5

Don’t punch a Nazi – drink their blood …

Creatively, it has been a quiet year so far, but finally I have something to show for my intermittent and much-procrastinated labours …

Download at TND – The New Dimension

As you may have inferred, this is a new C64 game I have designed and programmed, using what little knowledge of C64 Assembly I have to enhance the well-worn SEUCK (Shoot-em-Up Construction Kit) engine. As a result, this game features a simple power-up system, parallax scrolling, and animated intro / outro sequences, the latter accessible by password (which you will learn if you rescue all the hostages from the levels).

The plot – featuring a vampire nun rescuing children from the SS – somehow came out as a cross between “Underworld” and “The Sound of Music.” I can but hope this will be a winning formula …


Valkyrie 2

the Templar

The story…

Transylvania, 1944

Nobody knows when or how the race of vampires first came into the world. According to old church tradition, they are the sworn servants of Satan; demons embodied in the form of dead humans to terrorise the innocent. Other, less biased metaphysicians have theorised that they represent a more subtle form of spiritual attack against humanity: a form of contagious immortality to tempt both good and evil humans away from the path of holy redemption, while the few rationalists who believe in them insist that they are merely a natural but flawed evolution of humanity that failed to catch on. Whatever the truth, they were almost run to extinction in medieval times by the Holy Inquisition. The last widely-documented case – that of Princess Mariska Báthory de Ecsed – was violently ended in 1492, after the unwillingly-turned princess volunteered herself for a “cure” which, unbeknown to her, turned out to involve staking and decapitation.

Her “death” was assumed to have ended the spread of vampirism in Europe, until 1942, when British soldier Joe Harker, wounded and fleeing from the SS, spilled his blood onto her grave, restored her to life … and became the newest victim of the contagion, consort and mentor to the long out-of-touch princess. For two years, however, they lived together happily, the new prince gradually learning his undead powers whilst teaching his bride the facts of modern life, and modern war. Unfortunately, the Axis troops had taken good note of the bizarre, eerie events that had taken place in their territory, and they were again ready to act …

SS-Obersturmführer Bram von Hellman, biologist and dark occultist, has collated the evidence from their last, disastrous encounter with Princess Mariska, and persuades his superiors of the value in capturing and experimenting upon the legendary creatures. Accordingly, some SS troops are specially trained in spiritual defence techniques to give them the best possible chance of success. They trace the two vampires to the ruined castle from where Mariska’s father once ruled Transylvania, and they find themselves in luck: the princess is out hunting, and the prince has decided to have a “lie-in.” A quick dousing of holy water over his coffin puts paid to any thoughts of resistance, and the helpless, stunned vampire is sealed in an electrified leaden casket and driven away to the newly-constructed research camp which the SS have established near Bistritz.

“We have our prize catch,” gloats the Obersturmführer, as his delivery arrives. “Excellent, and now all we need for my experiments to begin are a few expendable human subjects. I think I know just where to find them …”

Holy Mother Romana Pasztor of Văratec Monastery has lived a life that makes up in meritorious deeds for whatever it lacks in excitement. A model of piety, justice, chastity, compassion, and generosity, now approaching her eightieth year, one might well have assumed that she would pass her remaining years in peaceful obscurity and contemplation, but war plays funny tricks …

When the SS arrived in Transylvania, and ugly rumours of their atrocities began spreading, she knew in her heart that she had no choice but to act. Thus, in secret, she arranged shelter and safe passage out of the country for the children of Jewish families who were otherwise threatened with imprisonment, or worse. She has six of these refugee children hidden away in the monastery when the Obersturmführer and his men come to call …

“I thought as much,” sneers von Hellman, as the children are dragged away while Mother Pasztor can only watch in despair. “Don’t look so grim about it, old girl. They’ll be put to good use, in the cause of science and of the Reich … and after I’ve signed a warrant for your execution, you can join all of those saints and martyrs whom you so love grovelling to.”

When most of the stormtroopers have left, Mother Pasztor is locked alone in her cell, watched over by a single guard. She weeps, and prays, and offers the Almighty anything at all for the lives of the children … “Even my own salvation, Lord, if that be worth anything to you.”

