Mastodon The Writing Desk: Halloween Guest Post by Ann Victoria Roberts, Author of Moon Rising

31 October 2015

Halloween Guest Post by Ann Victoria Roberts, Author of Moon Rising

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Who was Bram Stoker – and why did he write Dracula? Through the words of Damaris Sterne, daughter of an old seafaring family, we meet a man escaping from the pressures of his life in London. As the two become involved in a passionate but dangerous affair, he is introduced to the wild sea, the wrecks, and Whitby’s local legends – while she is shown glimpses of the wider world beyond. 

Evocative and mysterious, Moon Rising opens out to become not only the gripping story of a tragic love-affair, but a revealing commentary on the genesis of an immortal classic.

Moon Rising, Bram Stoker and Dracula

In Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, the vampire count’s arrival in Whitby is one of the novel’s most dramatic episodes. The ferocious storm, the wreck of the Russian ship, the great hound leaping ashore, is so vivid it seems like something that really happened.

Shipwrecks abound along that coast, but the one described in the book is curious. Stoker’s Demeter, of Varna, appears to have been taken directly from an actual wreck which occurred during a violent storm in October 1885 – the Dmitry of Narva.

The name leapt out at me from a book of photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. His picture of a Russian ship, wrecked below the east cliff, led me to an account of the day’s events in the Whitby Gazette. Comparing that with Stoker’s description of how his Russian ship came into the harbour, suddenly I could picture him watching as the drama unfolded.

With that, my vague ideas for the novel that was to become Moon Rising suddenly had focus. I re-read Dracula and began researching in earnest. Whitby’s 19th century remoteness, its dramatic location with church, graveyard and ruined abbey standing atop the cliffs, made it popular with Stoker and the London literati – while local folk tales had clearly provided the author with a stock of material. Certainly, the great spectral hound – the Barghest – said to haunt both the town and moors, was utilised in Dracula to great effect.

Born and raised in Dublin, Bram Stoker trained as a barrister, and in his 25 years as business manager to the Shakespearean actor, Sir Henry Irving, Stoker combined the attributes of lawyer, accountant, secretary and playwright. In his spare moments – largely on holiday – Stoker wrote novels, most of which have slipped into obscurity.

The exception, of course, is Dracula, which everyone knows but few people have read. Nowadays we tend to regard it as a Gothic novel – yet Stoker was at pains to anchor it as a ‘modern’ work, set clearly in the 1890s. The story unfolds through a collection of papers: diary entries, letters and newspaper accounts, like snapshots capturing the movements of a nightmare being.

Stoker doesn’t spell it out – he heightens the suspense by suggestion, leaving the reader to assume the worst. Dracula’s activities in Whitby are conveyed by mere glimpses – the bat, the gleaming red eyes of a figure seen close by – enough for us to suspect that this is the Count at work. All very unsettling.

By contrast, later, sexually suggestive scenes are dwelt upon – some shockingly erotic. But while the modern reader is able to spot references that Stoker’s original readers may have missed, Dracula the novel is far more than a tale of sexual aberration. Like an early James Bond, it concerns the abuse of power – and it plays on Victorian fears of invasion, of the occult, of sex. Most of all perhaps, fear of powerful, dominant male figures.

Vampire legends aside, who could have inspired the central character? My choice is Henry Irving, Stoker’s friend and employer. Irving fits the description like a glove: aquiline features and autocratic manner; his passion for sitting up talking all night after a performance; and most of all, his ability on stage to transform himself into another being. As Stoker once reported, ‘his eyes were like cinders glowing red…’

It’s impossible not to see the Count’s blood-sucking activities as a metaphor for the actor’s ability to feed off other people’s creativity. Famous, powerful, Irving demanded, and got, everything from the people around him. He could not have succeeded without Stoker’s wide-ranging talents. In the end, Irving sucked Stoker dry – and then dropped him.  

Irving, hypnotic, powerful; Stoker his star-struck acolyte, working literally all hours to further the great man’s career; his wife cold and resentful – the rush of possibilities fired my imagination.

As it happened, I was living in Whitby for several weeks of a long, hot summer, walking the town and cliffs, learning the place as well as its history – all of which became a haunting background for my novel. But with Bram Stoker in the foreground, and Irving lurking in his background, what might have been a Victorian romance became a Gothic tale of passion and possession.

In Moon Rising, Stoker has reached breaking point, escaping to Whitby before his life in London tips him over the edge. Young Damaris Sterne, rebellious daughter of an old seafaring family, is working as a fisherlass and posing as a photographer’s model. As she attracts his attention, thus begins a dangerous affair which changes the course of both their lives.

Sensual, sunlit afternoons become moonlit nights with disturbing encounters. Damaris soon discovers that everything has a cost; and, on meeting Irving, that her rival is not the one she imagined…
Relating the tale from a distance of twenty years, Damaris tells how Stoker went on to write his most famous novel, while she pursued her own ambitions, battling memory and consequence along the way. But only as chance throws them together again does she begin to understand the truth, discovering the disastrous effect Dracula had on Stoker, Irving and the whole theatrical company…
As though,’ Stoker says, ‘in writing about evil I had given it life…’

Ann Victoria Roberts
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About the Author

Ann Victoria Roberts’ first historical novel, Louisa Elliott was translated into seven languages and shortlisted in 1989 for the prestigious RNA Award. Now an independent author, she is still writing and publishing her out-of-print work for new readers. Moon Rising, her fourth novel, is now available as an ebook. Her fifth novel, The Master’s Tale, based on the life of Capt Smith of the ‘Titanic’, explores themes of time and coincidence. Born in York, Ann is married to a Master Mariner, and now lives in Southampton. Find our more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Ann_V_Roberts.

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