Tonight I am talking to the author Chloe Hammond in Plumereau Square, the heart of the old town of Tours, in France's Loire Valley. It looks magical with lights strung between ancient buildings and across the Square. The central space is packed with rows of benches and tables, covered with white cotton tablecloths, jars of candles and scented jasmine. Music plays in the background, chilled-out Blues classics wafting through the gentle spring air. "Summertime ..." croons Billie, softly. Staff from the different bars around the edges of the square bustle back and forth, taking orders and delivering drinks, wearing white shirts, black trousers and the very French long aprons that come to the ankle.
It makes a nice change from West Wales.
Townspeople and tourists, students and farmers are happily seated together drinking, eating, and smoking. Arms are waved, shoulders shrugged and there are lots of Gallic “Ehs”, “Boufs” and “Biens” mixing with raucous laughter, which gets louder as the evening progresses. Chloe and I sit in a corner, lit by candle light as the shadows lengthen. She said she doesn't like bright sunlight. I'm not sure why. And now the sun is clinging to the roofs of the buildings as if resisting being dragged down, and the shadows spread a chill over everyone. But conversation continues. Some don't notice the encroaching dark. Maybe wine and brandy help.
Hi Chloe, thanks for inviting me to such a cool place. It was quite a trek from Aberystwyth, but I have my means.
My pleasure. I'd heard you liked cafes and Europe.
Very true. And you wanted to talk about your book, Darkly Dreaming. Is it a standalone, or part of a planned series?
It's a trilogy. I'm just over halfway through book 2, but book 3 is all in my head ready - I just need time and energy to get it all done!
I know the feeling. Oh, yes waiter, du vin, s'il vous plait. Merci. What's your book about, Chloe? I see you have a copy there.
It's about vampires.
Ah. And you're from Wales?
Yes, I grew up there.
You see, I know a fair few Welsh authors and readers, and there seems to be a fascination with vampires among them. Is that a general thing due to vampires' cultural resurgence globally (books and films), or is it something about Wales? I just wondered if they suited a Welsh mentality, or had shadows of Welsh legends, or if it is just chance.
Do you know, I have no idea! Maybe we are dreamers, and love a bit of escapism?
I like that. Though my suspicion was to do with slate-grey skies reminding us of eternal death. And I've just realised that by saying that, my Welsh friends will tell me off for criticising the tywydd Cymraeg.
Heh heh, good old Welsh drizzle. That inspired one character's move to France.
Welsh weather is actually no worse than Manchester's.
Don't bet on it. How's the wine?
Lovely. Though I have to admit, all wine tastes the same to me. I don't even know what colour it is unless I look at the glass. I hadn't noticed this was red. Back to your book. Vampires may be a subject matter but what genre is your book? Or what mood does it create? Vampires seem like they fit into horror, thriller, young adult, comedy, romance, wherever.
I would say I write contemporary fiction, or literary fiction, with a vampire twist. The people who seem to enjoy my book the most are people who don't usually enjoy vampire novels.
That suggests it's something other than the vampires they enjoy, such as the mood or detail. I'm just always interested in how different people take the same element - a monster, a plot, a joke - and use it in different ways.
People consistently comment on Rae & Layla's relationship. In that way it is literature, because their struggles with who they are, and retaining their humanity - these are what the novel is about, as much as the actual vampire adventure.
Hey, I think there's someone spying on us. Look, over there ... oh. They've gone. I'd swear someone was stood in the shadows.
Too much imagination, Karl.
Mmm. Okay: your interpretation of vampires. Similarities or differences from the canon. Go.
My vampires are infected with a virus that triggers DNA mutations right along the evolutionary strands, so my vampires may awaken from their transformation with a gift that you would normally associate with a frog. They are immortal in the same way lobsters are: they don't die of old age, but they can be killed by separating head and heart. They don't like garlic - too stinky for super powerful noses - but all the old legends are just put about by vampires to distract from reality. The High Council employs teams to do the 'false news'.
I could believe in the High Council.
All this stuff about vampires ... do you have any thoughts about lesser-used supernatural beings? I've seen lots of zombies, vampires and were-creatures in recent books and films. What other fascinating beings are there? Any that you might want to write about?
I have a plan for stories about a medical student haunted by his cadaver, and an angel who argues with God and gets sent to Earth as a human in punishment. I'm also just finishing a short story for a competition which is about zombies, caused by an extraterrestial life form.
I think in one of Romero's early zombie films (Night or Dawn or both) there was a hint of something from space maybe being the cause, but he never explored it - more just an idea on the radio, one of many possible explanations for the zombie uprising. Though there was a film called Lifeforce that went full "space zombie/space vampire" many years ago. I think it had lots of nudity and exploding bodies, which makes it sound more awesome than it was.
Ha ha, sounds great. I only had 5,000 words, so I could only touch the surface. I may well expand it in future though - my trusty criticals enjoyed it.
Short stories are often the ones with greatest impact. It's one of my favourite formats to read or write.
Yes. So little space for extraneous.