“Indeed?” says a voice from behind her. She starts, turns around, and finds herself face-to-face with a tall, pale woman of regal bearing, with long dark hair and shining red eyes. “I believe I hold the answer to your prayer, Holy Mother …”

The quest…

Having now become, against all expectation, an eternally-young vampire, the former Mother Pasztor has renounced her old title and accepted that of Lady Romana de Văratec, knight templar of Princess Mariska. For the Princess has realised that if she is to break through the Axis forces’ new spiritual defences and save her prince from torture and death, she will have need of such an ally … and Lady Romana has already proven herself a unique addition to the undead race.

Although, like all vampires, Lady Romana feels pain when she beholds the image of the cross, such pain does not trouble her. “Did my Saviour not feel such pain, or worse, when he was nailed to that?” she asks. “I count it a privilege.” Princess Mariska thinks that she is several bats short of a belfry, but does not discourage her in this belief. Also, when Lady Romana sees evil people making use of holy symbols, her faith takes on a whole new, highly dangerous dimension …

When her sense of righteousness is offended, Lady Romana’s holy wrath attack is activated, summoning a pyromaniacal angel of death that will quickly obliterate every enemy unit within sight. Notwithstanding this special power, Lady Romana’s skills as a new-made vampire are still weak, and she must use the weapons she can scavenge from the battlefield if she is to have a fair chance of success.

There are four weapons you can obtain …

Luger Pistol – The standard sidearm of the Axis forces. Reliable, but comparatively slow and weak, with a poor rate of fire and a short range.

Karabiner 98k – Bolt-action infantry rifle, with a long range and a large, high-velocity cartridge. Strong, but slow to reload.

MP40 – Machine pistol that fires the same slow, short-range 9mm rounds as the Luger, but far more rapidly.

StG 44 – This prototype assault rifle is the best weapon you can wield, combining the power of the Karabiner with the rapid fire of the MP40. Obtaining it carries a risk, however …

Also look out for the following …

Sacks / Children – The captured children are contained in sacks. Touch them to set them free. All six children must be set free in order to see the true ending.

Holy water roadside bombs – A novel ordnance concept; flasks of holy water attached to explosive charges. Against most vampires these would be highly effective traps, but against Lady Romana, they are a mere liability. Shoot them, and your holy wrath attack will activate, destroying all enemy units on-screen. However, DO NOT DETONATE THEM MANUALLY! The holy water may not trouble you much, but human or vampire, a faceful of exploding dynamite never comes recommended.

Enemy units you must prevail against include …

Flame troopers and templars – The latter are specifically trained in anti-vampire combat, harder to kill, and can use their flame-throwers more effectively. When fighting human opponents, always remember that you are a vampire. If you are able to, drink their blood in close combat rather than shooting them from afar, as every 10,000 “blood points” you can obtain will give you an extra life. The blood of templars is worth more than that of the standard SS troopers.

Mortars – Static cannons that fire explosive shells. Electrified, and thus lethal to the touch.

Kübelwagens – Among the various time-honoured ways of slaying a vampire, few hunters have bothered to mention the effects of running them over in a speeding Volkswagen. Nevertheless, don’t push your luck …

Molotov cocktails – Simple petrol bombs, lobbed from open windows. Beware of the fires they will leave if left to hit the ground.

Panzer II – “Light” tank, although not so light that you would want it trundling over you, nor one of its explosive shells in your face.

Turrets – These retractable gun emplacements can fire in a fixed pattern all around them, or randomly. They are toughly armoured.

Gunboats – These travel along the gorge below the Borgo Pass, firing shells upwards. Be careful if you venture too near the cliff edge.

Flettner Fl 282 – It takes a pilot with nerves of steel to fly this open-cockpit helicopter … and a vampire with a brain of wet sand to wander into the path of a low-flying one.

Electrodes – A powerful spark of lightning will regularly arc between these static traps. They are indestructible, so just time your passage with care.

Karl-Gerät – This massive, mobile siege cannon is not very agile, but it has tremendous power. Avoid its treads while paying all due caution to the huge explosive shells which it rains down upon you (or shoot them for an earlier and safer detonation, if you are quick enough).

