wait, I mean, I’m Nicholas. It was totally Giles because I’m totally…
KIT: I’m beginning to suspect you’re totally Giles! Actually now I think about it you have different eye colours and don’t look that alike!
TOTALLY GILES: Curse your eerie powers of womanly intuition!
KIT: You fibber.
TOTALLY GILES: Baby, just because I lied to you about my identity doesn’t mean you can’t trust me! Let me explain!
TOTALLY GILES: Okay it’s time for my mysterious Gothic hero’s monologue. See, Nick was always Mom’s favourite.
KIT: You can’t know that. I’m sure she loved you b-
TOTALLY GILES: For Nicholas’s birthday he got a pony and a cake saying ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY FAVOURITE SON (AND SOME OTHER GUY).’
KIT: Carry on.
TOTALLY GILES: She always told everyone we were identical twins. But we’re not!
KIT: You know, that’s true!
TOTALLY GILES: But everyone thought we were because she said so!
KIT: … Is that how that works?
TOTALLY GILES: *sobs* She made me go to war when I wanted to be an architect.
TOTALLY GILES: So anyway with the Trelawnys there is always a good twin… and an evil twin.
KIT: And which are you?
TOTALLY GILES: Totally the good twin! Totally Giles.
TOTALLY GILES: And Mom brought me up to swap places and take the blame if Evil Nicholas ever did anything, you know, evil.
KIT: I guess he was the hottest. *sigh* Evil’s always hotter.
TOTALLY GILES: Evil Nicholas constantly did evil stuff. He was on the heroin. And he’s the father of the sulky fourteen-year-old shopgirl. And he betrayed his country!
KIT: Wait how did you swap places with him when you’re not identical?
TOTALLY GILES: Mother was very convincing.
KIT: So how did you end up swapped when you were overseas?
TOTALLY GILES: Oh Nick was on the heroin with some hos when it was his turn to fly a plane, so I fooled his Commanding Officer and took his place.
KIT: Wait, how did you fool his C.O. when you two weren’t identical and he knew you both and you were both thousands of miles away from your mother and your C.O. had never even met your mother?
TOTALLY GILES: MOTHER WAS VERY CONVINCING, OKAY!
TOTALLY GILES: And then I was taken prisoner under Nick’s name but I escaped and I was a debonair spy for our country and now I am raising cute little mice in your attic! I am both dashing and sensitive and…
KIT: So if you’re Giles, did you murder your fiancée?
TOTALLY GILES: That was also Nicholas. You see Charlotte preferred him and wanted to marry him.
KIT: If Nicholas was killing everyone who thought he was hot the list of his victims would have looked like the CENSUS.
TOTALLY GILES: Charlotte found out that Mom switched us at birth so that Nicholas would be the heir and not me.
KIT: How many times did you two switch places? You are not even identical!
TOTALLY GILES. About eight million times. It was like a game of Pass the Twin around here for years. Anyway, so Charlotte blackmailed Mom so Mom would let her marry Nicholas, so Mom told Nicholas to murder her. So he did!
KIT: But if Nicholas and Charlotte were in love and wanted to get married…
TOTALLY GILES: I KEEP TELLING YOU, MOTHER WAS VERY CONVINCING.
KIT: Just dropping by Dr Bill’s place because he asked me to come by. I wonder what he wants? I wonder who the kids in this picture are? Oh hey, that’s Evil Nicholas and Totally Giles. Boy are they not identical! Different heights! Different features! Totally unmistakably not identical. And huh. Who’s that other kid?
DR BILL: Hey-o.
KIT: Dr Bill I know your dark secret! …. When you were a kid, you USED TO BE… TUBBY!
DR BILL: … Yeah. Aaaaaanyway. Sorry to bother you, but Priscilla’s really ill and I wondered if she could recuperate at your place? Since your place is… a mansion.
KIT: Who is Priscilla?
DR BILL: The surly fourteen-year-old shopgirl.
KIT: Well, hey. I guess she’s family.
DR BILL: Also here’s a thought: let’s get married! Think about it.
PRISCILLA: Thanks for having me, Kit! I want to grow up big and strong and marry Dr Bill.
DR BILL: Shhh, honeybun.
KIT: … That’s weird. Dr Bill’s mouth is saying ‘no’ but his eyes are saying ‘oh baby I love me some fourteen year old shopgirl.’
KIT: Oh well, I don’t want to be judgemental!
PRISCILLA: Do you think I can marry Dr Bill when I turn fifteen?
KIT: While I support your gross forbidden love, baby, in the words of the immortal philosophers the Supremes, you can’t hurry love. You just have to wait. Until you’re legal.
KIT: … Dr Bill’s proposal to me seems a little weird now.
DOORBELL: Ring ring!
KIT: I hope that’s my Amazon delivery and not more distressing Gothic plot!
FREELOADING COUSIN JEREMY: Hey there! Guess why I’m here.
KIT: You’re here to bum food!
FREELOADING COUSIN JEREMY: Normally yes, today no! I was giving your cousin Nicholas a lift here.
KIT: … Oh God I wish it had been an amazon delivery.
SUPER HOT NICHOLAS, EXCEPT STILL TOTALLY GILES, BUT THE BOOK TRICKS YOU BY CALLING HIM NICHOLAS FOR SEVERAL PAGES, WHICH IS A DIRTY TRICK, DON’T LOOK AT ME I’M JUST PARODYING THIS THING, I DIDN’T WRITE IT: ’Sup?
KIT: Oh my God Super Hot Nicholas! You’re still super hot! And I know what that means.
SUPER HOT NICHOLAS, EXCEPT STILL TOTALLY GILES, MYSTERIOUSLY ENHOTTENED: What, sweetcheeks?
