A few weeks ago, Ashlynne was kind enough to participate in my blog tour for Ivory Terrors (http://ashlynnelaynne.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/prab-welcomes-georgiana-derwent.html), and today, I’m returning the favour with a first look at her forthcoming release Blood Bewitched (The Progeny Series 5). I haven’t read this series yet, but I’m definitely adding the first one to my to read list. It sounds like it’s got a really well developed vampire history and mythos. Continue reading
On Saturday, I kicked off my mini-series on the inspirations for my characters with a look at the ideas that came together to create Augustine Piso. Today, I’m focussing on George Stewart, who judging from comments in review, is almost certainly the most popular character in the Cavaliers. The powerful, womanising part love interest, part borderline villain is certainly the character I most enjoy writing.
As I explained in the previous instalment, this will be of most obvious interest to fans of The Cavaliers, but I’d like to think that it would also appeal to writers and anyone interested in how characters are developed.
Lord George Stewart
Age: Born in 1618. Turned in 1642, aged 24.
Place of birth: Aubigny, France.
Offspring: As a Senior Officer of the Cavaliers, he’s created huge numbers of vampires over the centuries, though (at the start of the series, at least) he’s never turned anyone on a one on one basis.
Current Role: Student of Classics at Christ Church, Oxford. Senior Officer of the Cavaliers.
Special powers and talents: Generally regarded as having the strongest mind control talent of all the Cavaliers, and is able to use it in different ways to most vampires, such as controlling mobile phone signals.
Shortly after I’d published Oxford Blood, I met up with a university friend and fellow former history student who I hadn’t seen in a while, and inevitably, I dropped the existence of my book into the conversation.
“Let me guess,” he said. “I bet you called the main male character George.”
And grudgingly, I had to admit that while there was some room for argument over who exactly the “main” male character was, the series did indeed have a fairly high profile George.
The reason he guessed went back to the time when I’d been writing my thesis. I’ve vaguely mentioned this before on this blog, but in essence, my thesis was on women’s influence in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century politics. Harriet writes a seventeenth-century version of it in Ivory Terrors. It focussed specifically on a gentry woman called Jane Osbaldeston, who, following the death of her husband while her son is a young child, single-handedly controls the political environment in her area and the surrounding towns. Jane is awesome. A total feminist heroine who tends to be something of a footnote in most texts dealing with the period, even those focussed on female history. My next writing project may well be a fictionalised and romanticised version of her life.
The trouble was, there were two main primary sources for researching good old Jane. One was letters between her and the local aristocrat, Earl Fitzwilliam, which I tracked down in the Sheffield archives and painstakingly transcribed. The other was her son’s autobiography, which is extremely rare, but which I found in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In many ways, the book was an excellent source of information on Jane. The trouble was, it was a better source of information on her charming cad of a son. Enter George Osbaldeston into my research. Exit any claims to any one taking my thesis at all seriously. Okay, that’s not entirely true. The thesis itself remained perfectly serious and sensible and my tutor loved it. It was just that whenever anyone asked me about it, I tended to talk about George in an adoring tone rather than Jane in a scholarly one, which led to a certain degree of good-natured mockery from my fellow students.
A few days before the thesis had to be submitted, I was fairly seriously stressed, as tends to be the case in these situations. Now, the friend who I mentioned in the opening paragraph and I had a rather strange standing joke. Basically, we’d buy each other old second hand Mill and Boon books (I think the American equivalent is Harlequin) and compete to see who could find the ones with the silliest title – I think “The Viking’s Defiant Bride” was pretty much the winner. And so, to cheer me up, he wrote me a little Mills and Boon-style story featuring George Osbaldeston. I don’t think I’ve ever been so amused by anything in my life, and it reinvigorated me just enough to get the thesis safely submitted.
So in short, George was originally named for the guy from my thesis, and in his charming but womanising ways, they share certain personality traits. Unfortunately, George Osbaldeston was born in 1786, whereas my character absolutely needed to have been young during the Civil War, which began in 1642.
When I was just beginning to plot Oxford Blood, I went for a wander through the National Gallery, and I spotted this painting of two young Cavaliers, just before the war began. I thought it was a beautiful painting, and that despite the way historical figures often don’t look attractive to modern eyes, the men seemed very attractive. There was also an astonishing pathos about the painting. Here are two very young, very rich brothers, showing off in their finery, looking absolutely happy with their lot in life. According to the description of the painting, within five years, both of them would have died in the war.
And I just thought that one of them (the one on the right, in blue)looked just like i wanted my key civil war vampire to look. The only problem was that his name was apparently Bernard, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to have a romantic anti-hero with such a stupid name. And besides, I’d already pretty much settled on George.
So I merged their names, and went with George Stewart, and in my mind, the character looked like the one from the painting (albeit having modernised himself a bit for the current period) and acted more or less like the one from my thesis.
And I wrote allsorts of things about him, including that he had an older brother called James who died at Edgehill, leaving him as the heir – which I totally made up. If you were to re-read Oxford Blood, however, you’d notice one strange thing about George – he’s never referred to by his surname and never uses it himself. The reason was that although in my notes I had him down as George Stewart, I still sort of thought of him as George Osbaldeston.
And this is where it gets a bit strange. One day, I did a bit of research on Bernard Stewart, and I discovered something mind-blowing – he had an older brother called George Stewart. And so I looked into him, and lo and behold, everything about the real George was absolutely perfect. He had an older brother called James. He fought for the king in the Civil War and died at Edgehill in his early twenties. He’s buried in Christ Church College, where my character has rooms. He was so ridiculously passionate that he defied his uncle the king to marry the woman he loved against his wishes. He had a cool title. I read his Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Stewart,_9th_Seigneur_d’Aubigny) with an increasingly dropped jaw, and from then on, the character tended to be referred to by his full name, and I started to think of him less as the man from the thesis, and more as the historical George Stewart – though he seemed slightly less blond and attractive than his little brother Bernard, so I retained him as the mental image and merged together a few points from all four of the brothers’ personalities and biographies.
