Mini thoughts…

Symbols

Why do we choose stone memorials when our loved ones die? How can a cold hard stone represent everything you once shared with that person? Everything they meant to you, the memories you shared, the things they taught you, the love you had for one another?

The earth moves, it shifts, it compacts, it swallows your friend, your parent, your spouse, holding them prisoner under layers of clay from where they return to the elements and yet you worship the stone, talk to the stone, feel comforted by the stone. The stone comes to symbolise all that that person once meant to you, all that they were; like an anchor for their soul.

How poor is the stone for it does not hear and does not understand, it does not sympathise but maybe it alleviates. The cold hard stone offers comfort like the person beneath it used to do. It is the silent guard of a cargo that is both worthless and invaluable.

You bring flowers for the dead but they wilt and die so you bring some more. You light candles and say prayers yet they remain unanswered and the stone just glistens in the sun, staring back at you like the impenetrable memorial it is supposed to be, with a permanence you wish the person beneath it had.

Seven nights in Florence and a day in Padua

As I was saying the other day, this summer I had the opportunity to visit Florence. Florence, alongside Rome from two years ago, has always been one of those lifelong dreams, and I was very fortunate that this year I managed to make it a reality.

Walking into the Uffizi Gallery and facing Michelangelo’s Tondo just before the next room where I was flanked by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to my right and La Primavera on the left were moments I have looked forward to since childhood (ok teenagehood). Also seeing the David up close and personal was a moment beyond anything I can describe. It was like meeting old pen-pals face to face and realizing they’re better than your wildest expectations.

Michelangelo's David in the flesh
Michelangelo’s David in the flesh

But I digress, the minutiae of my holiday aren’t the point here. Part of the reason I chose Florence this summer was the fact that it is close to Padua which is where a small part of Vampire Edifice is set. Padua University, in fact, is rumoured to be the second oldest university in Europe with an anatomy school that rivals none in prestige and history. It was home to several prominent figures like Galileo, Andreas Vesalius (father of modern Anatomy) and William Harvey, who discovered blood circulation, to name just a few. On a side note, in the hall of the forty I noticed a drawing of a man called Stephano Bathory (King of Poland) 1533-1586 who I am more than intrigued to research at some point for obvious reasons.

Padua University
Palazzo Del Bo

I can honestly say that the trip to PU was going to be as much of a highlight of the trip as the Medici Mausoleum or the David and at €5 for an hour tour I was very excited to make the three hour journey to Padua from Florence and back. Thanks are owed to my kindle and A Song of Ice and Fire for hours of entertainment.

Anyhoo, the first blow of the tour came in the fact that we were not allowed to take pictures of the rooms. Big bummer, ‘cause I’d planned a detailed blog post of the bloody thing. Secondly the tour guide lady was very economical with the details of the place. In fact, when she was asked a question about certain inscriptions on the walls she promised to come back to it later but never actually took the time.

The biggest bummer of all however came in the form of the Anatomy theatre, which I’d been looking forward to seeing all summer long, in anticipation of the trip. For those not in the know, an anatomy theatre is an inverse conical space, think upside down traffic cone, where students of anatomy would collect in order to watch the dissection of corpses in the name of science. PU’s Anatomy theatre was built in 1594 by Gerolamo d’ Acquapendente and was made world famous by some of the aforementioned historical personalities.

Were we allowed to see that? Oh no, that would’ve been too normal a thing to do on a specialist tour. Instead we were led in under it, picture the eye of the cone, and made to look up through the hole. Though there was a level of geeky coolness in the fact that this was the way the corpses got to see it, by way of practicality, it was next to useless. Atmospheric? Yes! Pointless? Also yes!

Whatever the case, though I was disappointed by the tour experience, I did love the location and of course the History of the place. What I did get to see and ask about satisfied my research needs for the book (I like to have visited the locations I write about wherever possible) and hey, I got to stand in the same rooms that Galileo and Harvey et al did almost five centuries ago. Can’t fault that.

On another note, whatever satisfaction I didn’t get from the tour at PU, I got in spades from the Museo La Specola in Florence itself. The museum holds one of the largest collections of wax anatomical aids from the 18th century and is an incredible sight for all lovers of medical history and the macabre.