The credits…

Created by Eleanor Burns, Richard Bayliss, and Jon Wells.

“Starring” Isobel Black, Audrey Hepburn, and Peter Lorre … kind of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2017

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9

“Wolves of Dacia” – Call For Readers

oldcomp

Finally, I have a finished draft of the vampire novel I have been wittering on about for ages. If anyone is interested in reading it and offering me whatever feedback they feel able to, good or critical or scathing, please drop me a PM. Synopsis follows…

Genre – Dark Fairytale / Dieselpunk / WW2

Pages – 409

Words – 176,988

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.

15

Gothic Dieselpunk

oldcomp

Manchester Mk1 Computer, late 1940s

…and if that isn’t a mouthful of a name for a genre, I don’t know what would be.

I am conscious this has recently turned into a blog for my weird artistic pursuits rather than for anything directly related to my transition, but so be it. Since my fiction has for many years been a channel (or a coping strategy) for my gender dysphoria, it may as well have its due as long as there is no more obviously relevant news, and real-life news has been pretty scarce for both the hubby and I of late.

This novel I am currently working on is now in the 90% region of completion, so I will fairly soon be pleading for readers… For the present, however, I would just appreciate opinions on this synopsis. I will be using this, or something like it, to pitch the finished story to potential publishers and / or agents, so please tell me if it fails to grab, or share any advice you may have for improving it (and be as harsh as you please).


Wolves of Dacia (Synopsis)

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.


HammerDracula

Christopher Lee as Dracula – just because nobody else ever looked that good or ever will look that good as a vampire…

10

And Now For Something Completely Off-Topic…

Creative hobbies are one of my best tactics for fending off depression, and it is not unknown (albeit rare) for them to occasionally produce fruit. On this occasion, after a lot of hair-tearing and false starts, I have a completed a game for the Commodore 64 8-bit computer (or emulator of). I have entered this into a competition running throughout this year until November on the site The New Dimension, hosted by C64 programmer and enthusiast Richard Bayliss, who also added the wonderful title music. The game also features my own tentative efforts at some reprogramming, since it was designed using a tool and engine which are, in and of themselves, rather constrained unless one takes the trouble to modify them. For those curious about such things, my extra subroutine is this…

fullprog

…and what this does is continuously roll a couple of background chars (4*8 pixel blocks), one up (for layered scrolling effect), one down (for waterfall effect); lock player 2’s vertical position to player 1’s; and end the game instantly if either player reaches zero lives. Since I am using player 2 for the final boss level, the code allows both players to be present without interfering with each other.

This was a new type of programming for me, very low-level and seemingly all based around shifting single values from one register / location to another. It was interesting, but rather fiddly and frustrating until I had gotten my head around it a bit. By contrast, writing the story of the game was an easy and fun task, not that I dare boast of it being any good. Thou mayest judge for thyselves…


valshot

Night of the Valkyrie

Transylvania, 1492

Fearing an imminent Ottoman invasion, the Voivode of Transylvania decides to forge a military alliance by marrying his daughter to some powerful house. “It will do her good, anyway,” he thought, as he wrote the letters to the nobles, inviting them to a grand feast. “Mariska is far too headstrong at the best of times. Better to marry her off now while I can still control the girl at all.”

On the night of the feast, however, although the princess was obedient to her father’s wishes, inwardly she was cursing her fate. The thought of a life spent married to any of these grim, ageing warlords, all of them caring more for the prestige and wealth they would gain from the alliance then for her, was such a miserable prospect that she half considered gathering up her books, saddling her palfrey, and riding away in secret. “But to where?” she thought. “Even if I could, my father would be dishonoured, and then defeated by his enemies. I could never do that to him.” So she remained, a picture of courtly misery, until she was approached by a mysterious noblewoman, dressed all in black and flashing her an enigmatic smile.

“I know what ails thee, child,” she greeted her, “and I believe I know the way to help. If you had power in your own right, then would your father need to pair you off with any of these decorated barbarians? Come, take a turn of the castle grounds with me, and I will show you a much better alternative.”

