Every night this week, I’m writing about some of the reasons I love reading and writing vampire novels. If you haven’t already read my intro, check it out here, so we’re clear what sort of vampire books I’m talking about – Introduction Oh and in case you’ve come across this blog randomly, all the title quotes are from my series, The Cavaliers. Grant me a little self-indulgence!
Tonight, we’re dealing with reasons one and two:
- History without the baggage
- Folklore, tradition and magic
1)History without the baggage
“Harriet thought about the 1920s, one of her favourite periods of history. She was struggling to understand that he had lived through them, had that glorious interwar experience.”
As I think would probably be clear to anyone who’s either read Oxford Blood or spent much time on this blog, I absolutely love history. It was my university degree and it’s an ongoing personal passion. I quite enjoy full blown historical fiction, but only in fairly small doses and only if it’s really well done
There are a few seriously amazing historical fictions novels (Wolf Hall, obviously. Sarum, which tells the history of Salisbury from prehistoric times to the present day. The King’s General, by Daphne de Maurier, which has all the brilliance of her more famous works with the added fun of being set during the English Civil War). I’m seriously considering writing a proper historical novel myself at some point.
I do however have a few problems with the genre. One, unless it’s alternate history (which can be amazing if done well) you know how any major events mentioned in the book is going to end. Two, if characters act in historically authentic ways (eg in their attitudes to women or class) there are only so many ways they can develop, and if they don’t, it can feel jarring. Similarly, an author can either include lots of historical detail, drowning the plot under a pile of cravats, muslin dresses and talk of the war and the King, or they can avoid this and seem inauthentic.
With vampire novels, you can have the best of both world. Most of the plot can be set in the present day, giving the characters freedom to behave as they wish and leaving the ending open, but at the same time, you can have flashbacks to the time when the vampire characters were alive, and you can also have their original time period influence their views on the world. This is done particularly well in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, which whilst they never let facts get in the way of a good story, nevertheless gave me a good understanding of the culture of Renaissance Italy, Ancient Egypt and medieval Russia when I read them in my teens, years before I studied any of those periods properly.
The historical elements were definitely one of my favourite parts of writing Oxford Blood, and the accuracy of them is one of the aspects of the book I’m proudest of. All of this is one of the reasons that one of my golden rules of vampire writing is that at least some major characters need to have been born more than a century ago. Preferably a lot more.
2 – Folklore, tradition and magic
This follows on from the history point and is a very similar argument. I love folklore and mythology and tradition, and vampire novels can be given a liberal sprinkling of this sort of detail without it having to become the entire point of the story.
I find it fascinating how many culture, across the globe and over the centuries, have had some form of vampire legend. I find it fun to compare the differences in detail of these traditions. Oxford Blood plays with this a little, by having two sets of vampires, the Cavaliers and the Roundheads:
“George broke off from his memories. “Tell me,” he asked Harriet, watching her closely, “have you ever noticed how there are basically two sorts of vampires depending on which books you read and which films you watch?”
“You mean that there are the Anne Rice style glamorous brooding ones and then there are the old fashioned scary Nosferatu monsters?” Harriet asked nervously.
“Exactly,” George said with a hint of a smile. “It’s us and them.”
This is taken to a fabulous extreme in the Anno Dracula series, which starts from the principle that all the conflicting tales about vampires are true and pretty much every fictional vampire is real, and that the discrepancy is simply due to their being a variety of different bloodlines, each of which has very different qualities.
Beyond the vampires themselves, vampire novels are a great starting point for bringing in all sorts of other mythology, whether that’s biblical references, ideas about magic and psychic powers or ancient prophecies. I think this sort of thing can put a lot of readers off, but I love it. It comes back to my original point – if the plot would be basically the same if the vampires were human, it’s not a good vampire novel.
I’d love to hear whether you agree or disagree on my thoughts so far, or about any points you think I’ve missed from my list. If you enjoyed this, check back tomorrow for reason three: romance with meaningful tension.