Little Wax Massacre
Little Wax Massacre

The museum itself is not that well marketed and is home to series of other random exhibits which suddenly lead to the wax models in a slightly surreal shift of mood. It is an amazing place, with incredibly well-crafted pieces which marry the worlds of history, sculpture and medicine into an unforgettable experience. I know I sound a bit tourist guide-y but think of the fact that these models were sculpted from life (or death to be precise) in the days before refrigeration. Chew on that for a moment…

To my good fortune, due to its lack of promotion no doubt, there were only two families in the entire museum along with me, which gave the space an added air of sobriety. At times it felt as if the whole place was mine.

Flayed Man
Flayed Man

I was really partial to this bit, but needs must…

Continuing on the editing theme, I’ve decided to post a bit here that will never make it in the first book as I’ve changed the structure somewhat. Initially the book was going to start with a modern setting and dive into the past and back again, but I decided against that approach, for reasons that shall remain a secret for the moment, (I can’t exactly divulge everything now can I?) as well as a sacrifice to the editing process.

So, besides the teazers that I post from time to time, this is an actual part of the story so feel free to consider it the excerpt that will never be:

She stood there in her rubber tipped converse, skinny jeans and hands in the pockets of her well-worn vintage leather jacket; her auburn hair was pulled back in a high, tight ponytail which shone under the fading light of the October sun. She wore an enormous pair of vintage Channel sunglasses which left very little skin exposed above her cheeks and underneath them. Her pupils had narrowed to the smallest, almost imperceptible pin. Her lips were small but perfectly formed and pale. She had freckles on her cheeks and also on her neck which disappeared into the back of her jacket and one could imagine she had them all over her body too. She was slim and of small build, almost fragile looking but with an air of sovereignty unmatched to her sense of style. Even with the massive sunglasses she was squinting in the sun and seemed relieved if a cloud lingered over it from time to time.

It was bitterly cold but you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at her. She appeared indifferent to it but well aware of her surroundings, which seemed to make her feel uncomfortable. She looked up to the sky and inhaled with her eyes closed trying to take in all the fine details of the place, a bit like a cat will sniff the air in order to identify something delicious or new. She walked about aimlessly pretending to look around, take the place in. The sound of the undergrowth and the crisp brittle leaves underfoot awfully audible to her ears. When she stepped on to the path, the harsh gravel dug into her soles and felt painful, though not as much as the last time she had been here. You would’ve thought she’d know what to wear after all these years.

The ground seemed to tell no tales, regardless of the countless bodies that no doubt still lay there undiscovered. She had read that there was research and experiments being done on the grounds by some amateur geophicists but nothing conclusive had turned up yet. She wondered if they had looked in the abandoned well that had been filled in after the supposed discovery of “black” water. She remembered starting the rumor about the black water and the dog that died on the spot the minute he drank it. The truth was that the well served as an excellent dumping site for her and Jo as it was really deep and disposal was generally becoming more and more difficult to pull off as the years wore on and the priests caught wind of the murders and were threatening to alert the Emperor.

She decided to make the fifteen minute journey down the hill to the well. The stone path led all the way to it, and she was surprised to see how quickly it all came back to her. The place had changed significantly of course, the forest had seemed to shrink and she could occasionally hear the faint sound of cars which was an odd new addition to the landscape. The smell was different too, not so woody and a lot less foul, from the reduction in livestock no doubt. It was all much more artificial, if one could say that about a forest. When she finally got to the well, she once again cursed the fact that she hadn’t thought to wear hiking boots, and soon realized that her years in the city had made her lose her connection to the outdoors. Looking around, she found that the well was gone, replaced by more gravel and the odd log, and again there was nothing there to bear witness to the goings on of the distant past. It all felt very normal indeed. Time does heal all wounds I guess, she thought to herself.

 

Unfeterred musings on time, death and vampires (what else?)

There is a school of thought that teaches us that time is not real, but merely a man-made construct, a non-existent illusion. I have given this matter a bit of thought as I am quite fond of outside the box thinking, especially when it comes to my writing, but I just can’t bring myself to agree with it. We live on a planet that rotates on its axis and around the sun and each rotation is inevitably divisible into units of time the most obvious of which is the 24 hour day. Even if time were not partitioned in the even segments we have broken it up in, it would still very much exist within the framework of life on earth. Even if men were not cognisant beings with the ability to forage, hunt, farm, engineer, and thus progress with every day they have been on this planet, time would still exist and time would still pass. From the time of, and in no particular order, the formation of the planet, Pangaea, evolution, the Dinosaurs and whatever else, time has still passed. It took a certain amount of time for the continents to shift, it took a certain amount of time for sponges to turn into lizards, it took a certain amount of time for man to go from cave to businessman and in a certain amount of time the sun will run out of light, fuel or whatever the sun runs on and life as we know it on this planet will cease to exist (all that is of course in a very idealistic view of the future, where the actions of mankind in no way go on to expedite aforementioned cessation of life). So where I’m going with this rant, is that time exists, in a real and pragmatic way, time exists as it has always done. If the earth were hypothetically to stop spinning and just froze on the spot of its axis would time stop? I don’t know, because this is wading into scientific waters I am unfamiliar with, but I can hazard a guess at no. Tempus Fugit and that is a universal truth.

