Ghostly Goings-on

I was bravely ploughing on with chapter 4 of my new Willow the Vampire adventure, when I discovered my story was taking a rather unexpected turn. This required me to rethink the entire plot, because to my great annoyance the underlying theme had changed – thanks to my wilful, mischievous protagonist having developed a mind of her own.

All truly great children’s stories – those that endure the test of time anyway – have an underlying theme that resonates with the reader, no matter what age they might be. Sometimes this theme might be self-discovery or being brave in the face of adversity or coping with something really difficult like the death of a parent. While on the surface there might be a really cracking story with all the usual twists and turns, the author’s intention will be that the book should be something more than just an adventure story. In other words, there will be layer after layer of themes that the writer has woven in, so readers of different age groups can make all manner of discoveries for themselves.

Deciding on an overall theme can sometimes be hard to do and will largely depend on the age range one is writing for. From a certain age onwards children begin to understand comparatively complex, abstract issues like love and hate, fear, revenge and betrayal. This is well demonstrated by the success of TV family shows like Dr Who and PIXAR movies, where the jokes and emotional moments are multi-layered so they appeal to an audience of different ages.

New children’s writers and those who perpetually underestimate children (yes, teachers and literature critics, I’m referring to YOU) often don’t get this and doggedly believe just a good “story” is needed to make young readers want to read a book. However, children writers today compete with TV, video and online games, books, comics, movies and the Internet in general for the short attention span a child has to commit to anything. Children are far more sophisticated than literature critics, teachers and many new children’s authors give them credit for, so their books need to reflect this, if they are to stand the test of time and become that fabled thing, a piece of “literature”.

English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter ...

English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at White House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making abstract themes accessible to young, but accomplished readers who choose a novel for the age range 8 to 12 is naturally quite a challenge. Not every child reader will pick up on all the author’s intended subjects straight away. This may only happen at a later stage, when the story is re-read over time. Telling a multi-layered story then is what a dedicated author of children’s literature should be after to prolong the shelf-life of their work.

In my last blog entry I mentioned how we can use animals’ characteristics to express human traits of character as well as using certain types of animals as a metaphor for time passing during an important event in our storyline. It is also possible to use creatures of the night (or day) to mirror relationships that human protagonists have with each other.

In the animal version it often becomes much clearer what relationships signify – dogs and cats are deemed natural enemies, just like cats and mice or cats and birds. In the paranormal world this would then equate to vampires and werewolves for example or white witches against black magic witches, whereas in the human world the sensitive child becomes the natural victim of the bully in a schoolyard context, while teachers are typically everybody’s least favourite person.

Tolkien uses mirrored relationships – as well as mirrored locations – to great advantage in the Lord of the Rings. When we write about human protagonists, we are all too often distracted by what they are supposed to look like, their mannerisms and how they are supposed to carry our plot rushing from A to B.

Philip Pullman signing a copy of Lyra's Oxford...

Philip Pullman signing a copy of Lyra’s Oxford for a reader, Margaret Maitland, at the Oxford Literary Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems so much easier to express a number of complex emotional issues with the assistance of animals – presumably this is why Philip Pullman included the idea of daemons into His Dark Materials and J K Rowling used the Patronus spell in Harry Potter’s books to show us each individual’s true self (Harry’s takes the form of a stag, his mother’s took the form of a doe).

Can you think of other novels, where authors have used animals to mirror a human’s inner self?

In my new Willow novel I decided to use the “mirror” technique to show how different relationships can work – some relationships are between adults, some between children, some between vampires and humans and some are inter-vampire relationships…and all of them are upset by a bunch of ghosts!

The ghost element of my story will be the most difficult to deal with. They are no longer “concrete” beings, but spirits with their own agenda who might be anything they choose to be, even physically. The nature of ghosts in literature, folklore and film is often that they have unresolved issues and as long as they resolve them, they can finally go to rest. What if they don’t want to though, what if their intention is to ensnare humans to allow ghostly entities back into this world?

What if ghosts wish to become flesh once more and have another stab at LIFE, that precious commodity we treat in such a cavalier fashion until somebody tells us, it’s time to take our last breath?

Does this ghost theme remind you of anyone or anything?

 

Willow the Vampire discovers the Bear Necessities of Life

This will have to be another two part post, I’m afraid. There’s just so much to the human-bear relationship, never mind the vampire-bear relationship that needs to be discussed.

