Interview with Rosemary Johns

See full issue for 2017 01-30

Today I'm interviewing British author Rosemary Johns, author of Blood Dragons. Here she tells us how she researched the novel which spans several decades, how she climbed into the mind of a vampire, and what we can expect from the next books in the series...

1. Can you tell is us how Blood Dragons evolved? What came first for you, the characters or the plots?

Light and his voice came first, as he clamoured inside, demanding to be heard. Yeah, that’d be just like him.

It all grew from the very first line of the series:

‘You know those vampire myths? Holy water, entry by invitation only and sodding crucifixes?

Bollocks to them.’

(Blood Dragons)

The secret supernatural world of Blood Lifers, where vampires are both predator and prey, a divided paranormal London where death drives desire and the idea of a dark romance with a thriller edge, evolved from there.

I wanted Light to be the ultimate British anti-hero: a Rocker and a rebel Blood Lifer, with a talent for remembering things and a Triton motorbike.

The core idea was to write a vampire book for adults. Where they weren’t simply the hunters but also the hunted.

The inspiration behind the series, however, came from my autistic son, who’s a savant with a photographic memory: everything he sees he remembers. And I wondered what it would be like for a vampire to live through the centuries witnessing all the glories and the horrors…and remembering it with the clarity of a photograph.

Would it be a blessing or a curse?

2. The story is told from Light's point of view. How difficult was it to get inside his head?

The main idea was to tell the story from a vampire’s perspective and have a British vampire front and centre.

There’ve been British vampire sidekicks, lovers and friends… but main characters? Not so much.

I set out to write something so intimate you’d feel you were living it alongside Light. Blood Shackles, the second book in the series, is the same.

That’s why I wrote it as a memoir. Light’s secret memories. He confesses to the human woman he’s loved for 50 years, Kathy:

‘You laughed when we first met and said my parents must be right hippies. You were direct like that: I loved it. But I couldn’t explain. Not then. How many months since you’ve looked at me and said my name? Looked at me and known me? After all these decades, you’re lost. And I’m alone.’

(Blood Dragons)

Sometimes Light’s speaking to Kathy, himself, the book…but always to you…the reader.

There’s nothing more intimate than that.

It was worryingly easy to get inside Light’s head – because he’s inside mine!

As a character, I researched and studied (particularly for Light’s language, which is part Victorian and part 1960s). My dad’s a Londoner, so that helped.

I come from a playwriting background. The psychology of characters fascinates me. Voice is something I love.

For Light, becoming a Blood Lifer seemed to offer him freedom: but instead it was only another type of control.

Often vampirism is portrayed as hunger. But in my series it’s the opposite: because they’re a real-life species, it’s freedom from humanity’s rules. They’re the apex predator. And when they get dragged into the light? That’s when the predator becomes the prey and they realize that if they want freedom? They’ll have to fight for it.

3. The plot spans the decades of history. Did you have to do much research into the historical periods mentioned? And how did you go about this?

I studied history at Oxford University (Christ Church, where Lewis Carroll was professor and Harry Potter was filmed!). I’m passionate about history; writing about vampires is a great way to set a book in different time periods.

It was exciting to write the 1960s. Light loves the world; sometimes vampires are shown as being aloof from it. But Light’s a Blood Lifer who’s never forgotten his humanity:

‘I loved (and realised I’d always loved, even in those crazy, wild days with Ruby), your First Lifer world: Billy Fury, my leather jacket, the Triton on a hard, fast road, Florence’s piazzas, as evening sets over Duomo’s terracotta dome, the aroma of spices, “I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet” and the exploding joy of Carnaby Street.’

(Blood Dragons)

Being a music fanatic…it’s no surprise I’ve made Light one as well! The soundtrack to the series would be blinding!

‘The Who’s “My Generation” – a tribal bloody howl of Mod rebellion and youth’s hymn of raging, stuttering disgust at humanity’s inevitable, ageing decay - blazed up the wide staircase of Advance Record Company.’

(Blood Dragons)

I use photographs or paintings as much as words. I’m highly visual: I am in my books too; people say they can see them like films.

I use mainly primary sources: newspaper articles, diaries, letters...

Then I turn it all on its head. I go at it in the most unexpected way possible. I call it ‘looking for the twist’.

4. Was there always an intention to write more than one book or did the sequel begin to evolve as you wrote the first book?

All the books are standalone BUT I have the whole series planned out.

