The objects in the Writers Museum, in Edinburgh, that inspired me to write this Gothic tale concern Robert Burns. The plaster cast of Robert Burns skull inspired me to come up with the tale – after all is there nothing more Gothic than a dead man’s skull? Two other items also influenced the tale and they were the painting of Burn’s Funeral Procession in Dumfries and the newspaper article detailing the death of the poet. The article was the front page spread and main headline which shows how influential Burn’s poetry was. Furthermore, the painting depicted the street lined with crowds of people as Burn’s coffin paraded by which reiterates how popular and adored Robert Burns was and indeed still is. I must mention here that my tale is also inspired by Edgar Allen’s Gothic short story, The Tell Tale Heart.
The tale concerns a fictional poet called, Trevor Burk, who is particularly unsuccessful with his poetry. Trevor Burk comes from a working class background similar to Robert Burns and works on a farm with his father in Yorkshire. He dreams of selling poetry to rich aristocrats and newspapers but sadly no one is interested in his dreadful poetry. Burk decides to travel to Edinburgh, in a fruitless attempt at fame and success. Whilst in Edinburgh he hears about a poet called Robert Burns and hears many stories about his poems and songs. From this moment on Burk makes Burns his enemy and the two become rivals in Burk’s eyes.
Burk travels to Dumfries to meet his rival face to face. At this time Burns has been requested by the music publisher George Thompson to contribute to his book. Envious of Burns popularity, Burk violently murders Burns in his sleep. He hides the body under the floorboards of a Tavern and travels back to England armed with Burn’s poetry.
Once, in London Burk poses as Burns, hoping that no one will recognise the Scotsman in England. It just so happens that Burn’s legendary status as a great poet has travelled down to England although no one knows what the poet looks like so they unknowingly mistake Burk for Burns. Burk lives of Burns royalties for months but his state of mind deteriorates rapidly through guilt of his crime. He starts to unravel when demands grow for more songs and poems which Burk cannot write. Burk often has wild and disturbing nightmares of the skull buried under the floorboards. One night Burk, driven insane by the skull, kills himself.
There is a national outcry when it is discovered that the legendary poet has died. In Dumfries, Burns hometown, there is a huge funeral parade for Burns with Burks body in the coffin. Years later, however, the real body and skull of Robert Burns is found in the Tavern and the coffin is opened in Dumfries. It is discovered that Burk is not Burns and that the nation has not mourned the death of their national poet but the murderer instead!
Below is an excerpt of my tale if I was to write it in full. This is at the point of Trevor Burks suicide. Having gone insane, he is haunted by visions of his awful crime and Burns himself.
“Trevor Burk was sweating. His pallor was pale and white and his limbs had lost all life. In front of him he could see the great man himself. Was he the devil? He did not know. Great, marble eyes stared back at him out of the shadows. They were locked onto him and the more Trevor blinked the closer and wilder they got. He wanted it to stop but it would not. His head was now spinning and he had to reach a shaky arm out towards the table to balance himself. What sort of witchcraft was this?
And the blood. There was so much blood. The thick, sticky crimson droplets were falling from the darkness onto the floorboards. It was raining blood. Trevor flailed hysterically like a madman, swishing his arms back and forth and covering his head to stop it falling on him. Sheets of paper floated wistfully from the air soaked in the red liquid. Trevor could not read them due to the sheer amount of sheets falling around him. There were verses like poems on each sheet. A single crumpled piece fell into his outstretched fingers. A blotch of dark red spread from the corner of the paper, the blotch stopped at the words ‘A Red, Red, Rose’.
Suddenly, a soul shattering cry seeped out of Trevor’s mouth and he sunk to his knees with a crash.
‘Why do you do this to me? Oh forgive me of my sins. Forgive me my brother. I pray you, stop this madness. I am sorry for all that I have done. I only wanted to be loved. I only wanted a shred of your success. I am unworthy of living under such pretence. I am unworthy of taking such a name. I am no Robert Burns. Oh forgive me, what have I done?’”