Bears are not exactly nocturnal, but can be active during the night, so may well bump into Willow the Vampire, who needs more powerful allies like the wild boar to help her to save Earth. She’s met and become friends with a Red Panda but, let’s face it, what’s a Red Panda going to do in a battle, cuddle a villain to death or lick him into submission?

bear

At barely more than domestic cat-size, the Red Panda might be scratchy and bity in a squabble, but hardly of sufficient weight in a fight against a ten-year-old let alone a fully grown human. Fully grown brown or grizzly bears on the other hand…even in their eight-month-old cub-version…are opponents any vampire child would be proud to call her friend.

Actually, bears are rather shy and avoid fighting. It’s just stupid humans who get in the way and upset the bear’s equilibrium to an extent where it’s tempted to raise a paw in self-defence or growl in a threatening way. I do very much the same thing myself with flatmates.

Teddy bear, born in Germany about 1954

Teddy bear, born in Germany about 1954 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The human relationship with bears is an ambivalent affair. As children we are given teddy bears and told they’re soft and cuddly, a human child’s best friend during sleepless nights and mummy’s absence; however, as years go by, we are told bears could wipe us out with just one swipe of their paw. If we came across them unawares in the wild, they’d be more likely to turn us into their dinner than snuggle up to us for mutual comfort.

Historically, bears have been hunted – in many places to extinction – ridiculed and revered in equal measure. Their strength and intelligence make them formidable, which naturally means human males are in awe of them. History teaches us human males admire anything that can theoretically take them out with just one punch until…

…they get clouted over the head by this very theory…at which point human males turn ugly and cry “threat to society” and “exterminate” along with “get your hands off this pelt, that’s my hearth rug your naked infant’s posing on”.

Bears are blessed with a great sense of smell and can detect marmalade sandwiches from miles away, something a certain British family discovered to their cost, when they let a small South American bear into their home, after finding him stranded at Paddington Station. Around human habitats bears change their behaviour from diurnal (daylight) activity to twilight (crepuscular) and even nocturnal (night-time) foraging and playtime routines.

Mr Bear

Although they are not blessed with slim-line bodies, they are much faster runners than their awkward gait would lead us to believe, and are also excellent swimmers, particularly polar bears, which often have to cover huge distances between ice floats to get to another meal.

Their lopsided gait and ponderous facial expression has often made them the target of human ridicule. However, as soon as these agile creatures climb up a tree or demonstrate how good they are at fishing that irrepressible pest, the human male, gets jealous again and wants to humiliate bears by forcing them to dance in a circus or fight with dogs in a pit for money instead of showing off how multi-skilled it really is compared to the average human male, who typically struggles to put on his own trousers and shirt without falling over.

Teddy bears may belong to the family of Pooh, Steiff or Paddington, but all other bears belong to the family Ursidae. Although officially classed as carnivores, most bears are really omnivores, something many Canadian or Alaskan citizens discover when their rubbish bins are being investigated by local bears with a sweet tooth.

English: Paddington Bear, Paddington Station W2

English: Paddington Bear, Paddington Station W2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In total there are just eight surviving species of bear, occupying a widespread habitat, which ranges from countries in the Northern Hemisphere to selected parts of the Southern Hemisphere, presumably because at one point in history bears quite liked to travel (think Paddington Bear, a Peruvian visitor to the UK). From Asia to South America, from Europe to North America, bears are part of human existence, whether human males like it or not.

In the wild bears might eat honey – just like Pooh Bear – or nibble berries to augment their protein diet. The Giant panda on the other hand is specialised and eschews all but the finest bamboo. The Polar bear has little choice but to stick to a diet of fish and seal with the occasional penguin thrown in as a mid-morning snack, since bamboo is as rare in arctic regions as a sober human male is on a Saturday night in Cardiff.

With increasing threat to their natural habitats, wild bears are coming more and more into conflict with urban dwellers. The lure of fast food and bright city lights is clearly too much for even the most determined of forest grumps. Many bears are discovering – like Paddington Bear – that marmalade sandwiches are irresistible human creations that do agree with bear taste and Ursidae etiquette, meaning they taste good when eaten with a chum, while chatting across a raided bin.

English: Two black bears mating

During courtship male and female bears become marginally more sociable and females turn later into the most devoted mothers, but the rest of the time bears are solitary and do not seek the friendship of others. This poses a problem for me, since Willow’s supposed to make friends with one.

I’m forced to devise a heart-breaking flashback, where Willow comes across a bereaved mother bear in Stinkforthshire forest, after her cub was murdered by some worthless louts who broke into the local zoo. Naturally, the human murderers will be dealt with in classic “Willow”-style; as a result my vampy girl and Mama Bear will be friends for life.

