Kim Newman will be joining us for a webchat between 1pm and 2pm on Thursday 26 April. Newman is the ideal person to ask about the enduring appeal of vampires, the meaning of Dracula and the delights of genre fiction. He is a journalist and film critic renowned for his knowledge and his engaging and sharp-fanged prose, not to mention his ability to sit through hundreds of straight-to-video horrors that would make lesser men quake in their boots.
He is also is the author of the fantastic Anno Dracula series, in which a certain well-known vampire makes appearances in a number of alternative history settings with suitably bloody results. His career is further burnished by a number of important awards and plaudits - most notably for our purposes, he is a past recipient of the Bram Stoker award for superior achievement in horror writing. I for one can't wait to hear what he makes of Twilight...
Please post your questions below.
The chat has been posted here to make it easier to follow.
Are there any gothic tropes which you feel are ripe for the picking or, perhaps more importantly, are glad haven't been touched or wish hadn't?
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Hi - thanks for the kind words. The Twilight films aren't to my taste - and the books even less so - but I think there are interesting things to be said about them. And teenage horror has been a vital area since I Was a Teenage Werewolf - one of the best titles of anything ever - in 1958. Though there's a version of The Monk out in the cinemas this week, the vast bulk of British and continental gothic literature outside a few famous examples remains surprisingly untapped by the movies. David Pirie pointed this out in 1973 and the situation remains unchanged - last year, we had the umpeenth versions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but where are the films of Melmoth the Wanderer, The Mysteries off Udolpho, The Castle of Otranto, 'The Vampyre', Uncle Silas, The Midnight Bell, Confessions of a Justified Sinner or The Beetle? And that's just the pre-20th century canon - modern masters like Robert Aickman, Ramsey Campbell, Algernon Blackwood, Peter Straub, etc., are similarly neglected by the cinema.
A simple question: A few months ago I read your astounding novel Jago.
I just wondered what was the genesis of that story and how did it develop?
I wanted to write on of those big community-based horror novels that were around in the 80s, like Salem's Lot or Ghost Story but with a British setting. I suppose if all the American versions are spins on Peyton Place, with added horror, then the British take must be a spin on The Archers. The basic idea of effective dreaming - altering reality with wishes, conscious or not - has been about in genre for a while, and I deliberately named the main character Anthony after the kid in the 'It's a Good Life' episode of The Twilight Zone (from a story by Jerome Bixby).
hi Kim: has your interest in horror ever waned? when did it peak? & do you think there's any difference in the way horror fans are perceived or treated in literature and film?
It's been a constant thrumm since I was about eleven, but there have been patches when the genre has been in a sorry state artistically or commercially - there was even a period when the 'horror' section of bookshops got taken out - which probably just made me look to the old stuff more. The representation of fans of all kinds in fiction and film is bizarrely skewed, considering that fans might be a potential audience - obviously, Annie in Misery represents one type of extreme fan but even most sympathetic depictions of fan culture make fun of fringe elements like costuming and trainspottery fact-hoarding while avoiding potentially more interesting stuff. Exceptions - Emily Hagins' movie My Sucky Teen Romance, a funny vampire movie set at a science fiction convention which is affectionately sent up yet realistic, and the TV movie Cruise of the Gods, which is also very perceptive and tries to explore the relationship between creator and fandom.
How do you explain the continuing interest in zombie stories when they seem such limited monsters? What is the relationship (if any) between the vampire and the zombie?
Personally, I could do with zombies taking a rest for a while - the genre seems so overworked and overexposed at the moment that it just feels lazy to add to the pile, as if the creatiors were stumbling forward on blind consumerist instinct. Actually, maybe there's room for a retuyrn to Haitian style, pre-George Romero/zombie apocalypse voodoo zombies. It's been said that the flesh-eating zombies of modern fiction are just grosser, mindless vampires - the need to consume and transform the living was bolted into the zombie myth by Night of the Living Dead, which was inspired by Richard Matheson's (excellent) vampire novel I Am Legend.
Drachenfels is one of my all time favourite fantasy novels, and Genevieve Dieudonne is my single favourite vampire. Lots of great British writers have written great novels in established worlds like the Warhammer universe. What do you think writers can learn from working in collaborative worlds like that?
Thanks for that. I wrote a bunch of novels (as Jack Yeovil) for Games Workshop early in my career. It served as on-the-job training in the business of writing - with the added attraction of publication and payment. I wrote those things very fast, so they have a lot of narrative drive - and some slapdash elements that I only noticed when I had to proofread them all together for the omnibus edition. I like to think of them as like those Roger Corman movies made over a weekend - they're not the best movies ever made, but they're pretty good for a weekend's work on no resources. I didn't pay that much attention - because I didn't have time - to what else was going on in GW's worlds, though I did look at the manuals and the other novels and work in cross-references. It was also early enough in the evolution of their empire that I could change or establish things for them. I'm glad it's still a way in for young writers.
