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I don’t normally find myself lost in Hyde Park in the dark, but currently I seem to get lost prior to every literary event I attend. It’s a kind of warm-up, I suppose. Last night was no exception, my wayward sense of direction sending me down shadowy avenues and gloomy pathways to eventually reach my destination: The Hyde Park Macabre. I was glad to see light glimmering faintly on the water outside the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen, the venue for this spook-themed event. I was gladder too when I realised how precisely perfect a venue the Litro Live team had picked.
That perfection was thanks in no small part to the darkness outside, which gave the Bar and Kitchen an atmosphere of isolation. London might exist outside those windows, but so might the wilderness or the woods. The Hyde Park Macabre had only itself for company, although as company went it was damned fine. The literary and musical line-up took the off-kilter and the eerie for its inspiration, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it was all trick and no treat. Together the artists who read or performed demonstrated that there is a strengthening appetite for work that engages our sense of the supernatural. China Miéville read a piece from his upcoming novel which expertly turned the mythology of Ancient Egyptian servant-statues and golems into an exploration of liberty and slavery. Kevin Jackson, in conversation, discussed recent developments in the field of vampirism. It was refreshing to hear a studied critique of the likes of the Twilight series that didn’t resort to easy cynicism. Jackson likened Twilight to Pride and Prejudice with fangs (an interpretation that sparked the interesting tangent of vampires versus zombies versus Austen) and eruditely demonstrated how subjects previously confined to the genre-fiction shelves are beginning to creep (stalk and pounce) into the mainstream.
If I had to pick a highlight it would be Bryan Talbot’s slideshow detailing the influences for his graphic novel Grandville. This is a comic about personified animals (with guns, steampunk and a dash of Arthur Conan Doyle). Talbot showed how this kind of characterisation has evolved during the course of more than a century, from The Wind in the Willows to Art Spielgman’s Maus, via countless more obscure examples in between. I’d never before have thought of the likes of Rupert Bear and Peter Rabbit as part of a wide-ranging tradition, but Talbot proved it so. I devoured Grandville on the train home, like a hungry wolf in man’s clothing.
The Hyde Park Macabre was as delightful a celebration of Halloween as could be hoped for. If this October the 31st you get bored of sticking your head in a bucket full of water and apples, I’d urge you to instead pick one of the writers from the Litro line up and stick your head between the pages of their work. It’s given me enough food for thought to carry me well into November.
Oh, and congratulations to Sir Christopher Lee. A very appropriate knighthood at this time of year.