Category Archives: Books

Don’t Shoot The Watchman

Readership implies ownership. It is something I have said many times before and no doubt will again. Getting a book published is a struggle in itself, hoping that book finds its audience and building up a devoted readership is even harder and takes years. Keeping that readership happy while staying true to yourself, your characters and their world is perhaps the hardest thing of all. Once people financially invest in your book and become emotionally invested in your creations, there is an implied ownership. They feel they have the right to disagree and even to pillory the author and, through internet reviews and social media comments, that has never been easier.

Such is the case with Harper Lee’s second and probably final novel, Go Set A Watchman. It’s been touted as the sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning-classic To Kill A Mockingbird when, in fact, it is really a rejected early draft of Mockingbird. It was written before Mockingbird, so it is not as if Harper Lee sat down and took a chainsaw to her beloved book. We know that early drafts, especially by young writers who are trying to find themselves and their voices, can go through vast changes before the finished manuscript is ready. So be kind in your judgement of this work-in-progress. We are privileged to be able to read it. As a writing exercise, it will be fascinating to see where she started out, what was kept, discarded and shaped into what became To Kill A Mockingbird.

Ironically, in a novel with race and racism as its central themes, the characters in Mockingbird are morally as well as racially black and white. The good and evil characters are clearly delineated. While this makes it easier for readers to understand the story, it is not how people really are. We are flawed and various shades of grey, perhaps more than fifty. I have always felt that Atticus Finch was less of a realistic character and more of a mould into which we pour our noble aspirations about ourselves. He is the perfect father and the courageous lawyer taking on the case no one else wants because he feels it is right. If Atticus Finch has become the “bigot” that early reviewers claim (and I have not read Go Set A Watchman yet) then it just reflects how people can change and go against the principles of their youth. We know, for instance, that Elliot Ness, the Untouchable who enforced Prohibition and brought down Al Capone, developed a drink problem later in life. The heroic early Ness is what we focus on because we want to believe in brave, righteous people like him and Atticus. The reality is much different. No one is all good or all bad. All of us are capable of compassion and kindness or great evil. That is the imperfect human condition.

It could be one reason why people withdraw from the media tag of hero when some major incident happens. They are aware that it is an impossible ideal to live up to that will severely restrict them in the future. Harper Lee is finding that out right now with the role model she created in Atticus Finch.

There have also been allegations that 89-year-old Harper Lee, who is partially blind and deaf and in assisted living accommodation, has been duped into releasing this book against her wishes. It is as if people don’t want to believe she would willingly publish something that would change Atticus Finch so drastically. She insists that she wants the book released. I say good luck to her. Writers must be free to do as they please with their creations. That is the joy of the creative process. The racism Harper Lee wrote about was a legacy of slavery which was a form of extreme control and a denial of freedom. In a further irony, her readership is now trying to exert control to deny Harper Lee the freedom to express herself how she wants (one reviewer even went so far as to suggest that Watchman would change Harper Lee’s own legacy. Nonsense.) It is a form of censorship, and, as my old acting teacher used to say: “Don’t censor yourself, that’s when all the interesting stuff appears.” Very true.

So don’t shoot The Watchman. Welcome them in, give them a chance and listen, really listen, to their tale and the uncomfortable truths therein.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

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Inward View of the Vampire

“As the vampire myth developed and went through a rationalising/secularising process, various authors have posed alternative, non-supernatural theories for the origin of vampires – from disease to altered blood chemistry.”

– J. Gordon Melton

I published my first novel, The Vorbing, at Halloween 2015. Even though I began writing my vampire book nine years before the first Twilight novel appeared, you could see my book as the antithesis of that series. I don’t see vampires as being sparkly hunks with six-pack abs. Far from it. My vampires are disgusting, parasitic predators. I wanted to give the vampire its nasty bite back.

That’s not to say I’m dissing the work of Stephanie Meyer at all. I applaud anyone that can get a piece of writing out there. To be as successful as Ms Meyer has been is even more impressive. I thought the basic premise of Twilight was interesting – an updated, supernatural twist on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (instead of the Montagues and Capulets keeping the young lovers apart it’s humans and vampires and then vampires and werewolves) Fifty Shades of Grey began life as Twilight fan fiction and it’s been widely panned but remains mega-successful.

