Authors you’re too old to read at 34 (part 2)
Virginia Andrews

I Love Books has been tossing around the notion of re-reading, reflecting changes of taste and how the reader’s judgement alters throughout the years. In the middle of the discussion, in swept the 80’s gothic fiction writer, Virginia Andrews (latterly marketed as VC Andrews for reasons I’ll explain). Forthright opinions followed, an impression of slight shame emerged. These, apparently were books of their time, relegated to charity shops once teenage turned to twenties.

When I was a 15 year old casual, I liked nothing better than to read Virginia Andrews as I poured Slush Puppies down my Pringle jumper. Even the hard kids at school couldn’t resist and would read a quick chapter between fights. Flowers in the Attic was the catalyst, followed by several sequels, a prequel and a fairly successful movie. You knew what you were getting with Virginia; families with skeletons in every closet and a final third of twists and spins. And of course, incest. Let’s cut to the chase, nearly every story contained some inter-sibling sex. And she didn’t shun the descriptive side. This wasn’t Jane Austen sex, all he brushed her arm and nine months later Abigail was born, but the real thing, albeit with a gothic touch; all manhoods and exhilarating sensations.

I reread Flowers just last week. And in retrospect, I wish I left it where it lay (on the shelf in my teenage bedroom, by the Altered Images poster). The phrasing is odd to say the least, Good Golly Day! being a common expression of surprise. Several characters are no more than cardboard cut-outs and the children speak well beyond their years.

The fascinating thing to throw in the mix is Virginia herself. Every year another book is released, embossed cover, entwined roses, aunt shagging storyline. Virginia herself would be amused. She died in 1986. Subsequent books have been carefully worded, “based on the original drafts” became “sourced from the original plotline” as the years passed and Virginia’s death proved no barrier to further publication. The truth came out eventually, step forward horror fiction writer Andrew Neiderman. A bloke! Authorised by the Andrews estate to “continue the story-telling genius of VC Andrews”.

I watched a girl reading the latest VC Andrews cliffhanger on the bus the other day, pupils wide, fully absorbed. It was titled Willow of Fate or somesuch. She glanced up as the bus braked and looked bewildered, then bundled her book into a bag and begged the driver to let her off; her stop, I guess, some distance back. He refused (correctly, as we were clinging to a busy roundabout) and she left in a huff at the next stop. I watched her disappear back down the road, reading as she walked.