Talking of naked bodies and explosions, I'm not shocked by anything except for electricity, so wasn't phased by your book beginning with a bang (well, a blowjob) - in fact, I think it's always good to set the tone at the start. If the book's world isn't one of sparkles and romance then it's handy to know right away, to adjust reader expectations so they can expect a bit of grit. Is that why you began the book like that, or was there another reason?
Yes - I wrote the book, and realised the original first couple of chapters were more about the friends as humans, and could mislead people. (My poor mother - I'd forgotten to warn her about the vampires, being so bothered about her reading the rude bits, and so the vampires were a real shock and even gave her nightmares. Several people have reported nightmares.) So I added the prologue afterwards as a flash of foresight into what's to come.
Bdum'tsh! I liked the opening scene and it made me laugh, because it was unexpected, and seemed apt to resonate with the idea of vampires sucking the life out of you, and in some variants of the myth it can be a pleasurable thing.
But Suzannah, that character, is an absolute bitch - and does not improve in vampire form!
I think that's one of the pulls of extreme situations (including becoming immortal) - what it does, how it changes you, how the many new experiences and sensations change you (or don't!)
Absolutely - I've really enjoyed exploring that with my characters.
Suzannah is totally fictional, or a composite? No need to answer that.
Suzannah is a composite of several people.
The best characters are. Legally safest too.
Heh heh. Yes. But don't change the subject. I'd been warned you had a zombie obsession, and you've mentioned them a few times. Back to vampires!
One fictional monster is as good as another.
Okay, vampires. Do you want to live forever? Would it be good?
Hmmm. In some ways, yes. As a vampire you wouldn't have to worry about money and pensions, and all that stuff, and you'd be physically perfect forever, so then yes. There's so much to do and see in the world, even if as a vampire I'd have to see it at night to avoid being seen.
It is getting quite dark now. Not much lighting in this corner of the piazza. Anyway, I reckon it might be one of the enduring fantasies humans have always had - living forever - maybe that's one of the reasons they're so popular. Downsides?
The main one is, of course, the loss of all your loved ones. Unless you turned them?
Ethical dilemma! Would you be doing them a favour, or cursing them? Mmm, depends on what the take on vampires is. (Goodies, baddies, neutrals).
You could ask the loved ones, I suppose - email them a theoretical quiz and those who would want to could be turned. Or ask them in a cafe ...
And pretend it is "just a quiz, no real import". That makes me want to start sending weird and random quizzes to my friends and family ... Though I do worry that I'd become immortal then see the world go to shit and be stuck in it, rather than some dreamy endless Venice or something more romantic.
In terms of watching the world go to shit - you could do something about it. Just wait for book 3.
True! I could be the eternal activist.
In fact, that was a motivator for writing Darkly Dreaming. I work with vulnerable teens and part of that is having to meet some horribly abusive adults, or at least hear about them. I took great pleasure in writing Rae's hunting scene, and it's one that impacts on a lot of my readers.
And it always adds heart when fictional events come from real concerns.
What about you? Have you written about vampires?
Well, the final traditional story of They Move Below is Bleeding Sunset, Dancing Snowflakes (I felt it was appropriate to end the collection with sunset, in more than one meaning of the term - which then segues into the end of the book, about endless night). It's the nearest I've come to writing about vampires. I suspect it was subliminally inspired by One for the Road by Stephen King, since I always loved Night Shift (my first Stephen King book). Okay, change of subject: the last two books you enjoyed?
Always changing the topic ... and I'm crap at remembering titles!
I've had that. "It was about a guy ... he had a jetpack ... I think it was set in a treehouse ..."
Well, of the books I've read recently: The Wishing Game, by Patrick Redmond. I was pleasantly surprised by this book - I thought it would be a straightforward thriller, I like well-written thrillers for when I'm in work, as they're quite easy to dip in and out of on quiet nights. However, this was actually a rather sinister ghost story which was a lovely surprise. I do love a bit of magic realism. Also there's the book I've just finished - Lionel Shriver's Big Brother. Family politics come under her unflinching magnifying glass again, and although this novel didn't blow me away like We Need To Talk About Kevin, it is still a better book than most people can ever hope to write. When she describes the difference between the feeling of being herself and the shock of seeing a photo of herself I wanted to shout "Yes!", she had described it so perfectly.
Two more for my list, which grows faster than a zombie epidemic.
Or a vampire infestation.
[Then Chloe blew out the candle flame and leaned closer, speaking in a whisper only I could hear. Over her shoulder I noticed that the shadows seemed to be moving of their own accord.]
There's a party going on nearby. Wanna go? I know some people who are dying to meet you.
Undying, more like. I would - I love parties in France - but I told my cat I'd be home in time to make her a hot water bottle. Plus my helicopter pilot's been waiting patiently. One of the perks of being an international author.
Shapes and ghostly pale faces faded in and out of the shadows beyond the table. They seemed disappointed.
Living forever could be fun. But my cat ... I guess I'll just have to live forever through my words. I learnt my lesson from Highlander.
You can buy Chloe's book Darkly Dreaming and follow Chloe on her website or Twitter. Chloe is planning a celebratory giveaway - check her Facebook page for details.