Reading the Vampire

Blood Clot under microscope. Image from

I’ve just written a short essay on Dracula. It’s a scene study and had to include a comparison between a passage from a book and a scene from a film. It didn’t have to be an adaptation of the book, but whichever book and film I chose they had to have some relevance to each other.

It’s only a couple of years since I read Dracula for the first time, I did a blog post on it here, and knew that Coppola’s film version was a little bit different, including a love story that didn’t appear anywhere in the book.

That was my starting point. I was going to write on the changes in characterisation of the vampire between Stoker’s evil monster, meant to repulse the reader, and Coppola’s anti-hero who invokes sympathy in the viewer. Instead, I ended up writing a comparison of the blood transfusion scenes and how they related to fears and anxieties present at the Nineteenth Century fin de siècle that emerged again during the late twentieth century. That’s the thing about close reading – once you start, a simple analysis can lead you down all kinds of roads until you end up with something entirely different from what you initially thought the text/film was about.

As a result, it became an essay about contagion, sexual danger, syphilis and AIDS. The connection, of course, is the vampire as a symbol of disease and plague transmitted through blood.

In class, we’ve looked at how the vampire has changed over time from aristocratic monster, ravaging the countryside whilst feeding on the blood of peasants (Stoker’s vampire was based on Vlad Dracul whilst Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire, Carmilla, has leanings towards Countess Bathory) to sparkly, teenage, lovesick puppy. We also watched Jim Jarmusch’s strangely mesmerising Only Lovers Left Alive. The ‘good stuff’ (blood that can only be obtained through dealers that work in hospitals) appears to be a narcotic substance in an unspecified dystopian future where human blood is contaminated with an undisclosed disease and the vampires refer to humans as zombies.

This means, of course, that I can see very well where my own little vampire romance novel sits on the timeline and there’s definitely no hint of a glisten, a twinkle or even a shimmer. Nathan Blackwood has a job, a social conscience and a coffin full of secrets. Whilst I’ve taken a more traditional view of the vampire, the aversion to sunlight, the need for blood etc, I have introduced some contemporary elements. Incidentally, both Carmilla and Dracula could tolerate daylight, but their powers were diminished, so perhaps we shouldn’t consider this a traditional a trait after all.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter


Gothic Beginnings

I was a solitary child, playing alone in the shadowed confines of the garden, gathering sycamore seeds and autumn leaves and chattering to Henrietta, the girl who wasn’t there. As an adult, I discovered there had been a real girl called Henrietta who had lived and worked as a domestic servant in the vicarage that had once existed on the spot where our house was built.

One night there came the sound of slow, heavy footsteps climbing the stairs. It was just mum and me in the house and we’d both gone to bed.  ‘Is that you, Helen?’ she called out. I replied that it wasn’t. We’d both heard it, but neither one of us went to investigate. In my mind, it was simply the echo of the old vicar retiring to bed himself.

I’d always believed that the house we lived in had been a part of the vicarage, but I recently found a picture of it and was disappointed to find that it was a much grander building that had been demolished and replaced by our little row of houses.

The vicarage

I lived in a world of perpetual imagination. Mad scientists worked in the portacabins on the car park at the bottom of our street. I knew this because the desks were strewn with glass beakers, Bunsen burners and test tubes. Their white lab coats hovered like ghosts in the semi-dark after everyone had  gone home for the night.

But the most influential and Gothic element of my childhood was the Victorian mansion that stood opposite my own home and in whose grounds and rooms I spent as much time as I was allowed. It was my Green Knowe. I spent many a day dreaming up stories about the phantom children that occupied its rooms and often expected to see a leafy St Christopher striding past the high stone wall with Tolly on his shoulders. I never saw him, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t, one day.

St Christopher with Tolly on his shoulders from The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

If you climbed the grand staircase that greeted you as you entered the house and went on up to the attic you’d find a variety of dusty and cobwebbed vintage organs left over from days gone by. In the bowels of the house you’d be confronted by the giant bat that blotted out the light from the only window. The bat was a crumpled sheet of newspaper, but that’s what it looked like to me.

During World War I the house had been used for the rehabilitation of sick and wounded soldiers, one of whom had made a small teddy bear whilst he waited for his wounds to heal and had left it behind when he left. I often took it down from the shelf and wondered what has happened to the soldier who’d made it or if he’d been drawn back to the house as one of its ghosts.