I loved Anno Dracula, and I thought the sense of fun balanced the horror perfectly. How important do you think this balance is to successful horror writing?
Current vampires being a bit-teenish and heart-achy doesn't particularly bother me, since they transpose themselves so well between generations: AIDs panic in Near Dark, fear of the outsider in the early-mid 20th century etc.
I was wondering what you see as the next likely incarnation of the vampire's cultural threat? Bankers as bloodsuckers seems a little on the nose...
The politically-connected property developer as vampire in The Satanic Rites of Dracula seems more pertinent now than it did in 1973 in The Satanic Rites of Dracula. My favourite yuppie vampire novel is Anne Billson's Suckers - just now republished as an e-book. The era of the sympathetic vampire might be fading, and - yes - the next wave will probably represent the kind of people we hate, fear or feel are ruining our lives at the moment.
who (or what?) is your favourite vampire? And why do you think they have such strong appeal?
Dull answer, but it's Dracula. I think we wouldbn't have a vampire genre without him, and he has shown up in all manner of forms. I also like LeFanu's Carmilla, who is a fascinating passive-aggressive vampire: she poses as an invalid and gets healthier as her nurses fade away. The Count from Sesame Street, who has real folkloric roots in the notion of vampires as obsessive counters, is also way cool. Maybe the sexiest vampire for me is Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness.
A boring book question from me. But I picked up Anno Dracula last year for first time and loved it. Wanted to read the rest of the series – are any due to be re-published?
Not boring at all to me. The Bloody Red Baron is republished today! Dracula Cha Cha Cha will be out in the Autumn. Johnny Aliucard next year. And another book is in the works. The new editions all contain new stuff - BRB and DCC have whole new novellas which add up to basically a new novel slipped into the gaps of the previously published stuff.
Sorry to be a suck-up here but, Mr Newman, your work has been a great pleasure of mine for decades now, and I'm delighted my son, almost a teenager, is being slowly drawn in as well, although I grow weary of explaining we can't afford all the dodgy dvds you recommend each month. Your imdb entry is thin though. This feels like a deliberate choice on your part, is it? Why am I not able to watch Kim Newman's 'Orrorshow, or similar?
I have concentrated on being a published novelist rather than being an unproduced screenwriter. That said, I'm doing some work in other media at the moment - I've written radio plays and am working on a Halloween stage production.
I would add Galaxy Quest to that short list, Kim. Just wanted to say that I'm so pleased the Anno Dracula series is back in print - I read The Bloody Red Baron many, many years ago and occasionally wondered why I'd never seen the first book, so I was thrilled to come across it in Waterstones.
I think Joss Whedon said a year or two ago that he thought there were just too many vampires about these days. Do you share that view? Were you at all concerned about re-releasing your novels into a market where the appetite for vampires might be beginning to wane again?
There are certainly more vampire novels about than I can read, though I try to keep up with as many of the movies as I can. I said above that I thought zombies were dead-ended in fiction just now, but vampires are more versatile. There always seems to be something new to say. I didn't have that worry about the Anno Dracula books - and I don't know if my publishers did - since, though vampires are upfront in the series, the novels are about a lot more things too. I have flet the need in the new story 'Vampire Romance', which is in The Bloody Red Baron reissue, to address recent trends in vampire fiction. Besides the obvious sparkly goth romance stuff, I realised that the Anno Dracula universe lacked a Japanese schoolgirl vampire - so I've put one in.
Do you dispair at the teen versions of vampirism that seem to remove the intrigue from the vampire canon or are they simply a modern version of the penny dreadfuls, appealing to the masses?
They aren't my idea of interesting - but I may well be grumpy. I disliked The Lost Boys in the 1980s, and there's a wave of people - who are wrong - going around calling it a classic now. I don't have any problem with appealing to the masses, either: very popular things are usually interesting for the way they connect with audiences even if they're artistiucally unexceptional. Except the Transformers films. They're dross.
Do you have any views on ebooks? Specifically, are your Diogenes Club collections coming out in e? Please say yes...
I've a pile of unread proper books the size of a 1950s fridge, so I won't be getting an e-reader any time soon. I spend so much of my day looking at screens that I'd rather not add to that - but I'm all in favour of e-books. The Diogenes Club books will be reissued by Titan, and I assume ebooks are part of that package.
Do you ever consider reviving old Jack Yeovil? For young adult material, perhaps? I rather miss him.
Bugger - I've stumbled on this and I don't have a single question to ask about vampires (I find it a bit like wondering what Hamlet was majoring in at university, or whether Death Stars use Rolls Royce engines). So I'll just note my opinion (formed over many years and from many media) that Newman is the best and most knowledgeable and readable film critic in the country and the Guardian should give him a proper job.
Okay, Bramologists, carry on.
I'm sure Peter Bradshaw is quaking in his cinema seat.
