When I started work on Joe Coffin, the first in my series of UK set vampire novels, I maybe should have paused and asked myself, Does the world really need another vampire novel?
Because, you know, put like that, it probably doesn’t.
But then vampires, more than zombies even, and certainly more than werewolves, persist in our imagination, in our nightmares, in our fear of the dark. Zombies are a relatively recent phenomena in popular consciousness, and werewolves can only manifest once a month, and seem to stick in the public mindset about as often.
But vampires? Oh hell, they’ve been around since like, forever.
And so I wondered, Why is that?
If I asked you to picture a vampire in your mind, the image you come up with will probably vary, considering your age and your gender. Maybe Christopher Lee for those of us old enough to remember the Hammer Horror movies. Or, for the younger amongst us, and especially girls, maybe Robert Pattinson in the Twilight Saga.
But I doubt any of you would come up with this image.
Read Bram Stoker’s Dracula though, and this is pretty much how he is described:
‘. . . hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see . . . was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth.
These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed.’
All right, I exaggerate somewhat in that photograph, but I hope you get my point. The description of Dracula doesn’t exactly conjure Christopher Lee, does it? And it is even further removed from the chiselled features of Robert Pattinson.
Vampires, it seems, have the ability to change appearance and character to fit with the age they are born into. And this, I think, is part of their enduring appeal.
From the eroticism of Carmilla, an LGBT story that existed over a hundred years before the term had been invented, through the arrival of the archetype in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and on to the embodiment of that novel in the Christopher Lee Hammer Horror movies, the feminism of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and and finally the sexually chaste but oh so romantically inclined Twilight vampires, the one element that seems to connect all vampires everywhere (well, almost all) is sex.
We can probably lay the blame for that at Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s feet. His novella, Carmilla, was published in 1871, a decade after homosexuality had been delisted as a capital offence, and pulsated with the horror of sex. Le Fanu’s explicitly lesbian vampire walks through walls, shapeshifts into a cat, loathes Christianity and steals the lifeblood of young women.
A perfect embodiment of the terror of homosexuality that existed in the 1800s, perhaps.
Twenty-six years later Bram Stoker took this element of sex and used it in his novel, Dracula. Just look at how Jonathan Harker describes the women in Dracula’s castle, who he fears far more than the count himself:
"All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips."
The chaste Lucy Westenra is transformed into a raging seductress once she becomes a vampire, the ‘Bloofer Lady’ who wanders London at night preying on the innocent. But even before she was bitten, Lucy was showing signs of repressed sexuality. After all, she has marriage proposals from three men, and all on the same day!
Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, initially a cool, teenage shoutout for feminism, succumbs to the traditional vampire tropes as our heroine falls in love with handsome vampire Angel.
And sex is everywhere in the Twilight movies, even if it is desperately repressed, held back until it can be expressed within the sanctity of marriage.
Whereas in True Blood, the TV series based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, the sexual urge is finally set free. Boy/girl, girl/girl, boy/boy, it doesn’t really matter.
When I started writing the first chapter in the first Joe Coffin book, I really had no idea what was going to happen. Two children are exploring an abandoned house, and as they crept through its gloomy rooms and halls, I was just as in the dark as to what they might find as they were.
But when they eventually opened that final door, and crept into the darkened room, what did they see?
Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you too much, but let’s just say it fits in with the theme of what we have been discussing here.
The sexual urge is a driving force in the Joe Coffin books, and not just for the vampires, either.
And maybe that’s why we can always embrace another vampire book. Because until we can give up on our obsession with sex, we will never give up on our love of vampires.
I am currently running a giveaway for a Kindle Paperwhite, until December 9th. As a bonus, everybody who enters gets a free ebook copy of Joe Coffin Season One. It’s been getting some great reviews, not least from Gingernuts of Horror’s very own David Dubrow.
So, if you fancy a free vampire novel, and the chance to win a Kindle Paperwhite to read it on, click the link below to find out more and enter.
Win A Kindle Paperwhite courtesy of Ken Preston
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