Things that go bump in the night: the inspiration behind John Harding's gothic novel

An extract read by John Harding from his haunting gothic novel, Florence and Giles, followed by the inspiration behind the book.


Florence and Giles was inspired by Henry James’s classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, about a governess and two children. Benjamin Britten made an opera of the story and it was on my way home from seeing this that I began to think about how we only see things from the point of the governess and to wonder what the children’s perspective might be. I soon decided that I didn’t want to rewrite James’s tale, but to use it as a springboard for my own story, starting with a similar situation with the action relayed to us by Florence, one of the children. The book also has its origins in classics that I first encountered as a young child via BBC TV serial adaptations. Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden in particular made a huge impression on me when I was around six or seven. In the former, the parts of the book that I loved were when Jane was a small child and locked in the terrifying ‘Red Room’ by her aunt, and later, at Thornfield, when she hears strange noises at night, and the swish of a woman’s skirts in the dark in her room. I wanted this part of the book to go on for ever and for me, it falls away after we stop wandering ghostly night-time corridors. There was the same fascination in The Secret Garden, again with mysterious noises during the night and the plucky heroine wandering around on her own in the dark. Once more I wanted this to go on and on. I think Florence and Giles gratifies this desire. It’s a book where the mystery, the concealment from adults, the midnight corridors, never stops. I guess you could say it’s the book I always wanted to read.

John Harding

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