I'm sure by now you've all heard about Department 19, Will Hill's brilliant debut novel for teenagers. It's about the undead, and features all sorts of classic monsters that will delight horror fans old and new. I'm very happy to be part of the blog tour, and to have such an excellent guest post (thanks dude!). I will now leave you with the lovely Will, who decided to talk about my favourite creature ever: the vampire. Enjoy!
When I first told people that I had sold Department 19 to HarperCollins, I would avoid using the word vampire whenever they asked me what the book was about.
I know why I did it; the Twilight phenomenon was at its height (I suppose it still is now, at least until the last two films come out) and I wanted to avoid the accusation of having written something designed to cash in on a cultural trend. I can honestly say that the accusation would have been baseless – I’ve been thinking about the story that became Department 19 since I was a teenager, and I’m 31 now – but I still didn’t want to hear it. It felt like having written a novel about vampires was something to be ashamed of. But now when people ask, it’s the first thing I tell them.
Cash-ins exist, there’s no doubt about it. I worked in publishing for six years before I quit to write Department 19, and I saw the floods of derivative submissions that followed every huge success. After The Da Vinci Code hit, editors couldn’t move for manuscripts based on the Knights Templar. When Conn Iggulden burst onto the scene, thousand page historical epics thudded onto their desks in overwhelming numbers. And you only have to walk into your nearest Waterstone’s to see the impact Twilight has had on the industry; my nearest branch, in Ilford, has a whole section devoted to Dark Romance, a phrase that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist until Stephenie Meyer took over the reading imagination of the world.
As a result of the enormous success of the Twilight series, commentators and reviewers queued up time and again to announce the end of the vampire craze. But it never quite seems to happen.
Within the classic areas of the horror genre, there are monsters and themes that suddenly become incredibly popular, burn brightly, and then fade away to wait their turn again – in recent years this has happened to zombies, werewolves, dystopian futures, ghosts, angels, and any number of others. But vampires just keep on going, exerting the same fascination on the public that they always have. They seem to be genuinely immortal.
The reason I started to tell people that what I’d written was a vampire novel was the realisation that the vampires in Department 19 are nothing like those in Twilight, just as those vampires are nothing like the ones in The Passage, or the ones in Salem’s Lot. The legend allows for innumerable interpretations, and if people assume upon hearing the word that my vampires sparkle and live in the Pacific Northwest, then that’s their problem, not mine.
Very early on in the process of writing Department 19 I sat down and worked out the rules that were going to govern my version of the vampire. As far as I’m concerned there are two absolutely sacred rules that need to be obeyed; the necessity to drink blood, and the inability to go out in the sunlight. For me, the latter should be because they will burst into flames, but it’s not my or anyone else’s place to tell someone that their interpretation of one of the great common cultural myths is wrong, or bad. I chose the elements of the vampire legend that I found interesting, and that’s what I like to assume the other writers who have tackled the subject did too.
The second thing I decided was that my vampires were not going to be automatically evil – I was interested in what would happen to people who suddenly found themselves in possession of incredible power, but the need to do something repulsive i.e. feed on blood. I wanted to think about how a vampire society would really work if you stayed the person you were before you were bitten; would the power turn you bad, or crazy, or would you find a way to live your new life without hurting other people? To provoke the decision, I gave my vampires the hunger, a ticking compulsion inside them that demanded that they feed, a compulsion that would drive you crazy if you denied it for too long. There was something incredibly sad to me about the idea that the people who refused to drink blood, who refused to do what they considered wrong, could end up the worst monsters of all, driven insane by the hunger for blood.
The third thing I decided was that my vampires would not to have any religious or spiritual element to them. So out went crucifixes, holy water, wafers, sacred objects and anything else to do with the power of God. I wanted to give them as scientific a rationale as possible, so out too went garlic, running water, and the power to turn into animals, or clouds of mist.
I wrote a long list, then crossed out everything I didn’t want to use, or didn’t fit with the story I wanted to tell, and looked at what was left; vulnerability to the piercing of the heart and exposure to sunlight, the all-consuming need to drink blood, super strength and the power to defy gravity.
That sounds like a vampire to me.