It just demonstrates how the vampire is an archetypal mould into which we pour our obsessions with sex, sexuality, disease, death, addiction and rebirth. The core material can be tweaked to fit any era and its fears (some would argue that the human condition is a constant state of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of sickness and death, fear of alienation from family, friends and wider society, etc). Different writers see different things in the vampire legend just as writers always bring their own perspective and baggage to any story.

In her very fine book, Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice stripped away all the Christian folklore around her vampires. In the movie version that Ms Rice wrote the screenplay for, Bram Stoker and Dracula were dismissed as “the vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman.” (Neil Jordan did some uncredited rewrites on the script and it’s possible that the line is his.) Is Anne Rice disregarding Stoker and his Count or is it the “real” vampire in the story setting the journalist interviewing him straight on fictitious misrepresentations of his kind? I believe it’s the latter. Nevertheless, it takes a brave and unique voice to disregard convention and strike out in a new direction.

I’ve nicknamed Interview with the Vampire “Inward View of the Vampire” as, shorn of so much of their outside mythology, they reflect inwards on their eternal state of ennui. In the December 1998 issue of Starlog magazine, director John Carpenter said of his movie Vampires: “I wanted to get away from the Anne Rice aura, of the vampire as lonely bisexual. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my approach.” In the last scene of the film Interview with the Vampire, Tom Cruise’s Lestat reappears after several centuries to berate Brad Pitt with the words: “Still whining Louis!” At least they’re starting to have a little fun with this undead thing.

I like to believe that when I read another writer’s work, I’m filtering their imagination through mine which alters and improves my thought process as my mind is opened to new possibilities and different ways of approaching the same subject. In a June 2014 Moviepilot article on Interview with the Vampire, Laylla Azarbyjani wrote: I’m not saying I don’t watch vampire films/series that portray vampires differently, I don’t mind them, I just prefer films that stay true to the original story about vampires. For example burning in the sun, stake to the heart and crucifixes – these are just some examples, there are so many more.” All of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series are important works in the vampire canon.

As I drink my blood-red tea and return to the world of my vampires, it’s comforting to think that the vampire legend will continue and change ad infinitum. What do you think?

[The Vorbing is available here; getBook.at/TheVorbingAmazon]

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

The Vorbing Cometh…

The provisional publishing dates from my fantasy/horror Vorbing trilogy (a.k.a. The Dubhtayl Saga) are as follows;

The Vorbing Part I – October 2015

The Vorbing Part II – January 2016

The Vorbing Part III – October – December 2016

Today, I reached the 8,000-word mark on The Vorbing Part II. I was being a bit impatient with myself with the new book. I had 18 years to get the first one right but today I really did some terrific writing and surprised myself. I added another layer of complexity to what was already there, I can feel it starting to come together and it’s really exciting.

That is how most writers write though, they get the bare bones finished first and then start slapping more clay on to shape it and layer in the detail

I even found an amazing piece of dialogue for my new vampire scribbled in the back of one of my notebooks. If I hadn’t written that down or lost the notebook, it would’ve been gone forever. It just proves how important it is to note down or voice record ideas because you cannot think of them afterwards. I had a blog post before entitled “Fishing in the Stream of Consciousness” and that’s what ideas are like. They swim past and then they go back to wherever ideas come from never to return. I love the idea of rescuing little nuggets from the numbness of amnesia.

I remember seeing a documentary about The Bee Gees. Barry Gibb recalled waking up in the middle of the night with the idea for their number one hit “You Win Again” in his head but he couldn’t find his tape recorder. He was running around in the dark going “where the bloody hell is it?” while humming the tune over and over again so he didn’t forget it. Luckily, he found the tape recorder. When his brother Robin heard it, he said, “That’s a hit.” He was right.

So remember the five P’s when it comes to ideas – Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. A design for life, to quote another song, if ever I heard one.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

(This blog first appeared on my website on February 16th; http://thevorbing.com/2015/02/the-vorbing-cometh/)

The 20-Year Itch

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

It’s the number one question writers get asked most. You can get ideas from anywhere, dreams can inspire you, memories, other books, radio and television, a conversation you overhear in the street or an online article or YouTube clip you might come across. As long as your mind is open to new ideas, there are infinite possibilities. Primarily, it’s my imagination that is the source of my ideas. You end up repeating that after a while and it gets boring. So now I tell a tall tale of meeting a person of restricted height named Eric in a Dublin alleyway, I slip him a brown envelope of cash and he slips me the ideas. Scarily, some people lean forward, wide-eyed and go: “Really???” That’s the joy of being a writer; you’re preaching to the converted, people want to believe what you’re telling them.