So that’s the weird and fortuitous mix of historical characters that came together to give George his name, background, and the basics of his personality. But that’s still only half the story. Firstly, there were the real life inspirations. Unlike some characters, George was not directly heavily based on any one – or even any two or three – real life acquaintances. He was, however, based to some degree on a certain type of person I often came across at Oxford – extremely posh, very good-looking, utterly charming but ultimately not very nice people. One of my favourite lines in one of my favourite plays is the following from a Streetcar Named Desire:
“A man like that is someone to go out with—once—twice—three times when the devil is in you. But live with? Have a child by?”
It sort of sums up the people I have in mind. By all means ogle them and have some fun, but don’t let your heart get involved and don’t be upset when it inevitably goes wrong. From the safety of a long-term relationship, I have a certain amount of admiration for people who can effectively turn on the charm at will, but I was always horribly pervious to their charms once upon a time.
I’ve always believed that a key theme in romance novels is the idea of the man who is adored by all women, acts like a cad towards most of them, but truly loves the heroine. I think it plays into some near universal fantasy of being special, and on the whole, I think it’s a dangerous one – people may get a bit more mature as they age, but I’m pretty sure that it’s rare for someone to completely change their personality, outlook and behaviour.
As you can probably tell, i’m ambivalent at best about the “bad boy gone good” love interest. 99% of the time, when it’s done in a contemporary, broadly realistic novel, I hate it. Somehow, however, in the context of a fantasy or paranormal tale, it quickly becomes more palatable, and when done well, these sorts of characters are some of my all time favourites. For me, the key is that they have to not just be “bad boys” in the sense of attractive men who drink, fight, and womanise. They have to be bordering on actual villains. And this was the sort of character I wanted to write here.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Augustine that my favourite character in Gladiator was the evil emperor rather than the heroic legionnaire and gladiator. I tend to fall a little bit in love with the charismatic, scheming, unpredictable villain (far more than the staid hero or heroine), resent their lack of screen time, and feel a bit disappointed when they are defeated and die unmourned. So when a character like this gets to be a love interest too, I rejoice. Screen time! Romantic scenes! Ambiguity and a chance for redemption! Though hopefully not too much redemption – I liked them because, not despite of their dastardly plans, after all.
My all time best example of this sort of character is Julian in the Forbidden Game series, one of my absolute favourite reads as a teenager, and still a firm (if guilty) favourite now. To attempt to summarise what quickly become a fairly involved plot, Julian is some sort of demon from northern mythology. A scorchingly hot and charming demon, needless to say. He poses as a shop-keeper, sells the heroine a board game in which players have to draw their worst nightmare, and then she, her boyfriend, and all her closest friends get sucked into the game and have to face their nightmares in reality – which in some cases risks being fatal. Julian pursues them around the game, has them pursued by his monster animals and tries to force the heroine to marry him. So proper villain territory. And in any normal book, he really should be despised by the characters and booed by the readers and the plot should focus on bringing him down. But increasingly, the heroine starts to fall in love with him of her own accord, and their scenes together, despite things never going further than kisses, are just some of the sexiest and most romantic things I’ve ever read. And this is not just me being twisted – nominally, the book contains the inevitable love triangle, but the heroine’s actual boyfriend stays firmly in the background for 90% of the series, and every review or fan page I’ve ever come across absolutely adores Julian. Incidentally, one of my very favourite aspects of the Forbidden Game is it’s ending, and without wanting to spoil things too much for anyone who’s read it and hasn’t yet got round to reading Ivory Terrors (or vice versa) let’s just say I was inspired by that too…
This sort of character is basically LJ Smith’s trademark, and it’s one of the things that made her one of my favourite authors – and probably my absolute favourite paranormal author. It’s something that crops up in other books too, most recently, for me, in the Grisha Series, which was pretty much my favourite book of last year (review here) helped in large part by The Darkling, who fits this kind of role perfectly.
It’s a style of character I also love to write. Prophecy Filler, the first proper novel I attempted to write, way back when I was about seventeen, had a character who absolutely fit this pattern. He was an ancient force of evil and trying to destroy the world – but was sure to make time for some sexy scenes with the heroine who was prophesied to stop him. (Incidentally, I really, really, want to rewrite Prophecy Filler now I’m hopefully slightly more adept at writing and slightly more resistant to the lure of giving characters stupid names). When I was plotting Oxford Blood, having a character a bit like this was an absolute must for me, and though he’s presented as less of a direct villain than some of these examples (in the sense that the heroine isn’t actively working against him most of the time) in his moments of ruthlessness around both sex and death, and in his intense scenes with Harriet, full of sexual tension and a longing to give in but a determination not to, George really fits this mould. And it’s always made him damn fun to write.
I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be fun to have a little blog mini-series (much like the one I did a while back on why I like vampire novels) taking one of my characters each day and explaining what combination of literary characters, historical characters, celebrities and people I know came together to inspire each of them.
Obviously, these post are going to be of most interest to people who’ve read some or all of The Cavaliers Series, but I’m hoping that they’ll also be of interest to my fellow authors and anyone interested in the craft of writing. Plot is my biggest fascination, but characters come a close second, and personally, I think the question of how authors create their characters is an intriguing one.
