Often hailed as the UK's answer to Anne Rice, Freda Warrington is much more than just an author of vampire stories. She is as well known for her fantasy and supernatural horror novels as for her series about the alluring bloodsuckers. Bloodstone spoke to the talented Ms W and quizzed her on her fascination with all things dark and mysterious...
Freda Warrington grew up an only child in the beautiful Charnwood Forest area of England. Impressionable and imaginative, she spent much of her time reading and daydreaming with this highly atmospheric landscape as a backdrop to her ideas. Despite an early loathing of fantasy books she admits that she hated C S Lewis' 'Narnia' books when first shown them at school she always loved stories about fairies and magick, and soon developed a taste for spooky ghost stories from the likes of M R James, Sheridan le Fanu and of course Bram Stoker. As a child she watched the Hammer films on television, and adored the old black and white ghost stories the BBC used to show. She began to write down the fantasy ideas that came to her as a result of all this reading and exploring of the darkness, and believes that the decision to become a writer occurred to her early in life.
Freda's books now combine a dazzling array of interests: history, mythology, magick, the supernatural, psychology, art and dreams. She is fascinated especially by psychology and the idea of the unconscious mind, a fact which is readily apparent when one looks closely at her books. She admits that she finds creating the relationships between her characters the most enjoyable part of her writing, which is also evident when reading her novels. Her characters whether human or immortal leap from the page fully rounded, utterly convincing as people, and wholly sympathetic. The ability to create a mental image with words alone is not a gift given to many, but the subtle intertwining of description and suggestion in Freda's writing style brings her characters completely and easily to life for the reader.
Before turning to vampire fiction, Freda had an astonishing six epic fantasy books published, a genre she is returning to at present since her publishers believe that horror, or anything which looks like horror which obviously includes the dark fantasy of her Pagan supernatural tales and her beloved vampires simply isn't selling at the moment. She looks forward to the day when she can return to her vampires and her dark magick, but as with so many writers in this day and age the decision over what to write is largely governed by publishers, the 'market' for titles and the need to make a living out of the craft. With her fascination for psychological tensions, she sees the thriller market as a possible future genre to explore, but admits that "I can't imagine writing anything without some kind of weird twist to it."
Freda's dexterity comes from the depth of understanding she has with her characters, the passions and beliefs she can portray in a way that truly draws favourable comparison with early Anne Rice. Although she admits that she doesn't believe vampires exist as a genuine physical phenomenon shock horror! she does believe they are possible on a collective unconscious level. Indeed in her vampire books 'A Taste of Blood Wine' (1992), 'A Dance in Blood Velvet' (1994) and 'The Dark Blood of Poppies' (1995) she proclaims just such an idea as the genesis for her vampire kind. Her vampires exist in the real mortal world, but have unique access to another dimension which is perceived as a physical reality by them, but doesn't exist for mortals. This is what causes vampires to mysteriously appear and disappear at will they enter this superconscious realm, The Crystal Ring, and travel at vast speeds to attain another destination, where they simply step back into the real world again to manifest themselves in physical (ie mortal) space. Her vampires are on one level deeply physical and real, but also metaphysical and unreal. The Crystal Ring is seen as a physical creation of the mortal unconscious a dream or fantasy realm perhaps and it is this intangible entity which gives birth to vampires. A mortal must be taken into the Crystal Ring to be brought over into vampirism, and when vampires are too weak they cannot access this other realm. This concept came to Freda from of all things a wildlife documentary, in which it was shown that certain sea creatures can perceive the Earth's magnetic field and can navigate by it. This is an ability also known to exist in some insects and birds, so it is not inconceivable that enhanced mortals vampires could also possess it. Hence the concept of the Crystal Ring, which shows a corollary of every place in the real world to the travelling vampire as they navigate their way around the world. If all this seems a bit fantastic, it is worth remembering that until comparatively recently, the human race devotedly accepted the idea that the sun, moon and planets revolved around the Earth on stable rings of crystal which kept them in their proper orbit around the centre of the universe us.
Vampires to Freda are complex creatures: physical yet capable of acts which no physical body should be able to perform, deeply emotional in many cases and bonded in very human relationships with each other, yet also fiercely ruthless in their ability to enact their every desire. They are however, above all else, credible people. When her vampires mix with mortals, it is only their pallor and their extreme beauty and grace which sets them apart. Most mortals don't even notice the difference, and in her latest novel in the series, 'The Dark Blood of Poppies', the mortal dancer Violette Lenoir continues dancing on stages around the world despite having become a vampire. With her fluid grace, stark stage make up and dazzling beauty, she is able to blend perfectly with those around her even her students don't realise what she has become. "The interesting thing about them," Freda explains, "is that they still have their human psychology, magnified and changed by their vampire consciousness. How they deal with this new and frightening state will determine whether they see themselves as a victim or a survivor." The balance between the two is very finely weighted: some tip the scales and descend into madness and ruthlessness whilst other ascend to a state of sublime love and compassion for mortals and vampires alike.
