Wednesday, 24 December 2008


* I can't say I care much for Xmas, with its merry supermarket queues and festively snarled-up traffic. But the season is as hard to get away from as an avalanche, and I'm afraid I won't have time to blog too much until the start of '09. So I thought I'd put an article here to keep you going until then ... something decidedly unseasonal, for the benefit of those who feel the same way at this time of year. And what could be more unseasonal than vampires? We all love vampires a good deal more than dumb old Santa, don't we? So, if the sleigh bells have started to slay you, here's my contribution to the "holiday" season:


Contrary to popular belief, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) was not the first English-language literary incarnation of the Eastern European ‘vampire’ legend. That honour goes -- back in 1819 -- to a story called The Vampyre, originally attributed to Byron but actually the work of his physician, John Polidori.
There were plenty of others in between -- the penny-dreadful Varney, le Fanu’s Carmilla, even Baudelaire had a go. But Polidori had already defined the male of the species at the beginning of the century. He was of noble title. He was pallid. He was moody and magnificent. And he was a seducer.
He was in fact the image of the good doctor’s most famous patient, Lord Byron himself.
None of which could have prepared the world for what Stoker would unleash on it some eighty years further on.
"He is brute, and more than brute; he is devil in callous, and the heart of him is not; he can ... appear at will when, and where, and in any of the forms that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements ... he can command all meaner things ... and he can at times vanish and come unknown."
No club-footed Lothario this. More like a dark, prehistoric god.
The censorious Irish Protestant Stoker seems originally to have begun writing Dracula as a form of therapy -- he was ‘plagued’ by a rather mild erotic dream. Too much has already been penned about the sexual imagery of his creation, most of it made instantly redundant by the one line: "It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood; he lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion."
It’s the ambivalence of Stoker’s attitude to the great vampire that fascinates the reader rather more. Dracula is utterly evil; we are left in no doubt as to that. Yet even this Victorian tub-thumper has to struggle hard to hide a touch of admiration for the Count, and mostly fails. A brute he may be, and yet Dracula is portrayed more often than not throughout the novel as a proud, majestic brute.
And an ambivalent attitude can swing, pendulum-like, in either direction -- as the passing of time was to reveal.
Numerous imitations followed, but the next time that the vampire made a real impact on Western culture it was not in book form but on film.
F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) -- and the same is true of the Hertzog re-make -- have no place in this discussion; his vampire is a pathetic, loathsome parasite. The same could never be said of Bela Lugosi in the classic 1931 movie version of the Stoker novel. Here he is at last, made eight feet tall and of monochrome flesh. The flashing eyes. The purring voice. The sensual lips. Just watch those hands, how masterfully they caress the very air. And yet, true to the book, Lugosi remains wholly the villain. Fascinating he may be. But worthy of sympathy? Admirable, even? Victorian morals hadn’t been eroded that far. Yet.
By 1958, they were starting to be abandoned. Writers like Kerouac and actors like James Dean had already laid the groundwork for the fast-approaching culture of the Sixties. And 1958 gave us another faithful adaptation of Dracula, the Hammer version this time.
Watch Christopher Lee at work and marvel. He is utter elegance in motion, perfectly turned-out, charming but aloof. With his unflinching stare and small tight smile, he might well be a relative of that other Fifties-through-to-Sixties icon, James Bond.
And it’s already getting rather hard to totally dislike him.
The popular novelist’s perception of the vampire remained pretty much unchanged, meanwhile. As late as 1975, Stephen King in Salem’s Lot was giving us a sucker with no obvious redeeming features.
Then, the very next year, the blood hit the fan when Anne Rice actually dared to ask a vampire not only what he was thinking, but what he was feeling.
Louis is at very least the anti-hero of Interview with the Vampire, but is a pallid figure compared with his feisty mentor, Lestat. And in Lestat, Anne Rice captured the spirit of an age so new it would have appalled Stoker to the core. Sex and drugs and rock-and-roll? Well, in vampires we have beings who are innately sexual, who sink needle-like fangs into slavishly willing veins ... and as for rock-and-roll? If that means ‘youth culture’, then what template could be more perfect? Vampires stay forever young.
It is no co-incidence that, in later Vampire Chronicles, Lestat actually becomes a rock star. He may be a brute, but he is a successful and a wholly honest brute.