I’m starting off today with Augustine Piso, and then I’ll continue with Lord George Stewart, and Adelaide Piso (nee French) over the next couple of days. I’ll see how it goes beyond that, but I’m willing to take requests.
And finally, what this series really needs is drawings of the characters. There’s barely anything book related that would make me happier at this moment in time, but I have zero drawing ability. Can anyone draw or knows anyone who can draw or knows of a service where people will draw authors pictures of their characters? If so, please tell.
Age: Born in 99 BC, turned in 54 BC. Appears to be in his mid-forties.
Place of birth: Etruria (just outside of modern-day Florence)
Maker: “The Maker”
Offspring: turned Adelaide French. Is proud of the fact that he hasn’t personally created any other vampires, though all of the Cavaliers regard him as a father figure of a sort.
Current Role: Chairman of Meridian and Lamb, a major investment bank. Head of the Cavaliers. Various shadow roles in Government and the media.
Special powers and talents: enhanced versions of all the usual vampire talents, both physical and mental. In addition, able to break other vampires’ mind control, exercise some degree of mesmerism over his fellow vampires, and, most usefully, can’t be killed without using all three of the Piso Treasures and following certain specific procedures.
BACKGROUND AND INSPIRATION
There’s a certain type of character that I always secretly rather enjoy. It’s the character who is pretty much unbeatable. Who, when another character challenges them to a fight or to a battle of wits, you just shake your head in disbelief and wonder that they are playing at. Sometimes, they are heroes. Other times, anti-heroes, or full-blown villains. The most famous example is probably James Bond, but others that you might have heard of, off the top of my head, include Jack Bauer from 24 and (in slightly different ways) all of Captain Carrot, Commander Vimes and Lord Vetinari from the Discworld books. In short, it’s someone you really don’t want to end up in a fight with.
When I started Oxford Blood, this was basically what I wanted Augustine Piso to be. The uber-vampire. Physically, mentally and psychically stronger than everyone else, with the addition of centuries of cunning. I wanted him to be the absolute, unquestioned ruler of the Cavaliers, and to be unchallengable. In both Oxford Blood and Screaming Spires, he faces an attack, and more or less shrugs it off. Whether he’s facing Archie, a scheming young vampire who thinks he’s found his one weak-spot, or the centuries old power of the Visigoth Twins, he deals with the situation calmly and efficiently.
Oxford Blood: You played your little game well,” Gus continued. “Playing on my emotions and using the fact that no vampire can break another’s spell. You just made one tiny mistake – assuming that I’m the same as all the other vampires. I’m more powerful than you can imagine. I can break your mind control as easily as you can break a human’s neck. It’s not just that I have centuries on any of you – I was made by the first vampire, who was more demon than human. And in the end I killed and drained him, and all of the others he’d made.”
Screaming Spires: “Don’t you dare touch my daughter,” Augustine said commandingly from outside the window. “I may not be able to come in right now, but after this I’ll destroy you both.”
Apart from this seemingly unassailable power, Augustine’s key defining feature is his age. Most of the Cavaliers, regardless of their centuries, appear to be in their twenties. Augustine, despite the fact that he could presumably make people see whatever he wanted them to see, defaults to looking in his late forties or early fifties. The first time he appears in the books, he’s described as, “good looking, in a George Clooney sort of way.” In essence, he seems older and more rugged than most of the vampires he commands, but no less sexy for that.
I don’t usually go in for rugged (slightly effeminate pretty boys all the way for me) but everyone needs a bit of variety in their lives. As the line above suggests, George Clooney was one major visual inspiration for Augustine, and his general air of suave sophistication also suits the character. The other side of his character – the harder, fight to defend your family at all costs side – was inspired by Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator (one of my all time favourite films, even if I prefer the evil emperor to the honourable protagonist), who shares a certain degree of historical background with Augustine.
The final inspirations for Augustine were, bizarrely, some combination of Rupert Murdoch and Peter Mandelson. Augustine doesn’t just have physical strength, he pulls all of the strings behind the scenes. He controls newspapers, dominates elections, has all of the establishment bent to his will. He is an exaggerated version, but I’m fascinated by the political power that some people wield today.
Tom didn’t know exactly how many of the major newspapers Augustine actually owned. Even the most determined auditors couldn’t penetrate his network of holding companies. The Cavaliers’ ability to feed the papers stories about their politicians, the fact they could pay serious bribes, and the number of members working as editors meant that there wasn’t much notable difference between those that were directly in his control and the ones that were nominally independent. They all printed whatever he wanted. And if all else failed, there was always mesmerism.
“Get me the Home Secretary on the phone,” Augustine barked at Rupert.
The Piso were a real Roman family, but I borrowed their name and not much else. Augustine’s first name, bizarrely, comes from my Grandfather. He was one of ten children in a sprawling, northern, Catholic (hence the ten kids!) family. They were miners and steel workers, but their religion demanded that they be named after saints. Most people in the same situation satisfied themselves with James and David. For some reason, my great-grandparents really went to town. As well as Augustine, the family included Leonardo and Rosaline. Although the tenth child (and I swear this is true) was called Brian – I’m not sure whether they were Monty Python fans ( I think it would have been too early), or had just ran out of steam by then.
The funny thing is that, until he died, I never knew my granddad had such an exotic name. Everyone referred to him as Austin, and I love the contrast between such a staid, English-sounding diminutive and the fifth-century, Italian saint’s name sitting behind it. Incidentally, my Grandma was called Beatrice, like Dante’s true love, and insisted on being called Beattie. It must have been love at first name exchange.