I know where it’s going – there’s room for changes and different characters, that’s the exciting thing - but I know the endgame.

There’s a richness you can add when you know the themes, the plot and the reason you’re writing. Readers may not – and don’t need to – see the layers on the first read. But it’s the reason they’ll be drawn in. And why they’ll want to read it a second or third time.

This series is important to me. It’s about difference, division, memory, love and freedom.

It talks to what’s been happening in the world and is happening right now.

It’s also a thrilling fantasy book! But I love the idea it can also mean something important.

5. Who is your favorite character in Blood Dragons and why?

I fell in love with Light by the time I’d written the first sentence.

He’s an anti-hero, who’s struggling to work out what it means to be both a Blood Lifer…and to hang onto his humanity. He may be trying to save the world but the true battle is inside him.

He’ll always keep a promise, is loyal and fights to the end for those he loves. Everything comes down to the heart.

Plus he does have a ‘blinding coat.’

‘Rough leather motorcycle jacket, studded and faded, decorated with a worn gold Ace of Spades, collar firmly turned up, over a black t-shirt, jeans and tall motorcycle boots, topped by a light brown pompadour, tamed with Brylcreem.

‘That’s what you kids are wearing now, is it?’ Your new carer for Wednesdays was studying me, like she’d just revealed a manky specimen in your bedpan. ‘Latest fashion?’ I grinned, as I slouched against the wall. ‘No, luv, these’ve been around awhile.’ ’

(Blood Dragons)

Yet what makes Light the most fun to write? His sense of humour: he’s wry, ironic and never takes himself seriously. It doesn’t matter the danger: expect banter.

‘Yeah, that’s morbid. But I’m dead, right?’

(Blood Dragons)

Light is a rebel even amongst rebels. An individual. And that’s what the series is about.

‘Rebel here, yeah?’

(Blood Dragons)

6. Can you tell us about your writing process? How do your novels come together?

Ideas spiral out of a single idea, phrase or character. The world builds around it.

I have an ideas book, where I jot the initial ideas, until I have enough to start serious research.

Whilst researching Victorian, 1960s, music or clothes, I also write the scenes, which come to me. I don’t write them in order, just snatches of conversation or a vivid description.

Characters often evolve out of the music they love, their background story (which exists even though it’s never in the book!), the clothes they wear or the way they style their house.

Then I plan out the entire novel.

First draft is always by hand – I can’t write creatively on a computer. Then have to type up! But that becomes the first edit.

Then I polish the drafts, like a screenwriter. There’s no such thing as a finished draft…but there’s a point where you have to step back.

7. What is an average writing day like for you?

I write best in the morning. All writers have a time when they’re most creative. By about 7:30 I’m having a social media and online check, then I’m writing or editing.

I deal with things like writing my VIP Newsletter or chatting with my Rosemary’s Rebel group on Facebook in the afternoon.

Then I’m writing or editing again in the evenings or doing events. Being a UK author there’s a time zone difference, so if I’m doing an event in America, they’re often late.

8. When writing the book, were you at all conscious of how popular vampire stories are and did this influence the proceedings at all?

I was in fact aware how UNPOPULAR vampire stories are currently because that’s just the way things go in and out of fashion. There’ve been too many vampire stories, which are the same.

I’ve always loved urban fantasy (since Neil Gaiman), fantasy and science fiction, and paranormal romance. Vampires? I’ve been fascinated by them – their myth, the historical reasons behind it and why we as humans are drawn to them – since I tried to present a project on them at primary school. And was denied because it would scare the other kids.

I was determined to write a series, which was different: fresh, dark, intelligent. All the things I wanted to read.

And most importantly different to the other vampire series out there.

The most common word used to describe my book is ‘unique’. So I think I achieved it.

Rebel Vampires is original, British and has its own place in vampire fiction because it’s not trying to do the same thing as other series.

My book cover designer set out to do this as well – to create something different and iconic. That’s what we want for the series as a whole.

9. I enjoyed how Light was a very complex and flawed character, a rebellious anti-hero at times. Was this a deliberate choice in characterization?

Thank you and yes!

I love dark anti-heroes. There can’t be a redemptive journey, if there’s nothing to be redeemed.

Light is a misfit, a rebel even within a world of rebels. Because of his background (I won’t give spoilers), he doesn’t easily fit in.

I think we can all identity with that though: feeling the loner. Despite that, he has to rise to being the hero.

‘I tried conforming once, didn’t fit.’

