Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Author Study: V.C. Andrews




Imagine a large house in Portsmouth, Virginia. It is late and the lights are out but for one inside a bedroom. Inside that bedroom a woman sits up in bed, a typewriter on her knee. The woman pounds furiously away on the typewriter, the tapping of each key echoing through the bedroom. The woman is middle aged and the wheelchair by the side of her bed is evidence enough that she may have some limitations. However, this woman would rather you not discuss her age thank you very much, and the presence of a wheelchair does not mean that she cannot walk at all.
From another bedroom, the woman’s mother snores gently. The woman smiles. The subjects discussed in her current manuscript are not that she would to share with her mother. Greed, rape and incest are hardly topics fit for the breakfast table.
At the end of the night, forty more pages of her manuscript, a gothic novel titled The Obsessed, are complete. In a few weeks, this writer will send her manuscript away to an agent. The agent will successfully sell the novel to a publishing house. Within months, the manuscript will be heavily edited, making it even more shocking than what the author had originally intended. An unusual cover, with a keyhole and a stepback image of four beautiful, innocent children being haunted in an attic by an old man is designed. The book has been retitled, rumours are circulating that it is based on a true story and within two weeks of its release it has reached the New York Times best-seller list. The author is V.C. Andrews, the book is Flowers in the Attic. The rest is history …

Each V.C. Andrews novel appears to be a gothic inspired fairytale, featuring a young protagonist on the cusp of adulthood whose innocence is soon lost in the wake of terrible family secrets, evil grandmothers and perhaps the odd betrayal or two. The characters live in a world that is similar to ours, but is not quite like ours. In this world, every piece of good luck will always be countered by bad luck, sisters should rarely be trusted and any wealthy couple who volunteers to care for the young protagonist will inevitably have a hidden agenda. Incest, greed and child abuse are common themes. The Dollonganger series opens with twelve-year-old Cathy who lives a happy, sheltered life in a small American town with her loving family. Her safe, happy world comes to an abrupt end when her beloved father dies unexpectedly and her mother takes the children to live with their rich grandparents who they have never met. Moments after arriving at Foxworth Hall, the children are locked in an attic, where they stay for the next three years while their mother remarries and plots with the grandmother to poison them. Did I mention that Cathy not only falls in love with her older brother, Christopher, but the pair then discover that their mother had married her uncle? Over the course of the five book series, the three surviving children escape, Cathy becomes a ballerina, falls in love with a much older doctor (who keeps a pickled, grossly deformed foetus on his desk that may or may not been from a miscarriage Cathy experienced shortly after escaping the attic,) has an affair with her mother’s second husband, marries her brother and moves into the house next door to her mother and eventually returns to Foxworth Hall, where she dies alone in the attic. The end. Oh, and the whole thing is rumoured to be based on a true story. Great literature? Hmm. A whomping good read? Absolutely.
Some of the plot twists may seem implausible in our world, but fit perfectly into the one depicted by the author. The family sagas, (Dollanganger, Casteel,) reflect the old biblical notion that the sins of one generation will impact on the next generation and even the third and fourth generations. Even the covers, often dark and featuring a keyhole and a step-back picture of the beautiful young heroine surrounded by her loved ones and tormentors, add to the dark feeling of the novel.
Since the publication of Flowers in the Attic in 1979, V.C. Andrews has enjoyed a successful career as a horror/gothic romance writer. Before her death in 1986 she would publish six more bestsellers, three sequels to Flowers in the Attic, a stand alone novel My Sweet Audrina (1982) and the first two volumes of the Casteel series, Heaven and Dark Angel. Nearly all of these novels would reach the much-coveted number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List. The books were phenomenally successful across the globe, particularly in Germany, where both the English versions and German translations are readily available.
In the twenty-five years following Andrews’ death, more than sixty books baring the authors name would arrive in bookstores across the globe and would reach the New York Times Best Seller Lists, the final three books in the Casteel series – Fallen Hearts (1988), Gates of Paradise (1989) and Web of Dreams (1990) – as well as Garden of Shadows (1987) a prequel to Flowers in the Attic. Andrews was said to have left behind a considerable amount of unpublished work, which helped to explain why novels continued to be released after her death. However, it was not until Dawn the first book in the Cutler series was released in 1990 that the Andrews family revealed that they had been working with a ‘carefully selected author’ to finish the novels in the Casteel series and to write new books, inspired by Andrews genius. It is now common knowledge that the ghost-writer is Andrew Neiderman, a horror writer most famous for his novel, The Devil’s Advocate, a strange tale of some satanic goings on at a US law firm, which was later made into a feature film staring Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt. Neiderman receives no credit inside the books for his work. The copyright to the novels is owned by the V.C. Andrews trust.
The original themes of family secrets and a fairytale gone wrong remain, though recent releases such as Daughters of Darkness are quite different from the novels written by Andrews thirty years ago. The reviews of the later novels are mixed at best, with many fans complaining about the lack of family sagas and the fact that the novels are often marketed by the publisher as being by the same author as Flowers in the Attic. In January 2012, the official V.C. Andrews facebook page announced that there will be several new releases over the next few years, including Capturing Angels, which will only be released in eBook format. (You can read more about that and my feelings on the issue here.) 

If you are interested in learning more about V.C. Andrews and her work, I highly recommend the Complete V.C. Andrews website, the longest running V.C. Andrews fan site on the internet.