In the prologue of Oxford Blood, Augustine appears as the leader of the Cavaliers, obviously a vampire, obviously terrifyingly powerful, and referred to by his full name. In the first chapter, Harriet refers to her absent stepfather. He’s rich and somewhat mysterious, but she has no idea he’s a vampire. In the original draft, Harriet’s name for him was Austin, and I loved the contrasting names and the way it created an ambiguity around whether or not Austin and Augustine were the same person.
This borrowing of the two versions of my Grandfather’s name freaked my family out a little too much, so I eventually changed his nickname to Gus, the other obvious way to shorten the name. This had all the same fun elements, but for me, also brought a new connotation into play. By that point, I’d started working for the Civil Service, and at the time, the head of the Civil Service was called Gus O’Donnell, or, as officials tended to refer to him, referencing both his initials and his status as probably the most important person in British Government after the Queen and the Prime Minister: GOD.
So for most of the first two books, that was Augustine (Gus) Piso – named after a strange combination of my granddad, my ultimate boss, and an obscure Roman family. Inspired by one celebrity rugged hunk and one celebrity smooth “grey-fox.” A character that I always enjoyed writing about, but who was ultimately something of an archetype – the unassailable leader. In my plans, he was never going to be defeated (or the whole archetype would be undermined) but he was not going to get a romantic happy ending. Because fundamentally, Augustine was a character I admired, and who was essential to the plot, but who I didn’t really care about.
And then I made a mistake. All of the books have prologues from a different point-of-view and on a different timescale to the rest of the story. And I thought it would be fun to have a prologue about Augustine as a slightly more fallible (though still pretty badass) human meeting his arch-enemy Fea for the first time and, ultimately, becoming a vampire. A quick 1000 – 2000 word affair to give a bit of background and get Ivory Terrors off to a rousing start.
By the time I’d managed to stop writing Augustine’s story, it was about 15 000 words long, and I was utterly in love with his character. It was far too long to use as a prologue, but I divided the story up and spread it through the book. It’s one of my favourite parts of Ivory Terrors. Actually, one of the Augustine scenes, where he is turned and forced to kill his wife, is one of the bits of my writing I’m the proudest of and most satisfied by. Almost everything that happens in “The Tale of Augustine Piso” from him being turned by a vampire who had never been human, to him killing his wife, to him creating the Treasures and sacrificing a child to destroy his maker, had been referred to in earlier books. But somehow, writing them as actual scenes, happening then and there and from his point of view, give them so much more emotional resonance. Compare:
Oxford Blood: “You remind me of the first person I ever killed. Outside of the battlefield at least. She was my wife. I was made to drain her in order to complete my transformation, and I couldn’t forgive myself for centuries. Perhaps letting you go will be some kind of recompense.”
Augustine pressed his lips together until they burned. He wouldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it. At worst, he’d die. At best, they’d bring him another sacrifice. But he would not hurt Antonia.
His body spasmed.
“Your muscles are dying,” the Maker said calmly. “You’re suffocating from the inside out. I really would drink now, if I were you.”
Still he tried to resist, and still Fea held his head in place. He was slipping out of consciousness, and he could take it no more. Against his will, his fangs extended and pierced Antonia’s neck. The second he got the first taste of her blood, he lost all control, all sense of who he was. Nothing existed for him except the blood. He drank in a dark, conscienceless frenzy, until there was nothing more to drink. Only then did Fea release his head.
“Welcome to your new life,” she whispered. “You’re truly one of us now.”
“Antonia, wake up. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it.”
Desperately, he bit down on his wrist and let the blood trickle into her mouth.
“It’s far too late for that,” the Maker said.
Augustine jumped to his feet. His hands gripped Fea’s throat almost before he was aware of having moved.
Augustine was meant to end up alone, to make the point that just because a pair were together in a past life, it doesn’t mean they are destined to be together in this one. But somehow, after we’d been through so much together, and after I’d really come to appreciate just how much he’d loved his wife and how his whole life had centred on avenging her and waiting for her return, I just couldn’t do it to him. It’s rather surprising when you consider how I treat some of the other characters at the end of Ivory Terrors (including my absolute favourite character, of which more tomorrow), but I guess I deliberately made a character who would always win. As it happens, in a battle of wills, he’ll even win out against the author.
A really interesting piece on why Oxford is such a great setting for books, especially ones with a fantastical element. Needless to say, I couldn’t agree more!
Britain has produced its fair share of fantasy authors over the years, including David Gemmell, T H White, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and countless others. Many of these writers hail from all corners of the British Isles but there is one city in particular that seems to have produced a disproportionate number of fantasy authors – Oxford. J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Alan Garner’s Wild Magic series, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising Sequence, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and, most recently, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, all have one thing in common – not only did their authors attend the city’s famous university, the inspiration for their novels often came from the time they spent in Oxford. Even J K Rowling is rolled up in the Oxford mythos, as the Potter films use…
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I’m going to take a one-day break from my Cavaliers-themed posts and my Ivory Terrors release promotional activity – though don’t forget to buy Book Three if you haven’t already 😉
Instead, today, I’ve got a review of a book by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors. It’s his first book (which arguably shows), so I’m not quite sure how I’ve failed to read it earlier. One of the nice things about finally having completed the Cavaliers is having plenty of time to read without feeling guilty, so expect several reviews over the next few weeks.
The stunningly original and brilliant first novel from storytelling genius Neil Gaiman. Now a six part radio dramatisation on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra.
Under the streets of London there’s a world most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet. Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre. There’s a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining… And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city.
THE REVIEW – 4 STARS
I was torn between giving this a four or a five. Thanks to a few niggles that I’ll come to later, I eventually settled on four, but I can’t emphasise enough that this is a really entertaining book and if you like Gaiman’s work or are a general fan of fantasy, you should definitely give it a go. I read it more or less in one long sitting (large parts of it, ironically, on an hour long tube journey) and the plot really propels the reader along.
