R.A Smith now shares with us his thoughts on Vampires, including how they relate to the infamous ‘Inverse Ninja rule’… Take it away, Russ…
R.A Smith at the Labyrinth Literary Festival
So, vampires then.
I’ve actually been hoping to get on this little tour for some time. Which, if you’ve been reading any of my published works, you might find a little odd, as I haven’t had anything published about vampires at all. I suppose before I start, it might be an idea then, for me to let you into two or three little secrets of mine.
– I am a big fan of vampires
Well, by now you’ve read my first post, and so will know that. I was big on the Hammer films, but have had the likes of The Lost Boys, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, the exceptional Near Dark and the wonderfully amusing John Carpenter’s Vampires to keep me going on screen. By book, I think we’re spoilt for choice.
– My first NaNoWriMo win was a vampire story.
It is not ready for public consumption at the moment. Far from it. But there are a few ideas in there I like, some I really like. Rest assured, when I’m happy to unleash it upon the world, it will be because I’ve reached a truly happy place with the manuscript.
– I’m afraid of vampires— though not in the way that you might think. I’m afraid of writing them. More to the point, I’m afraid of writing them badly. Here’s the thing. These bloodsuckers are such an ubiquitous part of our lives now that it’s getting harder and harder to write something truly new and cool with them. But to write them, you have to get to know them. How they work. Where and what to look for.
They hide in the shadows, they own the night. Occasionally, they change into beasts, rarer times see them shift into fog, and of late, some are even capable of becoming a golden glitter. Were it that Dracula found himself capable of such an alteration, then perhaps Van Helsing would have never stood a chance against something so devastatingly dazzling.
Where vampires haven’t changed much at all is that they live off us humans, deliberately, or by necessity. That’s not like a small squad of leeches (who, it must also be pointed out, have lent their medical qualities to us over some centuries for a small food parcel from time to time). That’s not like being caught out swimming with hungry sharks, when you might just happen to be around and they decide you’re worth a nibble. Nope—often, you’re the main course, and won’t be able to just walk the other way from the big, vicious beast roaming your backyard. These days, a vampire will appear just as one of your neighbours, leaving you unaware you’re in any danger at all until the last minute.
Perhaps the greatest change that has happened over the time has not just been the look, or the style, it’s been the attitude. Though vampires have been in mythologies worldwide in many different flavours for a long time now, the 19th century saw a massive rise in popularity by way of the Gothic novel. There, we had the likes of The Monk, Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and of course, the original Prince of Darkness himself brought to us by Bram Stoker: Dracula. These were solitary creatures, a mighty monster in the shadows usually somewhere around a nice quiet village or an otherwise ordinary existence. They would come along and turn an idyllic, or more likely dreary, set of lives on their head, often fatally for some.
Back in the day of the gothic novel, there’d be some notice, in that a discerning villager would know where to look—or more specifically, where to never, ever go. “Oh, that castle up the top of the hill, you don’t wanna go there,” they would fruitlessly attempt to warn the latest newcomer to their residence which no outsider had previously ever visited. Naturally, said tourist couldn’t help but rush headlong into the mystery of the cursed/oppressive ruling noble, and thus be thrust into the centre of a likely perilous adventure.
Now, these tourists had a rather frequent habit of landing a few villagers in even bigger bother than normal, whilst dragging some of their own friends, family and lovers on to the vampiric silver platter (no, wait—not silver; in quite a few imaginings, silver ranges from inconvenient to terminal for vampires. Let’s just go with dinner table, shall we?), which tends to end in pitchforks and torches, possibly stake for a main course for the vampire and a bunch of villagers safe from being preyed upon by an ancient terror.
No doubt down to this frequent occurrence, vampires often moved away from the village model and went for a less conspicuous approach of just blending into a big city. With the increase in population, the advent of nightclubs and the presence of corporate head offices, it’s possible to cram in quite a few bloodsuckers these days, and often in a way that makes them much less literal, and more metaphorical. And so from the creeping horror we had back in the days of the gothic novel, and even quite often bypassing horror, we have now moved into keeping young adults entertained, as they experience the vampire in a whole new context of creepy.
Along the way as well, vampires have joined many other supernatural creatures in finding their way into urban fantasy, which is where I tend to live. Believe it or not, it turns out that some of the denizens of the night aren’t happy with their lot, even if they are vampires themselves, or half vampires, a lot of the time (don’t ask). They won’t be tourists, because this is their city, dammit, but it’s rare our (anti)hero will be at top of the vampire tree. A change in theme then, from mysterious monstrosity in the shadows to an attempt to change, or destroy, the system from within.
And in here lies one of the first great constants. Your lives are never quite going to be the same with even one vampire around.* The reasons are varied, the choices are few. And like it or not, they’re fascinating creatures, sometimes in an involuntary sense. The thing is, human beings are rather accustomed, in nature’s hierarchy, to being at the apex of the food chain. We have technology on our side, even in what we believe to be the most primitive of civilisations by our thinking. We can make fire, store water, manipulate air and mine the earth. We have hundreds of languages and many methods to ease communication. And we can replicate just about anything else Mother Nature is likely to throw at us in one method or other. And if we can’t, you can bet your car keys that someone is working on it as we speak.
I guess what I’m saying to you is this: if your boss *really* doesn’t do mornings, someone accidentally splashes you with quite a lot of water just to check if you do anything other than curse them (another poor choice of words) or a club or pub you rock up to has a suspiciously high quantity of mirrors, there is a chance of vampiric activity in your very town! But don’t worry—they’ll keep to themselves. If you do decide to check into some local history though, do tell me. I’d be keen to know if you turn up anything I might need to know about…
*There is a Law of Diminishing Vampires, which leads me to consider they may have more in common with ninjas than they let on. One alone is usually some master type and tough as nails, but if they turn up in a mob, a team of suitably experienced and determined (not to mention appropriately armed) mortals should be able to handle themselves as their relative strength is frequently diluted.
Russell is a displaced Londoner, now living in Manchester, and is writing in the hope of funding his car addiction. He lives with his girlfriend, two kittens, a small army of bears and two larger armies of miniatures.
An avid gamer, he is happy mashing buttons on a Playstation pad but happier mashing his mates in a field at weekends or slaying demons with dice, a pencil and paper.
He has held an eclectic collection of jobs, including editing a student magazine, several stints as a Tudor soldier and a mission in Moscow. He still does hold a Masters in Creative Writing, which he took to force himself to finish at least one novel. The plan worked better than expected.
Feel free to stop by on Twitter: @RASmithPSL or the blog site projectshadowlondon.wordpress.com. There’s also the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Mister.R.A.Smith.