Freda Warrington is the author of ‘A Taste of Blood Wine’, ‘The Court of the Midnight King’, ‘Dracula the Undead’, and many more fantasy novels! Titan has recently released ‘The Dark Blood of Poppies’ which is the third installment in her “Blood Wine Sequence” and we had a chance to sit down with her and find out a bit more on what makes her tick, where the direction of the series is heading with next year’s installment, as well as some of her other future plans!
Science Fiction (SF): Now, ‘The Dark Blood of Poppies’ is the third installment of your ‘The Blood Wine’ series, can you share a little with what the series is about?
Freda Warrington (FW): The series began, in A Taste of Blood Wine, as a girl-meets-vampire gothic romance. You have to bear in mind that when I first wrote these novels, this was a relatively fresh and uncommon theme! Although the market’s since become saturated with vampire fiction, I hope readers will realize that my own approach to the subject developed almost in isolation in the 80s and 90s, so it offers something rather different and unique.
The setting is the 1920s. Charlotte, the shy daughter of a Cambridge physicist, has her world turned upside down when the mysterious Karl comes to work in her father’s laboratory… but Karl has enemies who put her whole family in danger. Without giving too much away, the stories that weave through the series become quite complicated and multi-layered. It’s much more than a love story, and even the romantic elements are dark. These are vampires who are not afraid to be what they are: animal blood just won’t do, and they have to feed on humans. This brings all sorts of dilemmas, so the fallout from their relationships can be highly traumatic. While I don’t think of the Blood Wine books as horror novels, horrific things do happen.
I’ve been fascinated by vampires since childhood: I grew up with Hammer Horror films and the classics such as Dracula and Carmilla (J.S. LeFanu). Very young I became intrigued by the idea of the vampire as a thinking, intelligent being, and not just any old monster. I was always frustrated when he or she had to be hunted down and staked before they had a chance to tell their own story!
Anne Rice was among the first to break that mould, but she still showed vampire-human relationships to be impossible. I wanted to explore the possibilities of breaking through the barrier and coming to know this aloof, mysterious creature as an equal, rather than as predator and prey. The only way to find the story I really wanted to read was to write it myself! When I started the first book – A Taste of Blood Wine – it was the early 1980s, LONG before the recent explosion of vampire fiction. In fact the first version was written as escapism from a stressful time in my life, and started out as more of an historical romance that I wrote just to please myself.
By the time the series first saw print in the 1990s, I’d completely rewritten it and changed the period setting to the 1920s – a time of glamour and change, overshadowed by the First World War. As the Edwardian world turns into the modern age, the changes happening in society reflect Charlotte’s inner journey from the confines of her family into becoming her true self.
SF: Could you also share with our readers a little about what to expect from your latest novel, ‘The Dark Blood of Poppies’ that isn’t a spoiler of the first two?
FW: I’ll try! Well, you’ll be glad to know I don’t drag out a single story over four volumes *grin*! Each book is complete in itself, but each one tells a “this is what happened next” tale – if that makes sense. The second book, A Dance in Blood Velvet, finds Charlotte and Karl meeting a ballerina named Violette who is on a very dark psychological journey of her own. There are other, dangerous vampires in the picture, and a pair of rival occultists engaging in a rather childish war of egos that (naturally) goes horribly wrong… Suffice it to say that there’s a lot happening.
Anyway, Violette’s journey continues in The Dark Blood of Poppies. Karl and Charlotte are trying to protect her from a variety of megalomaniacs, angels, other vampires, and most of all from herself. The action, still in the 1920s, moves between Europe, Ireland and North America, so it’s full of different moods and atmospheres, which I love. There’s also a fresh love story entwined with the plot, which kind of mirrors Karl and Charlotte’s story, but not in a good way! While I can admit to being inspired by early Anne Rice, my themes veered off in a very different direction from hers.
H’m, it’s hard to say much more without spoilers. I’ll just add that I love my characters, so there is a lot of passion and depth to them and I hope that comes across to the reader. The stories are complex, emotional, sometimes gory, and (I believe) rather different from anything else in the genre.
SF: What research have you had to do for this series? Have you drawn on any of your real life experiences or interactions to create the characters or situations within?
FW: I did lots of research into the 1920s and the state of scientific knowledge at the time – I even stayed with a friend who was studying at Cambridge, so I was able to visit the Cavendish laboratory and other settings that feature in A Taste of Blood Wine. Trips to Austria, Ireland and Boston were very inspiring for the sequels. Actually we visited Boston before I started The Dark Blood of Poppies, and loved it so much I had to use the city as one of the main settings. So I brought a ton of books home with me!
You’re trying to get the flavor of a place, not as it is now, but as it was nearly a hundred years ago, so it’s doubly difficult. So yes, I do tons of research, but in the end I pull most of it out of my imagination to create the atmosphere the story needs. The Irish mansion that features in The Dark Blood of Poppies was actually based on a real house, Calke Abbey (in Derbyshire, England), not far from where I live. I steal settings that grab my imagination and take liberties with them!
SF: I know you have at least a fourth book planned in the series, is this an ongoing project for you or will it be coming to a close?