There is no absolute rejection of conventional morality here, however. Rather, there is moral panic. Because interestingly, both in the novel and in Anne Rice’s script for the screen adaptation, the more romantic Louis is never shown actually killing a human, though we are told he does it all the time after experiencing some initial qualms. Rice simply cannot bring herself to show it.
The pendulum had swung partly, not wholly, the other way therefore. Sympathy for the Devil? Not quite -- more a case of sympathy for the unVictorian impulses in all of us, which a new legion of gurus was encouraging us to embrace.
The floodgates had been opened for a whole new breed of vampire, both in print and on celluloid. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hotel Transylvania gave us ‘vampire as romantic lead’ and spawned an entire sub-genre of imitators. Whitley Strieber in The Hunger even presented us with a vamp with a good excuse; his Miriam Blaylock is driven not by evil, but by loneliness and an all-too-human need for companionship, m’ lud.
On film we had ‘vampire as good guy’. In John Landis’s Innocent Blood, Marie is depicted unquestioningly as the heroine of the piece, while in Jim McBride’s Blood Ties the vampires are a peace-loving minority persecuted by Christian fanatics -- the word ‘pogrom’ is actually used. Both films get around the moral problem of their heroes’ dietary tastes in interesting ways. The Blood Ties clan have opted to feed solely on each other, while Marie only preys on very bad people, in this case Robert Loggia’s pugnacious Mafioso and his gang.
1992, though, gave us the most simpatico bloodsucker of them all in the shape of Gary Oldman in Francis Coppola’s so-called 'Bram Stoker’s Dracula'. It is anything but. "The heart of him is not"? Oldman’s Count is nothing but heart, a magnificently melancholic, tragic and romantic figure, driven down the centuries by one thing alone: love. Which, we had already known since the Sixties, is all you need. And which generally provides its own morality. Van Helsing has become a crackpot, a curmudgeon, and a spoilsport. Oldman’s death-scene, at the climax of the film, is more Romeo and Juliet than The Beast Must Die.
But could this trend last forever? Pendulums swing both ways. By the Nineties, drugs were enslaving whole communities, strangers with dark flashing eyes were putting bombs on planes -- and eventually doing worse things with commercial aircraft -- and the connection between sex and blood had become an unhappy one.
In the same year as the Coppola movie, Poppy Z. Brite finally saw in print the ground-breaking debut novel she had been working on since her late teens. Zillah of Lost Souls is as engrossing and as beautiful a creature as Lestat, but infinitely more corrupt. Where Lestat simply tries to be the best vampire he can be, relative words like ‘best’ do not feature at all in Zillah’s vocabulary. He is a creature purely of appetites, will do anything to appease them, and feels not the slightest twinge of conscience since he has none. What Stoker’s vampire does to Lucy Westenra is awful, but he does it to survive. What Brite’s Zillah does to Ann Bransby-Smith, on the most vulnerable night of her young life, is done purely for the fun of it, and is unforgivable.
The attitude in movies started changing too. Disquiet had already been expressed as early as 1987 in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, where her nomadic vampires were depicted both as an enviably happy band and as utterly sadistic killers. By 1995, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction was making comparisons between vampiristic appetites and the sociopathic urges of war-criminals. By 1996, From Dusk Till Dawn was stripping away the tawdry allure of a Mexican bordello to reveal the horrors beneath. And by 1998, Blade was in action against a lethal foe.
Ambivalence remains in all these movies though. John Carpenter with Vampires (1998) seemed rather more sure. "Have you ever seen a vampire? Well first of all, they’re not romantic, all right?" snarls James Woods’ leather-clad slayer. And in this film they definitely aren’t, since they bear more resemblance to George Romero’ s zombies than to Oldman in a topper.
And so we end the century rather less in love with vampires -- and ourselves? -- than we once were. But still not wholly certain. Who among us can’t identify with interviewer Slater when he begs of interviewee Pitt "make me like you"? Forever young. Forever beautiful. It’s a dream hundreds of thousands of us take out second mortgages and risk disfigurement for, every single year.
Of the current century? Wes Craven’s Dracula 2001 takes us almost back to the beginning, with a traditional Count possessed of all the darkness and chilly attraction of Stoker’s original.
But it is perhaps in the warm tv embraces of the cult phenomenon Buffy that we find ourselves most comfortable. Most of the vampires that she fights are monsters, yet she finds romance with Angel and even an unlikely friend in Spike.
We are prepared to embrace our own darker side, it seems. But only sometimes. And even then, only ever conditionally. Do we see ourselves -- at the end of the day -- as brutes yes, but as brutes with hearts? That’s where the real ambivalence lies, and the pendulum keeps on swinging.