It was here that I met the other Helen, the owner’s grand-daughter who, not only had the same name as me, but was the same age and when I think about it probably looked a lot like me too. A case of Gothic doubling! On one of her visits I was allowed to stay the night. We were put to bed in the master bedroom in a bed that was much larger than the double bed my parents had. I was too excited to sleep and spent the night scaring ‘my twin’ with tales of ghosts and ghouls and convincing her that the heavy blue drapes that covered the windows were moving in some supernatural breeze from the otherworld.

When the house was put up for sale and the company over the road (the one with the mad scientists) purchased it and demolished it to make another car park I was distraught. Where would my ghosts roam now?  When they cleared the garden and chopped down the trees the kestrel that made it’s plaintiff cry from the chimney each night was never heard again, the raven, that I’d nicknamed ‘Soot’ after Dickon’s pet in The Secret Garden also flew away. And here was the real horror – that someone could carelessly discard the many beautiful objects, furniture and personal possessions representing decades of memories of a person’s life without a second thought. The vintage organs, the highly polished mahogany dining table and anything else the owner didn’t have room for in her new flat in a sheltered housing complex was to be left behind and skipped. I don’t know what happened to the teddy bear.

As the house came down, brick by brick, I wept. It still angers and upsets me, but the house lives on in my memory. I can still open the wrought iron gate, walk up the driveway to the porch, push open the door and stand in the hallway with its black and white tiled floor, turn left into the dining room and run my fingers along the polished table, play a few notes on the piano, pick up the teddy bear from the dresser where the patterned soup tureens line the shelves and then walk out through the white French doors down the three steps onto the cool grass of the lawn. Those French windows make an appearance in Blackfeather in Kate’s lounge.

Or I can turn right into the living room and lie on the yellow chaise longue in front of an immense stone fireplace. Even the biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen couldn’t make this room feel small and cramped and it was always a real tree that shed its needles on the thick patterned carpet. Or I can walk along the corridor by the stairs, past the door to the cellar and turn into the kitchen with its beautiful cream painted cupboards, long wooden counters and Belfast sink beneath the window. The airy space is filled with sunlight and the greenhouse attached to the kitchen overflows with ripe tomatoes and fat juicy courgettes.

One day this house will become the setting for a time slip romance story I’m going to write in which a young woman inherits an old house and meets the ghost of a World War I soldier.

Nothing could replace Springwood House, but during my teenage years, my friends and I often visited a nearby stately home where the Fairfax family had lived during the English Civil Wars. A house this old always has more than its fair share of ghosts. The haunted room where the Jacobean cradle used to rock to the touch of an invisible hand was our favourite, followed by the mark on the floor of the great hall which legend has it was the indelible blood stain of a murder victim.

I didn’t know, back then, that there was such a thing as The Gothic. It’s only through studying it as part of my degree that I can look back and see the gothic elements of my childhood and the influence they’ve had on my own writing and reading habits and my insatiable desire to know what’s behind every closed door or investigate where a spiral staircase leads. And what a glorious childhood it was, free from adult responsibility, the ability to read whatever I chose and dream for hours on end. It may have been solitary, but I was never lonely.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter



Ignoring Advice from Stephen King

File:Onwriting.jpgOn Writing by Stephen King isn’t really a book of advice for writers, its about one man’s journey to becoming a writer. The advice is there between the anecdotes and the difficulties he’s encountered along the way. If there is one thing he believes is the best way to write a book it’s to get the story out from beginning to end without plotting in advance because you just don’t know where the story is going to take you.

That’s true, I have written scenes where my characters have taken over, said or done something I wasn’t expecting and taken the story in an unexpected direction which meant having to change the plan, often substantially. In the story I’m currently writing Cora’s tutor tells her something I expected to keep secret from her for a few more chapters. I couldn’t believe he’d done that. It changed everything and the twenty thousand word synopsis I’d written suddenly became obsolete.

I had two choices. I could rewrite the scene the way I’d originally planned or I could stick with the new version and see what happened, adapting the plan I thought I would be following as I went along. Since I liked the new version, and I think these spontaneous changes happen for a reason, I decided to stick with it.

Like Mr King, a lot of my ideas begin with a ‘what if’ moment, but I have to transfer that initial flash of light bulb inspiration into an outline and from there I compile a chapter list, breaking the story up into pieces, scene by scene, so I have something to follow. Then I can write the scenes that have already formed in my head. I rarely write the story in order and only work from chapter to chapter if no other scenes present themselves.

I often edit as I go too. A big no no if you’re trying to get the story out from start to finish. But when I step away from the keyboard at the end of a writing session the scene bubbles away in my subconscious, throwing up words, descriptions and dialogue that weren’t there during a first frantic typing. Better to go back and put them in now before they fade from memory as quickly as they emerged.

