What makes a good Gothic fiction story?

Moon Chapel – Blog #020 of the 156 “Pretty Faces” book cover challenge and book review.

This is book #093 on the list of 156 books that Gardner Francis Fox wrote between 1953 to 1986. This is the twenty-seventh book I scratched out a cover for.

Genre: Gothic fiction and suspense

A fabulous fortune would be hers if she unraveled the mystery of her own past.

Moon Chapel Gothic romance fiction Lynna Cooper Gardner F Fox scratchboart art

The original back cover description:

The lonely grandeur of Greytowers castle, the hatred of her supposed relatives, the madwoman wandering amid the gravestones—all: this was Elizabeth Gifford’s inheritance—should she prove the granddaughter of wealthy old Sir Richard.

But the tyrannical Sir Richard had not yet chosen an heir. He played with his relatives as a cat would play with a mouse before devouring it. And then again, he had no answer to the question: Just who was Elizabeth Gifford? Because there were two of them…

Mr. Fox wrote Moon Chapel in 1973 under the pseudonym Lynna Cooper. He wrote five Gothic books under this pseudonym. This is the first one he wrote.

Here’s a list of all five Gothic Romance Novels that were written by Mr. Fox as Lynna Cooper:
Moon Chapel
Brittany Stones
Stark Island
Folly House
Hour of the Harp

What makes a good Gothic fiction story?

There’s a template that Mr. Fox used to write his Gothic novels. He wasn’t the only one to use this template. The template goes like this. Young woman, probably around eighteen years old, is left alone by the death of her father. Her mother would have died when she was really young, like five years old.

Without any means of taking care of herself some divine intervention comes about and she is employed as a companion/care-giver to some old family or woman.

There will be a handsome young man, the son or brother of the family she is employed by. This young man will become her love interest, but she will fight the urges.

There will be an evil force that will be out to get her. The evil-doers will have some attachment to an ancient cult. The cult will be supernatural in base.

Then there is the treasure. Somewhere on the land or in the house, there will be a great treasure to be found and with it and with her love interest she will live happily-ever-after.

The story will be written in a first person narrative like you were reading her diary. The backdrop of the story will take place in a monochromatic area like England, Ireland or Scotland.

So why would anyone read a story when they already know what’s going to happen?

The pulps and paperbacks of the 20th century were all written under some sort of formula. They were there to take the reader on an adventure.

Gothic fiction was no different. Steeped in Victorian Gothic 19th century Penny Dreadfuls, these cheap sensational stories were throwaways to be enjoyed on a whim or to just kill time. And these penny dreadful stories were originally inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Therefore setting up the Gothic fiction formula.

Penny Dreadful Victorian book cover for Varney the Vampire or the Beast of Blood

Here’s the opener of the first chapter of Moon Chapel. Mr. Fox sets us up very quickly. The protagonist already having arrived in the shadow of Greytowers.

The wind was cold across the fens, ruffling the tops of the reeds and sedge; it was a soft voice whispering in my ears as the shallow boat slid silently over the brackish waters. I sat huddled in the prow of the punt, arms about my knees, staring ahead of me at the infinitude of fronds that formed this corner of the world I was moving through, in which the boatman and I were the only living things, other than the waterfowl.

I was thoroughly miserable. The wind was biting in this springtime of the year; it cut through the worn fabric of my cloth coat, bringing goosebumps to my flesh, warning me of the trials and pitfalls that lay ahead of me at the house called Greytowers. I had been shivering all day long, what with my fears and fancies, and the chill of these fenlands did nothing to cheer me. I was out of place, here. I had nothing in common with this England where I traveled; I was an American more used to the snows and gales of the little Massachusetts town from which I had come at the summons of an elderly landowner named Richard Guyfford who claimed to be my grandfather.

And so I brooded, chin on hands, leaning forward to stare with unseeing eyes at the brackish waters, at the peat beds here and there, at the limestone hills in the far distance and the forests that coated them. My grandfather! The mere idea of anyone being my grandfather was numbing in itself. All my life I had known only one relative, my father. My mother was dead; father had told me so. And he never spoke of any other family.

Of course, I knew father was an Englishman. From time to time, perhaps in front of a fire in the hearth on a cold and blustery winter’s night, he would talk of the Lincolnshire where he had been born and raised, and had fallen in love and been married. What had happened after that, why he had run away with me, he never mentioned despite my pleas and teasings to be told. His face would grow sad, his memories would be in his eyes, locked away in his brain, but his tongue would never speak of them.

Short weeks ago, a letter had come from a London law firm, Gillespie and Jackman of Temple Bar, stating that after a long search, they believed me to be the long-lost granddaughter of Sir Richard Guyfford of Greytowers, Lincolnshire. There was a check enclosed, which was to pay my way by ocean liner and railroad train from Wellington Station to the little station at Wainfleet. A car would be waiting for me, to whisk me off to meet this man who claimed to be the father of my own father.