My favourite thing about the book was the writing style, which is unusual for me, as I tend to be much more interested in the plot. But how could I not love gems like:
“he had made a point of telling each of them that he liked to kill things, and he was good at it; and this amused Mr Crup and Mr Vanemar, much as Genghis Khan might have been amused by the swagger of a young Mongol who had recently pillaged his first village or burnt his first yurt.”
“A table for tonight was impossible: if the Pope, the Prime Minister and the President of France arrived this evening without a confirmed reservation, even they would be turned out into the street with a continental jeer.”
Lines like these reminded me of Pratchett, which isn’t surprising considering the two of them wrote Good Omens together.
I also liked the main character. Richard is a mild-mannered Scot, who’s fairly out of his depth in London with his overbearing girlfriend, and even more out of his depth in the fantastical London Below, with various people out to kill him. From the moment he helps what appears to be a young injured homeless woman (but who turns out to be much more) it’s clear that’s he’s basically a lovely guy – something far too rare in fiction. He also acts broadly realistically when confronted by the terrifying and unbelievable. He doesn’t suddenly become ultra-heroic, neither does he run away. He carries on being broadly decent, while still being horribly confused and scared, and ends up doing some heroic things in the process.
The other characters left me in two minds. They were almost cartoonish – sadistic killers, charming but unscrupulous cad, deadly huntress, cruel seductress. Now, I know full well that Gaiman can write gloriously subtle, nuanced characters, so this degree of near one-dimensional characterisation has to have been deliberate. And part of me really enjoyed it – who doesn’t enjoy a truly evil villain, after all? But another part felt like I couldn’t quite connect with them or care that much about them. I sympathised with Door, the female lead, but I didn’t feel that I even really got to know her.
The plot was undoubtedly original, hinging on the existence of a parallel London that lurks beneath our own – a world of both fantasy figures named after famous London landmarks and tube stations (or maybe the stations were named after them) and people who have fallen through the cracks of society through homelessness or similar misfortune. It was a great premise, and the author undoubtedly had some fun with it. The author’s introduction claimed that he wanted to create an adult version of Narnia, and to a large extent, I think he succeeded. I’ll henceforth look at empty, darkened tube trains with all the excitement I used to muster for looking for secret doors in wardrobes (seriously, I used to do that worryingly regularly!)
I did, however, get the feeling that slightly more could have been done with it. The plot felt somewhat episodic and surreal. I enjoyed the story, I really did, but I sometimes felt that we were bouncing from one strange happening to the next with no rhyme or reason. More than the full blown fantastical stuff, I enjoyed the bits that played with the boundaries between fantasy and reality, for example when Richard started to be forgotten by everyone in London Above, or when the characters attended an art exhibition and his old and new life collided.
For all that it was supposed to very much be about London, apart from the names, I almost felt it could have taken place in any city. American Gods felt firmly routed in various parts of America, and this just didn’t quite have that sense of time and place. More adventures in defined and unique geographical locations would have helped, but more importantly, I’d like to have seen the plot and the characters be linked into London legends and folklore and history. One obvious example – Old Bailey is a man who lives on roofs and both eats and befriends birds. I couldn’t help thinking it would have been better if he had been a personification of the statue of Blind Justice that actually sits on top of the Old Bailey court. As it was, he had the name of a London landmark with no obvious connection to it, and the same could be said for other characters, such as Serpentine. The ones that worked best where probably the Black Friars, who seemed to have both some resemblance to the historical order that gave that station it’s name, an interesting extra dose of magic, and some relevance to the plot.
I got the impression that there were huge amounts of detail of London Below history and tradition that lurked in the author’s head and never made it into the book. I’d have liked to know more about who the Seven Sisters were, what the deal was with the magic spear, who the Barons are that people supposedly all owe fealty too (must be something to do with Barons Court I suppose). There’s some fun in knowing there’s a world beyond what’s spelt out on the pages, but a little more detail would have helped me to truly love this book rather than merely enjoy it.
On the subject of reviews, I currently have 99 reviews at Goodreads (across the three books). I’ve you’ve read one of them and never reviewed it, why not give me my hundredth review!
So yesterday, I had a bit of fun by posting my original notes for Oxford Blood, which I wrote in a frenzy, four years ago, on the train between London and Sheffield.
Today, I thought I’d share the second half of what I wrote that day: the first draft of the first chapter. A quick warning for anyone who has never read any of my books – this is not representative of my work. It’s unedited, unproofchecked, and really here just to show how books evolve over time from first draft to published version.
Readers will notice one major difference between this version and the Oxford Blood they know – it’s in first person. It’s also Harriet speaking long after the event. I wrote about three chapters like that, and then changed my mind and started again from scratch. And actually, I quite like it. It’s almost making me wish I never switched to third. This is mainly just a bit of fun, but (and bearing in mind that the absolute lack of editing on this version means its not a very fair comparison) which approach do you prefer?
Blue Blood, Chapter One (oh yes, there’s the title too…)
If I’m absolutely honest, when I found out i’d been accepted into Oxford, i had two primary intentions – social climbing and finding a “nice” (read rich, fit and charming) boyfriend. My Mother’s hopes, even if I didn’t know it, were even more blatant – she wanted a “nice” (read the same as above, but add old, powerful and ruthless) vampire to turn her only daughter.
