For some writers, inspiration strikes in the middle of the night, and can be an elusive and fading memory by morning if notes are not taken. For others, ideas strike as the subconscious mind mulls over plots and difficulties, producing answers to problems as the story unfolds. In my case, inspiration arrived in the form of an email from Selina Walker, my editor at Transworld, who’d just had a Great Idea.
I have the most enormous respect for this charming lady, whose Great Ideas are often just that – great ideas that can transform a book for the better – but I have to confess that when she suggested vampires in Venice would be ideal for the next James Becker book, I had my doubts.
The background to the fourth book in the ‘Bronson’ series is simple enough. In the three previous books (The First Apostle, The Moses Stone and The Messiah Secret), the two protagonists – Chris Bronson, always aided and abetted by his ex-wife Angela Lewis – have found themselves embroiled in some kind of historical or biblical mystery, some ancient secret with echoes that resonate to the present day. These three books were all based on historical facts, facts that I always clarified and explained in an author’s note at the end of each novel, so the readers would know which bits I made up and which bits I didn’t.
But vampires are historical legend, not historical fact, and for some time I wasn’t sure how I could weave a believable story around something that literally didn’t exist, especially as the readers who’d bought and enjoyed the other books might well feel somewhat disappointed – or cheated – if they suddenly found themselves embroiled in either a Dracula-like horror novel or some kind of Twilight/undead love story.
Then, at some point, a metaphorical light bulb illuminated. Vampires don’t exist, but belief in vampires is a very real historical phenomenon, charted and recorded from a startlingly early date, perhaps as far back as 5000 BC, and certainly was well established as a reality by the Middle Ages, becoming especially prevalent in Central Europe. Research produced a compelling account of a vampire burial – the 18th century interment of a princess of the Schwarzenberg dynasty which was bizarre in almost all respects. That became the prologue of the novel, hopefully establishing a suitably creepy beginning.
Then another stroke of luck produced the story of a simpler but much cruder vampire burial, a decapitated woman’s skeleton recovered from a plague pit with a brick rammed into her mouth – a fail-safe method of killing a vampire – actually in Venice, and the story took off from there. Throw in a few desecrated tombs, the activities of a serial killer, young women vanishing from the streets of the old city, and some of the ancient legends and stories of Venice and the Laguna Veneta, and the story steadily took shape.
And after all that, is there a real-life vampire in the novel? Well, the baddest of all the bad guys is a very dark and murky character, and in truth I still don’t really know who – or what – he is, so I’m leaving readers to make up their own minds.
The Nosferatu Scroll by James Becker (Transworld)