There’ll be more bear necessities in the next post; meanwhile, if you can spare a few coins for a good cause, here are some Pooh, Paddington and other members of the Ursidae family who could do with a little help:

http://www.bearwithus.org

(a charity helping bears of all descriptions to find a better life and stay safe)

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

Who’s that Weasel?

I’m not a fan of Madonna but when trying to come up with a title for today’s blog, I just couldn’t help myself paraphrasing one of Madge’s song lyrics (Who’s that Girl).

Least weasel, stoat and European polecat

Least weasel, stoat and European polecat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the series headed Mustalids, the weasel features in this blog not just because my favourite English language book happens to be Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows!

You will probably recall how Mr Toad’s troubles worsened when he encountered ferrets and weasels and Toad Hall fell into their paws – no, I’m writing about the smallest of all mustalids, because just like the irrepressible spammers who have sent close to 600 spam messages to this blog site in less than a month, the weasel is a mysterious creature to whom we attribute all sorts of ill-spirited mischief.

Wikipedia tells me that in early modern Mecklenburg German people carried around weasel amulets believing such items had exceptional magic qualities and that weasels were best slaughtered between the 15th August and 8th September.

Well Wiki, I don’t know where you got this data from…but I grew up just around the corner from Mecklenburg and this is the first I’ve heard of it. There was no ritual weasel-slaying in our patch and my Dad, who was born in Mecklenburg and who’s not normally known to shrink away from a good, utterly idiotic superstition, has never worn or owned a weasel amulet either.

Caniformia

Caniformia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Never has one animal had so many roles to play as the much-maligned weasel! In some countries the weasel represents good fortune, in others it’s a sign of evil before a girl’s wedding or the bad omen that signifies sudden death, while in most farming communities weasels are regarded as chicken-killing-machines, vermin and thieving little so-and-sos. My Willow the Vampire thinks weasels are cute and are the victims of bad press, just like the blood-sucking fraternity.

So who’s that weasel, when it’s at home?

Weasels are carnivores like all other mustalids. Their coat is typically reddish to brown in colour, although the Malaysian weasel is unusual in its colourings: its body fur has a slightly darker colour than its head and it’s more golden in hue than red or brown.

Weasels grow to between 12 to 45 centimetres in length with elongated, agile bodies that have long tails. Weasels are very good at leaping and scampering about, given they have very short legs. Some weasel family members even sport a white winter coat in regions with regular snowfall. Weasels are exceptionally persistent hunters and will follow their prey into underground burrows und pursue them under snow. The only habitats they haven’t conquered so far are Australia, Antarctica and a few islands.

Despite their slight weight and slender bodies, weasels are remarkably strong and can carry up to half their own body weight in food. The smallest member of the Least Weasel family can weigh as little as 35 Gramm, while the largest weasel still only weighs in at 250 Gramm.

Weasels hunt mostly voles and mice. Although technically in competition for food, the weasel will often share its territory with larger members of the mustalid family like the stoat for example. By concentrating on food sources the stoat isn’t so keen on, the weasel has carved out a niche living for itself. Larger weasels might even tackle rabbits and generally won’t say no to Rat Alfresco either.

Long-tailed weasel ladies can give birth to at least six babies, typically in May, when there’s plenty of prey about. The mother teaches her offspring how to hunt and when they’re just 8 weeks old, they are ready to go out hunting for themselves. The weasel lives mostly a solitary life, only getting together with other weasels at mating time.

Writing this, it strikes me how often we use animals to describe people in a negative way: He had a ferrety face – what a weasel! – he weaselled out of the deal – he behaved like a pig – she looks like a warthog – he dances like a hippo on ice – did you see that dog on his arm?- what does the old cow think she’s doing?- you sly old dog – why are you so ratty today?

Why exactly do we attribute negative human character traits to animals – is it so the “human” in us doesn’t get too upset when others hold up a mirror and we don’t like what we see?

Just like we’re seemingly unable to decide what role we want the weasel to play – good or bad – we don’t seem to be able to make up our minds about vampires and werewolves either lately.

Having just read various review blogs on the subject of vampire romance and werewolves’ redeeming qualities, I feel our old perceptions of fantasy creatures are undergoing a renaissance-type enlightenment…perhaps good and evil isn’t quite as clear cut as we’ve been led to believe by our aged aunties, Sunday-school teachers and a staple diet of John Wayne westerns?

Do weasels ever get to wear the white Stetson or have humans condemned them to wear the villain’s black hat forever? Are weasels friend or foe?

Whatever the answer might be to the vampire/werewolf conundrum, the weasel cannot be either good or bad. It’s not a mustalid with a mission to devour or save Earth; it’s not a weasel with an attitude stealing the farmer’s chickens, because chicken rustling is all the rage in Wildwood Forest these days; nor is the weasel vermin to be exterminated simply because it’s in our way –

A stoat in winter pelage guarding a mountain h...