My aims, cynical as they sound, are easily explained. I was bored of my small northern town. Bored of people’s lack of ambition, lack of glamour, lack of achievement, lack of life. Above all though, i was bored of the boys in all their predictable, charmless teenage glory. I’d briefly tried going out with an older guy, but that didn’t make much different. I dreamed of someone well dressed and flamboyant, who spoke like the lead in a black and white film, who drank champagne like other people drank Carling and who could talk about history and philosophy and life for hours, without making themselves sound like an idioy. Someone who made romantic gestures, who was generous to everyone and extravagant towards me. Someone, for preference, who rowed and had the muscles to prove it. When i was really having a bad day, someone with a title. I short, i wanted it to be like Brideshead only with less homoeroticism, more falling in love with me and a complete absence of people dying from alcoholism in Venice. Every time a well meaning access scheme leaflet tried to reassure me and all the other state school acceptees that Oxford wasn’t wall to wall old Etonians in permanent black tie, I died a little inside.
As you might have anticipated, my mother’s motivation requires a little more explanation. I’d better start by explaining that at this time, the summer of 2007, revelling in post A-Level freedom, the whole vampire issue had never been communicated to me. My Mother was a mystery and to some degree she remains so .
She didn’t bring me up of course. My aunt Kate has always been my real mother in all but the biological sense. Even before the car crash my father’s sweet, dull sister had spent days on end babysitting when my parents worked late at the bank and later at the banker restaurants, clubs and bars.
It seems fair to suggest that even in those days, my mother missed me. Indeed that, combined with my parents’ near legendary lack of impulse control was the cause of it.
[I guess we pulled into St Pancras at that point! This is sort of cheating, but as I’m finding it slightly surreal to read the first person version, I thought I’d carry on with the next chapter. I think there was meant to be something between these two instalments.Not sure whether it’s lost or was never written. We’re still in first person, but now Harriet seems to be narrating in real time. I appear to have done quite a bit of playing around with style that I’d forgotten all about.]
I see my real mother precisely four times a year. On the 1st May, 31st October, 21st December and at some point during the week of my birthday in March. [Oh Harriet, for goodness sake, your birthday is in September. This is surprisingly critical to the plot of Ivory Terrors] Sometimes these dates fall on a school day, but from primary school right up to the sixth form I’ve never had a problem getting them off. For a start I guess the teachers are a little horrified that my mother basically abandoned me, and give me the sympathy vote. But my mother also told me that she’s spoken to the headteacher at each school I’ve attended, and, like most people, they didn’t even try to argue with her.
I’ve always been intensely excited about her visits. When I was little I’d spend days beforehand telling anyone who’d listen that I was going to see my mum, would questioned my aunt endlessly in the run up about when she’d be here and what we were going to do and would inevitably be completely incapable of sleep the night before. Kate had gone through a stage of just not telling me she was coming, but I’d always known.
Nowadays I manage to seem calmer. After all, most of my friends spend as much time avoiding their parents as possible. On the inside however my heart starts pounding about a week beforehand. I plan what I’m going to wear and how I’ll do my hair every bit as carefully as I’d do for a first date (and know she’ll pay much more attention than any boy). A million things I want to tell her start rushing through my mind. I’m basically incapable of holding a sensible conversation the day before and on the day itself, even the most inviting of social invitations take a back seat.
I guess in part its a natural reaction of any girl who doesn’t get to see her mother, but it’s more than that. To a greater or lesser extent, my mother has that sort of effect on almost anyone she meets, male or female, young or old. She’s intensely glamourous and very beautiful, two qualities you don’t get that much of around here. She’s chatty and funny and has great stories and gossip. Above all though, she has this unbelievable confidence. It’s as though she has no conception of the possibility of anyone disliking her or ignoring her or turning down her requests and she’s almost always proved right.
It’s a bit of a mystery what exactly my mother does. When I was a kid I’d question her endlessly on her rare visits, but she’d generally smile and change the subject. Nowadays, I just want to enjoy the time I have with her, so I avoid awkward questions (why did you leave me Mummy?) and just enjoy any information she does give me. As far as I can tell, she travels a lot and works long hours in some high flying job which she claims are the main reason she doesn’t see more of me.
She lives with an older man called Austin or as Aunt Kate scathingly calls him (despite the fact that to the best of my knowledge they’ve been together for about sixteen years), “her new husband.” By all accounts he’s immensely rich and powerful, very high up in a bank and with political connections. From the brief conversations I’ve had with him when he drops my mother off he always seems very charming, if a little grand and distant. Aunt Kate isn’t my mother’s biggest fan (in fact, she often seems to be the only person who actually dislikes her) but she’s usually at least civil to her. Austin however, she steadfastly refuses to allow into the house and has made it quite clear to me that I’m never to let him in either. I always knew better than to ask questions about Austin or why she disliked him, and certainly never dreamed or defying her and asking him in for a drink.
I suppose Kate has always been hurt that her beloved brother’s widow seemingly found someone to replace my father in her affections so soon after his death. I can understand this, but so much time has passed now that to me it seems a little churlish and completely uncharacteristic of my usually friendly and easy going aunt. Would she really rather my mother was still grieving and alone?
For my part, I’d love to get to know my step-father a little better but I don’t press the point. I suspect he’s offered to help Kate and Richard out financially in the past and been firmly rebuffed. Sometimes I wonder if Austin is the real reason that my mother couldn’t bring me up – that he didn’t want children and she chose him over me. I try not to think about this too much though.
So anyway, on her specified days (and search me why she chose those) she’ll turn up around lunchtime, driven by Austin in some fancy car or other, seemingly a different one each time. That alone is generally enough to get the neighbours looking out of the windows.
