Dear Bloodsuckers, please don’t kill the logic!

Whenever I read a piece of fiction, no matter what genre, I get very irritated with writers who don’t apply logic or don’t bother to do even a minimum of research into the professions, locations and circumstances of their characters and plot.  Even in fantasy fiction, logic still applies or a plot loses credibility within the setting of its own world.

Since much of Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts revolves around events of the past, I want to look at creatures of the night living a normal life through the ages. What were their circumstances, how did they survive, what disguise might they have used to get by?

It’s all very well to create romantic Twilight vampire fiction that tells us vampires are immortal and are now living as teenage heart throbs in some American dream town, but how did their ancestors survive the difficult centuries before? How did the bloodsucking inhabitants of True Blood arrive in the American South and why were vampire slayers like Sunnydale’s Buffy the vampire slayer and her helpmate Faith or Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing created at all?

Continuing with my research into vampire life in early Britain I discovered that before the tenth century nearly all people lived in small hamlets or in single dwellings scattered around the rural landscape. A small hamlet consisted of no more than 5 farmsteads with barns and outhouses for animals, while a full scale village would have had just twelve to sixty families living in an enclosure surrounded by a ditch and fence.

People made their living mainly from the land. Professions like shepherd or keeper of swineherds, farmer, blacksmith, dairymaids, ploughmen, woodsman and fishermen were common, but millers less so, as the erection of vertical wheel mills didn’t start until just before 900 AD. Until then, most families would engage women and children to mill by hand. This means the majority of professions would have been carried out during daytime hours, when vampires were fast asleep.

Kings and the nobles lived in larger dwellings, castles that were really city states. They were mainly concerned with hunting, their favourite pastime, and keeping their tenants and slaves hard at work. Landowners had to manage the meagre woods left by the Romans, who’d robbed Britain of most of its primeval forests and woodland, where people’s natural food resources had lived. After the year 850 more laws were introduced to protect deer and boar as well as existing woodland and forests, making hunting and foraging for wood illegal, except for the king and the aristocracy. This means running around in woods looking for human prey would be a waste of time as far as werewolves and vampires are concerned.

Writers of vampire fiction often neglect to explain how vampires had to survive through the ages. Vampires, without enemies like slayers or vampire hunters, have no natural enemies, so they are eternal as long as they can feed on blood. It therefore would have been essential for vampires to move in the circles of nobility, as lords lived with their servants, slaves and members of the church in far larger settlements than any other mortals – otherwise vampires would have had to live as hermits in the woods and fields, foraging for rodents. Hardly romantic or cool for the modern vampire so keen on presenting a marketable image.

And what about traditional friends and animal allies of vampires and witches? Were they plentiful or scarce and where did they live?

By the 11th century bears had already been hunted to extinction in Britain, while in the 12th century beaver numbers had been reduced to a few small family groups living in Wales and Scotland. Vampires would have still had some wolves as their allies, but these wonderful animals had also been hunted to such an extent, they only survived in remote parts of English forests and a few other deserted places in Britain.

Why then are genre writers telling us vampires and werewolves or bloodsuckers and regular wolves are meeting en mass to either fight or conspire? A meeting between werewolves, regular wolves and vampires would have to take place in some remote location in Scotland’s Highlands or some Rocky Mountain reserve…hardly the typical hangout for blood-hungry teenage vampires with a desire to have fabulous hair. I may be a geek and a nerd, but I value logic even in  supernatural writing!

English: Cover of the book Interview With the ...

The afterlife must have been tough during the Middle Ages, making the prospect of joining the crusades in the guise of a noble knight quite a lucrative undertaking. Warfare and local squabbles among lords and kings must have been the main food source for vampires prior to the emergence of cities and towns. Incidentally, I love Anne Rice’s vampire stories because she likes to show us how her protagonists might live their afterlife throughout the centuries.

Another interesting fact I came across was that before slavery virtually died out in 1100 AD, the price of a male slave was £1, eight times the price of an ox. No doubt wealthy vampires would have been able to keep slaves and therefore have their own food source at hand. In Willow the Vampire’s second adventure the accumulation of wealth among vampires is crucial, hence my interest in vampire history and how they might have reached their present day role in society.

