It’s just a week until the publication of the latest Galbraith & Pole adventure, Monsters in the Mist, with my Undead hero, so please forgive me for another post about vampires.
What do vampires mean to you?
The ultimate vampire, of course, is Dracula and the classic book about him is Bram Stoker’s novel. But if you want to write about vampires nowadays, you need to take a long, hard look at the myth. Can vampires really turn themselves into wolves or bats? Do the laws of physics not apply, so they throw no reflections and cannot be photographed? The vampires of the 19th century were truly supernatural beings, but nowadays there is so much that is almost magical about science that it seems better to make our vampires something that can at least partly be explained rationally.
My vampires like to fit in unnoticed around humans. They do, it’s true, avoid daylight – but many people nowadays live much of their lives in the dark With the aid of sunglasses and high factor sunscreen, vampires can get by. Many of them don’t like garlic, but who can blame them? Garlic certainly won’t kill them. Neither will most things, though a stake through the heart really is fatal – but so is a bullet.
My vampires like to hang out round Brompton Cemetery with its baroque sepulchres. Some even live there, but most prefer the comfort of regular houses. With money carefully invested over centuries, many can afford apartments in the nicer parts of Chelsea.
The whole ‘drinking blood’ thing can be problematic, but as illegal highs go, blood is quite easy to get hold of and it isn’t as if they don’t enjoy a good meal or a fine Scotch. They enjoy a lot of the finer things in life: if you have hundreds of years to develop your taste, you can become quite a connoisseur.
There are murderous vampires, of course, just as there are murderous humans. Given that the first Galbraith & Pole story, Something Wicked, is a twist on the police procedural genre, there has to be a murderous vampire or there wouldn’t be a story. But there are vampire policemen too, tidying up after the renegades like my vampire hero, Chief Inspector Pole.
If vampires were living among us, you’d think that somebody would have noticed something odd. And people do. But the government colludes with the vampires to cover things up. It’s convenient for governments to be owed favours by immortal beings who have been forced to learn how to move silently and undetected through the night and who can, when necessary, kill before vanishing away without trace.
What would happen if one of these vampires met a down-to-earth human policeman who was less than happy to keep their secret? How does a policeman solve a case when the chief suspect is a creature that no-one can know exists?
Meet Chief Inspector Galbraith and join him on a journey through a London nobody knew existed.
Something Wicked did not set the bestseller lists ablaze, but enough people liked it for me to produce a sequel, Eat the Poor, which has a definite satirical edge as Galbraith and Pole hunt down a werewolf with links to the world of Westminster.
With Monsters in the Mist, Galbraith and Pole have been taken out of their comfort zone as they investigate a killing on the mountains of mid-Wales. Could this be another werewolf or are there even darker forces afoot? It’s story that takes us from an isolated farm to the government research centre at Porton Down and an explosive climax at a secret military base just off the M4. Some of the locations are entirely fictitious, but they’re not the ones you’re thinking of.
Galbraith and Pole explore the world outside the M25 and you may never look at it quite the same way again.
Monsters in the Mist is on pre-order for Kindle (£3.99) at mybook.to/MonstersInTheMist. It’s also available in paperback from Thursday at £6.99.
I imagine that everybody who reads this blog has realised by now that I write historical fiction. What I think some people still don’t know is that I have a sideline in Urban Fantasy.
I enjoy writing Urban Fantasy. It takes more research than I had expected. Sometimes I need to consult 16th century French volumes about werewolves. Other times I’m checking maps of the Palace of Westminster or the type of weaponry favoured by Special Forces. It’s still massively easier than all the historical research that underlies the Burke series. The field trips, too, are much simpler. A visit to Brompton cemetery is much less demanding than a trip to Portugal, although Portugal was a more romantic place to have a holiday.
What exactly is Urban Fantasy? Basically, it’s fantasy stories, featuring such old-time favourites as vampires and werewolves, but set in realistic contemporary settings.
A vampire hero
I’m just finishing the third of my Galbraith & Pole books. These all feature a Metropolitan Police detective, Chief Inspector Galbraith, who has ended up partnering Chief Inspector Pole from the mysterious Section S. While Galbraith is very human, Pole is a vampire. To start with, Galbraith is uncomfortable working with the Undead, but gradually they become good friends. I like to think of the books as police procedurals with added bite.
Why a vampire? The idea came to me on a visit to Buenos Aires, a city distinguished by amazing cemeteries in which the dead rest in little houses that form busy streets. Buenos Aires is, of course, also famous for tango. Tango in South America is mainly a nocturnal activity and I found it easy to imagine the dead leaving their mausolea to dance. Tango songs often feature death and lost love, so I thought they would appeal to vampires.
