March 16th – the one year anniversary of the day Suzie met Cleo. It was a few days after that, however, that Suzie and the Monsters was conceived. On March 23rd I arrived in Bulgaria for a week – for work, but with a couple of days’ holiday in the middle. On the flight over I was reading Katharina Katt’s erotic vampire novella A Female Vampire. I was quite enjoying this, but also (as is often the case with me) feeling rather frustrated with it. (I abandoned it halfway through, but have recently started it again – I’ll do a proper review soon.)
I finished writing my novel Kings of Infinite Space in 2000 and, despite various quickly aborted attempts, had failed to find an idea for (and motivation to write) a new novel. The idea of writing an erotic vampire story was something I had dismissed as absurd on various occasions, but sitting alone in my room in the Light Hotel in Sofia I decided to try it, not really expecting it to go anywhere…
And it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if that original aim had been maintained. I realised fairly quickly that writing meaningless erotica was… meaningless. It wasn’t interesting. What did interest me, however, was exploring the character of this vampiric girl I was creating. It was easy to write her as sexy and ruthless, but that didn’t take her out of the stereotype I had defaulted to.
I needed detail. Specificity! Superficial to start with: What did she wear? What make-up did she use? I spent hours searching the web, looking at women’s clothing, etc. Being in Bulgaria was partly to blame – so many shops selling beautiful shoes! Right in the centre of Sofia was a shop with the prettiest pair of Lorenzis (not the ones in the picture).
And I found a fantastic brand of make-up: Illamasqua. I adore that name. Just saying it is like making love.
Even better, it’s a London-based company. Although I was reluctant at first to be specific about location, in my head the setting was London. Illamasqua crystallised this for me. About a month later, on one of my rare trips to London, I was wandering through the streets towards Carnaby Street when I was startled to find myself standing outside Illamasqua’s ‘flagship store’. So of course I had to go inside and buy lipstick…
(Not for me, mind you. Lipstick really doesn’t suit me. Hmm… I’m suddenly reminded that I was in London fifteen years ago trying to buy golden lipstick for reasons related to Kings of Infinite Space, which I was writing at the time.)
Anyway… The point is that it wasn’t enough to say Suzie was a pretty girl wearing designer clothes and five-inch heels – or six-inch heels when she was a stripper – because such generic descriptions just reinforce the stereotype. Indulging in details of clothing and make-up may seem like another way to reinforce the same stereotype… and maybe it would if the specificity was limited to the superficial.
But I like to think I have taken her beyond the stereotype. Suzie, after all, isn’t a vampire with a vast fortune and a small army of servants. She’s just a lonely vampire girl playing at being human.
And, like me, she loves her monthly Cosmopolitan…
Very well thought out. As a reader, I appreciate writers going that extra mile to make stand-out characters. I would say particularly women, but it’s true both men and women are lumped in stale roles.
In regards to the lipstick… Research for stories can take you some strange places, huh?
The novel references a lot of places in London that I had never been to; some I have managed to visit only since publication, and some I have yet to visit. By the time I do, some of them may be gone… Bad author! Bad!
Sometimes you’ve just got to settle for second-hand accounts. I’m about to start writing a story set in late 19th century rural France, and trying my best to gather an idea of what life would be like. But there’s so much to consider, and so much unrecorded from that time, that accurately recreating the feel of the place may be impossible. Which is a little distressing, but that’s where imagination and poetic licence come into play.
Agreed though, the closer you can get to the setting and the further you can burrow into the minds of your characters, the better your end result.
The idea of researching France… I have also considered it, although I’m more interested in eighteenth century / early nineteenth. To do it properly, I fear I would soon run into the language barrier. Maybe one day…
I wish you luck with that, and if I come across anything interesting I’ll pass it on. (Have you read Les Miserables?)
Haven’t red Les Miserables, probably should. I speak French well, but the part of France I’m focussing on is Brest, where they speak Breton, and where they definitely spoke Breton in 1890. Learning plenty of other things though, such as France being the first country to adopt the metric system, in 1812.
And by 1812 I mean 1799.