This article first appeared in Prism: The Journal of the British Fantasy Society, copyright (c) Tony Richards 2003

Monday, 15 December 2008


After a suitable pause -- during which I thought I'd be able to relax, but have actually been busy with short stories, a possible new collection, and related stuff -- my editor at Eos/HarperCollins, the wonderful Diana Gill, has got back to me with her comments on the second Raine's Landing novel, 'Night of Demons.' She has a few minor suggestions -- that's her job -- and I'm following up on those. But her overall reaction was as follows:

"I really enjoyed returning to Raine's Landing, and think we have a great start here. I think you've got a great set up with the magic and voices, the adepts etc.. And I particularly love the opening -- it's so creepy and effective, and utterly pulls you into the story."

Which is the kind of response that makes a writer go all warm and fuzzy inside. Ah well, nose back to the grindstone.

By the way, I've been receiving a good number of emails recently from readers telling me how much they enjoyed 'Dark Rain.' And one correspondent in particular suggests that I include more about Cass Mallory in later books. No need to worry on that score. Cassie's just about my favourite character, and there's plenty concerning her in Book #2, both about her current circumstances and her dark earlier history with the motorcycle gang.

Saturday, 6 December 2008


No, not yet. Although personally, I've always been of the opinion that 'Dark Rain' could easily form the basis for a darned good supernatural TV show, a very beefed-up Charmed, or a Point Pleasant that looks like it's actually going somewhere. But the Campaign for the American Reader network has a page called 'My Book, The Movie', and they recently asked me who I would cast as the characters in the first Raine's Landing novel:

The characters in 'Dark Rain' are many, varied, and in some cases extremely weird. And in a few instances, an actor springs immediately to mind. Ideally, Dr. Lehman Willets, the only African-American in Raine’s Landing -- the town has been cut off from the outside world by a curse for the past three hundred years -- would be played by Morgan Freeman, although I understand that he’s been hurt recently. The short but dignified Judge Samuel Levin? Ron Rifkin would be perfect.

Others are a little harder to pin down. The guy who plays the big bald grouchy cop on CSI:Miami would make an excellent Lieutenant Saul Hobart, who is … well … a big bald grouchy cop. And Rod Steiger would have a entertaining cameo role as Reverend Purlock. But which actor does insane well enough to portray the rambling master of Raine Manor, Woodard Raine himself? I can only think of Michael Keaton.

As for the two leads? To play Cass Mallory accurately, Angelina Jolie (Cassie is twice as tough as Lara Croft, but without the UK accent) would have to wear her hair Sinead O’Connor style, cropped to within half an inch of her skull. But who knows, she might think that fun. As for Ross Devries, the usual action movie leads like Hugh Jackman (X-Men) would make a decent job of being him.