FW: The fourth book, The Dark Arts of Blood, is with my editor and is due to be published in May 2015. I started planning it years ago, but my then-publisher dropped many of their authors including me, so I began writing epic fantasy and other stuff instead. (Dark Cathedral, The Amber Citadel, Elfland, The Court of the Midnight King (my Richard III novel), to name a few…)
I was so thrilled to have the chance to write The Dark Arts of Blood at last. It felt strange and wonderful to dust off the original outline and see what I could make of it. I’ve kept some of my original ideas, but the story changed drastically while I was writing it. My main characters Karl, Charlotte and Violette are still centre stage, and Violette wrestles with the perils of being in the public eye while trying to keep her true identity secret. I also have some fun with silent movies, and folklore, and the growth of nationalistic movements in the 1920s, and plenty of other things, including an odd sort of mystery that even I can’t fully explain…
I found the book quite hard to get into at first. I was so afraid of not doing my characters justice. I delivered the manuscript to my editor last spring, but I knew it wasn’t quite all it should be… So after ruminating for a few weeks I asked her, “Er, is there time for me to do some rewrites?” Fortunately we had a few months in hand, so I was able to have another run at the text and this time the whole thing came to life and everything fell into place as it should.
And as a result, I’ve started having ideas for a fifth book in the series! I don’t know if or when that will happen, but I already have a handful of short stories set in my “Blood Wine” universe and I plan to write more, so it will probably be an ongoing project for the rest of my life, in one form or another.
SF: As we’re entering vampire territory here, who are your favorite vampire authors?
FW: I would have to go with the classics – Polidori and Bram Stoker and J.S. LeFanu – and of course Anne Rice, especially her first two (Interview, and The Vampire Lestat). Tanith Lee and Storm Constantine have written some intriguing work that’s intelligent, erotic, and unusual.
I do like my vampires elegant, alluring, yet genuinely dangerous. When they’re so monstrous that they’re practically zombies, or at the other extreme of abstinent teen pin-ups, they don’t appeal to me. What’s the point of writing vampires if they’re “vegetarian”, or offer no sexual frisson?! I haven’t managed to connect with the new wave of vampire fiction, because it seemed to become… how can I put this… flippant and cool and street-wise, very American, very teenage, even self-mocking and/ or veering into formulaic soft porn. Now there are such mountains of paranormal fiction that I simply can’t keep up. That’s fine for readers who enjoy it, but it’s not for me. I like a dark, mysterious, spookily gothic landscape. So I’ll stick with my own very personal Blood Wine world.
All that said, I was a huge Buffy fan!
SF: This isn’t your first dance with this particular form of the undead, what draws you to the bloodsucking species that we have long held in high regard as monsters and more?
FW: Oh yes. At my publisher’s behest, to celebrate the centenary in 1997, I wrote a sequel to Dracula called Dracula the Undead. It won the Dracula Society Award for Best Gothic Novel. I regard that book as totally separate from my Blood Wine series – it was based completely on Bram Stoker’s world, not mine. However, we’re still talking vampires, aren’t we!
For me it’s the paradox. They represent things we fear, such as death, or the dead coming back from the grave to prey on the living, and things we desire, such as immortality, eternal beauty, power over others. I love the blend of erotic temptation and danger, and all the moral dilemmas that come into play. We all love a bit of a bad boy or a bad girl, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong – I know this sort of thing rarely ends well in real life. But in fiction, it’s wonderful. Vampire characters have given me so much to explore concerning love, jealousy, psychology, religion, morality, sexuality, friendship and treachery – endless possibilities.
SF: You’ve had a history of writing a bit of both horror and fantasy, could you share a little about your work in both areas?
FW: Yes, I’ve written sword n’ sorcery, fantasy both epic and contemporary, supernatural, and alternative history. I can’t write the same thing over and over again so I have to go with the idea I’m most excited about at the time. However, all my books originate from the same imaginative landscape in my head so, even when they appear different on the surface, they are all secretly interconnected and you’ll find little crossovers if you’re paying attention! For example, the Aelyr race who appear in The Amber Citadel (alternative world) also appear in Elfland (contemporary). In the follow-on to Elfland, Midsummer Night, it’s hinted that one of the characters knows the people in Dark Cathedral. In the third of the Elfland series, Grail of the Summer Stars, a character from my Richard III novel turns up. And so on. Just little hints here and there, for fun.
SF: You’ve been writing since you were 16, clearly a passionate author what drives you to continue on?
FW: Actually, since I was five! As an only child I spent a lot of time reading and day-dreaming, so it became natural to start writing stories of my own. I don’t know, but I was always intrigued by different atmospheres, by the idea that there’s another, hidden world just a whisper away from ours. I always wanted to go through the looking-glass or the back of the wardrobe. Obviously I never grew out of that longing. And the hidden world is real, because it is our subconscious. The human imagination is an example of something being finite and yet infinite at the same time.
SF: How do you feel that your writing has developed over the years?
