World Book Night

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This Thursday (23rd April) sees the annual World Book Night event explode across the world again. In venues the world over you can pop in to meet with authors, chat about reading or writing, listen to readings and, of course, pick up free copies of one or more of this year’s World Book Night special editions. The aim is to promote reading across the globe so, if you are someone who doesn’t normally go in for that reading lark, why not find an event local to you and give one of the free books a try. There is quite a range of genres to choose from so there is something for every taste and if you are already a reader why not

The Literary Critic from the Skaro Evening News

The Literary Critic from the Skaro Evening News

wander out of our comfort zone and read something new?

As last year, there is an event on at the Fab Café in Manchester which I will be attending along with R.A Smith, Ninfa Hayes and Miriam Khan. This has been organised by the team at Starburst magazine as represented by the wonderful Mr Ed Fortune (who is their Sequential Arts editor). Also, as last year where Frances Hardinge agreed to grace us with her presence, we have a special guest in the form of SF and Fantasy author Tony Ballantyne.

Unlike last year, where we were fashionably late, this event will actually be on the right night (assuming they work out how to set the controls of the TARDIS correctly, that thing is notoriously hard to navigate due to the vagaries of 4 dimensional space) and there is talk of panels and discussions and readings. Obviously the resident critic from the Skaro Evening News (News to Exterminate to) will be in attendance as he was last year to exterminate any who fail his strict critical standards, so authors and attendees had better be on their best behaviour!

So if you happen to find yourself in Manchester City Centre on the night of Thursday 23rd April, 2015 and you fancy some free books why not pop along to 109 Portland Street and head down into the basement. We’ll be there so feel free to say hello!

A day of Yorkshire cosplay

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Security by Skaro Extermination services

Security by Skaro Extermination services

After a very polite (and totally out of the blue) invite from the organisers I trotted ‘oop norf’ to Sheffield for a day at the Yorkshire Cosplay convention at the Magna conference centre. I was accompanied on this trip by Elizabeth Morgan, who you may remember from Vampire Month. Our stated goals were to promote and sell books. Our actual goals included such things as seeing lots of cool Cosplayers and maybe buy some comics.

Luckily, the organisers had guessed our secret agenda and therefore placed us facing the food area where a lot of the Cosplayers were hanging out and right next to a comic stall, the owner of which quickly picked up on Elizabeth’s fangirl thing for Gambit…

stall

You can see the temptation of the Comic stall right next to us…

Regular readers will be aware of my dilemma about dressing for public appearances. For Steampunk it is usually a waistcoat and cravat, for more mundane events a t-shirt and jeans. As this was a Cosplay con, I thought I’d go the whole hog and regency-up in a full tailcoat ensemble and play a character from one of my favourite books – Mr Johnathon Strange from Susanna Clarke’s novel Johnathon Strange and Mr Norrell. I even completed the ensemble with an appropriately titled book of magic (from the list of titles found in the Library at Hurtfew and created by Anachronalia) to make sure everyone was aware of exactly who I was Cosplaying. Not that anyone asked. But then why would they be interested in an unassuming, polite Regency magician when Darth Vader was stalking around with a squad of Stormtroopers, Loki was doing interviews, the Terminator was hamming up a bad Austrian accent, Bumblebee was posing for photos with fans and a great big AT AT was stomping around…

loki interview

Loki does a piece to the camera for his TV show

ATAT

This was one of the most impressive costumes I saw. And yes, it is a costume not a model

darth

Vader making an appearance

stormtrooper

One of Vader’s honour guard

Oh and Elizabeth got her dream and met her hero…

Gambit meets Elizabeth Morgan

Gambit meets Elizabeth Morgan

One advantage of my Cosplaying was I got to go into the dressing room and see the real Cosplayers getting ready. This was an experience. The amount of effort and detail that goes into what even the amateur Cosplayers do is phenomenal and these guys were Pros. A lot of elaborate costume, all home made, along with complicated electronics and props all gave the impression of the dressing room for an actual film set rather than a convention in Yorkshire.