“How did you become a writer?”

That would be the next most-asked question to writers.

“Fleas,” I always reply.

WTF? their expressions say.

It’s true though, I became a writer because of fleas. The summer of 1995 was a real scorcher in Dublin. I got quite badly sunburned, the dark red agonising kind that you can’t get any relief from. The heatwave had an effect on my pets too and they got fleas. So I went to the pet store to get flea spray to destroy the little buggers. On the way home, I decided to stop off at the library to see if there were any good books worth reading, perhaps some on fleas or sunburn which were the pressing issues of my day. That was when I saw a leaflet on a table.

Interested in acting? it said

Yeah, I thought through my dark red pain.

So I applied for the acting course and was accepted. For the next two years I was there and it was a wonderful time in my life. There was a writing module on the course where we’d be given writing topics and meet up once a week to share and critique our ideas. It was then that I began to write seriously for the first time. My book, The Vorbing, began life during the summer break between Year 1 and Year 2 of the course. It was great because I continued to get paid from the course during the summer recess and could devote all my time to writing and I did. I’d finally found what I wanted to do in life and it was and still is very exciting for me. So, yes, I have to thank those fleas that I nuked back in the summer of 1995 for changing the direction of my life. Thanks, fleas. RIP you little bastards. The acting course is still going today long after my departure. The 20th anniversary reunion for all past pupils is at the end of this month. I will be in attendance. Boy George once said: “Unfortunately, with all these reunions you get to a point where you start remembering why you left.” We shall see. I owe that course a lot and I’ll be showing up as my way of saying thanks. Sunburn and fleas are optional.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

The Imprints Strike Back

Surprising article that Waterstones bookstores say that Kindle sales have “disappeared to all intents and purposes.” http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/kindle-sales-have-disappeared-says-uks-largest-book-retailer/ar-BBhBuHZ?ocid=mailsignoutmd

The Vorbing – The First Proof (Your Opinions, Please)

http://thevorbing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/dfw-ss-ds1-cover-proof.jpgHey everyone, I’ve just received the first proof of my novel The Vorbing. I need your feedback here. What do you think of it? Would this cover make you want to buy this book? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it? How would you improve it? Your replies will be very helpful.

The Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2014

Here’s the Kirkus Reviews end-of-year list of the teen titles that really impressed them. Some fine work by trailblazing writers here. I’m more than happy to pass on the information to you.

Click here to read it.

If you haven’t read Kirkus Reviews appraisal of my fantasy/horror novel, The Vorbing, you can view that here or on my website here.

The Vorbing: The Book Cover

Stewart Stafford, The Vorbing, The Vampire Creation Myth Begins, Fantasy, Horror, Vampire Novel/s, Vampire Book/s, Supernatural, Superstition, Myth, Legend
The Vorbing by Stewart Stafford (Coming in early 2015)

The book cover for The Vorbing will be delivered to me on December 15th, 2014. I have just spent the morning answering dozens of the designer’s questions and sending as many photos and other visual aids as I can. Exciting times. It’s another step on the way to my dream and I am slowly but surely getting there with the help of others.

The Vorbing: The First Full Review

Stewart Stafford, The Vorbing, The Vampire Creation Myth Begins, Fantasy, Horror, Vampire Novel/s, Vampire Book/s, Supernatural, Superstition, Myth, Legend
The Vorbing by Stewart Stafford (Coming in early 2015)

The first review of my book came in last night. For some reason, it took a long time to load on my computer. So I was pacing the room looking at the screen out of the corner of my eye, wanting to see and not wanting to see. Finally, it uploaded and this flashed up:

“A dark, debut fantasy that chronicles a young man’s war against an army of vampires terrorizing his village.

