When the volcano, Mount Tamboro, erupted in 1815, great clouds of volcanic ash were sent into the atmosphere, obscuring the sun and causing a global climate anomaly. The extreme temperature drops and increased rainfall had devastating effects on agriculture throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, leading to widespread food scarcity and poverty, and 1816 became known as “The Year without a Summer”.

It was in those trying times, in May 1816, that a group of poets and writers came together in Geneva to create some of the most influential pieces of Gothic literature. Like many of us today, they were cooped up inside, surrounded by terrible world events and unable to enjoy the summer outside. Among them were the poet Percy Shelley, writer Mary Shelley, writer and physician John William Polidori, and poet Lord Byron. 

One night, Lord Byron challenged his companions to write a ghost story, prompted by the dark and gloomy atmosphere. Mary Shelley, only 18 at the time, was inspired by a dream to write a tale of a creature being reanimated which she later developed into the plot of her first novel “Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus”, regarded as one of the first science fiction novels. Meanwhile, John William Polidori wrote a short story titled “The Vampyre”, one of the first vampire stories which later inspired Bram Stoker’s famous horror novel, “Dracula”, in 1897. 

Despite the dreary circumstances, and even without the modern technologies that allow us to access almost unlimited information, entertainment and methods of communication with a click of a button, they were able to use simply their creativity and imagination as a way to escape. It shows that the human desire to create something beautiful or fascinating continues to persist and flourish even among difficult times. 

While I hope 2020 won’t be another “year without summer” and that we’ll be able to go out and enjoy the warm weather at some point, let’s try to make the most of this unique situation. So, if you’re still feeling bored in lockdown, my challenge to you is to write your own ghost story. Who knows, it might even start a new wave of 21st century Gothic literature.