The day included a number of interesting discussions with various people who visited the stall. Conversation veered from women in gaming (Gamergate reared its ugly head a little) to women in fiction and LRP. If nothing else I may have managed to steer one young lady who lives in Cornwall towards contacting my old friends in the Blood Red Roses LRP group. During quiet times we tried to keep a count of the number of different versions of the same characters. There were many Catwomen, several Harley Quinns, a couple of Black Widows but only one Black Cat (amazing how much variety a simple black catsuit can give a female Cosplayer). There is a probably a discussion to be had at some point about the lack of female role models leading to many having to dress as the same few characters but that can wait for a later day. Disappointingly we only saw a few versions of the Doctor (why does no one Cosplay William Hartnell? Has to surely be an option for the older Cosplayer) but did see an excellently well done gender switched 10th Doctor and of course there were a number of Daleks and a TARDIS. There was also an Amy Pond in ‘strippergram police uniform’ and a few Poison Ivy’s. In all some excellent costumes.

It was also International Hug A Wookie day. Maybe...

It was also International Hug A Wookie day. Maybe…

Elizabeth’s stock of badges with quotes from her books went

The 11th Doctor finds time for some comic shopping

The 11th Doctor finds time for some comic shopping

quickly with the common refrain being ‘are you sure they are free?’ and a number of swagpacks and postcards were taken up. I claimed one of the more popular badge choices before they all went.

The planned panel discussion with some of the authors who were present unfortunately had to be cancelled due to lack of interest. Maybe next time we can draw a few more into the panel room…

In all it was a very entertaining if tiring day. Next event for me is the World Book Night at the Fab Café on 23rd April. After that I am in Salford for the Mancster con… more on those in a later post.

D.A Lascelles is the author of Lurking Miscellany, Transitions (Mundania Press) and Gods of the Sea (Pulp Empires). He lives in Manchester UK. You can sometimes see him writing about Zombie porn on https://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com/ but he mostly blogs about books, vampires, science fiction and Terry Pratchett. He is inordinately proud of the fact that one of his Pratchett articles was referenced on the French version of the author’s Wikipedia page.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DaLascelles

Twitter: @areteus

Buy Lurking Miscellany (paperback)

Buy Lurking Miscellany (Kindle)

[Vampire Month] A stake in the heart

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Waiting for Dawn

Well, that is Vampire Month over with for another year. I’d like to extend my thanks to all the talented writers who have contributed to the fun this month and made this the very special event that it always is.

I’d also like to thank Ste and Izzy of Quattrofoto for supplying some of the photos we have showcased this year including the lovely one above of me as a Buffy style Watcher. They do weddings and other special occasions too and promise to only add lightening bolt special effects and demon horns to your wedding memories if you ask them to.

We’ve learned a lot this year. How to date a vampire, why they are so appealing, a little of the history of Vampire literature and why Alex Campbell rarely gets any sleep (because of all the famous vampires knocking on her window). I was going to contribute a post of my own to add to this collection but frankly I’m in awe and would feel out of place amongst such great articles. Also, the evil time goblins stole all my free hours. Oh and I did my Pratchett obituary and revealed how this blog helped stop the vampire apocalypse, so that was sort of my slot anyway.

Vampire month will be back next year. Same Vamp month, same Vamp url. If you want to get involved, feel free to contact me. We accept contributions from any writers, artists or academics with an interest in the topic of vampires. The format rarely changes – an interview and a guest post, spread over the course of a week. Four victims a year, repeat offenders welcome. First four to contact me get the four slots.

Also get in touch if you want to make suggestions about how to make Vampire month even more awesome than it already is. Suggestions for article topics feedback on posts… anything you want to talk about. You can email me on: dalascelles-writing@yahoo.co.uk, leave a comment below or find me on Facebook or twitter

I’m still waiting for Ann Rice, Rachel Caine or Bram Stoker to get in touch… Though Stoker is proving very difficult to contact for some reason. He doesn’t even seem to have a Twitter account…

[Vampire Month] The Vampires of my life by A.J Campbell

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For her guest post, Alex gives us this quirky little play… Spot the not so subtle political metaphor for bonus points…

Scene: A bedroom, at night. Long white curtains billow at a casement window. Three redhaircandles, in a tall wrought-iron stand gutter threateningly in the draft. Our protagonist lies, in a gauzy nightgown, on the high four-poster bed. Suddenly, she awakens to a rapping at the window.  

Protagonist: Who’s there? What is it? [Through the window enters a small, scruffy boy, ghostly pale with small fangs poking over his bottom lip.]