As with 'Interview with the Vampire', part of the enjoyment of reading is to create a mental image of these spellbinding creatures and to try to think of who could possibly breathe life into them in a film. And with such convincing characters firmly entrenched in her vampire bibliography, one cannot help but wonder if Freda had specific people in mind when she first constructed such vampires as Karl and Charlotte, the lynch pins of her 'Blood' series. "Charlotte was based on a particular photograph of Stevie Nicks that affected me emotionally. I think if they ever filmed 'A Taste of Blood Wine' (I wish!) then Emmanuelle Bιart might play her if she could manage the English accent. But I can't cast Karl at all. My leading male characters are usually too perfect for any real-life male ever to come close!" And therein lies the perennial problem vampires are always too damn perfect to be real. This is the dichotomy as far as Freda is concerned: vampires are the ultimate paradox, so how can they be real? She prefers to see them as archetypes created by humankind, embodiments of the particular qualities and energies which drive us all. "They represent our deepest fears, of such things as dying, of the dead coming back to life, or even of being unable to die. Yet they also represent our deepest desires for such things as immortality, eternal youth, power over others. Mysterious, sexy, dangerous, terrifying, alluring, larger than life. They are ourselves, our shadow selves. Vampires can be anything to anyone really."
The ability to translate this exotic appeal into captivating characterisations and compelling story lines has made Freda Warrington a much respected author in this field. When her editor at Penguin came up with the idea to write a sequel to Bram Stoker's classic 'Dracula' to coincide with its centenary in 1997, she was overjoyed, though she admits she had her reservations about the idea. "Although I'm dubious about sequels to great classics, I would have been mad to say no." She confesses that she loves the original and feared that if she didn't do it someone else would, with disastrous consequences. "I couldn't stand to see someone else do it and make a dreadful, commercial, hack-and-slash-fest out of it," she admits. "The least I could do was treat it with the respect and love it deserved." Her novel 'Dracula the Undead', picking up some years after the dramatic finale of Bram Stoker's original, gives us a fascinating insight into the possible origins of Dracula's curse of vampirism, involving an ancient school of sorcery and magick, a pact with the Devil himself, and a whole host of subsidiary horrors. Jonathan and Mina Harker, Abraham van Helsing, and the good Doctor Seward fight valiantly as ever, finally besting the cunning vamp in a dιnouement that is pure theatrical fantasy. Though no particular fan of the original, I found Freda's sequel hard to put down, and as a development of Stoker's characters it was richly rewarding to the reader. Freda's sensitive appraisal and compassionate treatment of the original gently guided the reader over the familiar territory of that worthy tome whilst still managing to embody the freshness of a new version of the much-imitated legend that is Dracula. That dedication to purity certainly paid off the book was highly critically acclaimed, and was in fact awarded the Best Gothic Novel of 1997 Award by The Dracula Society.
The bottom line however is that for Freda, vampires are no match for humans when it comes to excess, violence and the capacity for evil, a belief which makes the dιnouement of 'The Dark Blood of Poppies' in particular so chilling. The organised vampire army of one megalomaniac vamp is seen as an abomination by the majority of the vampires, a force which must be destroyed at whatever costs, even if it means the complete annihilation of all vampire kind. As the vampiric scourge is stamped out, the mortal rallying cries are to be heard rousing the populace into war. The year is 1914. This is a timely reminder that humans have a far greater capacity for senseless evil towards their fellow men, a fact which Freda feels passionately about. If she could change one thing about the world, she declares that she would "initiate a global education programme to train people to think rationally and logically. This might just do away with the gross sexism, homophobia, vile mistreatment of women, religious fundamentalism and general ideological lunacy that plague the world." Beneath the glossy veneer of fantasy lie some very poignant and pertinent messages, which helps to explain why so many people get so much out of Freda's writing.
As a walker on an individual path "to all intents and purposes I am an atheist" Freda has a lot to say about religion and philosophy as well as more esoteric subjects. As with her vampires, she does not believe in physical gods and goddesses, but that these are mere archetypes for different energies within life. "I don't believe gods are objectively real, nor that they created us. Rather, the human race created them." Looked at from an impersonal, psychological standpoint, this could certainly be true. Religion generally fills a gap of understanding in most people's lives, providing an easy explanation of how the world and the human race came into being on it. So far so good, but religion is also shamelessly misused by those who consider themselves its exponents to abuse those who are under its spell. Duality is the key to balance in the world, something which Freda is deeply concerned about achieving. She first became overtly aware of the Pagan path about ten years ago when she met some Pagan friends and read such essential classics of the movement as 'Spiral Dance' and 'The Great Cosmic Mother'. Before this life-affirming moment she had long felt there was something fundamentally wrong with mainstream religion, but couldn't place what it was. "I find the general philosophy of witchcraft so much healthier than that of monotheistic religion. The idea of a Goddess and Horned God who are equally creative, sacred and important gives women back their dignity and takes away all the biblical nuttiness about the female being subservient to the male. The concept that the Earth is here to be cherished, and not dominated by humans, that we should take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions, makes perfect sense to me."
