Old folklore, Hollywood clichés and Antipodean twists
After more than 120 years of Stoker’s Dracula, perhaps it’s time to revisit and reinvent the vampire, by mixing the old ways with the new.
When I was first struck by the idea to write about vampires for my new novella Bloodwood, I knew I didn’t want to write Hollywood-style vampires. I wanted to bring the old European vampires back, but with a twist.
As a folklore nerd, I knew that the old tales about vampires were very different to Stoker’s Count. The stories from Russia and Eastern Europe tell of unrepentant sinners with skin ruddy with blood returning to haunt their families. Not quite the tall gaunt cloak-wearing aristocrat we’re used to.
So in the original folklore, who can become a vampire?
Generally, in our vampire stories today, a living person turns into a goddamn shit-sucking vampire through being bitten and sired by another vampire. The living person eventually turns once the vampire has taken enough blood or they take a drink of vampire blood. In Eastern European and Russian folklore practically any dead person could turn vampiric. Although it was more likely if the dead person was not exactly virtuous during life, for example, drunks, disagreeable people, sorcerers, sinners or treacherous barmaids often reanimated.
Then sometimes, it has nothing to do with the dead person’s activities during life. Sometimes shit just happens and even the innocent and pure get turned into vampires if a tear falls on the shroud or an animal jumps over the body. This is one of the reasons why the family watched over the body under it was buried in the ground.
Prevention is always better than cure they say, so how do you stop Granny from returning from the grave to bite you in your sleep. A few tried and true methods include sowing seeds into the mouth of the deceased, burying them face down or placing a thorn under their tongue to prevent them from sucking blood.
After refreshing my knowledge of the stories of the strigoi, the vrykolakas and the wampir, I started to look at my own surroundings.
Not only did I want to explore a different side of vampires, but I also wanted to explore how revenants would behave differently in a different country, like Australia, where perhaps the old European vampire-hunting methods don’t work. How do you fight a vampire in Australia?
Although back to folklore, the Australian continent is not without its own indigenous blood-sucking monster. Indigenous tales tell of a home-grown Australian vampire-type monster, the Yara-ma-yha-who, a squat human-like creature covered in red fur with suckers at the ends of his hands and feet and has no teeth. The Yara-ma-yha-who lives in fig trees and is rather lazy, rather than hunting, the creature preys on unsuspecting travellers who take a nap under his tree.
And this is how Bloodwood was spawned, a mix of folklore and new beginnings for old monsters in a new land, with a cast of feisty female characters and a gag or two.
Bloodwood by Madeleine D’Este
How do you fight a vampire… in Australia?
Nothing interesting ever happens in sleepy, rural Ludwood. Not until undertaker Shelley sets up shop with her eco-friendly burials.
Her latest funeral, farewelling an environmental legend, was meant to help her struggling business – even the gatecrashing priest condemning her heathen ways didn’t damper her spirits. Much.
But when frightening screeches wake Shelley in the middle of the night days later, she finds an empty grave and things start to go wrong. Horribly wrong. Like vicious attacks in Ludwood wrong.
Were the priest’s protests of blasphemy right? Has Shelley unwittingly unleashed the undead and reduced the headcount in Ludwood instead of reducing their carbon footprint?
And where does Shelley even start? There’s no manual for hunting vampires in the bush.
Madeleine D’Este is a writer of dark mysteries from Melbourne. Her favourite vampire novel is The Historian by Elisabeth Kostova and her favourite vampire movie is a toss-up between The Lost Boys, both versions of Nosferatu, Let the Right One In and Mr Vampire.
Growing up in Tasmania, obsessed with books and the shadows at the end of the bed, Madeleine now writes female-led speculative fiction. Her supernatural mystery novel The Flower and The Serpent was nominated for the Australian Shadow Award for Best Novel 2019.
Her latest release, Bloodwood is out on 5 October 2020 and available at Amazon.
You can contact Madeleine at www.madeleinedeste.com or @madeleine_deste on Twitter.