Boy: Muahahaha! I am here to suck your blood!

Protagonist: What? Who the… Oh, it’s you.

Boy: [Strikes a pose] Yes! ‘Tis I. The nightmare of your childhood! The creature who gave you sleepless moonlit hours and began your life-long fascination with the denizens of the night!

Protagonist: You’re The Littlest Vampire, aren’t you? When did you learn a word like “denizens”?

LV: Ah… you remember me!

Protagonist: Yes, I remember you. I remember hiding your book as far away from me as possible in my room so you wouldn’t crawl out of the pages and nibble on me in my sleep. I was still in junior school at the time though.

LV: [Looks pleased with himself] And since then? Do I still terrify you?

Protagonist: Are you kidding me? I used to think that sleeping with a scarf on would stop you being able to get to my neck. You were a good first introduction to the genre, but the only thing making you scary was the fact that I was a bit too young when someone gave me your book to read.

LV: [Subsides, crestfallen] Oh.

Protagonist: Go on. Go home before it gets light.

[The Littlest Vampire exits, and our protagonist settles back down to sleep, but is soon awakened once more by a knocking at the window.]

Protagonist: Littlest Vampire? I thought I told you to go home.

Sultry Voice from Outside: “Littlest” Vampire?

[At the window, David Boreanaz appears, doing his best to smoulder.]

Protagonist: Oh my… What are you doing out there?

DB: I can’t come in unless you invite me.

Protagonist: Oh yes… I remember that little bit. That’s about the first thing that stopped me being quite so terrified of Vamps. The idea that they couldn’t get at me unless I let them in. Problematic idea, really, tallying with notions of victim-blaming and bad things only happening to bad people. But it’s very much a case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, only able to be countered with a lot more knowledge. Like the time we did the Black Death in school, and I had nightmares for weeks until Mum told me about Penicillin.

DB: So…

Protagonist: Oh no, you’re not getting an invite. You can stay right there, mister. I remember Angelus. And your Irish accent Sucks.

DB: You’re a… fan then?

Protagonist: Oh, I used to love Buffy. Still do. It’s a cult classic. Makes me feel very old knowing it finished over ten years ago now. It was something of a defining feature of my teenage years – forget Edward or Jacob – the question was always whether you fancied Angel or Spike more.

DB: Which team were you on?

Protagonist: I was a geek. I fancied Xander.

DB: Oh. I should probably go then. See, I had this whole bit worked out about coming in, representing your every teenage fantasy, showing you how sexy vampires can be…

Protagonist: Nah. Sorry. Not tonight. Whilst it might be fun someday to revisit my burgeoning youth, I just want to crack out this article and get to bed.

DB: Another time then?

Protagonist: Perhaps. Shut the window on the way out?

[Boreanaz blows a kiss, and exits. Our protagonist again addresses herself to sleep, when a further knock on the window disturbs her attempt at slumber…]

Protagonist: Again? Really? Who is it this time?

[A tall, immaculately dressed Victorian gentleman appears at the window, incongruous only because of the small, round, black-tinted spectacles he is wearing.]

[Guest Post] What is Horror? by Rebeka HarringtonProtagonist: [Squealing like a completely star-struck fan-girl] Oh My God, it’s Garry Oldman as Dracula… Oh, this is the Francis Ford Coppola version! I remember this! I’d just read Bram Stoker’s book, and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread! My English Teacher at the time had this theory that if Stoker was alive today he would have published the book as an interactive work – just a box full of diaries and notes and newspaper clippings and “phonograph recordings” which would probably be MP3s or something these days. You’d get the entirety of Dracula on a USB stick and have to piece it all together. Wow! And I saw that film, and I was thinking, I don’t remember all those sexy bits in the book, but I was seventeen, so I didn’t care, and… and… and… Keanu Reeves was a perfect Johnathan Harker, because he has all the acting ability of a wet dishrag, and that’s absolutely fine, because Johnathan Harker is a wet dishrag – seriously, who cuts themselves shaving, watches a grown man that he’s only just met lick the blood off the razor and then hurl the mirror out of the window, and his only thought is “That’s most inconvenient, I’ll have to get a new shaving mirror.”? Oh my God, I am amazingly psyched to meet you, sir, this is fantastic.