If I had the luxury of being able to sit and write and write for hours on end, instead of grabbing the odd fifteen minutes or so before having to leave the house or fit it in to the breaks between lectures, would I follow Stephen King’s advice? Probably not.

I like having my map, but even the map gets redrawn when the story starts to write itself and escapes the boundaries into new territory. It’s a guide not a rule book. If I’d written Blackfeather from start to finish when I first had the idea it would have been a stand-alone story with a soppy happy ending and, thankfully, that didn’t happen. Of course, editing might have changed that. In the end it’s not how you get the story down that’s important, only that you do.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter


Summer’s End

Summer’s End -sounds like it should be the title of a tragic romance novel, but no, it’s that time of year where I start to panic that time is running out and begin frantically looking up the price of academic text books. In a few short weeks I’ll be back at uni getting to grips with Victorian literature and the Vikings  and of course that means less time for writing.

Not that I’ve done much writing in the last few weeks. I admit I have been sidetracked by other things – namely a one hundred year old postcard of my house, the personal columns in newspapers of the 1900s, and getting reacquainted with my arty side.  It’s been a long time since I did any painting so I am having to relearn a lot of things I haven’t done since school.

Persephone Reborn (still not sure this is the best title) has been left to bubble away at the back of my mind, primarily because I’m having to restructure some of the scenes. I had a very clear plan of where I was going and what happened from chapter to chapter, but then one of the characters said something that changed all that and well… who am I to argue with a character?

I’ve promised myself, that whatever the workload,  I am going to be super organised and ultra disciplined, keep to a timetable planned with military precision, get up early so there are more hours in the day, but I’m also realistic and often at the mercy of fibromyalgia which wears me out and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep a lot. Luckily, I don’t lack for determination, so everything does get done – eventually.

In the meantime, I have just under three weeks of summer break left, writing this post is a good start to getting on with it all and in future ones I’ll explain about the postcard and the personal columns…

found on Pinterest (missing an apostrophe in it’s – tut tut).

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter


This Is How I Disappear


In my ‘office’ there is a set of three drawers containing various bits and bobs, in the bottom drawer of which you will find folders of loose sheets of paper and handwritten  notebooks with story ideas, chapters from novels, some typed up later, some not. Then there are the electronic files of first drafts, revisions, notes on characters and snippets of dialogue, scene descriptions etc.  The trouble is I have these files stored on two laptops and an external hard drive with copies  of copies and folders within folders all with the same name and I’m never sure which is the latest version or even if there is a latest version – frankly it has got rather out of hand.

I decided I was going to have a sort out and deleted as many redundant copies as possible along with old drafts of Blackfeather and Immortal and some of my short stories because I figured they were no longer needed now the books have been completed and published.

Then this Thursday I attended a lecture by Dr James Bainbridge entitled Texts and Variants in which he talked about the differences in similar texts produced by A.S.J. Tessimond over several years of his life. Tessimond was an accomplished poet, copy-writer, womaniser and mystery. Throughout his life he used over forty alternate identities, fell in love with prostitutes and models at the drop of a hat, even travelling to Rome after tracking one model down from a photograph he discovered in a shop in London having decided ‘She was the one’.  When he died he left a friend in charge of his manuscripts, but there was one problem – there were no manuscripts.

It was Dr Bainbridge who discovered Tessimonds lost archive of letters, photographs and writings in an attic in Lancaster. He has been writing and researching the man ever since.

In his lecture, Dr Bainbridge showed us several versions of the same passage written by Tessimond over three years. Each one had slight variations, going through the process of editing and revision as any writer does with their work, but in one the final passage had something missing. Tessimond had been reminiscing about a time when people travelled on open topped trams. In the first version of his tale he wondered what they did when it rained, speculating that they either put up umbrellas or retreated to the lower deck, but in the final version he missed this crucial information merely stating that people travelled on open topped trams and that wearing hats would provide some protection. The reader, without access to the first draft, is left wondering protection from what?

Tessimond underwent electro-compulsive therapy during his life to treat severe depression. You can see from the deterioration of his handwriting how this ‘therapy’ effected him. He once said: ‘I’ve been writing for weeks now and I can’t understand a word I’ve written.’ It also made him forget large parts of his life, wiping both short and long term memory so that in redrafting parts of his writing he could no longer remember what the initial point of his story was. Hence the non-sensical final draft of the passage about his early life. I felt incredibly sorry for Tessimond and wrote on my notes ‘he is starting to disappear’. At the time I thought, there’s the kernel of an interesting story in there, but if I got any further with the idea I have forgotten it!

