Monday, 21 May 2012

CFP: Returning to Oz: The Afterlife of Dorothy

Thursday 7th February 2013
Manchester, UK


Papers are sought for a one-day conference in Manchester on representations and interpretations of Dorothy and Oz in popular culture. This conference seeks to address the perennial popularity of L. Frank Baum’s creations, and to explore their most recent incarnations.

Possible themes may include (but are not limited to):
• Film, TV and animated adaptations
• Sequels and prequels (other than Baum’s series); translations, editions and revisions
• Music and musicals
• Kitsch
• ‘Friends of Dorothy’ and gay culture
• MGM and Judy Garland
• Graphic novels and visual art
• Merchandise, memorabilia and ephemera

This conference is the sister project to our Further Adventures in Wonderland: The Afterlife of Alice project. As such, papers are also welcomed that offer some comparison of the respective afterlives of Alice and Dorothy, or that deal with texts featuring both characters. For more information on our Afterlife of Alice conference, please click here.

Abstracts of 250-300 words (for a 20 min paper) should be sent via email to the conference convenors by 30th September 2012.

Selected papers may be invited for inclusion in an academic collection of essays following the conference.

For information, please click here.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Journal Announcement and Call for Submissions: Monsters and the Monstrous

Volume 2, Number 2
Special Issue on Monstrous Pedagogy: Teaching and Reading the Twilight Saga

As we approach the release of the final cinematic installment of the Twilight Saga we want to focus on monsters and pedagogy and in particular the relation between “Twilight and the Classroom”. How do we teach Twilight? Why do we teach Twilight? Should we teach Twilight?

The Editors welcome contributions to the journal in the form of articles, reviews, reports, art and/or visual pieces and other forms of submission on the following or related themes:

● Twilight and Gender and Sexuality Studies

● Twilight and Literary Studies

● Twilight and Cultural Studies

● Twilight and Film Studies

● Twilight and Race, Ethnicity, and Indigeneity

● Twilight and Disability Studies

● Twilight and Religious Studies

● Twilight and Psychology

● Twilight and Sociology

Submissions for this Issue are required by Friday 3rd August 2012 at the latest.

Contributions to the journal should be original and not under consideration for other publications at the same time as they are under consideration for this publication. Submissions are to be made electronically wherever possible using either Microsoft® Word or .rtf format.

Length Requirements:

Articles - 5,000 – 7,000 words

Reflections, reports and responses - 1,000 – 3,000 words

Book reviews - 500 – 4,000 words

Artworks and photographs (Copyright permissions required)

Poems, prose and short stories

Other forms of contributions are also welcome

Submission Information:

Send submissions via e-mail using the following Subject Line: ‘Journal: Contribution Type (article/review/...): Author Surname’ and marked "Monstrous Pedagogy."

Submissions E-Mail Address

Submissions will be acknowledged within 48 hours of receipt.

Contributions are also invited for future issues of the journal which will include: "Monstrous Spaces/ Spaces of Monstrosity" and "Monstrous Beauty."

We also invite submission to our special features on Non-English Language Book Reviews, and Monstrous Pedagogy. Please mark entries for these topics with their respective headings.

We look forward to folks getting involved in and with the journal.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Review: Graeme Reynolds, High Moor (Horrific Tales Publishing, 2011)

High Moor is the debut novel by UK writer Graeme Reynolds. The book – told in three parts – tells the story of John, Michael and Marie (though mostly John), three friends who live in High Moor (near Durham) in the North East of England. Part 1 (set in 1986) begins when the protagonists are children, spending their time making camps and dens in the woods, and being terrorized by Malcolm Harrison and his gang of sadistic little thugs. One night, when Michael and Marie’s older brother David returns alone to their treehouse to retrieve some tools, something awful appears from out of the woods...

That’s right (in case you hadn’t guessed, given my usual material), High Moor is a werewolf novel. And it makes no bones about it. Before we even get to Part 1, the prologue, set in 2008, reveals a man who struggles to keep himself contained during his monthly transformation, an attack on a man out walking his dog, and a news report about the return of the ‘legendary High Moor Beast’, thought to have been killed over twenty years earlier. As we are taken back to 1986, we can’t help but feel a certain sense of fear for the children who play in the woods. And sure enough, it’s not long before one of them falls victim to the ‘High Moor Beast’. As the story unfolds, we find first David, and then Michael and John having to face this lycanthropic foe.

Added to this, High Moor has a policeman who goes against his superiors after realizing they are dealing with werewolf attacks, and the grizzled ‘expert’ he drafts in to help him, but who is haunted by his own past experiences with werewolves. Cue lots of silver weaponry and tethered goats used as bait.

