I was contacted by a university student recently, called Simon Harris, asking if he could interview me for a paper he was writing about vampires. I don’t normally have time to respond to personal requests like this, but his questions interested me, so I figured I’d do what I could to answer them and help him out some. You can read the questions and answers below — and hopefully Simon will get back in touch once his paper has been completed and submitted, to let us all know how he got on!!!
1. It is widely assumed that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the foundation building block for the contemporary image of the vampire. I believe that this is largely down to the popularity of Stoker’s work in contemporary academia. Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Polidori’s The Vampyre, etc, came earlier but are not as academically renowned. Throughout your own work, which traditional literary vampire/s were your principal influence for your own creational vampires, and why was this the case?
I think every modern vampire book (i.e. every book written from the early 20th century onwards) stems from Stoker’s Dracula. While vampires were by no means a new creation when he wrote his book, his version of them captured the imagination of readers and became the vampire “bible”. Many writers have deviated away from the rules laid out in Stoker’s book (especially the sunlight rule), but the basic rules have permeated the modern consciousness to such a degree that I think they’re just about impossible to ignore. Even if a writer chooses to take vampires in a different direction, as I have done, or to try to return them to their pre-Stoker status, as Marcus Sedgewick did in My Swordhand Is Singing, I think we’re all aware of Stoker’s book and deliberately veer away from it, i.e. we still take it into account when fashioning our own vampires.
2. People of all ages find vampires fascinating. What is it about vampires that you believe encourages this reaction?
Vampires are cool!!! You can express it in far more complex ways than that, but ultimately that’s what it boils down to. Whether we fear or envy them, the world of the imagination is a far more interesting place with night-dwelling, blood-sucking, human-looking vampires in it.
3. Do you believe that it is important for new, twenty-first century readers of vampires to have an understanding of the roots of vampire literature, such as Dracula and its predecessors, or do you think that the image and representation of the vampire has changed too much and we should begin again with the knowledge we achieve through the reading of contemporary vampire literature (such as your own work)?
I dont think the roots matter at all, really. Vampires have become like the creatures in fairy tales or myths. So many stories have been told about them, in so many different ways, that they’ve become a fluid, shapeless, all-permeating beast. Everyone has experienced various vampire stories in one way or another, and has their own idea of what a vampire “is”. I don’t think there can ever again be a simple, straightforward, all-defining type of vampire. They serve the needs of new writers and new readers, and continue to be redefined and stretched. It’s reached such a point that I don’t think it matters any more when the ideas originally came from. It’s a bit like with computers — you don’t need to know anything about the ZX81 to be able to fully appreciate and interact with a 21st century home PC!!
4. The concept of the vampire has transformed through time, in terms of its visual image and also in some cases its malevolent motivations, but one instinct remains in one way, shape or form; the requirement for blood. This is subverted in Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’, introducing vegetarian vampires who are able to harmonise and have physical relationships with humans, the series moving away from the traditional Gothic and becoming more teenage romance. Do you think that Meyer’s version is pulling us, as literary thinkers, readers, writers or critics, away from the vampire that we have grown to love? And do you think this could be detrimental to the future of the legendary Gothic vampire?
Vampires are bigger than the Twilight series. They’re bigger than my books. I even think they’re bigger than Dracula. I don’t think any writer can redefine vampires to the point where the public will put all of their preconceptions aside and accept the “new” rules as gospel. As a writer, you look for a way to do something new and alive with vampires, and if you’re lucky a lot of other people will find your version interesting. But at the end of the day vampires are bigger than us all, and the Twilight books will be absorbed and become “just” a few more vampire books, the same way Salem’s Lot was, the same way Buffy was, the same way my vampires will be.
5. Your Vampire Blood series was recently converted, however loosely, to the big screen. Do you believe that making film adaptations of literature is a useful way of promoting your novels to a larger scale audience, and maybe even a new demographic? Was there a particular reason you authorised a cinematic adaptation of your work?
Films help spread the word. They can reach audiences which you just can’t reach as a writer — even a commercially unsuccessful film is normally seen by far more people than a commercially successful book is read by. Films have been crucial to keeping vampires alive and establishing them in the public mass consciousness. You could argue that writers have done far more interesting things with vampires than movie makers have, but if not for that fascination with vampires which movies have helped foster, maybe publishers wouldn’t be so keen to give us money to experiment with vampires so much. I think a movie adaptation is a great way of advertising your work, and that’s why I allowed my books to be filmed, to hopefully get more people interested in my stories and attract more readers to my books.