My beloved explained gently to me that English readers might struggle with a story set in a country and culture they didn’t know. Could I move my vampires to London, for example? So I came up with a vampire sub-culture based around Brompton Cemetery.
The idea of Urban Fantasy is to have your fantastical creatures firmly based in the real world. Could I make a credible 21st century vampire?
Creating vampires that could live among us involved I certain amount of tweaking of the vampire legend. Obviously my vampires can’t go out in daylight, although high factor sunscreen can extend their operating hours a little. They wouldn’t be vampires if they didn’t drink blood, but they really don’t need that much blood and the vampire subculture does have humans who get a kick out of making donations – or, at a pinch, there is animal blood. Like traditional vampire, it takes piercing the heart to kill them, although a stake is not necessary: a bullet will do the job just as well.
Chief Inspector Pole explains that many of the other attributes people ascribe to vampires are just myths. He enjoys garlic and it’s perfectly possible to take his photo.
Pole dislikes the term ‘vampire’, which he thinks has negative connotations. Instead, he prefers to speak of ‘the Others’, as opposed to the Mortals they live amongst. They are able to hide in plain sight because of a long-standing arrangement whereby they make their services available to the Crown in exchange for a blind eye being turned to their existence.
Pole used to be called Paole. Perhaps he is related to the historical vampire Arnold Paole, who lived in Serbia in the early 18th century and whose vampiric activities were the subject of an official report by the Austrian authorities. Who knows?
Do I believe in vampires? Let’s put it this way: in the tango clubs of London I meet people who seem to have been dancing for decades but who never show signs of aging. And I’ve never seen them out by daylight.
Monsters in the Mist
I’m just finishing the third Galbraith & Pole story, which finds them out of London, hunting a mysterious killer in rural mid-Wales. Both Galbraith and Pole are creatures of the city and entirely out of their comfort zone on open moorland with nothing to disturb the silence but sheep. There is something out on the hills, though: something that has killed once and may well kill again.
Our heroes’ search for the secret behind the monsters takes them to Porton Down, where scientists are pushing genetic research into dangerous areas. It ends in a bloody climax at a secret military base hidden at the end of a service road on the M4.
Porton Down is a real place as is the secret military base. In this crazy 21st century world, is it really the vampires that are the hardest thing to believe?
The Galbraith & Pole series
The first Galbraith & Pole book, Something Wicked, sees Pole working with Galbraith to track down rogue vampires who have killed a member of the House of Lords. There’s a lot of tango. (I told you that vampires like tango.)
The second book, Eat the Poor, asks, if your MP was a werewolf, would anybody notice.
Both books are available on Amazon as paperbacks or on Kindle.
Monsters in the Mist will be looking for beta readers in the next week or two. I’m hoping it will be ready in time for Halloween. That seems appropriate.
I had the idea for Something Wicked years ago wandering around the cemeteries of Buenos Aires. It was intended as a single short book but I had people asking me to write another about the vampire detective, Chief Inspector Pole, and his human colleague, Chief Inspector Galbraith. I wanted to oblige but I had no ideas for a plot. Then the world of British politics provided inspiration. If there was a werewolf sitting in Parliament, would they be any worse than the humans there? Would we even notice?
The result was Eat the Poor, which sees Galbraith and Pole work together to solve a series of grisly murders across London. At its best, Urban Fantasy has a strong sense of place and I enjoyed exploring areas where I might leave a body or where a werewolf might prowl unseen in the city.
As in Something Wicked, the book combines traditional horror-story themes with sardonic glimpses of the practicalities of life (or non-life) for supernatural beings in 21st century Britain. The humour, given the subject matter and the political background it is set against, inevitably has satirical elements, but this is not an angry political novel. It is, first and foremost, a fun read with, as one reviewer said, “Just the right amount of black in its comedy.”
I’m not a big one for preparing my Friday blog posts ages in advance. I generally prefer to see what I can think of to write on the day or (as now) the day before.
This week I really wasn’t sure what to talk about. There seemed to be quite a lot going on in the world and posting pretty pictures from a weekend away didn’t seem appropriate. (Not that we’ve had a weekend away as my beloved and I have both been hit with covid.) But anything based on what was going on in the wider world seemed likely to be overtaken by events before Friday. Now our Prime Minister has announced that he is (more or less) on his way out and I feel safe making the odd comment about writing about politics.