Cover of "Medieval Children"

With most of the population being in bed by 9.00 pm there would have been little point for creatures of the night to go out hunting for human blood. Medieval children would often be told by their no doubt exasperated parents trying to persuade them to go to bed that “the bloodless and boneless (were) behind the door”, that witches, elves, hags, furies, satyrs, urchins, spirits, pans, fauns, silens (wood gods) and bull beggers (bogies)* were lurking in the shadows at night. Unlikely then that small people would have ventured outdoors as prey for hungry bloodsuckers.

Naturally, vampires could have broken into homes, but this leads us back to small hamlets and villages, where all families knew each other. A stranger stood out like a sore thumb and more likely than not would have been either driven out before nightfall or confined somewhere in a barn. The main killer of medieval children was hunger and want, not a bite to the neck. All accidental or unusual deaths were examined – children’s and adults’ corpses would be seen by a coroner and a report into their deaths would be compiled, before being presented to a jury. Vampires leaving an obvious trail of corpses wouldn’t have gotten very far – a fact that is often overlooked in vampire fiction. From the poorest peasant to noblemen and lords, every “accidental” death would be examined and reported, starting with the tiniest babies.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the bites from vampires that posed a threat to medieval children, it was pigs wandering through open front doors into people’s houses and taking a chunk out of a baby or upturning their cradles, thus killing its tiny occupant. Some pigs were reported as having eaten a whole baby, so I guess vampires occasionally put the blame on some unfortunate sow (see Chaucer), when their own foul deed had been discovered by an outraged parent.

My next blog post will therefore be about one of my favourite shy creatures of the night (and twilight), the wild boar.

Cover of "Making a Living in the Middle A...

(historical sources: Christopher Dyer, “Making a Living in the Middle Ages” and

*”Medieval Children”, Nicholas Orme, Yale University Press)

animation sourced from heathersanimations.com

Why biting People for a Living is not always a bad Thing

Throughout this series of blog posts I have tried to see things from the underdog’s point of view – moths rather than butterflies, aardvarks rather than koalas.

So what of my vampy girl Willow? How is the protagonist of my children’s novel different from other vampires?

Essentially vampires are creatures of the night – Bram Stoker’s Dracula as well as the ensuing Hollywood films and even Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer have established in our minds that sunshine kills off vampires and that their place inthe world is therefore firmly established after bedtime, when the owls are hooting and the moon illuminates gravestones most eerily.

Willow the Vampire turns out to be different in that she is a child of light. However, her family and all other vampires in the Stinkforthshire world I’ve created are strictly nocturnal. My vampires bite people, they suck blood to survive but – waste not want not – they also eat people whole, when the mood takes them. Cured slice of vicar any one?

Written entirely from the vampire child’s point of view, the novels show Willow’s dilemma in coming to terms with who she is. Her mother wants Willow to be a good hunter of human prey, her father would like her to be more ruthless and Willow’s peers think she’s pretty lame, when it comes to knowing about vampire etiquette and history. Her human friends just want her to be happy.

What do you do when you are attracted to the “other side”? Willow has human friends as well as vampire ones…not all vampires are evil fiends, they simply hunt to survive just like humans eat animals. Humans and vampires are simply two different species trying to use Earth’s resources to their best advantage, right?

Not all humans are good people  either – some are murderers, some think nothing of hurting children and others enjoy torturing animals. When we grow up we discover the world cannot be defined by strict rules – black is not always black as the night, white is not always as white as the mist at dawn. Is Willow’s human friend Rita a bad person because she cannot hold down a job? Is headmaster Henderson evil because he craves fame and aspires to be mayor, not caring how he achieves his goal and who he tramples in the process?

Just like Anne Rice’s latest creature of the night, a handsome werewolf, Willow decides that biting and eating bad humans is for the time being the best option she has. As we grow older, we learn that our ability to compromise is what makes humans so successful as a species.

In the fictional world of Stinkforthshire, the Vampire Council has strict rules about how many vampires are allowed to live in any one area so as to avoid detection by humans – after all, littering rural Stinkforthshire with human corpses that have been sucked dry would soon get a whole squadron of slayers out! No, biting only people, who’d otherwise have vanished underground thanks to their illegal activities, guarantees the vampire species’ survival in an increasingly “human” world.

Biting people for a living can also be very rewarding when you know these people are harming others without ever being brought to justice for their crimes. Thus, Willow and her family bite bankers, greedy businessmen, insurance salesmen and those who experiment on animals.

Some might argue my child protagonist should learn how to live on carrot juice and in harmony with humans instead – but in the real world bankers, greedy businessmen, insurance salesmen and those torturing animals don’t live in harmony with the rest of humanity either and couldn’t care less how many living beings their actions plunge into misery!