I used to run out to them. Nowadays I’ll generally try and walk out coolly in a pretty pair of heels. There’ll be an all enveloping perfumed hug from my mother and a few polite words with Austin to update him on what I’ve been up to over the last few months. He always seems genuinely interested but it could well be an act. Then he drives off somewhere and me and mummy go inside.
So today’s the 21st December, two days after I got my acceptance letter and I think that between me and my aunt, we’ve told all the world. Well, all the world but my mother, but today, she’s going to be here. This time around, with all the waiting to hear whether or not I’d got the place, I’d been thinking about her visit less frequently than usual, but yesterday I was more excited than ever. I could tell her my news. She’d be so proud of me. Instead of all the myths I’d been getting about people who never left their room, I could ask her all about it. She was, after all, the only person I knew who’d actually studied there herself, and although that had been twenty years ago, I couldn’t imagine that twenty years was a very long time scale in a university a thousand years old.
Most of the time I wear jeans and a little top, like my cousin and like most people I know. My mother however always wears beautiful dresses, smart heels and lots of jewellery and I know she likes me to do the same. Most of the things I own like that we’ve picked out together and she’s bought for me. As a matter of fact, I’m hoping there’ll be a shopping trip on the cards today.
So, a few days ago, to commemorate the release of Ivory Terrors and the conclusion of the Cavaliers Series, I wrote a post about how it all got started.
“I dug out my old notebook from my teenage bookcase, stood in the kitchen and told my Mum I was finally going to write my book. On the train back to London from Sheffield, I wrote like a woman possessed. I’d barely written anything by hand since school, but with no laptop to hand, I filled page after page of my notebook with a combination of notes and a rudimentary first chapter.”
i still have both the notes and the very first version of the first chapter, and I thought it would be rather fun to share them. Looking through the notes the other day, I found it fascinating what elements had survived to the end through years of writing and editing, which evolved, and which completely changed.
The notes are in full below. If you’ve never read any of the Cavaliers, it’s probably not worth you reading on, as I wouldn’t say they are very representative of how the book ended up, but if you’re either a fan or interested in how books develop between planning and publication, take a look. iId love to read the author’s original notes for some of my favourite books!
Interesting things that struck me:
- Augustine seems to be the only character who has a name at this stage
- The unnamed character who is clearly George sounds like much more of a full-blown villain rather than dark love interest
- Harriet has some sort of “power to see things that happened as though she were there.”
- There’s a “nice human boy, probably from her school” I’m not sure what became of him. I guess he turned into Josh, though here, the insinuation seems to be that he’s a bit of a love interest and gets involved with the Cavaliers
- The paragraph that deals with Harriet’s trip to visit her mother before Oxford didn’t make the book, but did get written. In the original draft, that’s where she meets Tom. I might share that scene at some point.
- There’s a lot more about the Roundheads than ended up being in Oxford Blood, though most of it comes out in later books. Interestingly, they weren’t meant to be evil here, just different. I still rather like that idea, but I think somewhere along the line, I sacrificed that bit of cleverness for villains readers can root against.
- The ending sounds like it was going to be happier in some ways (murder plots foiled) and darker in some ways (has to flee with Tom).
Anyway, here we go. These are completely unedited, so don’t judge me too hard. The actual first chapter I wrote on the train might follow tomorrow.
Her mother and father were city lawyers/bankers. In a car crash one night when she was young. Father killed outright. Mother turned by her boss, who is a vampire leader. She had known him having been at uni with his “son.” Came home for a few days, breastfed child, which is why she got the power to see things that happened as though she were there.
Quickly realised she couldn’t cope, went to live with VL (Austin?) left baby in care of sister in law. Would have liked to have kept her but can’t only care for a baby at night etc, plus registered dead!
She brought her up – friendly but a bit dull. Mother visited about four times a year. all exciting and glam and fun. Tension between her and the sister in law who starts trying to keep her away. Although quite newly made, as she was made by A, mother is quite strong and other vampires don’t mess with her as they’d have him to deal with. Quite bossy even towards him.
Wants her daughter to be a vampire in the standard wanting what’s best for your kids/pushy mother way.
Mother very keen she goes to Oxford. She pushes the education aspect but also the life and broadly social climbing vein.
Gets in just before her 18th birthday. Has a party at home with school friends (this should probably be in to normalise her and introduce home friends properly who will be a bit of a foil to the Oxford people and the vampires.
Waiting and waiting for her mother to turn up. Instead gets a card inviting her to come and visit her in London. Very excited. Shopping, spa treatments etc. Then a party. Very glam. Alternates between loving it and overwhelmed. Struggling to put her finger on quite what’s wrong. Meets the one who will be keeping an eye on her. Hit it off. Then he has to leave (has been asked to be the mother as not a good enough catch)
Then we jump to first week in Oxford. Run with general fresher’s week tales. Overwhelmed, excited. Play up the posh element but also some nice, sat having cups of tea in people’s rooms stuff. We need a nice human boy on the scene. One possibility is someone from her school.
Two groups of vampires – based on cavaliers and roundheads – the glamorous Anne Rice style ones versus the nosferatu type. Obv we’re pro the former, but the divide is to do with style, further divides of those who are evil and those who just do what they have to to survive in both groups. A lot from that time – endemic in Charles court, part of culture of decadence.
The point of the society is to get those who look in with a chance of success in all the main industries under the control of the vampires. About 20 a year invited to join, about 10 turned and 10 killed.
Girls generally just used for sex and blood however talented – not really caught up to the idea that women can be of use for power (or poorer people for that matter). Human friend caught up in this?
There is one caddish vamp the mother is hoping the daughter will get with.
The one from the party is ignoring her on her mother’s orders, but also keeping an eye on her to ensure she stays out of trouble, looking good, reports back to A etc.