(Blood Dragons)

Characters that are flawed are much more interesting than 2D heroes, who always make the good or easy choice – they’re not real.

Light’s also a Blood Lifer and everything he does – decision or choice – has to be seen as that of a 150 year old nonhuman. I loved the idea of a book, which truly did explore both the differences – and not – of two species. Sometimes vampires are written as humans, who simply have fangs.

Light is a Blood Lifer, fighting to understand what that should or can mean…

‘There’s no such thing as evil: there’s only decisions, day in and day out. I discovered a different way: not First Life and not Blood Life – my way.

See, rebel to the core.’

(Blood Dragons)

10. Tell us a bit about your writing and publishing journey so far

I started off writing plays and running a theatre company.

The first thing I ever had published was a science fiction short story: I sent it out, pretending I was an adult, when I was fourteen! That’s when my short story writing career began.

I’ve been a traditionally published short story writer for a number of years.

I decided to indie publish Rebel Vampires, so I’d have control over my schedule because of the care needs of my son.

Blood Dragons and Blood Shackles are out now. ~Blood Dragons: ~Blood Shackles:

Blood Renegades is released June 2017.

11. What advice do you have for new writers thinking about the indie path?

These things are always done in lists of three; I reckon it’s an unwritten rule. So here I go:

1. Write what you LOVE BEST. Not what will sell the best or is most popular now (because it won’t be by the time your book is written). Ignore your friends, writing group and family. Unless you’re passionate about what you’re writing? No one else will be.

2. Be in CONTROL. If you don’t like being in control of…everything? Indie may not be right for you. I’ve been both traditional and indie, and they each have their positives and negatives. Indie? It’s all on you.

3. READ – annoying this one, right? But I read EVERYTHING both in my genre and around my genre, for about 18 months before I started to write Blood Dragons. I’ve never read so much in my life. Something got a good review? Was a bestseller? I wanted to know why. Because I wanted that to be me…this one works.

12. Can you give us a glimpse of what might happen in the sequel to Blood Dragons, Blood Shackles, and can you also reveal what you are working on right now?

In Blood Shackles Light is hunted and enslaved by the human Blood Club. He’s sold, like a puppy in a pet shop, to the slaver’s youngest daughter, Grayse. If he doesn’t escape, he’ll never discover the truth behind the conspiracy.

‘I looked down, but you forced my chin up.

Reluctantly, I met your sharp gaze.

‘I meant it. I didn’t want…one of those broken things. Though you’ve gotta be soft making trouble for daddy. He’s the one, who’s insisting I buy one of you. He’s eager for me to learn about the business now I’m back. It’s not like I want…’ Embarrassed, you looked away.

‘Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want me either.’

‘Naw, it’s just…I’ve never even looked after a dog before.’

‘Lucky I’m not a mutt then.’ ’

(Blood Shackles)

Light writes a slave journal for his new mistress.

‘So, dear Reader (because I know you’re reading this, there’s no use pretending otherwise), did you reckon giving me this poncey journal - all softness and stink of leather - would make me spill my Soul? You already have my body, bought and paid for. You think you have my mind.

My thoughts, however..? They’re my own.

Write in it every day, you’d ordered, with that little smile.

What do you think this is: Bridget Jones’s Diary?’

(Blood Shackles)

The idea was inspired by my husband, who’s a police officer; he told me that human trafficking and slavery was still happening in England and America. How could that be possible in the twenty-first century?

So I wondered: what would it be like if the Blood Lifers were the slaves? Freedom: it seems such a small thing. Until you lose it.

I’m fascinated by different types of freedom. How we give it up when we’re in love – or how love can free us.

I’ve just finished the first draft for Blood Renegades (Rebel Vampires Volume 3).

Blood Renegades is coming out in June. Light has only two weeks to give his witness, on trial for his life, before he’s burnt at the stake – because who wants to hear the truth?

The Renegades are the terrorists of the Blood Lifer world. They’re dedicated to hunting down the human slavers. They risk both worlds colliding: except the ruthless Blood Life Council have declared ‘war’ on the Renegades, starting with their leader, who they believe to be…Light.

‘Betrayal. Death. Hope. Isn’t that how all truly great stories start?’

(Blood Renegades)

Thanks for having me on – it’s been blinding!

Visit the author’s website
Read Rebel Vampires Volume 1: Blood Dragons
Amazon link

Chantelle Atkins

Visit Chantelle Atkins‘s website.

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