GO: [Mildly perturbed] Are you going to be like this all evening?

Protagonist: I’m sorry, I may settle down soon, but I’m not at all certain.

GO: In which case, I think I’d probably better go. It was a pleasure meeting you. [He tips his top hat]

Protagonist: No, don’t go! See, that’s exactly why you were amazing, you showed how vampires could be suave and sophisticated, yet also menacing and creepy and sexy and… and… [realises how over the top she is being.] Ok. I get it. You probably should go. I’m really sorry, I’m not usually like this. I don’t know what’s come over me…

[Gary Oldman turns into a bat and flies away, blowing the entire special effects budget in the process. With a sigh, our protagonist once again turns to the bed. She has not long laid down when there is a clicking sound, like that of a camera shutter, and a doctorwhotwilightsmall flash of light.]

Otto Chreik: Vonderful! Simply vonderful! Ze vay ze candlelight shines on ze flowing curtains, and ze hair spread like zat on ze pillow! Ya, ya, von more! Svoon please! Ya, more svooning, zat is perfect!

Protagonist: Otto?

Otto: Ya? Von second please… [he takes another picture, then puts down the camera.] Can I help you?

Protagonist: Otto Chreik? Otto: Ya, ya, it is me?

Protagonist: You must be here to represent my Pratchett phase. Which, in fairness never really ended. It’s wonderful to see you. I’m so, so sorry about Sir Terry. He was a master of the genre, this must be a terrible time for you.

Otto: Ya, ya… Vell, unlife goes on, as they say.

Protagonist: Pratchett’s vampires taught me so much about the genre… Count Magpyr and his family – the fact that the worst villains are those who pretend they’re doing this for your own good…

[A spectre of David Cameron floats lazily past]

Cameron: Don’t mind me, I’m just a metaphor.

Protagonist: [after his retreating back] Now there’s a vampire I could quite happily stake.

Otto: Indeed.

Protagonist: Even the comic vampires – I’ve always loved comedy, wish I could write it myself, but I tend to overdo it. Comedy is the best teacher, because it allows learning to sneak in round the edges while we’re laughing. Even a character like yourself can show us that there is so much that vampires can teach us about the nature of humanity, the nature of evil – your own comic persona being just that, hammed up round the edges deliberately to seem non-threatening, because we all know where we are vis a silly accent, and we forget about the blood.

Otto: [Bows slightly] Vell, I’m glad to haf been of service. But now, I really must be goink, I haf a scoop to catch for ze evenink edition.

Protagonist: Send me a copy of the pictures, won’t you?

[Otto exits with a dramatic flourish.]

Protagonist: Well, that really must be everyone – I can’t see how…

[At this point Edward Cullen pops up at the windowsill]

EC: You know, you’re like my own personal brand of…

Protagonist: No! No, no, no, no, no! You can fuck right off! I had to read your books when I was considering writing my PhD, but that was only ever so I could rip them apart!

EC: But teenage girls love me! Protagonist: Yes, and I probably would have done so when I was fifteen, but I’m a lot more savvy now, and I’ve discovered feminism, so screw you and the dodgy paperback you rode in on! You’re as bad as Fifty Shades of Grey, what with teaching impressionable young girls that stalking is the basis of a good relationship. And I don’t even think you’re a real vampire – you’re some sort of crystalline blood-powered golem anyway. Vampires don’t sparkle!

EC: I’m only sparkling because I love you…

[At this point, our protagonist punches Cullen square in the face, causing him to fall out of the window. There are loud cheers. She then pulls down the casement and locks it firmly against any further night-time intrusions. Finally, she manages to get a good night’s sleep, though what she dreams about is anyone’s guess…]

Bio

Alex Campbell was born in the wilds of Northumbria, and from an early age cut her teeth on legends like that of the Lampton Worm, which formed the inspiration for her first book, Wyrm’s Reckoning, out later this year..

She obtained a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick, then in a shameless attempt to avoid Real Life, followed this up with two Masters Degrees in Science Fiction and in Writing from the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores respectively.

