Dracul – viscerally visual

The characters and scenes in this story remain imprinted in my mind’s eye. Dacre Stoker’s Dracul has not been written like a screenplay but it would make a sumptuously surreal film.

Dracul is written by Bram Stoker’s Great Grand-Nephew, Dacre Stoker, in collaboration with J.D. Barker.

The authors’ note (p.483) asserts that this is the story that was left out of the original Dracula. Bram’s publishers shied away from the content of the first 101 pages of Dracula, which Bram claimed to be a true story:

I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight. (pp. 483-4.)

In the original preface of Dracula, Bram states that it is his “duty to present it before the eyes of the public;” “a warning of a very real evil” (Dracul, p.484).

Compiled from Bram’s notes and translated from other language editions, that apparently did include the original text, Dacre and Barker have deftly crafted the story of Ellen Crone. Ellen is the Stoker family’s nanny and the reason for Jonathan Harker’s pursuit of Dracula in the later part of the story.

Ellen is beautiful; ageless and perfect. Yet sometimes her blue eyes become grey; her blonde curls become wispy, thin, and she disappears from the house, hiding under her hood, to regain her strength.

“What colour will Ellen’s eyes be today?” wonders Bram. Where does she go, returning replenished and young again: what is her secret?

Bram, suddenly fit after being unwell for years as a child, and his sister Matilda become obsessed with finding out. 

Ellen appears never to eat. Her room is coated in dust. Under her bed is another: filled with soil. 

Bram and Matilda’s investigations lead them to a tower room in Artane Castle: another bed, more soil, and whose hand?!

Ellen’s trail grows cold then until, as adults, the Stoker siblings renew their investigations. They are sure they have seen someone from their past die for a second time. How can this be?

This compelling tale begins with Bram undergoing an ordeal that lasts the duration of the book; interspersed with the history learned during childhood as Bram hurries to write down his story. Guarding a malevolent creature in a locked tower room, Bram recounts the events that led him here, fearing his own demise.

Not all of this story is focused on the gory habits of vampires (but be warned, dear reader, there is much blood). Ellen’s character is problematical. Her story is poignant; her eventual fate even more so. Are her intentions self-serving and evil? If so, why has she nurtured Bram and not harmed him? And who is the creature in the tower?

The language of this book harks back to the original literary text – reflecting the way English was spoken in the nineteenth century – so it comes across as authentic. It’s up to the reader if you believe it…or not!

Dracul placed a commendable third in GoodRead’s best reads for 2018 – Horror – almost toppling the twentieth century’s master of horror, Stephen King. In my opinion it should have won.

Find more Horror fiction

Spooky stuff for Halloween

All Hallow’s Eve is coming up and if you’re in the mood for some ghostly good times, have we got the books, movies and info for you!

For Kids

We’ve got some great Halloween-themed books for kids. You might want to try –

We’ve also got this handy Halloween guide with a little bit of history, Halloween crafts and costumes, and safety tips, like this video from New Zealand Police.

For Adults and Teens

If you prefer things a little darker, we’ve got that covered too.

Movies

  • Frightening Flicks – My choice of the best horror movies from our library catalogue. With gore rating, so you can pick the level of fake blood you’re comfortable with.

Award-winning horror

Maybe try some horrific winners?

  • Cover of A head full of ghostsBram Stoker Awards – Named after the author of Dracula, and run by the Horror Writers Association.
  • Sir Julius Vogel Awards – Named after a former New Zealand Prime Minister/science fiction novelist, the awards “recognise excellence in science fiction, fantasy, or horror works created by New Zealanders and New Zealand residents”.

Halloween events in Christchurch

Halloween Party preparation

Cover of The Hummingbird Bakery Halloween and bonfire night bakesOr if you’re planning your own shindig, you’re going to need –

So that’s plenty of Halloween-y stuff to consume, just make sure you return it on time (or we’ll own your immortal soul, as per our library membership conditions*).

Not a library member yet? Join uuuuussssss

*Not really.

“All Eyes” – Justin Cronin – WORD Christchurch

“All eyes” I sure will keep my eyes out for those “virals,” “flyers,” “slims” or “smokes”.

Signed copy of The City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin had us all eating out of his hand during his interview with local young adult author Karen Healey.

His motivation for writing his virals trilogy – still can’t bear to call them vampires – was his daughter Iris who was then something like 9 years old. A prodigious reader she had taken a look at his previous novels Mary and O’Neil and  The Summer Guest and pronounced them boring and wanted to read a book about a girl who saved the world! Each day they would cycle around Houston and talk about what would be in such a book. Through this process he lost his inner critic.

Iris has an audiographic memory (like a photographic memory but for sound) she would always know what chapter they where up to when returning to a book. She had lots of suggestions –  there would be a girl with red hair like her and she named the characters. There was only one rule about what would be in the book – it had to be interesting. After a while he realised his current novel wasn’t going so well and he had 30 pages of notes so he thought he’d write the first chapter and see if it went anywhere – and here we are ten years later with the last volume of the trilogy.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6021

An English professor at Rice University, his only rule for Iris at college is don’t take any creative writing courses I can do that. Now  publishing her own work it looks like dad has successfully taught her the family business although I don’t know who taught who …

Why vamps? They are the most interesting out of the four monsters in human form: Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires and zombies. Although I wonder if he forgot about yeti, and Karen was putting a great case for old-fashioned fairies. He excuses himself saying those other Vampire stories were not on his radar, at the time Twilight had only just come out.