But no, I’d rather Ross were played by an unknown. He’d like it that way.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

7 TERRIFIC ARTISTS has been expanded and brought up to speed, with new articles, a new story, a completely updated bibliography, discussion boards, and even an art gallery. Not my art! I can't so much as draw matchstick men ... or rather, they come out as matchstick mutants. No, these are the best covers for my books -- some of them wrap-arounds -- and illustrations accompanying my short fiction. Terrific artwork by Paul Lowe, Deirdre Counihan, Paul Mudie, David Bezzina (displayed, copyright (c) David Bezzina 2005), Wayne Miller, Sandro Castelli, and Keith Minnion.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


As I mentioned earlier, the site network Campaign for the American Reader recently ran its Page 69 Test on 'Dark Rain,' asking me to talk about that page and how it relates to the rest of the book. Only problem? Because of copyright laws, they couldn't reproduce the actual part that I was discussing. But I don't have that problem, so here it is, with the kind okay of Eos/HarperCollins:

The thing just took our heat, wincing with discomfort. And kept on pressing forward, trying to snatch the guns from both our hands. Its claws made a whistling noise, splitting the very air. We were the ones going backward by this time, and I didn’t like that. You can’t fight properly if you have to keep retreating.
It couldn’t disarm both of us if we separated. So I stepped sideways, behind my desk. Gun-smoke had already filled the room, my eyes were stinging gently. I was shaking slightly, wondering how to beat this thing.
The creature paused a moment, trying to decide which of us to follow. Its head went even lower, and its green eyes blinked. And then its shining gaze pinioned me. I’m not sure why. Cassie was the greater threat. But perhaps it had noticed that I still had the arrowhead in my left hand.
The beast suddenly lurched forward, ramming so hard into my desk it completely overturned it. My chair flipped over savagely, forcing me to jump back. I dodged across to one side, tried to fire again.
The hammer came down on an empty chamber. And the creature was stepping up onto my capsized desk by this time. I glanced desperately at Cass.
One of her slim eyebrows arched. She tossed me her second Glock. She uses the extended magazines, so she had plenty of shots to spare. The creature swiped at me with its long talons, missing me by barely an inch. I put three rounds straight into the center of its chest. It staggered back again, and let out something that I suppose might have been a moan. But then it just recovered, like the last time.
I could see there was no stopping it this way. We might as well be taking potshots at the side of a barn door. There was another handgun in the top drawer of my desk, a Magnum. Except my desk was lying on its side. And the creature had climbed on top of it once more.
I snatched up my fallen chair and hurled it at it, acting out of desperation. One of those huge arms simply batted it away.
Cass, though, had a clear run at the door by this time. I’d at least succeeded in drawing it away from her.
Copyright (c) Tony Richards 2008.

And here is what I wrote about it:

Page 69 of ‘Dark Rain’ -- my first full-length novel in over a decade, and hopefully the start of a whole series of them -- happens to be one of the most action-packed pages in the entire book. It falls right in the middle of the first action sequence, in fact. A vicious and hard-to-kill creature called the Dralleg -- the servant of an evil magician named Saruak -- has just materialized in the office of the book’s two heroes, Ross Devries and Cass Mallory. And they are desperately trying to fight it off, all weapons blazing.
If you like this kind of stuff, then it’s the perfect introduction. There is plenty more adventure and excitement in ‘Dark Rain,' culminating in a final battle on the rooftops above Union Square, and the book has variously been described as ‘fast and fun’ and ‘a one-sitting read.’
But if you’re of a more pensive nature, there’s no need to worry. What I’ve done in ‘Dark Rain,’ you see, is create a whole new imaginary town, Raine’s Landing, Massachusetts. It might look normal on the surface, but is actually a very strange place indeed. Because way back in the Sixteen Hundreds, the real witches of Salem fled there to escape the trials. They married into the local population, and the place has been imbued with magic -- some of it of the dark kind -- ever since.
And so I introduce the reader to the town, its different neighborhoods, its rich districts and poor ones. And there are some carefully-drawn portraits of its inhabitants too, ranging from more rational ones like Judge Samuel Levin to bizarre characters who’ve been driven insane to varying degrees by their own magic -- Dr. Lehman Willets and the manic Woodard Raine.
There’s something to enjoy on every level, in other words. The next book in the series -- ‘Night of Demons’ -- is due out next year.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


I've just been to the 606 Club -- a subterranean, madly-crowded, hugely-atmospheric venue down by the river in Chelsea -- to see the award winning Anglo-Bengali pianist Zoe Rahman (pictured*). And she was just as superb as the last time I saw her, going at each piece with huge verve and seemingly effortless brilliance. If you're into jazz and haven't heard of her yet, check her out.

By the way, another network of sites -- a very good one called Campaign for the American Reader, dedicated to, well, getting folks in the U.S. to read more -- has been running an experiment for a while getting authors to talk about the sixty-ninth page of their latest novel. And the one up at the moment is 'Dark Rain.' I'll reprint it here once they're done with it.

Friday, 14 November 2008


'Night of Demons' is finally finished, which gives me at least a couple of weeks before my editor gets back. And I've already pointed out that I have plenty to do in that time. But one of the toughest aspects of being in the late stages of a novel is that you're not much inclined to read anybody else's. And curiously, I haven't read much horror in quite a while. I picked up a lot of those books, in the States. So my reading list from this point onward goes as follows:

Keepers -- Gary A. Braunbeck.

Nightwalker -- Jocelynn Drake.

The Deluge -- Mark Morris.

Rabid Growth -- James A. Moore.

The Scent of Shadows -- Vicki Petterson.

Tower Hill -- Sarah Pinborough.

Drake and Petterson are both fellow Eos authors, by the way. And then there's 'How to Make Monsters,' the new collection by Gary McMahon, one of my favourite new writers. And I must get around to reading one of Nancy Kilpatrick's vampire novels, which I understand are excellent.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


* You might have noticed in my personal stuff a genuine fondness for old movies. And it goes like this:

That evening in late March, there was an unexpected cold snap. The streets of London glittered silver with hard frost, and you could practically write your name with your breath on the near-motionless air. That didn’t stop us going out. A brigade of special forces wouldn’t have stopped us going out. Less than three months till our finals, we both ought to have had our respective heads buried firmly in our textbooks, and ... to hell with it!
The Everyman cinema in Hampstead was running a triple-bill for one night only. Namely, three of the most wonderful stretches of monochrome celluloid ever to be projected onto any silver screen. King Vidor’s Gilda. Joseph Mankievicz’s All About Eve. And Howard Hawks’ To Have And Have Not, scripted by William Faulkner rather vaguely from the book by Ernest Hemingway, starring Humphrey Bogart, and introducing a skinny eighteen year old starlet by the name of Lauren Bacall.
We slithered our way there along the gleaming paving stones, bought coffees in the foyer to try and warm ourselves up, then sat there in our overcoats for practically six hours, almost the only people in the theatre on that daunting night, totally immersed in melodramas of such style and grace and power, all the cash and computer-imagery in modern Hollywood has never re-created the like.
And we just couldn’t stop babbling, on the slow journey home. Those fantastic, grandstanding first few minutes of voice-over monologue in Eve! That incredible exit up the stairway! That iconic first shot of Rita Hayworth, tossing back her hair! In which film did the camera worship her the more ardently -- the one we had just seen or Lady From Shanghai? Which was the better of the two, To Have or Casablanca? Hell, they both had the same plot! And was that Bacall doing her own singing in the film, or was it really Andy Williams?
We were heading back to her place.
Terri started mimicking the female leads on the way from the station. Hayworth’s purr. Bacall’s growl. Bette Davis’ feline snarling. "Fasten your seatbelts! It’s going to be a bumpy night!"