Now, she lives in Portsmouth, at what she insists on referring to as the “wrong” end of the country, with her fiance and a number of dead house-plants. She is a keen gamer and LARPer, for which she makes many of her own costumes. She is not ashamed of being a geek

You can find her on her blog:  https://galacticavoice.wordpress.com/ and also on her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/AJ-Campbell/1525096601059912

[Vampire Month] Alex Campbell Interview

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redhairOur final entry into the Vampire Month interrogation suite (four interrogators, no waiting) is Alex Campbell. I’ve known Alex for a few years now but was not aware until I did this interview one thing we had in common – the region we were both born in.

Alex is currently working on her debut novel, Wyrm’s Reckoning which is due out in the summer. We’ll be seeing more of her when that happens.

Oh and if you are wondering where you may have seen Alex before… well, look back at our past fantasy photoshoots with Quattrofoto where she modelled as a psychotic elven Empress and an undead sorcerer. In real life she is not anywhere near as evil.

  •  What is the earliest memory you have of writing? What did you write about?

I actually still have my first “book”. I wrote it when I was about 3 – probably a little older, but the writing is about one sentence to a page, so not much older. It was a very twee little story about woodland animals going on a picnic. It was genuinely awful.

  • When did you decide to become a professional writer? Why did you take this step?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, and it’s always made me happy being able to share that writing with other people. Even from the days of GCSE physics class, which I mostly spent writing Pratchett pastiches and passing them round the bench. I made several attempts down the years to go pro, but it wasn’t until last August that I finally managed to find a publisher. I think, in my heart I’ve always been a professional writer, but it’s probably still going to be some time before I’m making enough money from writing for it to be my only career.

  • What would you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer? What about your greatest weakness? How do you overcome this weakness?
Photo courtesy of Quattrofoto

Photo courtesy of Quattrofoto

Greatest strength… probably the fact that I’m an avid reader and always have been. It’s left me with an extensive vocabulary, and also a good sense of the flow of prose, so I can instinctively tell if something feels natural, which helps a lot. As to my weaknesses – an inability to judge subtlety. I either tend to make things glaringly obvious or completely overlooked, and finding a happy medium is a challenge. Overcoming it is basically all about practice.

  • Tell us about the place where you live. Have you ever derived any inspiration from your home or from anywhere you have visited?

My current novel is actually set where I grew up, in Northumbria and Tyne and Wear. It’s inspired by a folk-tale from those parts – the tale of the Lampton Worm – and I’ve tried very hard to root the story in the area. Sense of place is very important to me, and almost every scene in the book features, or is inspired by locations from Up North – Penshaw Monument, Belsay Castle, the beach by Tynemouth Priory… it’s a beautiful part of the world, and it’s one that doesn’t get a lot of press. People think of Newcastle as a very grey city, full of football supporters and flat-caps and an unintelligible accent, but like anywhere, there’s far more to it than the stereotype suggests.

  • Which book, if any, would you consider to be your greatest influence and inspiration?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. For this particular book at least.

  • What drove you to write about Vampires?

They’re such a staple really. I wanted to include a lot of fantasy elements to the novel, and I couldn’t leave them out. I’ve always found them interesting, and you can do just about anything with them. In my case, that translated to East-European gun-runners, but I’m looking forward to playing even further with the tropes in later books.

  • What do you think is the attraction for Vampire fiction? Why is it such a popular topic?

Lots of reasons. Vampires allow us to talk about the big questions of what it means to be human, what it is to be evil, and how the two collide. But I think a lot of it comes down to sex. Vampires (well, the good ones at least) are suave and charismatic and dangerous, and there’s something very primal about them. They look just like us, but they’re not, they’re other. They’re predators, and yet so very seductive and compelling… in a lot of ways they’re a metaphor for the allure of the opposite or sometimes the same sex. They’re forbidden fruit, and so they’re always going to be popular.

The Lampton Worm, a popular North East legend

  • In a fight between all the greatest Vampires of fiction, who do you think would come out on top?

The Old Count Magpyr from Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum. He might not actually win in a physical fight, but he’d make sure he’d win the war, through patience and knowing how to play the game.

  • What about in some other contest such as sexiness or dress sense? Who would win that one?

Sexiness is all about personal preference, but for dress sense I’d go for Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger’s books.

  • How well do you think one of your characters would fare against the winner(s) of the above?

Probably quite badly. They’re currently taking time out from a war, so they’re not in any condition to take anyone on in a fight, and dress sense… well unless refugee chic is a thing…

  • Tell us the basic premise behind your latest novel.