At the heart of the vampire noir is the premise that immortality is a terrible state to reassure us that we would rather be human than live forever. He takes vamps and puts them into a new narrative and that’s what makes it interesting. Vamps but with a twist –  you’ve always got to bring something else in to make it interesting like a road trip and a viral epidemic. He was inspired by a couple of B grade movies one called Near Dark directed by the talented Kathryn Bigelow. It blended to the western narrative of a drifters story also Magic Johnson had just come out and there was the AIDs epidemic.

Justin’s not averse to a bit of vampire seduction but in a different way, a seduction utilising rhetoric. Fanning as the charismatic narrator, Fanning sitting around for all those years in a library reading books using language to seduce Amy. A rhetorical seduction to make us feel sympathy with him.

On characters and community

  • Since you are running for your life what is the one thing you would carry with you? In most cases people would carry someone else, therefore you have a love story and bonds of community.
  • Survival is not sufficient. We read end of the world stories for reassurance and resurrection is an important part of that.
  • You need survivors to have hope for their children. You think what does it mean to have a child? A child is a deal you make with the future.

Describing the novels as an apocalyptic western road trip,  part of the inspiration for The Passage trilogy was the depressing world events at the time. Hurricane Katrina had just hit, G.W. Bush had been re-elected and a second less known Hurricane Rita had triggered an evacuation of Houston which he found himself in the midst of.

One morning stuck on the motorway at 2 am going nowhere in a massive traffic jam watching the fuel gauge go down he did the maths and decided they weren’t going to make it out and made a u-turn and headed back home. Luckily the main force of the hurricane hit further off than predicted.

He is interested in the response of community to disasters like the Christchurch earthquake how community survives. Community is a social lifeboat with a group of mostly good people who are resilient.

Why Mirrors

“The vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror and after a certain age that is the case with everybody”.

On making things creepy

I look to nature things that creep me out like fish why do they all turn the same way like that? Crickets how they can jump so much further than their body length, the virals are like bugs in hives.

On imagination

He deliberately doesn’t describe the virals too much leaving it to you to bring the things that scare you to your picture of them. Everyone’s picture of a viral would be different. That’s why movies can be disappointing and on that topic he has sold the film rights but it may be a TV show will eventuate. TV shows are now where the story is at not so many special effects.

Favourite things

Watching The walking dead and The Americans.

What drives him crazy

When the guns don’t run out of ammo on The Walking dead, and cars start whose batteries would have gone for years and the tyres aren’t flat. You have to think these things through.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6032

Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night, 16 June 1816

 Cover imageOn 16 June 1816, trapped inside a villa by insatiable thunderstorms erupting across Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Lord Byron challenged his party of young bohemians to a ghost story competition.

That night, Byron’s challenge gave birth to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre, the first great vampire novel. Combining drama and a stellar cast of popular writers, including Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, this documentary explores one of the most significant moments in gothic history and its lasting effect on modern literature.

View the video Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night.

Cover Cover Cover Cover Cover

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Straying into fantasy

HCover of The Bone seasonave you ever had a book turn up as a hold and you have no memory of why you might have requested it? After getting an email telling me The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon was waiting for me at my local library, I was puzzled as to why on earth I might have requested it, since it’s a book in the fantasy genre. As a rule I am a hard core mystery and thriller fan – give me a Louise Penny, Michael Connelly or Michael Robotham and I’ll be happily content.

Cover of Club DeadBut fantasy? With characters and things in the story that don’t exist in real life? Not my thing, thanks. My only exposure to the adult novel world of fantasy is limited to the occasional foray into the weird and wonderful happenings in the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. After all, who can resist a sexy vampire or werewolf every now and then for a bit of escapism?

However, as The Bone Season was there, and I was short on things to read so I decided to give it a go, on the assumption that some time in the forgotten past I must have read a review of the book and been sufficiently intrigued.

And I’m glad I did! Although the four pages of the ‘seven orders of clairvoyance’ at the start of the book, did make me pause and reconsider my decision momentarily. Set in London in 2059 under control of a security force called Scion, nineteen year old Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld as a dreamwalker, whose developing skill is breaking into the minds of other people. Clairvoyants or ‘unnaturals’ are a hunted species in this world and when Paige is captured she finds herself held prisoner by The Rephaim, an otherworldly powerful group of beings in Oxford, the city that has been kept secret for two centuries. Life is grim in Sheol 1 and Paige finds herself with little option but to try and work with her enigmatic master Warden Arcturus.

Shannon writes well enough to hold a non-fan of fantasy in thrall of the developing story – and the ending satisfies while clearly setting the scene for the second of what will be seven books in the series. Film rights have already been sold, so no doubt Bone Season the movie will appear on screens in due course.