Make no mistake, Reynolds’s werewolves are old-school: good old-fashioned, rip-your-throat-out lycanthropes. These are the creatures we know from The Wolf-Man and An American Werewolf in London, and the book has echoes of both films throughout. Only at a couple of points are we led to feel any sympathy for the attacking werewolves, though we identify with the humans who are turned following a bite.

It’s actually been a while since I’ve read this sort of werewolf story. I think I put that down to the fact that I read more female werewolf fiction, and female werewolves have a tradition of their own (which is a subtle plug for the book I’m putting together on this very subject, of course). But I think I’d also forgotten how much I enjoy this type of story. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a good ‘sympathetic werewolf just wants to find love’ tale. And I’m fascinated by all the stories out there about werewolves living (passing?) amongst humans. But, sometimes, you just want a creepy ‘there’s something lurking in the woods’ book. And Reynolds doesn’t disappoint on this score.

High Moor is a well-written adventure/horror, with a believable cast of characters and a nice dash of local colour. I have to admit, being in my early 30s, I enjoyed the 1980s setting of the first two parts of the book. It was evocative without being cloyingly nostalgic. Some writers do tend to go a bit overboard with presentations of the 80s – loading paragraphs with too many references to TV, technology, celebrities, music. Reynolds is a bit lighter in his touch. I loved the reference to the kids copying Spectrum games onto cassettes for one another, but these little period details didn’t detract from the overall story.

More seriously, Reynolds also includes some details that allow the story to avoid certain genre clichés that can be more problematic. Specifically, this comes in his inclusion of ‘gypsies’ in the narrative. Some people who have read some of my other reviews might know that the ‘gypsy’ in werewolf and vampire fiction is something of a pet peeve of mine. They are often used in a lazy way that panders to certain racial stereotypes. Now, the gypsy characters in High Moor have a lot in common with those in other werewolf fiction – particularly in their role as ‘keepers’ of lycanthropic knowledge. However, Reynolds adds just enough ‘reality’ to offer a bit of a challenge to the cliché. For example, when a character encounters the ‘gypsies’ for the first time, they (specifically the woman he meets) seem to be of the usual sort: ‘Dark, curly hair flowing down her back, curves in all the right places, and amber eyes that looked straight into your soul.’ Nevertheless, the man’s reaction seems more ‘real’, given that he is meeting the woman in 1944: ‘To tell you the truth, I was surprised to see anyone of Romany origin in the area. Most of them had been rounded up by the Nazis and sent to the death camps at Jasenovac.’ Back in the UK, ‘gypsy’ camps are presented more as our familiar ‘travellers’ camps’, rather than a romanticized version common to werewolf/vampire fiction. This causes one character to wonder whether people are suspicious of them because they know there are werewolves around, or because they are just generally suspicious of travellers.

If I had one criticism, it would be that the ‘bad’ werewolf that appears in the third part of the novel is a bit too powerful. In the world that Reynolds has created, werewolves can build up amazing power and skills, but this appears to be the result of years of living with the condition. The final showdown, though, features a newly-made werewolf who comes pretty close to defeating lycanthropes who have had a couple of decades to learn how to fight like a werewolf. I understand that this is necessary for a good climactic showdown (otherwise the fight would have been over pretty quickly!) but it seemed a bit hard to believe that this werewolf had become some a formidable foe so quickly. Nevertheless, perhaps I am being a bit unfair here, as the earlier parts of the novel had definitely set up that this character was pretty nasty as a human, maybe this would account for his brute strength as a werewolf? There’s a line in another werewolf novel (I think it’s Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, though I could be wrong) that states ‘angry people make bad werewolves’, and I think that certainly holds true in High Moor.

Overall, High Moor is an accomplished first novel. The writing is well-paced and enjoyable, the characters engaging and the ending intriguing (and definitely points to a sequel). This is not the most original take on werewolves. But though the reader is on familiar ground, it is well-loved ground, and this is no bad thing. For a first release from a (very) small press, High Moor is really promising, and I hope to see more from Graeme Reynolds and Horrific Tales Publishing.

Read my interview with Graeme Reynolds here

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Review: Simon Bestwick, The Faceless (Solaris, 2012)

The Faceless is a new horror novel by Simon Bestwick, and published by Solaris. Set (mostly) in the Lancashire town on Kempforth, it tells the story of the investigation into a series of missing person cases, and the apparent appearance of the local bogeymen, ‘the Spindly Men’, previously only known as a nursery tale used to scare children. The blurb on the back of the cover promises that it will be ‘a breath-taking tale of the supernatural’.

I must admit, I was a little worried about reading this book and writing a review. Simon Bestwick was one of the writers I contacted in my role as Project Co-ordinator for Hic Dragones, and, as a result, he took part in the Manchester Monster Convention that my company organized. Simon was a great guest speaker – funny, engaging and supportive – and his novel, The Faceless, sounded so fascinating, so I was just a little bit nervous… what if the book was disappointing and I ended up having to write a bad review? That would have been awful!