It’s a modern-day urban fantasy set in the North East. At his uncle’s funeral, Richard Lampton suddenly finds himself heir to a deadly curse; he is being hunted by the Lampton Wyrm, a monster from the Dark Ages set on annihilating his bloodline. He has a week to shape up and become a hero, with a little help from a packed cast of weird and wonderful characters he meets from myth and legend, and a fledgling Jackdaw called Bobble.

 Bio

Alex Campbell was born in the wilds of Northumbria, and from an early age cut her teeth on legends like that of the Lampton Worm, which formed the inspiration for her first book, Wyrm’s Reckoning, out later this year..

She obtained a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick, then in a shameless attempt to avoid Real Life, followed this up with two Masters Degrees in Science Fiction and in Writing from the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores respectively.

Now, she lives in Portsmouth, at what she insists on referring to as the “wrong” end of the country, with her fiance and a number of dead house-plants. She is a keen gamer and LARPer, for which she makes many of her own costumes. She is not ashamed of being a geek

You can find her on her blog:  https://galacticavoice.wordpress.com/ and also on her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/AJ-Campbell/1525096601059912

[Vampire Month] A 90% eclipse of the heart

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So today there was an eclipse. A solar eclipse, in fact.

Luckily, the Vampires did not take the opportunity to rise up and eat us all. I’m choosing to take that as a success, since clearly the awareness campaign that is Vampire Month on this blog has them running scared. Score one for the good guys. Well, the slightly more good than some other guys…

Of course some might say this was only a 90% eclipse and Vamps wouldn’t get out of bed for less than 100% but to those doubters I say pah!

Anyway, I took a photo of the eclipse (safely, without looking) and here it is…

image

I might post a better (edited) one later…

[Vampire Month] Modus Vamp-erandi by R.A Smith

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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

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.

R.A. Smith

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.

[Vampire Month] R.A Smith Interview

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This week we have R.A Smith in the chair, being expertly probed with Vampire mesmerism and ‘love bites’. He is the author of the Grenshall Manor series of books. Oblivion Storm and Primal Storm are out now and he is currently working on book 3 which also has Storm in the title but I am not going to reveal it in full yet…

R.A Smith at the 2014 World Book Night at FAB cafe

R.A Smith at the 2014 World Book Night at FAB cafe

What is the earliest memory you have of writing? What did you write about?

A solid memory comes from an English class, in which I got the best news ever in that our assignment was simply, “Write a story.” Not being a hugely keen on homework pupil, but brimming with ideas, I went away and worked on one for just about the entirety of the weekend. There were aliens involved, is about all I can remember, and it was in secondary school. We got back in on the Monday and our teacher happened to be in a bad mood, and decided, at length, to give the entire class a dressing-down. He spent longer with some of us than others, however, and I was called out in front of the entire class for having written “seven sides of rubbish.” To this day, I haven’t forgotten. I tend to remember harder when I need motivation the most.

When did you decide to become a professional writer? Why did you take this step?

A combination of unemployment and some unfinished business from my M.A. course got me started with what eventually became Oblivion Storm. It was a strange thing to be busier in out-of-work patches than I have been in 9-5 days, but set me on a path from which I’ve never truly stopped.

What would you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer? What about your greatest weakness? How do you overcome this weakness?

I think I have two big strengths: a love for writing a good action scene and a willingness to continue to learn new things about my craft. I love working out action scenes work and putting them into action. On the second point, I like the ‘research’ elements of reading in multiple genres, watching films and listening to songs and finding inspiration in these things. Sometimes it is a simple, “how would/should I approach this?” and other times just an appreciation of how wonderful a scene/character is to me.

Weakness? As usual, these things tie into strengths nicely. I can struggle for focus in slower scenes which are nonetheless essential either for exposition or another story purpose. You know the bits where things aren’t really happening but a conversation, flashback or even a painting which happens to be important to the tale can just feel like a grind at times. I handle it the same way as I do any other scene though, try and bring myself into the atmosphere a little with music or other ambience (within reason). Or, you know, I just double up on writing session snacks.

Tell us about the place where you live. Have you ever derived any inspiration from your home or from anywhere you have visited?