FW: I’m still learning. I’d like to think I’ve moved from daydreams and wish-fulfilment to more grown-up themes, but my aim is still to tell an involving story rather than worry about trying to be brilliantly clever and intellectual! I know I have a tendency to waffle and overwrite, so I’m working on that. It was great to re-edit the Blood Wine books, because that gave me the chance to remove the purple descriptions, fix clunky sentences, and to improve certain scenes, without affecting the story in the slightest – except to make it a more elegant read.
My inner critic has grown a lot more judgmental, which isn’t always helpful. Instead of just plunging into a story, I stop to think, “Wait, is this story really worth telling?” If that happens too much, it’s very inhibiting. I assess how valid my worries are, and then make myself go ahead and write anyway. Tad Williams once gave the invaluable advice that you CANNOT write as if there’s a critic reading over your shoulder. I have to keep reminding myself, or I’d never write anything!
SF: Aside from ongoing ‘The Blood Wine’ series, do you have anything else in the works that you can share with us?
FW: One of my short stories, “The Fall of the House of Blackwater”, which is closely connected with The Dark Blood of Poppies, is going to be in an anthology BLOOD SISTERS: VAMPIRE STORIES BY WOMEN, edited by Paula Guran, with lots of well-known names, so that’s very exciting. Right now I’m working on reissuing my Richard III novel, The Court of the Midnight King, on Kindle. And I have half a dozen ideas for new novels but I have a lot of thinking and talking to do before I know quite where I’m going next.
I would like to make my entire back list available as ebooks, but that will be a lengthy project. However they are all already available as audio books from Audible.
SF: You attend quite a few conventions, what is your more memorable interaction with a fan or someone that you are a fan of?
FW: Oh goodness – I remember my first convention and meeting well-known authors and being astonished at how friendly and down to earth they were! Brian Aldiss, Bob Shaw, Rob Holdstock, David Gemmell, Tanith Lee, Iain Banks and many others. It was overwhelming. Since then, I’ve rarely met an author who acts as if they are Too Important to speak to anyone – but if they do hide in their hotel room, I always suspect social anxiety or being overwhelmed by too many fans, rather than arrogance. Many authors are also fans, and vice versa.
I think my favourite moment occurred at a small British convention called Broomcon in the 1990s. It was a lovely con held in the countryside, a mixture of pagan literature, culture and music. I was standing in the entrance to a tent chatting with Terry Pratchett when a young woman came scooting up to us and gasped, “Excuse me, are you… Freda Warrington?” I’m sure that didn’t happen to Terry very often!!! Nor to me! I was really embarrassed, too, but it made me smile.
SF: If you could do it all again, what if anything would you do differently?
FW: Ha, hindsight and a time machine would be wonderful, wouldn’t they? I could tell my younger self not to waste any more time with that boyfriend, and to write these books but don’t bother with that one, and don’t quit that job in a hurry… And if I could smuggle some winning lottery numbers into the past, that would help too! But I still wouldn’t have the magic formula of writing a best-seller or film script. It’s probably a good thing we can’t change the past, because the “good” change might cause some unforeseen disaster instead. Generally I’ve had a fortunate life, and although I’ve had some stumbles along the way, I’m mostly happy and content.
SF: As a writer of novels, series, and short stories, what are the highlights of each style for you?
FW: With novels and series, getting really involved and excited about the characters. With stories, it’s more a matter of enjoying the style and atmosphere – but I haven’t written many stories because they tend to turn into novels! There’s an answer for the above question – I wish I’d written more short stories.
SF: For readers who enjoy your style do you have any particular authors that you’d love to suggest that they would also find enjoyable?
FW: That’s hard to answer because I don’t want to sound as if I’m comparing myself to great writers, but I’d characterize my style as being character-driven, fantastical, atmospheric, English, tending towards romance and interpersonal drama rather than violent discord. So I could suggest Robert Holdstock, Tanith Lee, Storm Constantine, Joy Chant, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Joanne Harris, Phil Rickman, Alice Hoffman… I’m trying to come up with someone more contemporary and I enjoy Erin Kelly’s work and Sarah Waters. Also Kim Newman’s new novel, An English Ghost Story, has that gentle, traditional, yet deceptively menacing voice that I really enjoy.
SF: Do you have any advice for upcoming authors out there?
FW: The landscape of publishing has changed so drastically in the last few years that the old advice – seek an agent as your best chance of finding a publisher – is less relevant these days. Yes, you can still do that, but there are lots more options now with small presses, e-books and self-publishing. On a more personal note: write lots, and try to find your own voice rather than imitating someone else. Join a writers’ group, and be prepared to accept constructive criticism. If you’re going the self-publishing route, some writers these days find it helpful to pay for professional editing.
Above all, write to please yourself, not with any idea of fame or fortune! It can be a very dispiriting business, so if you can retain your desire to write for the sheer love of it, you’re a winner.
SF: Thank you for your time. In closing would you like to say anything to your fans or those interested in learning more about your work?
FW: If you haven’t read my work yet, do give it a try! And most importantly, PLEASE write a review on Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, or wherever you prefer – especially if you enjoyed it! Reviews draw attention to authors’ work, which helps us to survive and keep writing. On my website www.fredawarrington.com you can find all the information there and contact me by email or on Facebook. Thank you.