Fortunately, and I’ll say this upfront, my worries were completely unfounded. The Faceless is well-written, compelling and utterly creepy.

Although the missing persons investigation is an important part of the plot, this is not a police procedural story. Sure, as detectives Joan Renwick and Mike Stakowski (and the rest of their team) begin their search for four people who don’t seem to have much in common – except that the ‘Spindly Men’ were sighted around the time each one disappeared – there are moments that will be recognizable from other crime fiction: the team don’t always trust Renwick’s methods; there’s pressure from a boss desperate for ‘results’; the lead detectives are haunted by the demons of their own pasts. However, Bestwick’s detectives (particularly Renwick and Stakowski) are three-dimensional and sympathetic – much more than simply generic stereotypes.

In addition to this, the police investigation is only one aspect of the story. It is intertwined with two other plotlines. The first involves Anna Mason, her brother Martyn and his child Mary. Anna is a local historian who has moved back to Kempforth to be with her family. Early on in the book, Martyn (recovering from a breakdown) has experienced a serious trauma, and Anna is trying to help him cope. After an early confrontation with the ‘Spindly Men’, Anna and Martyn become dragged into the horror that is beginning to engulf Kempforth.

At the same, celebrity psychic Allen Cowell is called by his apparent ‘spirit guides’ to return to his home town and assist the police investigate the disappearances. Allen and his sister, Vera, escaped their brutal childhood in Kempforth years earlier, and had vowed never to return. However, in order to escape his own personal ghosts, Allen must do as his guides instruct and head back to, as Vera puts it, ‘the bastard North’. I wasn’t expecting to find Allen and Vera particularly interesting – as, on face value, a celebrity psychic involved in a police investigation doesn’t seem to be anything too new – but Vera was, probably, my favourite character of the entire novel. The bleakness of the pair’s lives, and the brutality of their history, was really gripping.

These three main storylines weave around one another, before eventually coming together, as Renwick and Stakowski, Anna and Martyn, and Allen and Vera must team up to work out what exactly is going on. Again, while this might seem like a bit of a cliché, there is a fresh and engaging quality to the way Bestwick constructs it. A lot of this is a result of his ability to create real and believable characters. There are no cardboard cut-outs in this book.

That said, The Faceless is a horror novel. And while my own preference might be for horror that is driven by compelling and well-rounded characters, some of you might be wondering when I’m going to actually say something about the dark stuff…

In this respect as well, Bestwick’s novel does not disappoint. I must admit, I was somewhat skeptical about the return of childhood demons as actually figures of horror – I’ve read that in other books, so was not sure whether the ‘Spindly Men’ could go where other nursery rhyme monsters have not gone before. In fact, these are not the real vehicle of horror. Although they are truly creepy creations, they are far from being the most horrific things the protagonists must face. Readers, like the characters in the novel, might initially blame the deaths and disappearances on these supernatural beings, but the truth (as it is slowly revealed) is much, much more disturbing.

As the novel progresses, the cruelty and brutality (some might say ‘evil’) that runs through Kempforth’s history begins to come to light. As Anna Mason’s historical research is added to Allen’s visions and the detectives’ investigations, the extent of the dangers becomes apparent and the protagonists’ search for answers leads them inextricably to the long-since abandoned hospital at Ash Fell. This hospital is at once a grotesque and a chilling creation. Like all good horror locations, Ash Fell has its ‘real life’ historical basis, but it is taken to its ultimate and terrible conclusion. Perhaps, again, this my own personal preference, but it was the historical basis for Ash Fell that chilled me the most, and it was this that lingered with me after I’d finished reading the book. I won’t say any more, plot-wise, as this book has a lot of twists and I don’t want to stumble into spoiler territory – suffice to say, a lot of things are not what they seem.

There is a lot of plot of in The Faceless, but this is not a bad thing. The main strengths of Bestwick’s writing, for me, lie in his constructions of people and place. (As I said, my own preference is for books where I am genuinely rooting for the characters, but I also like to feel immersed in the ‘world’ of the book.) However, I would say that Bestwick has also created a story that is original and memorable, and it unfolds at just the right pace. His version of ‘ghosts’ and ‘hauntings’ is also unusual, and unlike much recent horror and supernatural fiction.

Overall, I highly recommend The Faceless, as one of the best UK horror novels I have read recently. I always slightly distrust reviews of horror where the writer claims to have been left scared after finishing the book, so I won’t say that. I will say, though, that The Faceless left me distinctly unsettled and disturbed. And what more could you ask from a piece of horror fiction?