I currently reside in Manchester, but was born in Croydon, much further south in England. My home town has definitely had a part in my work before—specifically, a pub I grew up passing just about every day called The Half Moon. It closed down years ago but that actually kind of made it all the more useful for a fictional urban fantasy section. It was as it was rather than as I remembered it, having been way too young to go into it when it actually existed! There’s another venue before my time, a much more famous one, that I will be incorporating into my WIP, but its exact geography is almost a point in itself…

As for Manchester, well, it’s where Kara, an ever-present in the Grenshall Manor Chronicles so far, hails from. It’s another I’m hoping to delve into a little further in the next work.

Which book, if any, would you consider to be your greatest influence and inspiration?

This is what I like to call an evolving question. It’s amazing how I’ll change my answer to this from one week to the next, or depending upon where I am, who I’m talking to and/or what about. Because this is Vampire week, and because it comes up a lot, I’m going to choose Bram Stoker’s Dracula here. Just how much has been spawned from this one book? I find it incredible, and very inspiring.

What drove you to write about Vampires?

I’m kind of cheating here, in that I haven’t officially released a vampire novel as such. I have a scruffy manuscript at home on an idea I really want to come back to and develop one day, but I’m not ready to make it what I want to yet. It has very much been a spin-off tale from the Dracula universe though, I can tell you that much.

That said, certain aspects of the vampire novel live in certain Grenshall Manor Chronicles characters, in particular Lady Mary Grenshall and Aurelia Raine. They are very opposite sides of the coin in their inspiration though, with Raine’s main traits very firmly entrenched in the predatory aspects that only an adversary with her resources can. Wealth, status and access to raw supernatural power make her a foe to be reckoned with in Oblivion Storm.

The new cover of Oblivion Storm

Mary’s own power is as much a curse as a blessing, which I very much equate to the vampire’s necessity for blood to survive. It doesn’t work quite like that, and she won’t be biting necks any time soon, but in Oblivion Storm and Primal Storm, the reader will see her struggling with the significant price her powers come with. You’ll notice that if she cuts loose with everything she has, she is utterly formidable, but every power has a consequence. She can gain inhuman strength, but has to drain another mortal’s life energies by touch to do it [editor note: This is actually a good definition of a vampire – gaining power from the lifeforce of others]. She can extract memories from others by the same means, but she can’t just ditch them once she has them. If she really wants to, she is capable of raising the dead. BUT.

What do you think is the attraction for Vampire fiction? Why is it such a popular topic?

I find vampire fiction tends to gain popularity in cycles. It is often easy to equate to current social trends, to which I must point you at one of the greatest Cracked.com articles ever written in my opinion [link here: http://www.cracked.com/article_19402_6-mind-blowing-ways-zombies-vampires-explain-america.html ]

Also, since we decided there is a genre for just about everything going from A-Z, it’s a measure of the strength of bloodsuckers in our culture (allegorical or no) that they can be found under several headings. Gothic? We were there from day one, man. Urban Fantasy? Pretty much a staple along with their hairier counterparts (and often foes). Horror? You betcha! Comedy? Sometimes. Children’s stories? Plenty. The rules may change, but the game remains the same.

In a fight between all the greatest Vampires of fiction, who do you think would come out on top?

Despite Anne Rice’s Lestat being an epic-level vampire, I’m going to continue being a terrible Stoker fanboy and going for Dracula again. However I have the firmest possible reasoning. Count (pun intended) the number of times that Drac has been destroyed that you can recall. Now see how often he stays dead. Even BUFFY couldn’t keep him slayed! Should tell you everything!

What about in some other contest such as sexiness or dress sense? Who would win that one?

Pam from True Blood. One of my favourite characters anywhere, let alone one of my favourite vampires. Her wit is sharper than any vampire’s dress sense, and those bloodsuckers are dapper as hell.

How well do you think one of your characters would fare against the winner(s) of the above?

I doubt most vampires would want to go anywhere near any of the self-labelled New Musketeers. However, if I had to pick a champion, Lady Mary Grenshall is any vampire’s worst nightmare. She’s poor nourishment for them for a start, and can guarantee any one of them a bad night just by turning up.

The old (first edition) cover of Oblivion Storm

The old (first edition) cover of Oblivion Storm

Tell us the basic premise behind your latest novel.

