Every book has a story behind the story of how it came to be written. It may be about a life-long passion, a personal journey, the need to share an experience or knowledge. It may have been fermenting in the brain for years, or sprung fully formed from a blinding epiphany. Whether it be fact or fiction, sometimes the story behind the story is almost as interesting as the published book itself …
Spartan Dog: The Vampyre’s Tale by Suzanne Ruthven
I’d always wanted to write a vampire story but after publishing Charnel House Blues (6th Books 2014) and being told on numerous occasions that the narrator’s story would make a good novel, the brain went into overdrive. Charnel House Blues was a literary approach to the vampire genre and developed into a view of vampire culture through the eyes of Lord Ruthven – the first vampire in the literary world from Polidori’s novella The Vampyre. Lord Ruthven rarely appears in vampire anthologies and had never been filmed – but neither has he ever been vanquished.
As my vampire introduced himself in the Prologue …
“It’s a sorry fact, but vampires aren’t what they used to be. I should know because I’m the last remaining member of my species from the ancient world; although if I’m brutally honest, this longevity is as much the product of becoming the alter idem of that club-footed Casanova, George Gordon, the sixth Lord Byron than any fortitude on my part. In truth, my roots are hinted at in that half-forgotten Fragment that was Byron’s contribution to the Villa Diodati ghost story competition – for His Lordship was familiar with the decomposing vampire legends of the Eastern Mediterranean, even if John Polidori was not! But I get ahead of myself …
Today’s vampires are a sorry lot. For 144 episodes, they allowed some chit of a girl to systematically vanquish anything and everything that smacked of vampirism, demons or any other forces of darkness in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. The series catered for the young-adult market that tends to elevate action over subtly in the pursuit of its entertainment, and who still think that vampires are ‘cool’. Well, we are to the touch, but I didn’t think I’d ever live to see the day when the need to kill humans merely to exist would become de rigueur – for me it remains one of Life’s bare necessities rather than actual pleasure. Nevertheless, I have always had a penchant for young ladies (preferably over highschool age) but the current glamorised trend for this kind of televised fiction makes the contemporary variety so susceptible to the vampire’s ‘kiss’ – and, as the man said, ‘the living is easy’.
At least The Vampire Chronicles harked back to the good old days of taste and refinement, but hell’s teeth, Louis de Pointe du Lac was a feeble creature! His character had a permanent, petulant whine, with a persistently complaining note in it, which is about the most irritating trait any human voice can contain. The nightmare of being shut in close confinement with him throughout the daylight hours of eternity would have been enough to cause any vampiric companion to impale him (or herself) on a boar spear and instantly perish. Mr Pitt (the actor not the politician) portrayed him admirably.
Lestat was cast more in the mould of a traditional vampire, but even he had some rather unsavoury and undiscerning habits that are, frankly, quite unpalatable to any self-respecting vampire. In short, Lestat de Lioncourt was a pervert in anybody’s language, living or un-dead, who breached the realms of good taste and would kill anything with a pulse. And as for that infant Claudia – a petulant brat of a child, and even more so in her maturity – that idea was enough to set the alarm bells ringing in any premature burial, because who in their right mind would turn a five-year old child into a vampire without a thought for the consequences? I rest my case.
It must be evident that I am extremely well read when it comes to both classic and contemporary vampire fiction – after all there is very little to keep me amused in this world after rattling around the echoing vaults of eternity for so long. The film versions I watch on DVD, as the close proximity of so much sweating humanity I find unnerving in the close confines of a cinema. Some, I would truly class as ‘horror films’ due to their poor production or storylines rather than any horrifying elements in the script – after all, fact is often more horrifying than fiction.
For the true vampire’s taste, blood should be savoured like fine wine, which means of course, that we do not go on a nightly rampage killing indiscriminately. The prey should be carefully selected and stalked with a hunter’s eye – for who knows what trash that lithesome lovely may be using to pollute her body behind closed doors. An unspoiled Group A RH Positive should only be consumed once a month and savoured, whilst a weekly intake of an inferior drug or drink laced concoction would be the equivalent of binge-drinking courtesy of Oddbins! Snobbery perhaps, but there is undoubtedly a connection with the mystique of blood and the assumption of the superiority of one blood over another, but as the Romans would have observed: de gustibus non est disputandum – ‘there’s no accounting for tastes’.
I must also confess to a sneaking support for Jung and his ‘collective unconscious’ that harks back to certain primordial images for the basis of inducing uncontrollable and irrational fear into the mind of modern man. John Polidori, however, and to some extent that tiresome wench Caroline Lamb, unwittingly created a more ‘modern’ archetypal persona for the traditional vampire in the collective unconscious that superseded the ‘race memory’ version from folklore. If they hadn’t written with such passionate hatred when creating their Lord Ruthven, the image of this deadly aristocrat would have remained securely within the realms of fiction and probably forgotten. Poor old George wasn’t really half as bad as he was painted, but in his vampiric manifestation, he remains ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ – his reputation living on to fuel the fantasy of the un-dead in my own incarnation.
Ironically, I find that I have now become a ‘genre’ which often causes me to smile.And believe me, my friend, you have never fully lived until you’ve seen a vampire smile …”
Needless to say, in the first novel of the series – Spartan Dog – we quickly realise that Alastor Darvell is not an ordinary vampire. He learned his survival skills at the Krypteia, the equivalent of the Spartan ‘special forces’ and his powerful esoteric knowledge has been bequeathed from a long line of ancient Egyptian magicians – which tend to make him pretty well invincible. Forced against his will to become a vrykolakas – or ‘avenger of the blood’ – Alastor embarks on an endless voyage of discovery, persecution, boredom and loneliness as he searches the world … for others of his kind – hoping to find the secret of his release from the cycle of everlasting life.
In order to add balance and an interesting modern sub-plot, not only does his story reflect the trials and tribulations of the Old World, he also finds himself embroiled in a contemporary intrigue that runs parallel with his narrative and which threatens to expose him to the unknown dangers of the 21st century. Nevertheless, he has a powerful guardian in the beautiful, but long-dead Egyptian sorceress Amenirdis whose influence reaches out from beyond the grave to protect him. The second novel in the series, The Wanderer, takes Alastor on a new phase of his long and varied existence.for others of his kind – hoping to find the secret of his release from the cycle of everlasting life.
Spartan Dog: The Vampyre’s Tale by Suzanne Ruthven is published by Ignotus Press Uk ISBN: 978 1 78697 842 4 and available in paperback and e-book format.