These beliefs, coupled with a healthy dose of scepticism and practicality, enabled her other main thread of writing to be born. Her supernatural horror novels 'Dark Cathedral' (1996) and 'Pagan Moon' (1997) tell the story of a Pagan family torn apart by Christian fundamentalism and the fear born of suspicion of the unknown. The central character of both stories is Eirian, a child blessed by the ancient Pagan forces which surround her and protect her, giving her the strength and supernatural power to eventually overcome those who seek to destroy or exploit her. These novels are a searing indictment of the wretched state of a world dominated by fear, hatred and intolerance a portrayal of life as a Pagan in a Christian world which largely refuses to understand or accept the rising tide of alternative belief. This is a familiar sensation for many Pagans in the UK especially, where the myth of Satanic child abuse is still a festering memory in the nation's subconscious. Eirian is a shining beacon of hope to all those who suffer for their beliefs, and I challenge any Pagan to read either book without weeping with anger at the kind of taunts and abuse she has to put up with. That she and her family ultimately all come across as the sanest people in their world is a proud moment of realisation for those who can relate to their predicament, and Freda has an uncanny ability of striking right at the core of what is wrong with mainstream faiths. If you want your eyes opened, these are surely the books for you. If Freda's dream of a global education programme were to become reality, these two books should be set texts on the course for the Diploma of Overcoming Religious Intolerance!
The supernatural is clearly something which affects Freda very deeply, despite her need for realistic answers and practical explanations for weird phenomena. She treads the fine line between belief and disbelief, blind faith and scientific reasoning. "I've had my share of weird coincidences, prescient dreams and creepy atmospheres, but I'm not convinced this proves anything. I know many people have very real experiences in this area, so I wouldn't dismiss it, but it's all too easy to delude yourself." Rationality and logic are clearly as much watchwords in Freda Warrington's life as are fantasy and escapism. The ability to distinguish the two as separate entities and yet to blur them so convincingly that the edges don't jar is what makes her a true master of her particular art.
Writing convincingly about the past as she does in the 'Blood' series of vampire novels it is evident that Freda has a very personal understanding of historical continuity, and an abiding love for the richness of the past and what it can teach us today. Although her vampires mostly parade through the 19th and early 20th centuries, she confesses that her love of history and her passionate interest in it reach back even further. "I would love to go back to an ancient era, to see if Goddess worship really did result from, or result in, a high status of women." Having written extensively about the 1920s, she feels a strong pull for that time with its glamour and frivolity, but still appreciates the comforts of today. When asked what character from history she would most like to meet a question all Bloodstone interviewees are bombarded with at some point! her reply was instant and unequivocal: Richard III. History tells us that Richard was a cruel dictator, who slaughtered innocent children on a whim and was ruthless in his pursuit of the crown. Freda is not alone in thinking otherwise: "I am quite convinced that Shakespeare did a hatchet job on him and in reality he was a well loved king who was unjustly usurped. I would love to know the truth. I can't visit Bosworth battlefield (where Richard was killed) without getting terribly upset about his death." As a fellow ardent supporter of Richard III, I couldn't have said it better myself.
Although she freely admits she would love to write more about Karl and Charlotte, and about Eirian and her family, it is a sad fact of modern life that very few authors can afford to write what they want to. All too often the exigencies of making a living out of the craft are brought home, and publishers and editors hold the reins. In some cases this is extremely fortuitous and worthwhile and in others it leads to gross commercialism. Freda's masterly reworking of 'Dracula' is testament to the fact that she is firmly in the former category, avoiding the penalties of becoming too well known in one field to be lost when that field loses market value. Horror is apparently out of fashion with the general book buying public oh, really! and so Freda is turning back to her old love of epic fantasy to continue her illustrious career. After her groundbreaking 'Blackbird' series, which made her name as a fantasy novelist in the late 1980s, she is returning to the fold with 'The Jewelfire Trilogy'. The first volume, 'The Amber Citadel', is already available, and she is currently writing the second under the working title of 'The Sapphire Throne'. Much of Freda's vampiric work is regrettably out of print now, but it is to be hoped that her revival in the fantasy leagues will encourage her publishers to reprint her other novels too. This is something Freda ardently wishes for and urges all Bloodstone readers to write to her publishers Simon & Schuster with requests for her out of print books if they get enough response they may do the decent thing and give these worthy classics a second bite of the artery. "Us poor authors have to make a living, you know!" she laughs.
see also on this site: Intro to Vamps, Pagans & S/M Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
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