My latest released novel is Primal Storm. It follows a year on from Oblivion Storm and shifts the focus from high-octane adventures with the undead to an action adventure in the living world—and beyond. Jennifer Winter, one of Mary’s new friends from book one, steps up to her own tale and we start with her attempting to get herself fighting fit almost a year after sustaining grievous injuries at the hands of one of the main villains there (note I am working hard to avoid spoilers to those who haven’t read Oblivion Storm). Though Jennifer, being way beyond normal human physical capability, needs to push herself a little harder. She takes up parkour and runs around London, straight into a daring robbery attempt upon the British Museum! What initially appears high-tech turns out to be something else entirely, and her interference sets her on a path which delves into her own origins, some of which she doesn’t know herself! Jennifer must endure a harsh voyage of self-discovery in an entirely new world before she and her friends can face their new enemy. Discover the prophecy of the Face of War and who or what is truly behind the robberies right here!

 

Bio

R.A. Smith

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.

[Vampire Month] Review of Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan

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As we have just had a week of Elizabeth Morgan, it seemed appropriate to post my review of Cranberry Blood. A review that has also gone to Goodreads and Amazon.

Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan

Available from www.e-morgan.com

Heather Ryan is a Slayer, the latest in a long line of family members dedicated to the lifelong quest of killing a particular very old vampire – Marko Pavel. If that is not complicated enough, she was also born infected with Vampire blood, a condition she manages with the help of a concoction of Cranberry juice and animal blood (hence the title).Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]

One day her life is saved by a werewolf called Brendan who claims to have been sent by her recently dead grandmother.  It seems grannie had seen the need for them to be together in one of her visions, which are usually scarily accurate. Though Heather always respected her grandmother’s abilities as a seer, she finds it hard to come to terms with why she now has to put up with the irritating Brendan – what danger is he supposed to protect her from?

Morgan quickly establishes a dynamic between her two main characters, one of sniping and arguments. The over protective alpha male with the snarky alpha female rebelling against his attempts to ‘save her’ is a common trope in urban fantasy but one which is presented very well here and will appeal to fans of this genre. This relationship is threaded throughout the plot, which revolves around Heather’s attempts to track down her ancient nemesis and his attempts to use her for his own ends, and adds an appropriate level of zip to an already fast paced story. In my reading of this, there was no thoughts of ‘will they/won’t they’ because it is clear from the first page Brendan appears that they will. The question is more when and how many buildings will be destroyed in the aftermath.

Cranberry Blood is a very British Urban Fantasy novel. Heather is an Irish girl living in London, Brendan is described as having a northern accent and it turns out his pack live in Scotland. The action moves from inner city London to the wilds of Scotland giving this more a Being Human/Dog Soldiers vibe than most US based UF. This is a refreshing change and reminds readers that the Vampire and Werewolf myths that most UF take from originate in Europe. This is played upon in the characterisation of some of the characters – the Vampires are very Eurotrash in their attitude, for example. It certainly makes for a more familiar setting to those who live in the UK than the often unreal skyscapes of New York or Chicago. This may alienate US audiences but then again it may not as there are many Anglophiles on the other side of the pond who may also be looking for something that is different to standard UF.

If I have one issue with Cranberry Blood it is the concept of a Slayer. Now, I am happy with the idea of a family dedicated through many generations to killing a specific Vampire menace. It makes sense – you have to play the long game when dealing with immortal bloodsuckers and I really like the thought that has gone into this. However, I am not sure I would have gone so far as to have made that into a proper noun. Not only is there an issue of Joss Whedon potentially considering it a challenge to his IP (though not a huge one as the similarities basically end with the name and the fact this particular one is female) but I am not convinced that it really deserves that capital letter. That implies there is some official title involved when really it is a private, internal family thing. Had there been a secret underground organisation that trained multiple people to fight vampires (such as the Church order detailed in Skyla Dawn Cameron’s novel Hunter) and that organisation granted graduates of their training programme some form of official title then I’d be happy that they could be called Slayers. Using it in a family seems wrong to me. However, this is only a very minor gripe in what is basically a very well written and fascinating novel.

Overall, Cranberry Blood is a novel worth taking a look at. A very fun romp through a very British urban fantasy landscape. I’d like to see more UF set in this country.

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