The feast was in full swing, and the two women were gone for several minutes before their absence was noted. Urgent shouts from the guards finally drew the voivode’s attention, and he rushed out into the grounds only to find the princess… dead.

She lay upon a stone bench, pale and staring, her neck pierced with a gruesome bite-mark, and an elegantly handwritten note pinned to her bloodstained dress. Distraught, the voivode took the note and read it, but it gave him very little reassurance:

My Lord,

I cannot count the friends, sisters, brothers, lovers, and children whom I have lost to the savagery of you and your priests. Since you invited the Holy Inquisition into this country, they have massacred my people, although we were keeping peacefully enough to ourselves. No more. I return your daughter to you, and perhaps when you see that she is no soulless vermin, you might think twice before exterminating any more of my kin. Or, you could be true to your convictions and decapitate her before she is able to revive, although I somehow doubt you will have the stomach for it.

My compliments, by the way: she put up quite a fight for a spoiled brat of mortal nobility. I don’t suppose you’ll have much luck marrying her off now, but you could always just loose her on the Turks as she is. I wouldn’t envy them.

Your servant,

Countess Carmilla Zaleska, c/o the Vampire Underground.

Unable, however, to destroy his own child, the miserable voivode quickly crumpled up the note and ordered the guards to carry the princess’s body to the castle crypt. When the nobles had left, greatly confused, he visited the crypt to find Mariska alive again… after a fashion. Her skin was still as pale as chalk, her tearful eyes were as red as garnets, and her long, sharp canine teeth erased any doubt as to her fate. “My own daughter… a strigoi,” he thought, bitterly, and wondered if he should have destroyed her to spare her tainted soul and to save his family name from dishonour, but before he could take any action she spoke, her voice full of remorse:

“Kill me, father,” pleaded Mariska. “I have failed you, and brought shame on our house. If the people learn what has become of me, they’ll rise up, and the church will desert you. My foolishness has cost you your alliance, but I will not be the cause of your total downfall. Please, kill me before they start to suspect the truth.”

“Never,” declared the voivode, now unable to repress his own tears. “Not now that I see and hear you. You are my daughter still, and innocent. We will keep you here in secret for now, and think of a way to persuade the people to accept you.” But even as he left the crypt, he dreaded to think how that could ever be.

Over the next few nights, Mariska adjusted to her new existence, and found that it had its advantages. Shape-shifting, flying, and pyrokinesis were all fascinating distractions from the sad fact of being a social pariah. Unfortunately, her father’s regular requests to the castle butcher to supply fresh blood quickly started the rumours flying, the peasants started gossiping, and after the incident at the feast became common knowledge, it was not long before the church took an interest.

“We know the truth, Your Highness,” declared the officers of the Inquisition to the fearful voivode, “and you cannot hope to cover it up indefinitely. But entrust your daughter to us, and we vow that we will cure her of this demonic contamination. We will return her to you in purity. If you do not, we cannot be held responsible should the common folk learn what she has become, and take matters into their own hands… and it may even be our sacred duty to help them, if you turn away from God.”

The threat greatly disturbed the voivode, but before he could come to a decision Mariska walked into the midst of the court. The priests, nobles, and servants all gasped at the sight of her, protected themselves with crosses and icons, and in a few cases ran for the doors, but the princess just walked through the commotion with sombre dignity, until she reached her father’s throne.

“I will agree to this ordeal, father,” she declared, sadly but firmly. “I am no ravening demon, but nor am I any kind of daughter to you if I leave you to be excommunicated and lynched… as these ‘holy’ men seem to be suggesting. If they believe they can purge me of this, however, then I will brave their trials.”

The voivode nodded, dejectedly. What else could he do? The whole court had now seen his vampire daughter, and although a few of them had been impressed at her conduct, he knew that would not be enough to save either of them. “Very well,” he agreed. “Cure her, then, but you had better do just that. Priests or not, play me false and I will make you look forward to Hell as a welcome relief.”

Begrudgingly, the inquisitors bowed their assent, then escorted the princess from the throne room and back down into her crypt. For several minutes faint noises could be heard issuing up the stairway: the echoes of chanted prayers and hymns, the ringing of bells… and then a horrible, high-pitched scream. The voivode immediately ordered his guards to intervene, but by the time they returned, dragging the blood-spattered inquisitors along with them, he knew from their faces that it was too late.