A stoat in winter pelage guarding a mountain hare carcass from a pair of least weasels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, who’s that weasel? It’s a splendid little creature just trying to survive in an ever shrinking habitat.

A little Flight of Fancy

Part of the birds of prey display

Image via Wikipedia

As a small child Iwas haunted by recurring nightmares in which a bunch of monsters would chase me endlessly. Fortunately, every time they caught up with me, I was able to sprout a pair of wings and fly away just at the critical moment.

My recent question “what creature of the night would you like to be” prompted one reader to mention hawks – and as they are also one of my favourites, here are a few facts about hawks in particular and birds of prey in general.

Collectively they are known as raptors. That’s a term many people became more familiar with, when Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was released in 1993, since raptors of a different kind feature rather prominently in the film. There are no raptors or birds of prey in Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove, but future books in the series are likely to have these wonderful animals in them.

Bram Stoker’s vampire Dracula (published 1897) might have turned himself into a blood-sucking bat to harass Lucy, Mina & Co, but raptors are creatures “who seize and carry away” (the Latin word raptor means just that). They don’t generally hang around outside our windows, waiting for the perfect opportunity to nip us in the neck!

Hawks, like all raptors, have hooked bills, so they can tear their prey’s flesh from the bone. They also have powerful feet with talons to grab their prey and hold on to it. Their large eyes are perfect for spotting prey in daylight and at dawn. Raptors are also famous for their spectacular aeronautical skills; they are superb acrobats of the skies.

Each hawk family seems to have different ways of hunting. Sparrow hawks and goshawks like hunting by stealth: sitting high up on their perch – a branch in a tall oak for example – they will watch their victim for a while, before seemingly appearing out of nowhere to carry out their ambush. Harris hawks like to hunt in pairs or even as a small group. A female Harris hawk with a nest with chicks to feed with often team up with a group of male hawks to go hunting at dawn.

While some of the group flush out the prey – rabbits, rats or other rodents – the other hawks will cut off the victim’s escape route and intercept them. The team will share the spoils afterwards, so everybody gets fed.

Hawks kill their prey with their exceptionally strong grip, squeezing the life out of them. The African harrier-hawk has incredibly flexible legs for example that can bend at extreme angles, allowing the bird to grope around inside tree hollows for small mammals or nesting birds hiding inside.

In popular fiction hawks and eagles often appear as magical beings, which side with either good or bad. In J. R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings hawks are spying for the evil antagonist Sauron, while eagles ally themselves with the good hobbits and wizard Gandalf.

The Bird of Prey

The Bird of Prey (Photo credit: CJ's)

In the film version of comic book hero Flash Gordon’s adventures (Flash Gordon, 1980, directed by Mike Hodges), cruel Ming the Merciless is eventually overcome by Flash Gordon receiving help from Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed) and his Hawkmen. These Hawkmen are not entirely reliable and trustworthy though. Prince Vultan initially betrays Flash Gordon, but later comes to his aid, when the Hawkmen’s kingdom on Sky City is destroyed by Ming the Merciless.

It seems to me our relationship with hawks is ambivalent. Throughout the centuries mankind has trained hawks and other raptors for hunting. Pampered and prized from before the Middle Ages to our present day, such hunting birds live a life of captivity, while their cousins in the wild delight us with their amazing aerial displays. Perhaps we have always been too envious of their ability to master the skies to allow them their unfettered freedom?

I’m still in two minds what type of raptor will feature in Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts; having already assigned a certain task to owls, I find there should be a bird antagonist, too.

If you had to write a short story containing a raptor, what species would it be?

What’s eating little Red Riding Hood?

Gray Wolf I

Following on from my last blog, I’ve been thinking about my childhood reading experience, when coming across Little Red Riding Hood for the first time. Frankly, ever since I read the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale about some thick-headed girl who cannot tell her grandmother from a fully grown, hungry wolf I have been pleading for the wolf and all its canine kind.

I recall that my initial reactions were outrage and disgust: why should the poor beastie suffer such a fate? Anyone as stupid as little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother deserves to be eaten, surely?

Over the centuries wolves have gotten an exceedingly bad press for no good reason. Shy and secretive, wolves are the original canines who came to live with man – to keep our ancestors company, help them hunt, assist with shepherding live stock and be generally man’s most loyal friend.