Vlad Ingisbohr lives in the medieval town of Nocturne, which is full of Christian believers and plagued by bestial, winged vampires. Led by the savage Deadulus, the vampires spend each night tearing unwary people apart. Their feeding—or “vorbing”—is so brutal that no victims are left intact to rise from the dead as new bloodsuckers. The Nocturnians’ will to live is bolstered by a prophecy that claims that a blind man will “deliver them all from evil by defeating the vampires.” Vlad would rather take action himself, however, and get revenge on the monsters who killed his father at the battle of McLintock’s Spit. But when he tries to rouse the citizens of Nocturne against their common enemies, the village elders banish him for questioning God’s will. Distraught, and separated from both his mother, Hana, and his love, Ula, Vlad heads for the garrison town of Mortis. There, he hopes to recruit knights to Nocturne’s cause. Along the way, Vlad meets some strange new allies, like Norvad the beggar, as well as enemies, like the tree-dwelling Yara-Ma. Meanwhile, Deadulus and his minions follow the courageous lad’s movements from Vampire Mountain. Stafford’s novel proceeds in a stately cadence that fans of H.P. Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany will appreciate. He finely crafts his Gothic atmosphere at every turn: “Birds had pecked out the dead man’s eyes and the gaping, congealed eye sockets…seemed to stare eerily at Vlad.” The “vorbing” descriptions are equally detailed and not for the easily disturbed (“[A]n arterial spray usually erupted forth from the victim and every vampire…captured all of it in their gaping mouths”). Stafford hasn’t just delivered a splatterfest, though. There are twists aplenty, as well as hefty bolts of wisdom throughout Vlad’s epic quest, including the notion that the hero shouldn’t run from the vampires: “By surviving, he could learn and transcend anything.” A monstrously satisfying—and shocking—ending allows for a sequel.

A novel that’s a gift to lovers of heroic philosophy, vampire lore and gory action.”

I’d love your feedback on this. What do you think of the review? Is this the kind of book you’d like to read? Please leave any comments below.

Vampire To Some, Lost Soul To Others

“They say he’s some kind of vampire,” a young cop says about Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. “They don’t have a name for what he is,” Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling replies. Oh yes, they do. Lecter is an oral sadist. When he can’t physically bite someone in the wild, he does it verbally from behind bars with stinging insults and taunting clues. Serial killers are nothing if not expert manipulators. Lecter’s oral sadism probably began in infancy when he was either forcefully breastfed against his will or he was denied it when hungry. He began to have fantasies of biting his mother or even consuming her. A real psychiatrist said that Lecter would be untreatable and that the only way to stop him would be to have his teeth removed by a court order (effectively castrating him).

The vampire is somewhat different. He has to bite and feed on blood or he will perish. He is something of an oral rapist. Several women I have known over the years have confided their rape fantasies to me. This surprised me (I have always said that women are an enigma even to themselves, hearing those statements confirmed it to me). They then quantified their remarks by saying that they only wanted to be raped by their partner and not a stranger. They would never admit it publicly for fear of being branded a slut or being accused of letting the feminist cause down. Taking these admissions as consent would be walking into a moral and legal minefield for a man. Nevertheless, these feelings bubble away under the surface. Sexuality cannot be compartmentalized into simple black-and-white parameters no matter what the propaganda says. Fifty Shades of Grey was aptly named for a reason.

The actress Barbara Steele once said that women feel sorry for the vampire and feel that they can save him. You could argue that from a feminine perspective, the vampire could be viewed as a sort of desperate, lonely addict impelled to attack strangers to survive. Anne Rice put that female perspective across very well in her Vampire Chronicles series. She rejected the mythology that had gone before (“The rantings of a demented Irishman,” Brad Pitt’s Louis says in Interview with the Vampire when asked if he is afraid of crucifixes, a reference to Dracula and its author Bram Stoker’s suspected death from Syphilis.) Her work focused on the eternal ennui of the vampire. “Still whining, Louis!” Tom Cruise says near the end of the movie, sending up all that has gone before and ameliorating the withering Stoker put-down earlier.

Even the glittering, hunky teen Twilight vampires have a place in the lexicon. The vampire as a psychological symbol has always thrived as it touches on so many of our desires and fears. It is a mutating virus that fits the human psyche hand-in-glove. It is open to the interpretations of any era. As sophisticated as we think we are in the modern world, the vampire is always lurking in the shadows of our subconscious to fascinate us. Comments welcome.

© Stewart Stafford, 2014. All rights reserved.