“My condolences, Your Highness,” said the lead inquisitor, with badly feigned sympathy. “The monster was uncontrollable and had to be put down, but her soul is now pure and at peace, as we promised. I might also add that any violence inflicted upon us could well be taken as an act of war by His Holiness in Rome, and thus by the whole of Christendom.”

Unable to deny this, the voivode was forced to release them. A few days later, while he was deep in mourning, a letter arrived for him written in an elegant and disturbingly familiar hand:

My Lord,

Apparently I misjudged your stomach as well as your hatred of my kind, but do not delude yourself that your daughter is now at peace. Her soul screams in Limbo, and you are not the one to release her. If we are bloodthirsty, I know not what to call you, but your reign is cursed by the death of an innocent, and your sordid pact with the holy butchers will not save you from your enemies. I do hope the Turks enjoy playing catch with your severed head, and cat’s cradle with your bowels.

Cordially Yours,

Countess CZ.


Transylvania, 1942

Deep within Axis-held territory, SS Panzer Division 6 have set up a dedicated prisoner-of-war camp to interrogate Allied commandos. It is guarded by stormtroopers, artillery pillboxes, motorcycle patrols, and armoured units. To mount a one-man-charge against such a place would be suicide, but this glaring fact was of no deterrence to Sergeant Joe Harker (Royal Marines).

“It’s the last thing they’ll be expecting,” he insisted. “I storm in, machine gun blazing, chucking grenades all over the shop, and I can always pick up more of those if I run out. No doubt they’ll have left grenade caches everywhere, the lazy, careless Fritzes. I’ll break their lines before they even know what’s hit ‘em and set our lads free.” Impressed by the sergeant’s courage, his CO approves this “plan” of attack, such as it is.

It does not go very well…

Five minutes into the battle, out of both bullets and grenades, and badly wounded, the sergeant takes refuge in the only hiding-place he can find: an ancient crypt, beneath the crumbling ruins of a castle. He makes his way to the deepest chamber and crawls up against a stone sarcophagus, sculpted with the worn image of a young woman and bearing the letter “M” in Gothic script. His blood trickles into the earth as he lies there, exhausted, and for awhile he loses all sense of his surroundings. Suddenly, harsh voices and the click of machine gun bolts rouses him to a very troubled awareness. He feels the cold barrel of a gun pressed into his head, but in a last act of desperate defiance, he seizes a rock from the ground, swings around, and clubs the stormtrooper in the face. The soldier falls to the ground, bleeding and cursing, but this small success does Harker no good, as a second soldier slams the butt of his gun into the sergeant’s back, leaving him with no realistic option but to keel over in agony.

“Get this scum out of here,” the SS-scharführer orders to his men, “and get the medic to patch him up. Kommandant Reinhardt will want him fit and healthy… at first, anyway, although after his interrogation he might wish we’d just left him to rot. The rest of you men, search this old bone-house. We might find something worth looting. Move it, at the double.”

As the stormtroopers drag the wounded commando away, none of them notice as a weird red mist starts to rise from the earth where the sergeant’s blood had fallen. When they have all left the chamber, the mist gathers into a solid form…

Princess Mariska looks around at the desolation, both afraid and excited. The time she spent in Limbo, dark and senseless, seems like a hideous eternity to her, and the simple freedom to move and feel again is a blessed salvation, but the castle she knew of old is now dank, lifeless, and ruined. She knows in her heart that everything she once knew has passed away, probably even including the treacherous woman who made her this way. “So I live again, but what is left for me?” she thinks, then she looks at the blood that still clings to the side of her tomb. “Unless…”

She takes a drop on her finger and tastes it. “A warrior’s blood… young… not very clever, perhaps, but brave and true,” she senses, with revived hope. “Some knight errant must have heard my sad story, and has taken pity on me. He has sought out my grave, and spilled his own blood to resurrect me. Surely, then, he will not refuse to share this strange existence with me. At least I shall not be alone… but where is he?” As she looks around, confused, her gaze falls upon another patch of blood on the ground near her tomb. She tastes it, and her face twists in disgust as its character hits her: cruelty, hatred, and slavishness, accompanied by horrible images of brutality, torture, and murder. Among the images, however, she sees a young man wearing strange green clothes, along with a metal helmet covered in netting and leaves, and she feels a deep connection, as well as an inhuman rage. “My knight… captured by these barbarians,” she realises, horrified and incensed. “They mean to take him to their castle and torture him. Not while I live and… Well, not while I have anything to do with it, anyway.”