How did we repay this splendid species? We hunted them to extinction in most parts of Europe and are still cheerfully killing them in the USA and elsewhere in the world…for their skins, for their eerie howls, for their fairy tale bad press. The Ethiopian wolf has only some 500 remaining specimen living in the wild – they are among the most critically endangered animals on the planet, as are Red Wolves, where only some 200 individuals are still surviving in the wild today.

Wolves and other canines have been around for hundreds of thousands of years – but since we began to take them into our homes some 14,000 years ago, we’ve done pretty much all we can to destroy them in every way we can – from hunting them for their fur to domesticating them and turning them into overbred, often crippled and in permanent pain lapdogs with hideous shapes that no longer allow them to breed unaided, breath or walk without difficulties (go to Crufts and meet any terrier, German Shepherd or British bulldog for example).

Wolves are intelligent and beautiful animals. My fascination with them prompted me to make them a part of Willow the Vampire & the Sacred Grove. My ancient vampires can turn into all sorts of creatures of the night, including wolves. I’m intrigued by the way wolves communicate with each other through body language and long distance “phone calls”, i.e. howling.

Gray Wolf, Canis lupus

Gray Wolf, Canis lupus (Photo credit: ArranET)

I’m moved by the fact that wolves and their kin form a lifelong monogamous relationship with their partners and that both parents are actively involved in bringing up their cubs.

May their howls echo through the forests long after the despicable species “mankind” has been wiped from the face of the Earth!

Who’s afraid of Fairy Tale Forests?

Forest lake in summer

Although strictly speaking, they are not a “creature of the night”, forests scare me…perhaps because traditionally they are the natural habitat of creepy, crawling, scary things?

Growing up in Northern Germany, one is rather blessed with an abundance of forests, mysterious lakes and rivers. Am I freaked out by forests because trees are sinister ancient beings, whispering behind my back, as I’m trying very hard not to be eaten by wolves?

Erm…no…they’ve all been slaughtered by mankind, so nothing scary left in that canine quarter. What about bears? Nope, they went the same hearth-rug way as the wolves. Perhaps it’s the wild boars that still roam the Northern German forests? Nope, they are quite shy creatures and usually run away.

So why am I scared? I blame it on literature. Forests in books are often depicted as quite anti-human. Think of the forest in Harry Potter, where gigantic spiders have made their home or the way Tolkien uses trees and the forest to actually go into battle in The Lord of the Rings.

There’s also Little Red Riding Hood herself…not to mention Hänsel and Gretl, whose plight terrified me as a child – and in Germany children get to read the Brothers Grimm stories as originally intended – for an adult audience – not the watered down Victorian translations published in the English language versions of the famous fairy tale collection. Witches are burnt in ovens, children get eaten and nasty stepmothers have to dance with hot irons strapped to their feet until they die…the original Brothers Grimm stories don’t show a lot of mercy to culprits, I’m afraid.

Stamp description / Briefmarkenbeschreibung De...

Image via Wikipedia

Trees…every one of them offering a huge living space for all manner of animals, from birds, mice, bugs, slugs, worms, spiders and other insects to mischievous spirits, dwarfs (Zwerge) and fairies. Trees should be viewed as friendly, life-giving beings. Their wood can be burned to keep us warm and safe. Yet, literature rarely seems to view them that way.

Getting lost in a forest – let’s face it, who hasn’t left the trail for a clandestine pee behind a tree – is an unpleasant experience. As soon as it gets dark on a winter’s afternoon, forests turn into something unutterably hostile…a veiled threat behind every pine branch, danger lurking behind every oak and underneath every upturned elm root…the primeval fear humans have of the unknown?

Vampires are rarely seen in forests – even Willow the Vampire is suspicious of the Sacred Grove and its magical properties. Forests are not exactly a good hunting ground either – there are far too few humans in them nowadays. Modern vampires like to hang out with the young, bright and beautiful things in cities…there are easy pickings among inebriated teenagers…

TV shows like True Blood are rather unusual in that they depict vampires living everywhere, including rural areas, where the loss of victim after human victim would soon flush out the supernatural being and earn them a stake through the heart for their trouble. Not that the vampire genre is based on logic, you understand.

When I started out writing Willow stories, I wanted them to take place in a rural setting. Small villages in the middle of nowhere are scary places, too, no matter how picturesque they might appear to the visiting tourist. Just like trees they sustain a multitude of life, but make no mistake, there’s real danger lurking in Stinkforth-upon-Avon’s community!

Are trees so ancient, they can no longer comprehend the feelings and thought processes of lesser “mortals”, even vampires, who can “live” their afterlife for centuries? Are small village societies so cut off from the rest of society that they make their own rules? I grew up in one, perhaps that’s why I chose a small village as the scariest of settings I could think of.