In this installment of Page 69,
we put Freda Warrington's Nights of Blod Wine to the test.
Set up page 69 for us (what are we about to read):
Page 69 turns out to be part of The Raven Bound, a story inspired by this remark by Susan Ertz: ‘Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.’ Sometime in the 1930s, a very bored vampire named Antoine meets a stranger in a smoky nightclub and sees a chance to relieve his ennui.
What’s the book about?
My Blood Wine series of vampire novels began in the early 1980s, inspired by a love of vampire films and stories (such as JS LeFanu’s Carmilla), by Anne Rice’s early novels – which showed the undead as thinking, feeling creatures with their own stories to tell – and, not least, a need for escapism during a particularly difficult time in my life. Fascinated by the image of the vampire as a dark, mysterious outsider, I wondered: what if a human could break through the barriers and come to know this un-human being? So I began writing my tale of human Charlotte and alluring vampire Karl. This was years before the massive explosion of vampire romance in the 2000s! By the 1990s, one novel had become three (published by Pan Macmillan), and when Titan recently republished the series, I added a brand new fourth one (The Dark Arts of Blood).
Over this long period I’d also published a handful of short stories set in my Blood Wine world. I’ve long had a dream of putting them together in a collection, so last year I did just that. I wrote four brand new stories that had been hovering in my mind for a while, and also added five pieces of non-vampiric weirdness. NIGHTS OF BLOOD WINE (Telos) is the result. Fifteen ‘lush dark tales’, ten involving my favourite vampire characters such as Karl, Charlotte, Stefan, Violette and others, plus a piece that became part of Dracula the Undead, then three stories connected to my ‘Elfland’ world, and finally a story written in loving tribute to Tanith Lee. Quite a variety.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?
Yes and no. My style in the Blood Wine universe tends towards the dark, brooding, sensual and thoughtful. Things sometimes get quite brutal and bloody. But there are also episodes of humour, or black humour at least. To me, the Blood Wine tales are so much more than run of the mill stake-the-monster adventures, or wall-to-wall romance and erotica. They contain some of those elements, of course, but I found so much scope to explore psychology, desire, guilt, obsession, mystical weirdness, power, sexuality, to unpack religious mania and gender issues and so much more.
Nights of Blood Wine contains a hidden story that I didn’t even realise was there at first – a story that I’ve yet to tell, along with many others. I love my characters, so I doubt that they’ll ever leave me alone. Settings range from a South American women’s prison to winter-bound Russia in 1928: discover the strange history of blonde, not-so-angelic Stefan, a tooth in a glass of champagne… and even a touch of Steampunk!
NIGHTS OF BLOOD WINE
‘What is preventing you from going to Paris, Rupert?’
I look into his eyes. He doesn’t seem to notice that I am not smoking. He sees something special in me, a kindred soul, someone who will understand him.
He calls the waiter and orders drinks, although I tip mine into his while he isn’t looking. Then his story comes tumbling out. A family seat in the country, a father who is proud and wealthy and mean. Mother long dead. Rupert the only son, the only child, with a vast freight of expectations on his shoulders. But he has disappointed his father in everything.
‘All the things he wanted me to be – I can’t do it. I was to be a scholar, an officer, a cabinet minister. Worthy of him. Married to some Earl’s daughter. That’s how he saw me. But I let him down. I tried and failed. Gods, how I tried! Finally something snapped, and I refused to dance to his tune any longer. Now he hates me. Because what I truly am is an artist. The only thing I can do, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, is to paint!’
He takes a fierce drag on his cigarette. His eyes burn with resentment.
‘Isn’t your father proud that you have this talent?’
‘Proud?’ he spits. ‘He despises me for it! Says I’ll end up in the gutter.’
‘Why don’t you leave?’ I speak softly and I am paying more attention to the movement of his tender throat than to his words. ‘Go to Montmartre, be an artist. Prove the old man wrong.’
‘It’s not that easy. There’s this girl, Meg …’
‘Take her with you.’
‘That’s just it. I can’t. She’s the gardener’s daughter. My father employs her as a maid. D’you see? Not content with being a failure at everything else, I go and fall in love with a common servant. So now the old man tells me that if I don’t give her up and toe the line, he’ll disinherit me! And Meg’s refusing to see me. Says she’s afraid of my father. Damn him!’
I have not been a vampire so very long. I still recall how hopeless such dilemmas seem to humans. ‘That’s terrible.’
‘Vindictive old swine! I’ll lose her and I’ll be penniless! He can’t do this to me!’
‘What will you do about it, Rupert?’
He glares down into his whisky. How alluring he looks in his wretchedness. ‘I wish the old bastard would die tomorrow. That would solve all my problems. I’d like to kill him!’
He sighs. ‘If only I had the guts! But I haven’t.’
So I smile. I rest my hand on his, and he is too numb with whisky to feel the coldness of my fingertips. I have thought of something more interesting to do than just take him outside and drain him.
‘I’ll do it for you.’
Freda Warrington is the author of twenty-two books, including A Taste of Blood Wine, A Blackbird in Silver, and The Amber Citadel. Her novel Elfland won the Romantic Times award for Best Fantasy Novel, and Dracula the Undead won the Dracula Society’s Best Gothic Novel award. The Court of the Midnight King is an alternative history/ fantasy take on that most controversial of kings, Richard III, while her Blood Wine series of lush gothic vampire novels has been reissued by Titan Books. NIGHTS OF BLOOD WINE is her first short story collection, published by Telos in March 2017. Her work is described by Starburst magazine as, ‘Simply stunning, sumptuous, graceful and seductive.’