Thus, four and a half centuries after her death, Princess Mariska finally found a purpose worthy of her mettle…

17

Burning Bridges and Glitching Vampires

My silence has been repeatedly noted, so I thought it time to type a quick assurance that contrary to the evidence Cal and I are still alive and well, and continuing as planned with our transitions. There have, alas, been no positive developments, though, and this week I find myself a somewhat lonelier trans lady…

Some may already be aware of what transpired mainly on Twitter this week, but if not then I’m afraid I must be vague. Suffice it to say that a very dear friend of mine has, unfortunately, felt the need to cut ties with most of her circle, including me. How I managed to upset her I have no idea and may never know, but since she was rather a controversial figure in her way, I have already shed a few friends and followers for having been so close to her.

I am hurt, but should I be offended? I was not the only friend thus soft-blocked, and her critics are now gleefully assassinating her character and chiding all those who trusted her. To be honest, though, I find myself just sad and sick of the whole thing. While I worry that she did not do herself complete justice (though from what I can gather very few do on Twitter), the fact was I admired her immensely, and still do; saw so much of myself in her, not to mention traits I only wished that I possessed; and I was so touched by her kindness and encouragement towards me that to see her encouraging the social media community to think and spread the worst opinions of her is mortifying.

But perhaps that is the very point of it, and by burning all her virtual bridges she hopes to move forward in real life, away from a medium that seemingly brings out so much anger in her. I hope so, and I hope I may one day hear more of her, and that it will all be good news. In the meantime, I may follow her example again, and go back to keeping only a very discreet profile on social media. My attempt to draw inspiration from her radical feminist politics has only backfired ironically, and reminded me of how divisive trans voices unfortunately still are within these circles.

At any rate, my friend has declared herself apolitical and the last I heard of her, she has devoted herself to writing. That seems a pretty healthy resolution, from what I know. I don’t know that I will ever make a difference to the world that way, but through fiction I find I can express myself a lot more deeply (and hopefully entertainingly) than in real life. Not to mention, of course, the welcome distraction it provides from the interminable wait the NHS still refuse to provide any relief over.

In more trivial news, I have just finished a Commodore 64 game which will hopefully be entered into a competition next month. I am a little proud, as it does include my first tentative efforts at programming in 6502 Assembly (a cross between hex code and utter gibberish), and will, God willing, not just crash everyone’s emulators. Unsurprisingly, it’s about vampires. In love. Fighting Nazis. They don’t glitter, though. Just glitch a little.

13

The Liebster Award

liebsteraward-roses

I have been nominated for a Liebster Award by the wonderful Nikki of A Kinder Way. Thus, feeling appropriately humbled, I will give it my best to honour the distinction…

Rules as follows:

the-rules

So profuse thanks to Nikki, and here are the nominees (though I stress I will not be put out if anyone chooses not to do this):

Ambivalence Girl
Aoife Eschatology
Daniella’s Ramblings
Fairy Jerbear’s Queer / Trans News
Kira Moore’s Closet
La Quemada (Believe the Girl)
Oh Mia God
Queering the Nerd
Raising Orlando
Transgender Tish
Translucidity

My Answers to Nikki’s Questions:

  1. Why did you start your blog?
    I was advised by my best friend to document my transition.
  2. What was the last kind thing you did for yourself?
    Dressed and made-up in my best Gothic fashion for an LGBT+ support group, which proved a slight miscalculation as that evening’s group had been integrated with a Methodist service. They looked surprised…
  3. What was the last kind thing you did for someone else?
    Bought lunch for the aforementioned friend.
  4. What is your favourite way to pass time besides the computer/phone.
    Writing fiction.
  5. If you could spend an hour with anyone, who would it be?
    My handsome hubby, Cal.
  6. What is the last thing you ate?
    Cadbury’s chocolate buttons. Very mature, I know…
  7. What was the last book you read?
    Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own.
  8. What are you passionate about?
    Faith, fiction, husband, Gothiness, transition, transpolitics, in no particular order (though hubby first, obviously).
  9. You just won a trip to anywhere in the world. Where do you go?
    San Francisco. Or possibly Transylvania.
  10. What is your guilty pleasure?
    Vampires (see above).
  11. What is your dream career?
    Countess (also see above). Failing that, author.

11 random facts about me:

  1. Doctorate in English Literature… Gothic, unsurprisingly.
  2. Taught English for a year in China. Loved it.
  3. Married to a Frenchman since 2013…
  4. …but cannot speak French worth a damn…
  5. …though I did once write him a probably quite terrible love poem in dodgy Latin.
  6. My longest (and current) job is parcel sorter for Royal Mail. I have stuck it that long because it gives me enough money to work part-time and thus write…
  7. …not to mention job-hunting is perhaps my least favourite thing to do ever.
  8. Flautist, though not a professional level one. I did once play in a hippie-electro band called “Little Eris,” though.
  9. Have written about half a dozen novels, though to date have only published two (and none as yet under my post-transition name).
  10. The author who got me writing in the first place was the late Terry Pratchett, and my fantasy writing to this date tends to pay conscious homage to him (though I tend to opt for grimmer worlds).
  11. Other favourite authors include Jane Austen, C S Lewis, Julian of Norwich, and J R R Tolkien.

11 questions to my nominees:

  1. Why did you start your blog?
  2. Has it fulfilled your expectations for it?
  3. How do you feel about the Internet as a social environment?
  4. If you could meet one world leader, who would it be?
  5. And if you could give them one bit of advice and / or criticism, what would it be?
  6. What issue do you care most about?
  7. If you could eliminate one thing from the world, what would it be?
  8. What is your Dungeons and Dragons alignment? (I try to be chaotic good as much as possible, though I suspect I mainly just manage gratuitously nerdy…)
  9. Who is your favourite Doctor Who?
  10. If you had a TARDIS, where / when would you take it?
  11. And if you could be any alien or fantasy species, which would you opt for?

Good luck with that lot, dear folks… xxx

7

Mutant Musings

JudiBmini

(Judi Bowker as Mina Harker in “Count Dracula,” BBC version, 1977)


A good friend of mine recently declared her intention to draw back from the depressingly polarised, prejudiced world of social media activism and instead express herself through her own dedicated writing. This seems an excellent idea to me, having myself spent far too much time and energy in activist circles, to no avail. The main difference being that my comrade will be devoting herself to serious writing on transgenderism and psychoanalysis, while I will be writing about vampires.

This is not my first try. I did bang out a short vampire novel in 2007, to pass the time during my year of ESL teaching in Beijing, but it was a pretty sketchy attempt. This time I am aiming for a longer work, and one that will be much lighter on romance elements and put more emphasis on the twisted parental aspects of vampirism. I am hopeful when complete that it will have a strong female protagonist (though not for me to be the judge), a convincingly depicted setting (Romania, circa both World Wars), and nevertheless a clear fairytale ethos. As C S Lewis, whom I shamelessly namedrop in chapter 12, expressed it…

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

(From On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature)

…which sentiment, to give it its due, also helps me to feel a lot better for being so inexorably drawn to a trope which has produced no end of prose and film of dubious artistic and moral quality.