There is actually a lot of politics in many of my books but, because they are mostly set a long time ago, I don’t have to worry too much about how things might change from day to day. When Karl Marx pops up in Back Home, I know that he will be around for a while. (I loved working Marx into my plot. The idea that he and his friends used to meet for drinks and political chat in Soho in 1859 – when the book is set – always fascinated me.)
I have written a couple of contemporary stories but they are fantasies featuring deals with the devil and vampires who dance tango. No particular problems with politics there.
But then I had to spoil it all by writing Eat the Poor. In Something Wicked, I introduced the detective odd-couple Galbraith and Pole. Galbraith is a traditional old-school Metropolitan Police detective and Pole is a vampire. The relationship seemed to work, both in terms of their forming a credible double act and allowing room for my sense of humour to tease both of them. People seemed to like them and suggested I write more. I decided not to do vampires again (Pole is enough vampire all by himself) so, after some thought, I came up with a werewolf. But if vampires dance tango (they really do) and spend a lot of time in self-improvement, what do werewolves do? Where would you come across them?
I ended up by having my werewolf hold down a day-job as an MP.
Urban Fantasy (which is what fans call this genre) relies on having a realistic contemporary background, so my MP is an ambitious Conservative, anxious to get on in government. And that meant I had to write against the clock. The story would look a bit silly if it came out just as the Conservatives left government. And it rather relied on the party not noticing that they had a werewolf on the backbenches.
I’ve had a complaint that the whole thing is just an attack on the Conservatives, which it clearly isn’t. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek story about tracking down a mythical creature. But it works so much better with a particular approach to government in power at Number Ten. And now it looks as if that approach will be around for a few months yet.
Even once this government is gone, though, it has left a significant gift for Eat The Poor and any books like it. The idea that the House of Commons might be the site of a standoff between supernatural forces of Good and Evil once seemed to stretch the bounds of credibility. After what we’ve seen over the past week, though, nothing in my book seems impossible after all.
Next week is the anniversary of the massacre of women and children at Cawnpore in 1857, so I’ll be writing about that. Plus, for that one day only, my book about 1857, Cawnpore, will be available FREE.
Eat the Poor got its first Amazon review this week, which made me very happy. Sue Bavey enjoys the idea of a werewolf who is a Conservative MP:
“I particularly liked how odious the Conservative MP Christopher Garold was. Anyone following British politics lately will not find the idea of a murderous werewolf that far-fetched when it comes to the dirty little secrets of those in power.”
I feel she is being a little harsh on Christopher Garold. He is, by his lights, a good MP, albeit one who disapproves of those he thinks of as “the undeserving poor”. He works hard for his constituents, takes no bribes, and campaigns on environmental issues. As one of his voters says, “He may be a Tory, but his heart’s in the right place.” And he can hardly help being a werewolf.
I had wanted to write a story about a werewolf since people started asking me for a sequel to Something Wicked. That book had started from the idea that if vampires lived among us, they would probably dance tango. I know so many tango dancers I have never seen in daylight that it seemed entirely credible and from that point the whole story just sort of took off. But where would you find a werewolf? What sort of person could turn into a creature that rips open the throats of innocent people who are foolish enough to be out on the night of a full moon?
The honest answer, of course, is that it could be anybody. But that wasn’t really satisfying. I wanted a job where a ruthless killer instinct and an unerring conviction of your own superiority to others made the idea of being a werewolf a natural match with your personality – and I came up with a Conservative MP.
The political edge was just a way of making the story work. Eat the Poor is an entertainment, not a searing bit of political satire. But while I was writing it, I watched our traditional political system falling apart. The ‘Good Chaps’ theory of government, which underlies our unwritten constitution, has given way to an approach to political power which is much better summed up as the Werewolf theory of government: the powerful take what they want and convince themselves that they are making society a better place while they do it. So there are points where the anger slips through. If you haven’t felt angry about Parliament in the past couple of years, you haven’t been paying attention.
Much more important than any political elements is the growing relationship between the all-too-human Chief Inspector Galbraith, very aware of growing older, and his vampire partner, Pole. Both essentially rather lonely individuals, they grow closer through their rather old-fashioned shared values. They believe in decency and protecting society. And, increasingly, they believe in each other.
More important than either the satire or the relationship, though, is the sheer fun of a hunt for the supernatural in the everyday (or everynight) world of today’s London. Wouldn’t you, deep down, enjoy seeing a werewolf in Parliament? Well now you can.
Eat the Poor is available on Kindle, in paperback or on Kindle Unlimited. You can link to it here: mybook.to/EatThePoor.