I’ve published a scary short story on Wattpad set in Dublin titled “Nightfall.” You can read it here: https://www.wattpad.com/523641592-nightfall-the-shadows-gather
The only comment at the end of the first report card I ever got from school at age five said: “Stewart writes very interesting stories.” I can remember having a discussion with my headmaster in front of the class about the Watergate situation. He was impressed that a five-year-old even knew the word Watergate let alone the political and judicial situation. That was my dad’s influence; he treated me like an adult from the start and made me aware of things. My mother’s side of the family had a lot of performers. She herself had the rare gift of having one of those pure singing voices that brought an instant hush to the noisiest party. Such a shame the world never got to hear it as she is no longer with us.
As all children at the time did, I was into comics. Yes, the paper ones. Ones from England like The Beano, The Dandy, Buster (my brother’s comic of choice that I read when he was finished with them) and Whizzer & Chips. I particularly liked the cut-out masks of Guy Fawkes that came with them around November 5th as we don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes Night in Ireland (The Gunpowder Plot being an infamous part of British history) Look-In was my favourite kids magazine with articles on movies, TV shows and music. When Star Wars came out, I did buy the Star Wars comic too and enjoyed seeing characters from the movie spinoff into different adventures. There was even a Laurel and Hardy comic out then and a Popeye one as well. To this day, I can still draw a pretty good Popeye in under 60 seconds. (Today’s kids don’t do tangible. They’re mostly gamers, especially boys, and their first experiences are visual and online and remain so. There are phenomena like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games that give hope that the younger generation are keeping up literary traditions and forging their own path.)
Television gets a bad rap these days with some parents refusing to let their children watch it, but that’s a mistake. There was an excellent news show tailored for children on the BBC called John Craven’s Newsround. I watched that from Monday to Friday for years. Through that, I began to form opinions about things. I started to agree with one thing but not with another. Even just the awareness of what was going on around the world at that time like The Cold War shaped my world view. Denying children access to that is closing them off from reality and knowledge. Reading about something is one thing, seeing it happen in front of your eyes makes you a witness to history (all of that culminating in 9/11, a day I’ll never forget). Of course, there is selective editing from the journalist and news corporation’s viewpoints but the gist of it is yours to decipher and absorb. You come to an understanding of that later in life. An opinion makes your writing specific and different from others.
I saw the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie The Hound of The Baskervilles on television one afternoon when I was around nine and was fascinated (you could argue that its Gothic influence is all over my novel The Vorbing). I saw the book on sale for 99p in my local supermarket and snapped it up. The book was even better than the film and a love of reading was born. I did endure an unfortunate Sherlock Holmes-related incident when I got a book on the Holmes movies from my local library. I returned it on time but received a threatening card in the post from the library saying the book was overdue. I told them I had returned it but for three years the threatening communiqués kept arriving. Not a nice experience for a kid who had done nothing wrong to go through. Finally, they copped on that the book was in fact back with them in the library just as I had told them all along. I never got an apology only an admission that they were wrong. That experience put me off libraries and I usually buy the books I read now. It’s also probably why I can’t stand unfairness and bullying and will stop it as no one did that for me.
My school library proved to be a much more lenient and fruitful experience for me. The books were stacked along the windowsill of the classroom and they had a wide variety of texts. I read Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and even The Iliad by Homer. There were books of ghost stories that I was just entranced by (even better if they were true, I always hated the endings of Scooby Doo cartoons when the ghosts weren’t real). A documentary came out at that time about the Bermuda Triangle and I was lucky that my local cinema actually screened documentaries. I urged my dad to take me to it and he did along with my brother. As with Sherlock, there was a book of the movie by Charles Berlitz. It was my dad’s birthday soon after the film opened, so I got him the book knowing that I could read it if I wanted to and I did. I remember one dull, wet morning our teacher was late or absent and I just took out my Bermuda Triangle book and lost myself in it. The rest of the class were getting louder and louder with unsupervised boredom. I heard none of it. I was off the coast of Bermuda searching for Flight 19 and various other missing planes and ships. I went further in that area by buying a magazine on the paranormal called The Unexplained. It covered not only the Bermuda Triangle but also Bigfoot and even things like spontaneous combustion with graphic photos that earned me major brownie points in the schoolyard.