If you want to keep up to date with the fantasy publishing world, you can subscribe to the monthly newsletter or you can get your fill of your preferred genre by checking out more of the same from Christchurch City Libraries If you Like suggestions.

I suspect I’ll be on the waiting list for when the next book in The Bone Season series comes out, have you strayed outside your reading comfort zone lately?

September’s fantasy newsletter

A small selection of the book covers from our September Fantasy newsletter.
Cover of The Arrivals by Melissa Marr Cover of Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik Cover of Blood Song by Anthony Ryan Cover of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon Cover of The Thousand Names by Django Wexler Cover of Written in Red by Anne Bishop
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Fantasy newsletter

Here are some book covers from the May 2013 Fantasy newsletter:

Cover of Shattered Pillars Cover of Dreams and Shadows Cover of Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Cover of The Demonologist Cover of the Magician's Guild  Cover of Dampir

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Don’t be put off by the vampire thing

CoverWhen was the last time a book kept you awake to the wee hours even though you knew you would be knackered at work the next day? Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist has been around for a while. There is even a movie based on the book that was nominated for a Bafta. I guess I am a late starter but this may be because the plot involves a vampire … do not switch off!!!!

The rapid growth of vampire fiction due to the success of the Twilight series has left me a bit cold but this is no Twilight – it is a dark thriller based in a working class housing estate in 80’s Sweden.

The story centers on the relationship between a 12 year-old boy, Oskar, and a centuries-old vampire child, Eli. The book focuses on the lowest forms of humanity dealing with issues such as school bullying, paedophilia and murder. So yes – not for the fainthearted.

If this still does not sound like your cup of tea (or blood) then we do have electronic resources in the Source such as  Books and Authors and Novelist Plus that can help you track down a book that will be more to your tastes.

As for me I am off to put holds on the rest of this author’s books!

Does anyone have anymore horror recommendations for me?

Never judge a book by its cover

Tea ObrehtTea Obreht bounced on stage at the 2011 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, looking for all the world like a stereotypical cheerleader – thick long blonde hair, shiny white teeth in a large smile, standard American TV accent. But hang on, hasn’t she written a world famous novel? Yes, it’s called The Tiger’s Wife, she began it at 19 and finished it at  22.

She spoke with Paula Morris about her Balkan heritage and how she comes from a tradition of rich storytelling, where even a trip to the shop is retold as an epic event. She is a fan of grand layered narrative and wrote this novel out of sequence – choosing to write sections at separate times, then wove them together later to make a seamless whole, that is virtually three dimensional in its complexity.

Her inspiration for the novel came from a National Geographic documentary she watched one snowy winter about Siberian tigers,  then combined that with traditional stories she’d grown up with, and she’d also loved reading The Jungle Book and Just So stories as a child. She is a zoo fanatic, has visited Auckland Zoo whilst here, and proclaimed it one of the best she’d seen.

Before starting this novel, she was commissioned by Harpers magazine to go to remote Serbo-Croatian villages to gain information for an article on vampires (this being the start of the Twilight era). She knocked on many doors, had a few slammed in her face, but at others was invited in and she listened to nonagenarians talk about their first hand experiences with these bloodsuckers. Not the average temporary job for a teen, and you can only admire her level-headedness at such a young age.

Tea has a second novel under way, but is making slow progress on it. The Tiger’s Wife was written as her grandfather was dying (Obreht is his Slovenian surname – he made a deathbed request that she dedicate her book to him, and she has, as well as taking on his name), and the novel was cathartic for her. Consequently it has taken her a while to come up with another idea that will be equally as meaningful to her. I wish her all the best for it because, let’s face it, she’s certainly got time on her side.

Vampires – but not as we know them

We all know the typical Twilight-esque vampire, all yearning, suppressed sexuality and teenage angst – oh and a little blood lust thrown in.

Then there’s the TV series True Blood, based on the  Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris (which I love) but its sexuality is not at all repressed,  and the blood quota is pretty much up there with Carrie.

I have just discovered (ok, I’m a bit slow sometimes), a whole new twist and I loved it. Let The Right One In is by Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist. Oskar lives with his mum in a high rise building in the western suburbs of Stockholm. It’s the early eighties and he likes listening to Kiss on his Walkman, solving puzzles – including the Rubik’s cube – and pasting grisly murder stories from the newspaper into his scrapbook.

A young girl his age, Eli, moves in next door and offers him a compelling friendship and help in dealing with school bullies. But Eli is not your typical 12 year old waif, and the story grips you as it is slowly revealed Eli is a vampire. But there is no full-on sexuality, just intensity and not a fang in sight.

Some of the classic concepts of life as a vampire are there: aversion to sunlight, needing to be invited into a home and not just walk in, and the never ending quest for, shall we say, ‘food sources’, but being a vampire is almost a side issue to the emotion and intensity between these two young people, trying to make sense of their worlds as they are. The community around them is horrified by the sudden increase in murders and disapearances that start around the time of Eli’s arrival.