I’ve contemplated throwing out the piles of papers and books in the bottom drawer, but haven’t quite been able to bring myself to do it. I think now I’ll hold on to them. If anyone ever finds those scribblings  or what’s left of my files on some computer hard drive or other I imagine they’re going to be incredibly annoyed at my deleting the stuff I have. I feel a bit regretful myself too now. They are, after all, an archive of my progress from first starts to final edit. In future I shall make sure to keep a copy of everything – but only one – OK maybe two, just in case.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

X Marks The Spot

Whilst writing Blackfeather I used several real life locations as settings within the book including the place where I live – Liverpool. This is where Kate lived in her past life as Evelyn Markham.

If you’ve read the book you’ll know this is a tragic tale which ends in a double suicide in the year 1873. This was the Victorian period and part of Liverpool was undergoing a wonderful transformation.

A beautiful park was being built a short distance from the city centre and  brand new villas for the well to do families of the era were springing up around the edges of the park.

The park began life in 1867 when the Liverpool Corporation bought the land from the Earl of Sefton. They decided to hold a competition to see who could come up with the best design and it was a French architect, Edouard Andre and a local architect, Lewis Hornblower, who won with their French style design.

They included a cricket ground, sheep and deer parks and a boating lake in their plan and the park was opened, in all its Victorian splendour, in 1872.

The Fairy Glen in Sefton Park, Liverpool Image from

When Ash first meets Evelyn, in the Fairy Glen under the Iron Bridge in 1873, this had only just been added and it was a popular meeting place for the Victorians who promenaded in the park at that time. Some of the houses were still under construction and wouldn’t be finished until 1890, but others, like Evelyn and Sebastian’s house were already being snapped up to be lived in.
Their house is the very last one on the row after the cricket ground. and just below the semi-circle next to that row is where the iron bridge and fairy glen are situated. This is where Ash would stand to watch over Evelyn, close to her, but shielded from view by the trees that surround the grounds of the house.

The Iron Bridge

Today, many of the houses have been turned into flats or hotels, but you can still get a feel for the Victorian period as you walk around the area and the Palm House, which was added to the park in 1896 has been renovated and restored in recent years. I think Evelyn would have loved to spend time here looking at the exotic plants from all over the world, but of course she never saw it in her lifetime.

sefton palm house

Sefton Palm House

Below is a map of the park, the little red x marks the spot where Ash and Evelyn met and the arrow points to the house.

1867 design of Sefton Park with marks


In a future post I’ll show you what Sebastian and Evelyn looked like and some modern day photos of their house.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Why Are All The Angels Naked?

I’ve spent the last two hours trawling through book cover design websites that offer both pre-made and custom book cover designs and have noticed a few things.

1. That prices for book covers have soared in the last two years.

2. That covers are often quite similar,this is most evident in the romance category and therefore this crosses over into paranormal romance too with some designers using the same elements on several covers. Ive also spotted different designers using the same elements as each other on covers in the same categories. Oh and I’m pretty sure that you’re not supposed to use images of well known actors or characters from T.V. Series (Angelus from Buffy – yes really!) I don’t want to find myself in a copyright lawsuit.

3. That buying a design only covers you for a certain number of sales, then you need to purchase an extended license to keep using that cover. (Some sites, not all)


4. That all the angels are naked.


Do they have nothing better to do than come down to Earth to seduce their charges? Are they kicked out of Heaven with nothing but the wings on their backs?

I’m beginning to wonder if my idea of romance is completely at odds with everyone else. Paranormal romance books often feature sexual content (mine is no exception, though it’s left up to the readers imagination to fill in the details), but  if that sexual content is foremost in the writing, if the plot revolves around the protagonists “getting it on” or taking it off, doesn’t that make it erotica? And that, for me, is a different genre altogether. A cover image of a man and woman with their mouths glued to each other doesn’t tell me anything about your book. Does it actually have a plot, a quest, an adventure, a mystery? Or is it just about the sex?

Perhaps we should take pity on these angels if the only item of clothing they own is a well placed feather; start a charity for example, donate 10% of all our book sales to “Jumpers for the Fallen” or “Armani for Angels”. I happen to know that Lucifer loves an Armani suit, though I doubt he needs my help to buy him one.

I came away from my cover search disappointed and frustrated. I’m a writer not a cover designer, but it seems the only way to get what you want, at a price you can afford, is to become a Jack of All Publishing Trades.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter