Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Girl-Witch (In a Graveyard of Sand)

I walk down the street and suddenly I see the face of a witch.

It's the first thought that enters my head. Witch. Perhaps it is a harsh thought on reflection, as I crouch down to get a better glimpse of her face. There is definitely something uncanny about seeing her like this. She had caught my attention as I was strolling past, some distance away from her. I had glanced across to my left and seen her dark form, and the milky-white oval of her face.

She is surrounded by common detritus: discarded, crumpled crisp packets; sweet wrappers; empty plastic bottles. To see her there is startling, and yet she doesn't seem out of place. It is as if the worthless things that surround her are trinkets or votive offerings; a shrine in honour of her presence.

Upon closer inspection, she is just a young girl. She may or may not be a witch, a person adept at the practice of witchcraft. It's her clothes that make her appear as if she is, and make her black and white image appear sinister. She wears a long black dress, and her pale white hands are clasped firmly together in her lap as she sits, facing the photographer. Wavy strands of dark hair curl and creep down her back. She also wears a broad-brimmed black hat, and its perhaps only my imagination which convinces me that the hat is pointed, behind the brim.

So I pick up the torn piece of paper with this strange black and white image of the girl-witch printed on it, and I take it with me so that I might have the opportunity to study it more closely when I arrive home.

Later on, under the bright glare of my desk lamp, I begin my examination of the image upon the torn paper. Up close, it looks pixellated, as if the image was printed from a computer file. I wonder who the girl in this picture is; and when and where this photograph was taken. I also wonder how I came to discover this; who printed the picture out and then tore out the image of the girl, discarding it there on the street pavement without folding the paper or screwing it up.

Because the picture is black-and-white, and pixellated without true clarity, it's hard to tell where the girl in black is sitting. Her surroundings look almost like sand on a beach, although she's not dressed for the beach. Is she a young Victorian holidaymaker sitting by the sandcastle she has just made? There is an unknown dark background in the distance, and another similar curious construction behind her, to her right. Except, a problem: the sandcastles don't look much like sandcastles to me, but more like graves. She sits in a graveyard of sand, and the picture forms a sinister impression in my mind yet again. The picture is as cryptic and baffling as the chances of me stumbling across it; the mystery intrigues.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Fantasy Fiction- Feist

Raymond E. Feist is one of my favourite fantasy authors. He is most famous for his debut novel 'Magician', which is a modern masterpiece. His fantasy sagas are set on the fictional worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan, worlds that were created by he and college friends during Role Play Gaming and Dungeons and Dragons play sessions. With the exception of his novel 'Faerie Tale', all of Feist's novels are set in this fictional universe. Like many in the fantasy genre, Feist is heavily influenced by Tolkien and also by Ursula Le Guin's 'Earthsea' books. Feist's world is populated by the familiar staples of fantasy fiction: kings and queens, good and evil wizards, warriors and thieves, demons, dwarves and elves in a largely medieval/historic Earth setting, and essentially his books are about the eternal struggle between good and evil. However, what sets Feist apart from the rest of the Tolkien imitators and more average writers is his masterful, majestic storytelling. His books are easily accessible, his characters well-drawn and his plots gripping.

Here is a (slightly dated) interview with Feist from 2000 where he talks about his writing and the craft of writing generally:

I particularly liked his response to a question about writer's block:

Have you ever faced writer's block? How do you deal with it?

I don't believe in it. I believe there are times you can't write because of other issues in your life: death, divorce, marriage, buying a house, tax audits, etc. But if you sit and look at the screen and can't think what to write, that's your subconscious telling you there is something else you need to do first, then you get to write. Sometimes it's hard to figure out what that other thing is, but once you take care of it, you get back to writing. Unfortunately, I've known writers who've taken years to figure out what that other thing was.

I can highly recommend his books, in particular his first novel Magician and the Conclave of Shadows trilogy: Talon of the Silver Hawk, King of Foxes, and Exile's Return. These books in particular are my personal favourites. Magician introduces two major recurring characters through his sagas: the young apprentice magician Pug who becomes a mighty sorceror, and his friend Tomas who becomes a Dragon Lord and wedded to the Elven Queen. That novel details the early lives and development of those characters and the shadowy threats their world faces from the Tsurani race of Kelewan and the dark figure of the Black Sorceror, Macros. The Conclave of Shadows trilogy is a story of tragedy, intrigue, revenge, exile and redemption, and in my opinion after Magician is Feist's second masterpiece.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Muse; or, Where Do The Ideas Come From?

The most frequent question addressed to writers is: where do you get your ideas from? Well, I can now exclusively answer that question. Let me let the uninitiated into a little secret. No writer is responsible for his own work. There are a very small number of Independent Muses and Imagineers living across the world, who construct all fiction that is ever written. If you have ambitions to be a writer, you simply approach them and they provide you with a suitable manuscript, short story, book or script - whatever you require. It was the film director and screen writer Woody Allen who let the cat out of the bag, as it were, when he was asked where his ideas came from. It was a man in China who mailed his ideas to him, and it was that man in China that I decided to seek out when I decided to become a writer.

I don't actually write my own work, in fact its a Chinese gentleman by the name of Zhiang Miao who is responsible for my scribblings. We have a relationship of convenience: he does all the work, and I'll be the one getting all the credit and any profits (unlikely at the moment but you never know!)

Of course Zhiang Miao also writes all my blog/journal entries and he is the one responsible for this text that you are reading at this very moment- so I can't entirely vouch for the veracity of what you are about to read. However, to all intents and purposes, and having researched the extent of Zhiang Miao's remarkable vision and imaginative mind, as far as I am aware it is...almost true.

I first heard of Zhiang Miao when I was reading my edition of 'Writers Monthly' and I saw his services to create authors advertised there. All that was required was for me to visit his hut on the shores of Lake Tianchi in Jilin Province. I quickly made flight arrangements to Beijing, and hitch-hiked my way to that area in north-east China, and to Zhiang Miao's lakeside home.

I found Zhiang Miao there, surrounded by piles of unpublished manuscripts and scripts relating to various different genres and written in a multitude of languages, soaring up toward the ceiling of his hut, which was ten feet up from the boards of the wooden floor. He was a small man with a mop of greying hair, and he wore a white shirt and black trousers. He also had a small pair of spectacles perched on the tip of his nose. He sat scribbling at a desk, writing with a quill on a sheet of paper, while taking swigs from a can of Red Bull at irregular intervals and breathing in curious noxious yellow fumes from a metallic canister. Empty cans of Red Bull littered the floor at his feet. This was presumably to keep him creative and inspired. Upon seeing me at the door to his hut, he paused at his work and indicated that I enter. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and removed his spectacles. "American?" he asked, recognising me as a foreigner.

I shook my head. "English."

"Ah! You have the look of an American, a young man from Minnesota no less", he said. "I was wrong, you are a Britisher. I presume you are from London?" I nodded.

"Greetings my British friend!" he said. "How may I help you? You want something written?"

"Yes", I said. "I would like to be a successful, published writer."

"I see", he said with a sigh. "What kind of writing?"

"Well, I would like to be a horror, fantasy or science fiction writer", I told him.

Zhiang Miao suddenly let out a horrendous, ear-piercing shriek. He leapt to his feet and began to run around his hut in some kind of state of hysterical mania, screaming and gibbering continuously. Finally, he fell silent and sat down at his desk once again. It appeared that the hysteria had passed, but he placed his head in his hands.

"Dear me, what is the matter with you?" I asked him.

"Do forgive me", Zhiang Miao said. He looked toward me again, and without his glasses I suddenly thought that he looked weary and old beyond his actual years. "I do receive...many requests...for those genres."

"I see", I said, although in truth I was not quite sure what he meant. I was beginning to feel some concern that he would be unable to help me. "I hope that this won't be a problem..."

"It shouldn't be", Zhiang Miao sighed. I was relieved to see that he had become calm once again. "So what did you have in mind exactly for your first book?"

"I'm thinking that it should be a fantasy novel", I told him eagerly. "Maybe a quest-adventure of some kind, magical beings, throw some aliens in for good measure-"

I was interrupted once more in dramatic fashion, as Zhiang Miao began to scream incessantly again. I waited in a state of half-surprise, half-amusement as he scuttled around his room, gibbering incoherently. Once it seemed that he had managed to control his faculties once more and enter a semblance of calm, I attempted to make further conversation with him.

"Can you do it?" I asked.

"Magic! It's always bloody magic isn't it?! After Harry bloody Potter they all want bloody magicians these days!" Zhiang Miao said, gasping and mopping at his damp brow with a handkerchief he'd kept folded in the breast pocket of his crisp white cotton shirt. "I suppose you want some bloody elves in it as well, don't you?"

", I don't think I will bother with elves..." I told him uncertainly. By this stage, I was beginning to worry about the mental state of my so-called 'muse'.

"Good, well that's something I suppose", he said. "I am sick and tired of writing about bloody elves. I hate the slimy pointy-eared gits. Two-faced snobs. You got that?"

"Yes", I said. "I understand. No elves."

"And do you want any of those little beardy gits with axes in your book?"

"You mean dwarves?" I asked. "No, no dwarves. I'm not bothered about them."

"Good." Zhiang Miao now seemed to have almost recovered his composure entirely. He went to his desk, took an inhaler for asthma out of the drawer, and sucked on it until his breathing was back to normal again. "Right. I think I can put something together for you. What's your name?"

"Steve Mace", I told him.

"Very well, Mr Mace", he said. "I have a title for you. Copper Moon Rising. How does that sound?"

"Nice title", I replied approvingly.

"Thanks. I'll come up with the book for you within a week."

"A week? That's fantastic!" I said.

"Don't expect it to be a work of genius or an original masterpiece though", he warned me. "I've got to fit you in around some more famous and respected people who come to me for their ideas. They'll have to take priority. When it comes to all of my clients, you're somewhere near the bottom of the list. The other week I had Katie Price and Danielle Steele standing where you are now. I'll write a passable fantasy/SF novel for you in about a week. Just don't expect it to be as good as anything by Isaac bloody Asimov or Tolkien. OK, Mr Mace?"

I had no choice but to simply agree to Zhiang Miao's harsh terms. After all, my head was empty of ideas and I had spent many long nights in front of my laptop and word-processor staring at a blank screen, willing the ideas to come, trying my best to force inspired words to appear on a white page that mocked me with its emptiness.

Fortunately for me, Zhiang Miao was true to his word, and the final draft of 'Copper Moon Rising' duly landed on the mat below my letter-box a week later, delivered by the postman. I read it and started to wonder how Zhiang managed to find his wonderful inspiration. "So", I asked him when I visited him several months later. "Where do you get your ideas from?"

"I don't know, Mr Mace..." he replied dreamily. "They just come to the quiet of the dead of night or the bright, relentless sunshine of doesn't matter where or when."

I can highly recommend Zhiang Miao's services to any other fellow writer who is short of ideas or suffering from writer's block. All you need to get in touch with him are: a packet of crayons, a Rizla, a mint polo, a can of Red Bull, a ouija board, a rubix cube and a Maxwell's demon. Good luck to all of you!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Reading Matter

I recently finished reading 'The Northern Clemency', by Philip Hensher.

It was a surprisingly gripping novel, considering the subject matter. The story mainly follows the lives of two families and their woven fates over the course of twenty years, with various sub-plots. I was expecting something stereotypically 'gritty' and suitably 'northern' but the book was both moving, suspenseful, tense and also very funny (albeit darkly comic). The characters' personalities were very recognisably human and flawed. The children carried recognisable echoes of aspects of their parents' characters, as the general plot took shape, while others characters were reflected in one another like mirror images. (In some ways I was reminded of D.H Lawrence, notably his novel 'The Rainbow'). There are various themes in Hensher's novel: class aspirations, cultural divide between north and south in England (south represented by 'London'), sexual desire and repressed and frustrated sexuality, hating others for what we dislike in ourselves, the personal interlinking with the political, and the nature, the imprint of an individual's upbringing and childhood, love and deception, self-deception, and the development of personal relationships that are both healthy and unhealthy.

The story is largely set in London and Sheffield during 1974, London and Sheffield in 1983, and London/Sheffield/Australia in 1994. The sections of the novel are split into these key chronological periods in the characters' lives. There is a mirroring and a contrast between the Glover family who are 'Sheffield born and bred' and the Sellars, who move up to Sheffield from London when the head of the family, Bernie Sellars, gets a job with the electrical company there.

(Warning: some 'spoilers' follow)

Katherine Glover

Katherine is the mother of Daniel, Jane and Timothy Glover; wife to Malcolm. At the start of the novel she and Malcolm have been married for 16 years, and she decides to take a job at a flower shop. This flower shop is run by a man named Nick, who has also moved to Sheffield from London. The novel opens with the party she has thrown at the Glovers' household for her neighbours, but mainly to impress Nick- who she is about to have an affair with. Eventually the family learns the truth when she confesses her feelings to Alice Sellers, and is overheard by her daughter Jane. Katherine breaks off the affair after sleeping once with Nick (it is implied that he is put off by the scars of her childbirth, a reminder to him that she is married with children) and after some time she leaves the shop. Years later, she is almost implicated when the police discover Nick was using the flower job to launder money and as a front for criminal activity- his friend Jimmy in London is a gangster and involved in drug dealing. Nick attempts to implicate Katherine at the trial as he has fallen in love with Jimmy's beautiful daughter Sonia, but he fails. His tears when Jimmy tells her to stay away from her echo Tim Glover's behaviour in front of Sandra Sellers later on in the novel. As for Katherine, her husband Malcolm forgives her adultery and their lives return as far as possible to normality.

Malcolm Glover
Katherine's husband; a solid, reliable and practical man. At her greatest point of emotional stress, when she learns of Nick's deception, she threatens to divorce him but comes to her senses: she comes to appreciate what she has. When Malcolm suspects Katherine's affair, initially he pretends the situation and doesn't exist, and then he runs away from the situation. Aside from his work at a building society, he is fascinated by history and warfare: he takes part in battle re-enactments in his spare time, an interest that his wife does not share with him. His pre-occupation with the past and old conflicts is echoed in the behaviour of his disturbed son Tim, who cannot escape from the emotional conflicts of his childhood. Malcolm's precise, slightly obsessive manner is amplified in Tim Glover, who also inherits the repressed emotional energy of his mother.

Timothy Glover
Tim Glover is the most complex and disturbing character in the novel. He is the youngest son of Malcolm and Katherine. He experiences the greatest zenith and nadir of any character in the novel: shaking hands with Arthur Scargill at a political rally in 1983 and quoting Karl Marx is the high point of his life; drowning himself in the sea in Australia is his tragic end, after Sandra Sellers rejects his attempts to re-enter her life. Tim becomes an intellectual, interested in left wing radical politics and a noted academic, but he suffers from social inadequacy, an inability to relate to others, repressed anger and repressed sexuality. Many of these characteristics are rooted in events in his childhood. He is seen as strange even as a child, and is even rejected emotionally by his family. Obsessed by snakes as a child, he hides one in the house until his mother Katherine kills the creature in a fit of emotional rage, on the day in 1974 that the Sellers family move from London to Sheffield, and also on the day that Malcolm disappears suspecting her affair. The killing of the snake is an event witnessed by the neighbours. Tim Glover also develops an obsession with the sexually precocious and older Sandra Sellers (close friend of his brother Daniel), after she secretly allows him to grope her when he is just ten. It is his fixation with her that causes him to stalk her twenty years later and follow her to Australia. Tim becomes a left wing radical and takes part in political rallies. In the 1980s he marries Trudy, another radical who is also a feminist and repressed and angry like him- until he leaves her to pursue Sandra. His character is echoed in some ways by Sandra's brother Francis, who loathes him and hardly speaks to him, as Tim obsessively asked a dying schoolfriend what it was like to be ill and facing death when they were children. Francis' saving grace is his healthy relationship with his family, which is unlike Tim's- Tim clashes with his father Malcolm about politics, is teased by his siblings Daniel and Jane, and Tim also secretly hates Daniel, who he is jealous of for his ability to attract women and be close to Sandra, object of Tim's desire. Katherine subconciously dislikes Tim as ever since he was a baby she has seen him as a burden. Tim's role as a burden is echoed by the character John Warner, also a friend of Daniel's. John is a layabout living at home and living off the dole, who relies on Daniel to pay his way for him. Eventually, in 1994 John Warner is still going to nightclubs trying to pick up younger women, and he is shown as a ludicrous and creepy character who the girls at the clubs called 'Granddad'.

 At Tim Glover's funeral, it is his brother Daniel who shows the most concern and regret for his passing.

Daniel Glover
Daniel is the polar opposite of his brother Tim. He is handsome, confident and easy-going, and throughout his adult life until his marriage is a ladies' man. By 1994 he has settled down locally in Sheffield, married Helen and started to run his own business, a restaurant. Despite Daniel's many dalliances with women, and Sandra Sellers' own promiscuous behaviour and short-lived relationships, ironically the two most sexually active characters in the novel become platonic friends, and more like brother and sister. When Sandra Sellers has left the Sheffield area, she still sends Daniel postcards (some of which are stolen by Tim).

Jane Glover
A 'plain Jane', she has ambitions to write a novel in childhood and is seen as dreamy and quiet by others, but she ends up moving to London and becoming a hard-nosed business woman. There, she happens to meet Francis Sellers, who lives alone there and is trying to write novels. They reminisce on old times in Sheffield and agree to meet, but she ultimately rejects him as a potential partner. Jane has adapted to London and feels she has moved on from the past, while Francis feels lost in the big city, and wishes he could be back in Sheffield. She realises this, and marries her Australian housemate after one of the novel's darkly comic episodes. The contrast with grey, provincial, city of steel Sheffield and the laidback sunny attitude of the Australian lifestyle is emphasised by this relationship and most starkly by Sandra Sellers' decision to emigrate to Australia and meet Aussie men.

Bernie Sellers
Head of the Sellers family, he is perhaps the most likeable and easy-going of the central characters. He is happily and loyally devoted to his wife Alice. He has a relaxed, wry sense of humour and is popular with friends and colleagues. It is he who moves the Sellers family to Sheffield for the sake of his job with the electric company. A pillar of strength for most of the novel who watches the dramas at the Glover household with wry amusement, he crumbles when Alice suffers a brain haemorrhage, and has to be supported by his son Francis when Sandra refuses to return from Australia to be at Alice's bedside.

Alice Sellers
Alice is a happily married housewife and partner of Bernie. Katherine Glover confesses her feelings for Nick to her on the very first day that she moves to Sheffield with her family. She is left seriously ill in 1994 when she suffers a brain haemorrhage and slumps into a coma, and this incident profoundly affects the family, and Bernie and Francis in particular.

Francis Sellers
Like Tim Glover, Francis is another male character who feels alienated and socially inadequate. Unlike Tim, he drops out of university and does not progress academically. He suffers from nerves and anxiety attacks, he is freakishly tall and awkward around people. Like Jane Glover, he moves to London to find work, and coincidentally they meet again. He is a voracious reader and is attempting to become a novelist. He writes very intricate science fiction about completely alien, non-human beings, constructing entire new languages and cultures but struggles to find appreciation for his work. He has no sexual relationships. It is left unclear whether he has no sexual drive or whether he is a repressed homosexual- there are implicit hints that he might be one or the other. At one point, he confesses to his mother while she is in a coma that he is a 'nothing, a cypher'. He has become a reclusive adult with repressed sexuality, but a promise of a happier life seems fulfilled when his outlook changes following his mother's near-fatal illness, and reminder of human mortality.

Sandra Sellers
Sandra is a sexually precocious girl who doesn't quite fit in at school at the start of the novel, and it is also suggested she is an exhibitionist by her behaviour (she flashes the male movers who help the Sellers move their furniture from London to Sheffield, and lets Tim Glover grope her). She becomes close platonic friends with Daniel Glover as they grow up in Sheffield. After her behaviour toward Tim, he develops an obsessive fixation on her with tragic consequences. Attempting to escape her Sheffield past and re-invent herself, she calls herself 'Alexandra' and emigrates to Australia. There she has casual affairs with a succession of men. As a character, she is easily bored and restless in spirit, rejecting the stable background of her family and distancing herself both physically and emotionally from her parents and brother. While Tim Glover unwittingly pushes people away, she deliberately does it. Tim stalks and pursues Sandra to Australia, where upon meeting him again she does not recognise him. Her rejection causes him to reach a crisis and commit suicide after she forces him out of her apartment with a knife and threatens to call the police.

Why the title 'The Northern Clemency'? At one point, a character is described as having a row of books on a shelf with 'Ludlum titles'. The structure of the title 'The Northern Clemency' could almost be the title of a Robert Ludlum novel, but instead of the suspense, intrigue and action of a spy thriller, Philip Hensher portrays the suspense, intrigue and action of everyday life, the lives of 'ordinary' people. Clemency is defined as the following:

1. A disposition to show mercy, especially toward an offender or enemy.
2. A merciful, kind, or lenient act.

Clemency is an act of forgiveness, a truce- and there are various examples of forgiveness asked for or required throughout the course of the novel.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Brian Lumley's Vampire World

One of my favourite writers of horror fiction is an author called Brian Lumley. His stories are deeply imaginative and he evidently enjoys the frisson of describing the gruesome detail! He is very clearly inspired by H.P Lovecraft, and it's his earlier works and short stories which most clearly demonstrate his Lovecraftian influences.

Although I enjoy the 'Titus Crow' series of novels, and the 'Psychomech' trilogy, the books that Lumley is probably most 'celebrated' for, if that is the right word, are his five Necroscope novels (the original series, as opposed to various prequels and sequels that he has published since), and his Vampire World trilogy, which was a series that chronologically followed those five books.

I'm going to talk about 'The Vampire World' trilogy in this post mainly, but as they follow in terms of content the 'Necroscope' series, I'll briefly describe what those five books were about (SPOILERS ALERT). The hero of the books, and the title character 'The Necroscope' was Harry Keogh. The first book starts with his childhood and his realisation that he possesses special powers. The main talent of the Necroscope is to talk to the dead, in a language known as 'Deadspeak' which all the dead can understand, whatever their nationality and wherever they're from. The Necroscope also possesses telepathic powers and the ability to teleport himself to any location by using a dimensional portal known as 'The Mobius Continuum'.

Harry is recruited into Britain's E-Branch- a kind of spy agency like MI5 or MI6, but staffed by people with ESP abilities such as telepaths and locators, however Harry's 'Necroscope' abilities are unique. Harry enters a paranormal world of spy espionage and counter-espionage, and is a kind of James Bond, but with psychic powers. As the series develops, it becomes clear that Harry's primary enemies are not the Soviet E-Branch (Lumley wrote the original five Necroscope books in a 1980s Cold War setting) but are vampires, or 'The Wamphyri'.

The 'Wamphyri' is an undead creature much like Bram Stoker's Dracula or the vampire of popular myth, but the vampiric contagion is spread by the means of a parasitic leech. A person can become infected and become 'Wamphyri' by breathing in a spore from a 'vampire swamp', or receiving an 'egg' from just such a leech. The leech fuses itself to the spine of a human being and connects to their nervous system, creating a dual 'host' creature which is the Wamphyri being. While the leech requires the host to drink blood and enjoy other 'activities' to satisfy its lust, it returns the favour by causing the human host stay youthful, and possess superhuman strength in return for the sating of those appetites. The Wamphyri are cunning, deceitful, capable of metamorphism and also possess telepathic abilities. It is a terrifying creature indeed. A host in possession of a leech is a 'Lord' or 'Lady' and they create lesser vampires through their bite, which carries the leech's poison. These once-human victims become psychically enslaved to their Wamphyri master, and become their lesser thralls, mere 'vampires'. Wamphyri can create more Wamphyri by draining their human victims, and making them undead rather than merely bite-infected, which in time will produce the spawning of a new leech inside the undead thrall's body, or by passing on an egg, or by normal physical procreation, which will create a Wamphyri baby. Hence the saying 'The Blood is the Life'. Although the leech makes the host powerful and crafty, the thoughts and conversation of Wamphyri Lords and Ladies frequently dwell on the subject of human free will, as secretly they realise their actions are dictated by the lusts of the parasite within. However privately and subconsciously they realise this, they will argue in public that their passions are their solely their own or blame their most evil deeds solely on their leech, and this is the one Great Lie of the Wamphyri.

Anyhow I have digressed somewhat with my description of this frightening monster (Brian Lumley's creation and horrific twist on the vampire myth). Lumley's vampires can be killed by a stake through the heart (staking the leech that fuses itself to the hosts spine or cuts the blood circulation in minor vampires), sunlight, and they also find garlic and silver poisonous. They also cannot cure themselves of leprosy. However, the myth that vampires cannot bear the sight of the crucifix does not apply to Lumley's vampires, as I will explain.

The source for the vampire legend in our Earth, or Lumley's version of it, is a world which is a universe away- the vampire world. This is explained in Necroscope 3: The Source. The vampire world is a world that has been knocked off its axis by a comet. The days are as long as an Earth week, and so are the nights. The world is physically divided by a great barrier range. On the southern side, are the travelling tribes of Gypsies (Szgany), who occupy the territory known as 'Sunside'. And on the northern side, beyond the barrier mountains, is 'Starside'- home to the Wamphyri and their vampire thralls. To the distant north are the Icelands, where errant Wamphyri lords are banished, and to the distant south are the furnace deserts- unpopulated, but beneath the earth is where a race called the Thyre live. In the mountain sides, there are also animals and a race known as the 'trogs' (troglodytes) that make their home, mostly ignored by vampires unless they are desperate to feed their blood thirst. To the east and west, there are the vampire swamps, which can create new vampires if the curious and foolish wander too close and breathe in a spore. There are no other denizens on this world, although Lumley briefly mentions a race of necromancers, living far, far to the east across an ocean which no character ever reaches. We never meet these people, despite the intriguing but brief mention.

The comet which changed and designed the physical features of this world also opened up a portal on Starside between it and our Earth. This is the Gate, a shimmering ball of white light nestling in flat, cratered plains- where vampires that had offended their masters and rogue Wamphyri were banished through- and arrived in our world from.

It is in the third novel that Harry Keogh locates the source of vampires in our world, when military experiments by the Soviets open up a second inter-dimensional portal 'Gate' in the Urals which links to the exit upon Starside in the alien vampire world. Eventually Harry and other members of E-Branch are forced to go there. By the fifth book, Harry himself has become 'vampirized', and is a Wamphyri Lord, yet one with supposedly 'good' intentions, to protect the Szgany. The Necroscope series ends with a great battle between Harry, his son The Dweller (who is a half-Wamphyri, half-metamorphosed werewolf), the Lady Karen (one of Lumley's seductive, alluring Vampire Ladies who falls in love with Harry and hence takes the side of he and The Dweller) and their evil enemies who seek to enslave the Szgany and break through into our world: the 'father of Vampires'- Shaitan the Unborn, and his greatgrandsire, the Lord Shaithis. The book ends with their deaths, when the Soviets fire a nuclear missile through the Gate in the Urals, killing the protagonists in Starside on the other side.

The Vampire World trilogy

Although I also enjoy those five 'Necroscope' books, I prefer the 'Vampire World' trilogy. The events in these books take place fourteen years after the climax of the fifth Necroscope book. The great revelation is that Harry Keogh, while having his wounds tended to by a sympathetic Gypsy/Szgany nurse, sired twin boys with her, who were born five years before the events in Necroscope 5. Now, years later, the boys are almost young men- Nathan and Nestor Kiklu. However, the trilogy traces how both young men take different paths, one 'light' and one a 'dark' reflection of their father, the alien Harry Keogh.

The Wamphyri return of course, courtesy of more back story regarding Shaitan the Unborn. Part of the first book in the Vampire World series, "Blood Brothers", describes how an unwilling protege of his, Turgo Zolte, escaped from Shaitan's clutches and fled east from the Starside vampire aeries (vast towers in the moonlit plains beyond the barrier mountains) to begin a new vampire lair: Turgosheim, an artificial gorge of towers and dizzying cliff heights, which is then occupied by Wamphyri Lords and Ladies- the spawn of Turgo Zolte and his children- through the ages. These Eastern Wamphyri are separated from the events in the west (described in the Necroscope books) by the Great Red Waste, a vast sore in the vampire world landscape which, according to legend, was created by the comet which changed the planet's orbit and also created the inter-dimensional Gate.

Here in Turgosheim, these new Wamphyri are waiting, and having sensed the cataclysmic events of 14 years before, are wondering if the 'Olden Wamphyri' still exist in the Western Starside/Sunside. Brian Lumley creates some of his best-drawn and most complex Wamphyri characters amongst this group: Maglore the Mage, a Lord who takes on an aged appearance due to his denial of his blood lust according to 'Zolteist' principles; Devetaki Skullguise, a scarlet-haired Vampire Lady who is literally 'two-faced', wearing a mask to hide the battle scars of her ascension; Canker Canison, part human, part dog, part fox, part werewolf, who worships the moon; Wran and Spiro Killglance, psychopathic twins who are the sons of the most feared Wamphyri Lord of all, Eygor Killglance, who could kill a man with just a look from his poisonous Evil Eye, and who his sons murdered as they feared him too much; Vasagi the Suck, a Lord who has used his metamorphism to hideously alter his face by removing the lower jaw and creating a siphon to more easily draw the blood from his victims; Zindevar Cronesap, a venomous man-hating lesbian; Gorvi the Guile, shifty and devious; Ursula Torspawn, who keeps various mementoes of her past lovers in jars; Vormulac Unsleep, a great and powerful Lord who mourns for the loss of an early human love, who he vampirized but who died of leprosy; and most memorably of all, the psychopathic and witch-like Wratha the Risen, who can appear beautiful and like a wanton Gypsy woman when she chooses, but who also shape-shifts into a terrifying hideous crone with fearsome scarlet eyes when angered.

Devataki Skullguise, Wamphyri "Lady"

It is Wratha the Risen who rebels against her fellow Lords and Ladies and strikes out West to raid upon Nathan and Nestor's Szgany with her band of rebel Lords. It is Nathan with his unusual blond hair (all the Szgany of the Vampire World have black, brown or red hair) who becomes the saviour and messiah of the Szgany as his father was, inheriting his Harry Keogh's Necroscope powers, while his dark brother Nestor inherits Vasagi's Wamphyri egg and becomes a Lord. He becomes a Necromancer in a twisted warping of Harry's powers, and the lover of the demonic but beautiful Lady Wratha the Risen.

Wratha the Risen and her 'Raiders'

The Vampire World trilogy is brilliant, and only becomes slightly disappointing in the third and final book. There is a sense of anti-climax. I would have liked to have seen a more violent, exciting confrontation between Nathan and Nestor, and it would have been interesting if Wratha the Risen had ever encountered Misha Zanesti- Nestor's unrequited love which sowed the seeds of discord with his brother. Wratha's rebels are just too unevenly matched against the hordes of Turgosheim, led by Devetaki Skullguise, who eventually betrays her kindred by conspiring to sacrifice her fellow Lords and Ladies (particularly those she sees as a threat or dislikes) and make herself a Vampire Empress.

Also, whether it was editorial or publishing policy I don't know, but Lumley reproduces lengthy sections of the previous two books in the final book as flashback scenes, which can become grating after a while, particularly when the reader is familiar with the previous two books. However, there is a sense of intrigue and character development in 'The Vampire World' which enables it to become a more fascinating series of books than the 'Necroscope', even if the ending is slightly ludicrous and Lumley clearly likes to depict and centre his plots around a messianic hero (Harry, Nathan in these series). Every Lumley horror series also has its nubile, sexual female characters as well, whether they are good or evil (Zekintha Foener, the Lady Karen, Lady Wratha, Misha Zanesti, Atwei, Gina Berea, Lady Carmen, Siggi Dam to name but a few)

Overall, the "Vampire World" trilogy is far better than the disappointing E-Branch trilogy which followed it (although that series has fantastic malevolent Wamphyri villains- Lords Malinari, Swart and Lady Vavara)! But I also recommend that people who are fans of horror/vampire fiction read other works by Lumley. Rather than the Necroscope spin-offs, I would recommend his earlier work- the Titus Crow series, the Psychomech trilogy and also 'House of Doors'.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Photos and writing samples

If you have a spare moment, please check out my Redbubble profile for various photos and some samples of my work:

I've added some photographs here that I thought had particular aesthetic value. Many of them were taken in the 2006-2011 period and used to be on my facebook page. I've selected some which I thought that were worthwhile to look at. Many thanks to all!