I went, without really believing all that was said in that letter. I had just finished my nursing course, I was waiting for an assignment in a Holyoke hospital, and I looked on what had happened as a summons to a great adventure.

The wind grew colder. I shivered.

The entire original scanned copy of Moon Chapel is available on Mr. Fox’s official website to be read online.

The protagonist, Elizabeth Gilford is a well-written character. I told my wife the other day, that I think being married has softened me up a bit because every one of Mr. Fox’s romance novels I read I end up really enjoying it.

Maybe it’s a combination of getting older, being married, Mr. Fox’s writing and the fact that I’ve never read a romance novel until I started transcribing for The Library.

I will admit that I was coming to romance novels, especially Gothic ones with a pre-judged notion. I expected that the story was going to be written heavy with a sentiment. That the plot was going to be too flat and obvious.

Mr. Fox had a style to his writing. I feel like he also enjoyed writing historical fiction the most out of all of the genres he wrote for. He had an obsessive desire to know as much as he could find on a historical subject and used it all in the story.

But more importantly, he wrote female characters with a lot of dimensions. They always stand on their own. When faced upon any odds they think on their feet and more in an almost sense of grandeur through the situation.

The ending still runs with the times, where the man steps in at the last second and with his physical strength saves the day.

Many times in a story, no matter what the genre, Mr. Fox will split the main character in two. That is the main character will actually be a man and a woman. They don’t reflect so much that one will be the brains and the other the brawns. The couple will share in function as both the brains and brawns, but each only having to maintain half of the responsibilities.

I think Mr. Fox got this from Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan is nothing without Jane. John Carter is nothing without Dejah Thoris.

Since the five Gothic stories Mr. Fox wrote are the only Gothic romance stories I’ve read, I have to say that what makes a good Gothic fiction is the mystery and suspense. There must be some sort of puzzle to be solved in the plot. This puzzle will be solved ultimately, but the journey along the way will have many twists and turns.

I recommend starting with Moon Chapel if you want to get a taste for Mr. Fox’s flavor for Gothic fiction.

original fronat and back covers of Moon Chapel Lynna Cooper Gardner F Fox

Originally published in 1973 by Beagle Books
The cover Artist: Uncredited illustrator
I digitally transcribed this book with Douglas Vaughan in 2019.

The cover is one of those classic 70s Gothic romance book cover designs. Like the story, the cover had to be created based on a template. There must be a frightened young woman running away from the ominous old house or castle in the middle of the night. One of these days I’m going to do my own version of this theme.

Here’s a snippet of a review written by Dean Cummings for Moon Chapel on Goodreads.com. He also gave the book 5-Stars.

“Page nine had just crossed to page ten and already I felt myself completely captured by the delectable mood and vibrant atmosphere of this story.”

I couldn’t agree more with Dean. You can read all of Dean’s Moon Chapel review here.

My original Scratchboard Art

I create the cover illustrations to size. I work on 6 x 6 black Ampersand Scratchboard. The book covers are 6 x 9, which leaves 3 inches for text. I want a clean “Penguin Books” look and feel to the covers. I’m using the “Pretty Faces” motif to keep a unified look and feel to the whole library. The back cover has an image of the original cover design, the date it was originally printed, and the original story description.

I used this photo reference of a Deviantart stock model named Jinialia.

photo reference of beautiful Gothic redheaded lady in the dark woods

While searching for inspiration on Deviantart I came across this photo reference and was struck by its Gothic feel. She has such a pretty face. The photo itself is so well done that it could have done the job on its own. I would like to do a large full-color version based on the reference in the near future.

Here’s a short video I put together of me working on the scratchboard process.

I have had many positive comments about the new “Pretty Faces” covers. I feel pretty confident I will be able to accomplish all 156 book covers, that I’ve challenged myself to do, as well as transcribe and review for The Library.

I suggest you join my Newsletter to get notifications of when I’ve posted a new blog entry.

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If you’d like to own a digital or a paperback copy of Moon Chapel, you can order eBooks Here and Reprints Here.

I will not be working on books in the order as Mr. Fox wrote them. I am doing the book cover designs and reviews based on when the transcribers who are assisting me, finish one. As they complete a book, it will be the newest release, so it will get a new book cover design and review.

Thank you for stopping by and finding out more about what I’m doing. You can also see all of the books that have been transcribed so far by visiting The Gardner Francis Fox Library’s official website.


Kurt Brugel
Custodian & Illustrator

I am a huge fan of all things retro! I love reading the old pulps and paperbacks. I also love to re-create art from this era of old. My website www.kurtbrugel.com is packed full of my art and if you also enjoy retro era art and books please stop by and check my work out.