An Interview with Kim Newman
Kim Newman, author of the “Anno Dracula” novels now being reprinted by Titan Books, talks with Open Letters:
OLM: Hello and welcome! First off, a hearty congratulations on getting such snazzy reprints of these books – those of us who’ve been recommending them for years no longer have to scour second-hand shops in order to get copies to give away! What’s it like to see these titles back in the limelight?
KN: Of course, I’m delighted that the books are back out again and that I’ve been given the opportunity to continue the series thanks to Titan Books. It took some years to regain the rights and put the boring business stuff in place, but I’ve enjoyed being able to put in extra features and, in the second and third books, new pieces of fiction. This is the first time that the series has been out in English in uniform editions, so they all look nice when shelved together – a small thing, but previous publishers weren’t able to manage it for various reasons. I’m very happy with the look of the books and the design work which is becoming a trademark for the series.
OLM: Back when you wrote “Anno Dracula” (or the original short story), the world had yet to experience the vampire-craze that’s had it by the throat for lo, this last decade or so. But your underlying concept of vampires – much more an alternate species (your wonderful working-out of genetic lines and the biochemistry of shape-shifting, etc.) than a supernatural curse – has informed virtually every part of that craze. How did that underlying concept come together for you?
KN: There were plenty of vampire stories around by the early 1990s when I began work on Anno Dracula – Anne Rice was still a huge seller and had influenced a lot of vampire fiction, and there were many multiples of adaptations of Dracula floating about. I’d been thinking over the concept of the book, which I knew early on would be a series, for over a decade, and it wasn’t so much the attempt to come up with a rational explanation for vampires – which Richard Matheson and Brian Stableford had done in I Am Legend and The Empire of Fear – as a recognition of the fact that if I wanted to write a story in which vampires were a very visible public presence and there were lots of different kinds of vampires (to accommodate borrowing from every previous literary and film version of Dracula and company) then people in the book would need to get beyond regarding vampires as supernatural creatures (which is not to say they aren’t). Once the question went beyond belief in vampires – which most vampire stories have to spend about a third of their length wrestling with – to acceptance of them as a fact of life, then all sorts of other things are raised.
OLM: You consistently portray Dracula himself and especially his Carpathian henchmen as boorish, bumbling social climbers – the nouveau riche of the vampire world – and it’s just one of the many sociological angles of these books: the bad guys, in addition to being evil, don’t know how tobehave properly. Is this a hold-over from the ‘boys adventure’ stories you’ve said formed a part of your inspiration for these novels?
KN: That’s something I got from Stoker – he presents Dracula as someone who’d have trouble fitting into society through his mindset as much as his monstrousness (though various stage/screen Draculas have been drawing room types). There is some balance in that several of the nastiest vampires in the series – Lord Ruthven, from Dr Polidori’s story ‘The Vampyre’, and my version of Stoker’s Arthur Holmwood – are well-mannered British aristocrats who look down on their more obviously rapaceous continental cousins, and at least one of the Carpathians – Kostaki – is an honourable military man on his own terms.
OLM: Of course these novels are saturated with history – your end-notes detail some of the historical cameos in these pages (and you’ve noted that fans have been ‘spotting’ others for years now). Likewise literary history, not only literary characters but also authors themselves, most prominently Edgar Allen Poe – this is, you must admit, a particularly geeky sort of fun! When you pick up a great Victorian novel just for pleasure re-reading, do you find yourself mentally classifying dead from undead characters?
KN: That’s Edgar Allan Poe. I wrote a story ‘Just Like Eddy’ about his sinister, and persistent doppelganger Edgar Allen Poe. I wish I picked up more great Victorian novels these days, but it’s been a while since I did serious research reading on the period – though I did look at some interesting crime fiction and a range of writers from Thomas Hardy to Zane Grey while researching my Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles, also out from Titan.
OLM: The great central conceit of your books is that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is fiction: not because it shows us a world in which there’s a King of Vampires trying to infect all of London with his undead kindred but because he fails to do so – whereas in the ‘reality’ of your stories, Stoker’s book is wishful-thinking fantasy and Dracula’s conquests weren’t stopped at Carfax Abbey. Do you ever wonder if Stoker himself would be ticked off by “Anno Dracula”? He was a pretty big guy – you wouldn’t want him tracking you down at a convention!
Kim: I don’t know about Stoker, who seems to have thought of his novels as a sideline to his proper job, but I’m fairly sure his widow Florence (who appears in Anno Dracula) would have been very annoyed by the existence of a book like mine. She spent several years trying to suppress Murnau’s film Nosferatu, an unauthorised film adaptation of Dracula, while trying to exploit the stage and screen rights.
There’s such a cinematic feel to many of the ‘extras’ you’re including with these new reprints – surely you would love to see an Anno Dracula movie (or, better still, an HBO series)? The thundering climax to Bloody Red Baron could be particularly satisfying – and oh, how Bela Lugosi would have loved the smart, bittersweet little part you give him!
Kim: There’ve been various options over the years – I assume it’ll get done eventually. With the reissues, there has been a revival of interest in the books as screen properties.
OLM: What does the future hold for the “Anno Dracula” series? Readers get to look forward to another pretty Titan reprint, this one Dracula Cha Cha Cha, and then? Might those of us who love these books hope for fifty or sixty more?
Kim: Just as there’s a new novella, ‘Vampire Romance’, in The Bloody Red Baron, there will be another, ‘Aquarius’, in Dracula Cha Cha Cha. That’s set in Swinging London in 1968. After that, the long-in-the-works Johnny Alucard will appear, which includes some previously-published pieces (‘Coppola’s Dracula’, ‘Castle in the Desert’, ‘Andy Warhol’s Dracula’) and much new material. There will be a fifth book, set around the turn of the millennium, but I’ve only a vague notion of that at the moment. I’m wary of doing too much more, and have other things I want to write, so that may be it for the moment. Once I catch up to the present day, things seem to reach a natural conclusion.