What is it about vampires that keeps drawing me back to the genre? One pretty obvious answer would have to be the theme of change, and that the change is often depicted as a release from some debilitating state, be it fear of death, fear of age, powerlessness, repression, etc. Of course, nine times out of ten this release comes with an appalling catch in the small print. Vampires, by and large, are not welcome in society, which may also be a factor of my empathy / interest, although the reasons for this exclusion are of course pretty solid… Lestat and Louis may add a touch of decadent class to one’s party, but no-one would wish to be stuck with the task of cleaning up after them. Irredeemably evil depictions are not the be-all and end-all, however. Although the preeminent mythos established in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and massively popularised since depicts vampires as demonically reanimated corpses, the trope of more sentient and sympathetic vampires is older. Theophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse (1836) is particularly ambiguous, depicting its vampire anti-heroine Clarimonde as an emotionally complex being who is deeply hurt and embittered by the eventual betrayal of her lover – a young, morally conflicted priest; who survives his attempt on her (un)life; and who subsequently abandons him to the life of celibacy and regret he has chosen.

But this, of course, leads to another massive moral caveat: in general, the depiction of women in vampire fiction is less than inspiring, and has a nasty tendency to focus on misogynistic, medieval tropes of carnality and sub-humanity versus the reason and morality generally represented by male heroes of the Van Helsing mould. This is occasionally presented in a deconstructive or satirical way – the ironic coda of La Morte Amoureuse makes clear that the life of priestly repression the hero has chosen will not bring him peace – but the sexist dichotomy remains (and to make it even more unnecessarily blatant, Clarimonde is depicted as having been a courtesan in life). One of the most famous, squicky, and totally unsubtle examples would have to be the oft-depicted turning of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. Her mutation from cloying, girlish sweetness (which is seen as a positive state) to unbridled sensuality and sadism, and her bloody redemption-by-staking at the hands of her former fiancé, ironically depicted in the same year the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was founded, has to be one of the most distasteful and untimely subplots in English literary history.

But Dracula almost redeems itself in the character of Mina Murray / Harker, who comes into her own in the latter half of the novel. Film versions have a bad tendency to underplay her agency in the story, and make her into a damsel in distress or even worse into a love interest for Count Dracula, neither of which is actually faithful to the book. A middle-class intellectual, Mina is an independent, employed woman, although sadly disdainful of the Suffrage Movement. Nevertheless, she emerges as one of the most pro-active and clued-up characters in the book, being the one who actually collates and makes sense of all of the diary entries and newspaper clippings that testify to Dracula’s evil intentions. In spite of thus being the main provider of intelligence, the male characters then decide to sideline her for her own safety while they set off to heroically kill the monster. This backfires hideously, as Dracula just takes the opportunity to drop in on Mina while they are all gone, mentally and physically abuse her, then infect her with his tainted blood to inflict a slow and humiliating mutation. This is the scene which has, in film, got into the unfortunate habit of being a big romantic moment…

This, however, backfires even more horribly on Dracula, as Mina has now become telepathically privy to his movements. Having now learned from their mistake and having fully included her in their hunters’ cabal, the heroes start doing much better, making use of Mina’s insight to track the Count’s movements, destroy all of his London-based sanctuaries, and follow him back to Europe. Mina’s mutation progresses to the point that she can no longer eat, sleep normally, or cross spiritual wards, but she holds onto her personality, and memorably chides Van Helsing for his ill-timed gallantry when he nearly steps out of a warding circle to drive some minion vampires away from her. As she sagely points out, there is not a whole lot more they can do to her.

Dracula comes a cropper soon afterwards, although not, alas, at her hand. The decapitation scene in the 1992 film version is its own invention, although it certainly did not pioneer the highly dubious romance between Mina and Dracula – Universal’s 1979 version was there way before it. She does get to wield a rifle and shoot one of Dracula’s goons in the BBC’s 1977 adaptation, which probably captures the spirit of the novel’s character more than any other: her morality, her intelligence, her courage, her being undervalued by the male characters, and the wretched injustice of her fate. Notably, it is the only version I know of that includes the scene where Van Helsing attempts to bless her with a host wafer – shortly after her contamination – and in spite of the fact that she has neither consented to her mutation nor succumbed to evil, the talisman burns and scars her. The sense that the whole of patriarchal existence, right up to its God, is out to get her for no good reason at all is starkly apparent. One can only conjecture if Stoker wrote more into this than he was necessarily aware of.

I suspect there will be quite a bit of the original Mina in my next protagonist, albeit without the disdain for her contemporary feminists. Nobody’s perfect.