In later years, I came across the work of James Ellroy, my favourite fiction writer. He has written L.A. Confidential and other noir thrillers. There is a great, obsessive rhythm to his work. It is expletive-ridden and gloriously politically incorrect. His attitude is, if you don’t like something he’s written: “Fuck you, put the book down.”
I also discovered the works of Antony Beevor, my favourite non-fiction author. In recent years, he has released one definitive text on World War II after another, his masterpiece being Stalingrad. The numerous awards it has won and the seemingly endless ecstatic blurb quotes by big names aren’t there for nothing. Again, The Vorbing is steeped in warfare and the influence of Beevor’s minutely-detailed but heart-wrenching battles scenes bleed into my vampire novel. My dad was also a soldier and so war has always been there in the background.
So now I come to put my own first book out there in October. It is surreal to think I will soon see a book with my name on it, in my hands and on the internet. To think someone could hopefully derive pleasure from something I have written is a thrill beyond words. Perhaps I could even inspire someone else to write something the way my heroes directly and indirectly inspired me. That is the literary baton we pass from generation to generation going right back to the oral tradition passed down the generations around the campfire and hearth. Long may it continue.
© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.
(This blog was first published on my website earlier; http://thevorbing.com/2015/07/vampires-in-the-brain-the-genesis-of-the-vorbing/)
“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 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
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 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.
“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.
Who is the baddest-ass vampire of them all?
Dark Shadows fans, I summon thee!
Barnabas Collins, the anti-heroic bloodsucker from ABC’s undyingly popular supernatural soap opera of the 1960s, has been selected as one of eight candidates for Best Vampire in the World Series of Monsters, an 11-category competition going on now on the HitFix website. But, with voting set to close today (October 26), TV’s “cool ghoul” is currently in last place.
This is an outrage of the first order. And one that must not stand.
As portrayed by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, Barnabas became an international sensation when he was introduced to the viewers of the ratings-starved daytime soap in April of 1967. What was intended to be a 13-week ratings stunt turned into four years of witches, werewolves and zombies, with some of the most outlandish plotlines ever to grace TV screens at any hour of the day. And…
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“I vant to bite your neck!” went my brother’s dodgy Bela Lugosi imitation and a lifetime’s fascination with vampires began for me. We were in our New York apartment and he would follow me around goading me with his vampire voice. I’d put my chin on my chest to protect my neck and flee and my brother would creep after me. I got a “taste” of what it was like to be a vampire’s victim.
My next run-in with vampires was, again, my brother’s doing. We were in Ireland by then. It was my 12th birthday party and my brother put on our VHS copy of “Salem’s Lot” with David Soul. That was and still is the only really terrifying vampire film for me (along with F.W. Murnau’s seminal Nosferatu). My father told the kids that they could leave the room if it got too much for them. One by one, they did until all of us were in the back room. The terror didn’t end there. The kids refused to walk home alone in the dark after the party. They insisted on phoning their parents to collect them, even the kids that lived around the corner! You don’t forget things that scar your psyche like that. The windy, autumnal nights that followed were filled with a creeping dread of nightfall. Thanks again, bro…
Fast-forward another decade. I was dating a girl when vampires unexpectedly entered my life once more. “I want you to bite me on the neck,” she said seductively as she leaned against the wall of our deserted acting class. “What?” I said. She repeated what she wanted. It didn’t sound any less strange the second time so I repeated it. “You want me to bite you on the neck?” I parroted. “Yes,” she said. “Are you sure?” I asked, offering her one last chance to back out of it. “Yes,” she replied again. “Okay,” I said with uncertainty but with a certain amount of intrigue at playing the vampire himself for the first time. Before I sink my fangs into her neck, I’ll provide a little background on my “victim.” Her uncle was a haemophiliac who had died of AIDS (this was the 90s when it was still a death sentence). This had fuelled her interest in death and vampirism and its blood disease similarity with her uncle’s affliction. Tune in to my next blog post to find out what happened next…
© 2014, Stewart Stafford. All rights reserved.