KIT: You’re evil! Evil’s always hotter.
SUPER HOT NICHOLAS (EXCEPT TOTALLY GILES): Just because I am carrying a weapon… and asking in a menacing voice where the good twin is…
KIT: Help somebody save me and Giles from this incredibly foxy man!
DR BILL: Dr Bill to the rescue! Wherever a lady is approached by a super hot guy, wherever someone with chiseled cheekbones and a license to thrill draws near a woman… that’s where you’ll find me. The doctor’s in the house.
DR BILL: I’ve knocked him out and now let me take you in my arms and comfort you, sweet Kit!
KIT: Hahahaha no great really good job, doctor, I gotta go upstairs and take a nap! Not up to the attics to warn any cousins. I have just found being threatened by an evil hottie really relaxing and I MUST snooze.
KIT: Giles Giles where are you wake up I—
PRISCILLA THE FOURTEEN YEAR OLD SHOPGIRL: I am just hanging out. From the Ancestral Suicide Rafter.
KIT: I wonder what could make this night any worse?
KIT: *is attacked from behind*
KIT: Thank you for answering that question. Now I shall faint.
DR BILL: Thank goodness you’re awake. Sadly Super Hot Nicholas killed Priscilla.
KIT: Why would he do that? That doesn’t make any sense.
DR BILL: Kit, being able to tell whether things make sense isn’t like you! Come on now. Let’s get married and murder Nicholas and Giles, who always teased me for being fat, and live happily ever after.
KIT: Killing people because they teased you as a child is not a sane move.
DR BILL: Kit, being able to be reasonable about childhood grudges isn’t like you! Don’t let me down here, girl.
SUPER HOT NICHOLAS, EXCEPT TOTALLY GILES: Personally I’m very relieved Kit is being reasonable about this, since she is the heroine of this Gothic novel and I am the hero.
DR BILL: Bang bang! Okay one twin down, one to go! Come on, Kit, it’s TWIN HUNTING SEASON IN MAINE!
SUPER HOT NICHOLAS, EXCEPT TOTALLY GILES: Bang bang! And that has put Dr Bill out of commission.
KIT: I know who you are.
TOTALLY GILES: Yes, darling, I’m Giles!
KIT: … Oh. I thought you were Superman, because a bullet bounced off you.
TOTALLY GILES: … Let’s never speak of this again.
UNPLEASANT FRANK: Hands up evildoers! I am a policeman! Also Bullied Tess is not my girlfriend, she’s a drug addict that I cart about with me to keep her clean. As you do.
KIT: But… you painted a painting!
UNPLEASANT FRANK: I stole that painting from a lunatic asylum!
KIT: Yes. Everything makes sense now.
DR BILL: I want to make a full, detailed and kind of melodramatic confession! I did everything! And I got a ton of people addicted to drugs, including Super Hot Nicholas.
DR BILL: Mostly I hate all the Trelawnys because they are poopheads. But also partly because I was super into Giles and Nicholas’s mom, and she scorned me.
TOTALLY GILES: Ewwwwww!
DR BILL: And then I was super into Priscilla the fourteen year old shopgirl, but I decided to murder her anyway! You see, Priscilla looks a lot like Giles’s mom.
TOTALLY GILES: Ewwwwwww!
DR BILL: I have a lot of very complicated feelings, Giles, there’s no need to be judgmental.
KIT: Officer, please take this sexual deviant away.
DR BILL: Gilesy’s mom has got it going on, she’s all I want and I’ve waited for so long… I know it might be wrong but I’m in love with Gilesy’s mom…
MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL: Good news, Priscilla is alive!
KIT: Oh that is good news.
MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL: Even better news is that Priscilla is a stone cold fox.
KIT: The bad news is that a solid eighty per cent of the men I know in Maine appear to be child molesters.
KIT: Okay, what the hell just happened?
TOTALLY GILES: I pretended to be Nicholas to make Dr Bill distracted and slip up! I suspected he was evil and he’s conveniently confessed everything, including the fact that Nicholas and I are not identical so now I can use my DNA to prove I am the rightful heir and not guilty of all the five thousand crimes Nicholas committed!
KIT: But we already knew you weren’t identical to Nicholas. All we do is talk about the fact you two don’t actually look that alike.
TOTALLY GILES: Shhh, my sweet. This is no time for logic. It is time for love. And if it helps… I’m not attracted to fourteen year olds.
KIT: Come to me, recently vindicated cousin LOVAH!
TOTALLY GILES AND KIT: *cousinly love*
KIT: But how did you pretend to be Nicholas?
TOTALLY GILES: You mean how did I get so hot? Well, contact lenses, concealer, a little mascara… I’ll confess, Kit. I wasn’t born with it. It’s Maybelline.
KIT: No, I mean HOW did you pretend to be NICHOLAS when YOU ARE NOT IDENTICAL TO NICHOLAS? You guys don’t look that alike! Your mother can’t make you switch places from beyond the grave!
TOTALLY GILES: … My mother was very, VERY convincing.
So that was Trelawny, perhaps the weirdest Gothic novel we have so far. It upholds the tradition of the cursed but beauteous manor, the jerk hero, the Evil Family and their Dark Secrets. It also reminded me how many Gothic heroes have scars—and made me think about how different having noticeable scars would be for a kid, rather than a grown up soldier dude.
And then there is the twins factor. There are twins in many a Gothic novel. Twins can be creepy. Twins, as we have learned in TRELAWNY, can be switched, sometimes over and over and over again.
So I thought it would be fun to have twins in UNSPOKEN. They’re identical. (OR ARE THEY?) (No, they are.)