What I’m trying to say in very broad terms, however successfully remains to be seen, is that time exists, and it is the constant by which all humans measure their life on earth. We wake up, wash our faces, get dressed and go out to work every day and we break up this day in 24 equal parts which are constantly changing in a rotational fashion. Philosophically speaking (again) we are never in the same spot of longer than a millisecond as in its smallest denominations time passes faster than we are even capable of perceiving, and sooner or later death will come for us all. From the day we are born we march towards an unknown date of death, in fact I have always believed that people are in a state of permanent denial and un-manifested depression because we all know we have to die one day. Life is beautiful for the most part, if you ignore the pained and anguished bits, so why would you want to leave, right? When we are young we think that death is so far away that it does not feature into our thoughts but very quickly we learn that life is unbelievably short and things need to be accomplished, stat! By our late twenties to thirties we realise that though still young there are a lot of things that are important to us which need to be achieved (work, love, marriage, kids, travelling, divorce-that-what-was-I-thinking-idiot, regretted tattoos) in order for us to experience happiness before that dreaded moment of death. It is during this time that we realise or are told that a life well lived is important and that the best state to be in at the time of death is one of no regrets, provided one has lived it to its fullest.

On a side note, (though I feel this post could be filled with them if I’m not careful) the no-regrets-thing is not a tenet I subscribe to personally, as that would imply one has either lived perfectly, (really who does that?) or that they have learned nothing from their mistakes along the way, but generally speaking, whether we do this or not, i.e. live well and fully, is a whole other matter perhaps to be dedicated to another blog post, for I fear I’m losing my train of thought. Bear with me, it was late when I started this.

Which brings me to the reason I began this sorry excuse for a blog post in the first place, and inevitably the subject of my book-Vampires. Vampires are the eternal beings of folklore and myth with the ambiguous origins and which for the most part are comprised of two or three basic principles (variations notwithstanding); they are eternal, immortal/undead, unable to abide the sun and survive purely by the consumption of human blood. Of all bodily fluids blood is the most intriguing and valuable. It oxygenates our organs, it nourishes, cleans, protects and holds the secrets of everything that makes us who we are, it is our biological essence and it has mystical properties too (speaking from a literary perspective always).

Vampires have fascinated people ever since they were put on paper, whether that was in the time of Bram Stoker, when superstition was more integrated into the fabric of life or whether that was yesterday in this age of science and logical explanations for everything. Vampires have certain innate qualities that both constantly terrify and captivate us. Few supernatural beings are as flexible with their abilities or have held our imaginations as much as Vampires do. Admittedly today we subscribe to a softer vampire, particularly in books and stories aimed at young adults, but Vampires continue to entertain us through the media of books, movies, graphic novels and songs.

I believe that somewhere in the heart of each and every Vampire fan and Vampire author lays one fundamental question: “Would I give up my humanity in order to live for ever?” There is a bartering that takes places whenever a Vampire is “born” where for the price of immortality they are forced to shed their humanity and relinquish all life as they know it in order to become immortal, and inadvertently they almost always become sub-human, cruel beings who are bored of their endless predatory existences. Through Vampire lore we are forced to consider our quality of life in relation to the price of immortality. Time is such a precious a commodity for us that we inadvertently ask ourselves, would I sacrifice so much in order to never die and have all the time in world?

There is a duality in Vampire fiction where one is forced to contemplate eternal life versus humanity and if one were to distance themselves from the genre they would reach the conclusion that age equals wisdom, maturity and forgiveness but for the interest of story we do not allow these creatures to live well or to thrive or even be happy with their new found “blessing”. Who has heard of or wants to see a happy Vampire afterall? Vampires are by nature anti-heroes, they are tormented by their pasts and murderous natures and oddly enough by a spiritual void they cannot fill. What happens to the Vampiric Soul when they are destroyed? Where does it go? Do they even have souls? Childish trifles you might exclaim, but food for thought all the same, for a good story needs to examine all angles of logic even in a supernatural setting in order to bring on suspension of disbelief in the reader.