From 'Postcards from Terri', h/b Sarob Press, p/b as part of 'No-man and Other Tales' , Pendragon Press. Copyright (c) Tony Richards 2004.

Monday, 10 November 2008


A while back, my publishers asked me to write a couple of short pieces -- musings really -- on the creation of Raine's Landing for their own blog, In case you missed them, here they are again.

On the whole Salem witches idea:
The weird thing is, when I first showed the opening chapters of 'Dark Rain' to Eos, there were no Salem witches. The town was there, the characters were in place, and I knew I wanted a kind of magic to prevail that sometimes went extremely badly wrong. But my original idea was that any spells cast were linked to the life force of the person casting them, what they call in the Orient the ‘chi.’ And if someone’s inner force was all messed up, then the magic went the same way too.
It took Diana a while to get back to me, by which time I’d gone more than a little cold on that idea. And by the tone of her email, she concurred. So I called her office.
"I just think it’s a little twee," she told me. "See if you can come up with something else."
So I promised her I’d get back in the next couple of days. But the moment I hung up, my mind just started buzzing. It was like one of those word-association games.
Raine’s Landing is in Massachusetts. What else is in Massachusetts? Boston? No use in this context. Hold it … Salem! The witchcraft trials. Nineteen innocent people hanged because of a substance called ergot in the rye bread. But what if there really were some witches there, and they saw what was coming and …?
Having told Diana I’d be back to her in two days, I phoned her again in precisely ten minutes. Inspiration really does come in a sudden flash sometimes.

On the process of creating an imaginary town:
Supernatural stories really do find good settings in fictitious towns, now don’t they? That’s because, when you read such a tale, you are wandering from the real world to a place that looks like it, but under the surface is not. My first ever visit to such a community was a superb and everlasting one … Ray Bradbury’s Green Town, Illinois. The images of that place linger clearly in my memory a good few decades later on. I’ve visited many others since then, and have created a few myself.
Shaddaton. Tennsville. Hope’s Hatch. I’ve published several set in an imaginary coastal town called Birchiam-on-Sea, and they’ve been very well received.
And then there’s Raine’s Landing. And though it’s a labor of love, there is a lot of effort involved in summoning up such a township in the reader’s imagination.
Yes, I know contemporaries of mine have created whole fictional countries, worlds and galaxies and even universes. But the point about a medium-sized town is that you have to be very specific. What are the districts? What are they like? The major and minor streets? The characters -- how do they dress, speak? What are their foibles? And who are there friends?
So -- not normally a very organized guy -- I’ve wound up drawing maps and making lists and keeping detailed notes, just to make sure I get everything correct. There a difference between ‘fantastic’ and ‘surreal,’ you see. Surreal means there are no rules. In fantasy, there are firm ones. They’re just different to the ones you’re used to.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


November 4th, 2008, will be remembered by most people as a pretty auspicious day, one on which history was made. And what was I doing that momentous evening? I was in the wonderful Dark Delicacies bookstore, Burbank, CA, signing copies not only of 'Dark Rain' -- Book #1 in the Raine's Landing series -- but of my collections 'Shadows and Other Tales' and 'Passport to Purgatory,' plus the latest 'Mammoth Book of Horror,' which contains one of my stories. And some people turned up clutching magazines from the Eighties with my fiction in them. That's a lot of signing! I wound up -- appropriately -- with writer's cramp. But thanks to Del and Sue of DD for being such wonderful hosts.

Even better, afterwards, there was a party to celebrate both the birthday and 20 year professional career of Britain's top horror and dark fantasy editor, Stephen Jones. The picture is of -- left to right -- Steve, myself (dog-tired after a convention, a flight from Calgary to LA, a lengthy signing, and dragging around the Valley with Steve and chums the whole previous day), and Pete Atkins, author and scriptwriter of Hellraiser and Wishmaster fame. And appropriately, we're posed in front of posters of some Clive Barker films. (Photo by Peter Coleburn, copyright (c) 2008 Peter Coleburn.)