At some point she is being taken by the evil vampire whose mind control powers aren’t working due to her own powers (to both of their confusion), although she is charmed. He steps in to rescue her. Sexual tensions then he has to leave.
At some point, she attends one of their parties. Step father on stage shock. (is this when she realises? Or will she look stupid by this point?)
Ends with them getting together and deciding to take a chance on it. Also with the murder scheme foiled.
Is there a totally evil one and a charming cad or are they one and the same? Probably former works best.
When and how does she find out?
First few days – looking round, family meal
First formal meal
First essay and tute (probably interspersed with something weird happening)
First bop (maybe tie into matriculation)
The club/addison’s walk bit
Halloween and fireworks – something scary and something romantic to happen
Christmas holiday interlude – trip to see someone? Maybe a big marquee party at someone’s house
Boat race – stay with Mother? Know by this time so a different dynamic
At the dining society – stepfather there. Learns most of the truth about it.
Prelims – done in a daze
A ball = big dramatic climax there. Someone killed? She’s almost turned.
Packing up the next day. Everywhere is empty. Waiting for Tom to get up so they can flee
Fifteen years ago, I picked up a copy of the Vampire Diaries from my school library and instantly fell in love with an entire genre.
Ten years ago, I sketched out a basic plot for a vampire novel of my own, based around a girl whose mother is a vampire and trying to set her up with an eligible monster. And then University happened, and was wonderful, and the plan got no further.
Four years ago, I spent Easter at my parents’ house, and whiled away a few hours reading a copy of Dead until Dark which my aunt had lent me. It was the first vampire book I’d read in ages, and it rekindled my teenage fascination. I dug out my old notebook from my teenage bookcase, stood in the kitchen and told my Mum I was finally going to write my book. On the train back to London from Sheffield, I wrote like a woman possessed. I’d barely written anything by hand since school, but with no laptop to hand, I filled page after page of my notebook with a combination of notes and a rudimentary first chapter (of which more below).
Those ideas, of course, turned into Oxford Blood, and ultimately, into the whole Cavaliers Series. And today, Ivory Terrors, the third and final book, has finally been published.
I always planned it as a trilogy, but I’m not sure that I truly believed, either that day on the train or on many occasions since, that I’d ever have it all completed and available for sale. Frankly, I feel pretty bloody proud of my self.
There’s been lots of other things going on in my life in the four years since I started Oxford Blood – a graduate job, a promotion, an engagement, house moves, friends weddings – but writing the Cavaliers has nonetheless been such a huge part of my life that this really feels like the end of an era. Or at least it will, once May’s over and I’ve finished with the blog tour – for the next couple of weeks, I’m undoubtedly going to continue to have Ivory Terrors very much on the brain. And I mean it to genuinely be an end. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s authors who drag their series out far beyond their originally intended end. I’m half considering writing some historical short stories based around various members of the Cavaliers during various time periods, but its not my next project and it’s not even officially on my to do list. It’ll be strange without these characters clamouring for attention in my mind.
It’d be a lie to say I’ve loved ever moment of writing and publishing my trilogy. There have been days where I’ve struggled to make a plotpoint work or had to force myself to cut a scene I loved or had to do lots of fiddly editing and proofing and formatting. But most of the time, it’s been amazing. I’ve loved bringing characters to life. I’ve loved playing with history and with vampire lore. I’ve loved getting some of my memories of Oxford down on paper, and building on them to create dramatic scenes. I’ve loved taking a tricky scene or bit of plot, and suddenly managing to make it work, and above all, I’ve loved reading back over something I’ve written, and thinking actually, that’s not too bad. And in some ways, that’s the best thing of all. Popular wisdom claims that you should write the book you want to read, and I’ve written three of them. If no one else had ever read The Cavaliers Series, I’d still have been happy that I’d created something that I truly loved.
And yet, it gets better. Because my books are for sale, and people I’ve never met have bought them, and in many cases, enjoyed them and reviewed them and contacted me. And this fact still sometimes blows my mind. PEOPLE I’VE NEVER MET ARE READING SOMETHING I’VE WRITTEN.
What has astonished me even more are the people who have helped me out by beta-reading or featuring me on their blog or in any number of other ways, big and small. Today, for example, Ivory Terrors is featured on the following blogs, which are well worth a look:
- http://chippyreader.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/ivory-terrors (including my first review of Book Three)
- http://pinkfluffyhearts.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/promotional-event-ivory-terrors.html (including an extract)
The people who’ve beta-read deserve particular credit. It’s astonishing the extent to which you can think your book is finished and perfected, only for a fresh pair of eyes to point out plot issues that seem obvious as soon as they’ve been mentioned. Three people beta-read Book Three, and there were two things that all three of them commented on, that I’d never considered but ended up changing. They’ve really contributed to making my books the best they can be. And more fundamentally, through both the beta-reading process and through reviews both good and bad, I feel I’ve become a better writer over the course of writing the series. I hope I’ll be even prouder of my next book, which I can start from scratch with all of that accumulated knowledge.
I’ll leave it there for now, before this becomes too rambly and emotional, but if we’ve ever had any contact with regards to my books, then thank you. I really hope that if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll buy Ivory Terrors today. If you haven’t read the earlier books, I hope you’ll give Oxford Blood (the first one) a go. And if you read one or all of the books, please leave me a review and let me know what you think.
Finally, if you’ve read this post, please comment and say hello on what’s a really quite special day for me.
Cheesiness over. You’ll hopefully be seeing a lot of me over the next few days, now the hard part’s over. And at the weekend, if I get a)time and b)the nerve, I’ll post the quite hilarious original notes for Oxford Blood that I mention above.