I have a question about the merit and allure of the vampire as a literary figure, both in it's significance to pure horror, and indeed the potential of the vampire as a mode of allegory or representation... How can the vampire evolve in a way that maintains its pertinence to audiences?
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As the most successfully adaptive of all the monsters - let's face it, you can"t do all that much with mummies - I suspect that vampires will continue to evolve, and keep pace and popularity and relevance ... but I don't know what's happening next ... I hope it'll be interesting.
Have you read any of Bram Stoker's other books? There have been plenty of articles around the 100th anniversary of his death saying he was a one hit wonder. Do you think that's right?
I kind of like Jewel of the Seven Stars - the mummy novel - and I have read a few other things. Lair of the White Worm is wonderfully demented. And some of the short stories in Dracula's Guest are terrific. He was one of those Victorians - like Disraeli - who was well-known for something enormously demanding (as the business manager of Sir Henry Irving and the Lyceum Theatre) but miraculously also found time not just to write novels but to be prolific too. His death certificate said 'overwork', so that perhaps says something.
The modern-day vampire stories are purely teen-centric , i.e. Twilight. I would suggest that Twilight is a by-product of Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series.
However, it is the roots, the aetiological nature of vampirism to explain anaemia, or exsanguination, that spring to mind ? Where do you think the myths of vampirism arose ?
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Oddly enough, though I've looked a bit at the folkloric stuff it's not influenced me much. I think of Tom Lehrer's statement that the reason folk songs are rubbish is that they're written by the people rather than professional songwriters who know what they're doing. Vampire stories are just a collection off odd snippets, traditions and anecdotes until John Polidori finds a use for the idea in a piece of fiction - 'The Vampyre' gives vampires a look, a voice and a purpose, and it's not accidental that the genre took off after that. Even Dracula feels like a gloss on 'The Vampyre'.
Enjoyed your session at the Open Graves, Open Minds Stoker Centenary event at the weekend with Kevin Jackson. I am interestd in the non reflection motif in Dracula or the old 'not visible in a mirror' trick as you put it. Firstly, do you think Stoker sat down at his desk one day and invented the idea of a vampire not reflecting in a mirror? Are the notebooks in the Rosenbach museum evidence of this in your opininon (associations with werewolves and silver aside) and secondly can you outline your thoughts about using this in your own work...where do you see it going.....is it outmoded now with the advent of film? Photography too...Stoker has Dracula not showing up in a photograph ('could not codak (sic) him') you use this as well. How do you interpret it as a metaphor? What does it mean do you think?
I'd love to know.
It's a poetic touch - I suspect it comes from ETA Hoffman and stories of missing shadows and the like - and Stoker seems to think he was adapting it from pre-existing lore even if he was making it up. This is quite common in vampire stories - I doubt if Murnau thought he was inventing the dead at dawn thing in Nosferatu. Stoker originally planned on having his vampire show up as smudges in photographs, since he was interested in modern tech interfacing with ancient legend. This trope later shows up in The Omen and Ring, where the cursed and doomed can be identified by their mangled images in photographs. I keep coming back to it in my own series because it's one thing that means the vampire is a supernatural creature rather than completely subsumed into science fiction (even Stoker plays with vampirism as a side-effect of radium deposits in the Carpathians). I think the lack of reflection is supposed to mean the lack of a soul, though it's not consistent - I've also always wondered whether vampires should appear in mirrors as empty suits of clothes rather than absences, or does the effect act like a cloaking device? In the piece I'm working on at the moment, there's a character obsessed with devising means of photographing vampires so I'm still struggling with it.
Well I completely agree with you on Transformers! In regards to Zombies however, how did you view the critical mauling that Max Brooks has received after attempting to introduce Vampires in to his WWZ timeline? Have to say I was thoroughly underwhelmed especially after the two previous books blew me away.and whilst the subject matter is clearly fantasy, the gritty realism and backstories to WWZ and TZSG grounded them more in reality. The introduction of another strain of undead popping up to help humans, seems tenious when they hadn't been mentioned whatsoever and took the series in to unwanted waters for me.
I'm afraid I've not read those. I have come across zombie/vampire team-up/confrontation efforts before. Yes, there is a film called Vampires vs Zombies. That said, in Dracula Cha Cha Cha, I went the other way and put degenerate vampires indistinguishable from zombies in the mix - mainly because the book was set in Rome and I couldn't resist having some good old fashioned video nasty style 1980s Italian zombies stumble around.
I have a question coming in from Twitter - from non other than the excellent Jon Courtenay Grimwood: "@samjordison ask Kim if he has the rights in genevieve dieudonne (sp) and if she's going to reappear..."
Yes, indeed - she appears in 'Vampire Romance' and will be back in Johnny Alucard and whatever the fifth book is called. One nice thing about doing a vampire series is that they live a long time and can pop up across the centuries in different times and places. I recommend John's current series of Venetian vampire books, by the way.
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