Why not let my vampires do something truly useful and let them bite people for a living who deserve to have their despicable activities brought to an end?

While in fiction we have the good fortune to deal adequately with those who deserve a sticky end, in real life we often scratch our heads in despair and wonder what’s to be done with utterly unscrupulous people who operate only just within the law, but still manage to defraud or cheat millions of people.

Little vampire

Little vampire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often wonder if writers should not use their limitless imagination to come up with non-violent, legal but utterly devastating punishments for such wrong-doers. Like not allowing bankers to shop for groceries in their local stores or ban them from every wine bar, pub and restaurant in the world, not take their kids at nurseries, snub them in the street or deposit our money with credit unions instead – perhaps boycotting such creatures of the fiscal might at every human level will make them see the light? So far nothing else has worked to get bankers, multinational pharmaceuticals and insurance companies into line.

Biting such people where it hurts – their self-esteem and their bank balance – is a good thing not only vampires should enjoy…by what legal, non-violent means do you think we could rid the world of such creatures of the fiscal might?

NB: If you live in Greece, you don’t have to answer this question.

Howling at the Moon

I had planned to continue with my “creatures of the abyss” theme and head beneath the oceans, since one gentle reader pointed out the horrors that lurk in the deep sea, but the exploits of my noisy new neighbours have prompted me to look at werewolves instead.

Leading a nocturnal life, my neighbours, just like werewolves, seem to transform into howling, snarling, jumping, thrashing creatures the moment other people head for bed after a long day’s work.

English: Wolves chasing an elk

Image via Wikipedia

No, seriously though: a few days ago I watched an online interview the author Anne Rice gave to Google Books. Talking about her new book, which deals with werewolves rather than vampires for a change, she explained how she had become fascinated with the act of transformation from one being into another.

While fiction and script writers have portrayed werewolves or lycanthropes as humans turning into werewolves without being conscious of the fact that a transformation has taken place, Anne Rice wanted her protagonist to remain fully conscious during the change from human to beast and back again. This gave her the opportunity to explore the sensuous aspects of the process as well as looking more closely at the corrupting influence of physical power.

I’ve always believed that deep down in our DNA we have retained that which once made us physically powerful. Take bonobos for example: they may look like wee little chimps, but they are 5 times stronger than a human. Scientists may tell us we gave up such physical strength in favour of growing larger, more efficient brains, but that doesn’t explain the fairly common occurrence of somebody suddenly having super-human strength to save their kids/dog/mum/dad/lover in an emergency.

The strongest woman in the world contest requires their contestants to lift extraordinary weights (like a small car for example, which must remain suspended in mid-air for something like 40 seconds, if I recall rightly, before the woman can claim her world championship title). Where does this strength come from? We must be able to tap into it, when it is absolutely necessary for our own survival or to save the life of sombody important to us.

The classic description of these changelings is that werewolves are a mythical or folklore creature with the ability to change or shape shift into the form of a giant wolf-man. Practically invincible, they can only be killed, according to popular modern legend, by firing a silver bullet at them. They supposedly only haunt our countryside, when there’s a full moon. Blessed with strength, speed and senses that surpass those of both humans and wolves, lycanthropes and similar shape-shifters pop up in many different guises in many different cultures.

Why? Are we secretly envious of werewolves? Are they what we might have been, if our brains hadn’t taken the evolutionary direction they did…one that will lead us ultimately to devouring the planet whole and spitting it out like a huge fur ball, when we’re done?

How amazing would it be to transform into another creature – not necessarily one that bites, maims and kills! Wouldn’t we all love to experience the world as they do…or even more so …just for a little while?

I mentioned T H White’s take on the Arthurian legend before, where Merlin turns Prince Arthur into a variety of animals. Modern popular film and fiction may have made a mockery out of the wild beast and turned it into a teenage-puppy that frolics in the Twilight zone, but the concept of transformation is a powerful subject that needs far greater exploration. T H White did do the subject justice and I cannot wait to read Anne Rice’s new book (The Wolf Gift)  to find out what she makes of the genre and the subject of transformation.

I doubt there will ever be werewolves in Willow the Vampire’s adventures, but I’m fairly certain that at one point I shall turn my toothy little heroine into some other creature, so she can explore what it is like to see the world from an entirely different perspective.