Friday, 27 April 2012

OUT NOW: Journal of Monsters and the Monstrous, Vol. 1, No. 2 (September 2011)


Freeing Woman from Truth and the Unknown: Using Kahlo and Irigaray to Liberate Woman from Haggard's She - Cameron Ellis

The Monstrification of the Monster: How Ceauşescu Became the Red Vampire - Peter Mario Kreuter

Monster as Victim, Victim as Monster: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Redemptive Suffering and the 'Undead' - Sarah Malik Bell

Digging Our Own Grave: Monster Trucks and America - Callie Clare

Monstrous Literature: The Case of Dacre Stoker's Dracula the Undead - Hannah Priest

Film Reviews:

The Dreamers of Dreams: Inception - Sarah Juliet Lauro

The Status is Not Quo: Reflections on Villains as Heroes in Despicable Me (2010), Megamind (2010) and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) - Harvey O'Brien

Thirst - Colette Balmain

Book Reviews:

Monsters of the Gevaudan: The Making of a Beast - Lance Eaton

Monsters or Martyrs? A Review of Blood That Cries Out From the Earth: The Psychology of Religious Terrorism - John Donovan

Umwege in die Vergangenheit: Star Trek und die griechisch-römische Antike [Detours to the Past: Star Trek and the Greek-Roman Antiquity] - Peter Mario Kreuter

The Victorians and Old Age - C. Riley Augé

In a Glass Darkly - Lee Baxter

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Lee Baxter

Dark Places: The Haunted House in Film - Colette Balmain

For more information, or for subscriptions, please click here.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Review: Naomi Clark, Dark Hunt (Queered Fiction, 2011)

Dark Hunt is the sequel to Naomi Clark’s first werewolf novel, Silver Kiss, which you may remember I reviewed on this site in October 2010, and the third instalment of her Urban Wolf series (which began with a short story published in the Queer Wolf anthology in 2009. Silver Kiss is an urban fantasy, telling the story of werewolf Ayla and her human girlfriend Shannon, who must deal with pack politics, a sinister drug being sold to young lycanthropes, a missing teenager, and, of course, the strain that all of this puts on Ayla and Shannon’s relationship.

This follow-up picks up where Silver Kiss left off. To recover from the horrors they have faced, Ayla and Shannon travel to Paris for a romantic holiday. Things don’t go to plan, however, as they soon find that there is a brutal creature (known as “Le Monstre”) stalking the Parisian streets. Is it a rogue werewolf? A human? Or something else altogether?

In my review of Silver Kiss, I said that one of the real strengths of Clark’s writing is her creation of a believable world in which werewolves live alongside human beings (though not always completely comfortably). This is developed further in Dark Hunt. What I particularly liked was that, on arrival in France, Ayla and Shannon discover that the status of werewolves in Paris is subtly different to that in the UK. The relationship between werewolves and humans is not quite the same as they were expecting. This puts a nice lycanthropic spin on the ‘tourist abroad’, as Ayla must not only deal with not understanding the language, but must also quickly learn what werewolf behaviour is acceptable in this new city. As with Clark’s first novel, once you buy into the premise that werewolves exist, the world-building is consistent and plausible.

Another strength I commented on in my previous review was Clark’s creation of character. The presentation of Ayla and Shannon’s relationship was certainly one of the most compelling aspects of Silver Kiss, and this is developed even further in Dark Hunt. I find myself genuinely caring about Clark’s protagonists – I’m happy when things go well for them, and I sigh in frustration at their misunderstandings and miscommunications. For me, this is a very important part of a novel, and a lot of fantasy writers often sideline it in favour of world-building and plot. Whether or not she is a werewolf, Ayla is a well-rounded and three-dimensional character, and this really drives the novel’s story.

Dark Hunt also features an interesting supporting cast. It’s really good to see so many variations on the female werewolf in one novel. Early on, we are introduced to the heavily-pregnant werewolf Sun, who has left her pack (and the father of her unborn “cub”) in order to pursue a relationship with a human. In many ways, Sun’s story mirrors Ayla’s own, but she has chosen a different path. A werewolf’s relationship to her pack is a complex thing, and there are different ways to negotiate this. In later chapters, we meet Clémence and Thérèse, who (like Ayla and Shannon) are trying to deal with coming out as a couple as much as with their lycanthropy. Again, while their story (in some ways) mirrors that of the protagonists, they have chosen a different path.

That said, Dark Hunt is not simply a book about (wolf)women and their relationships. It is a thriller, and the hunt for “Le Monstre” is the main ‘meat’ of the story. As in Silver Kiss, Clark creates a mystery, throws her protagonists into it and has them try to survive and solves it. Again, as in the first novel, this means that Ayla and Shannon will have to face violence from both supernatural beings and angry and confused human beings. There is a puzzle that they must solve, and the answer to this shocks the protagonists as much as it will surprise the readers.

However, though I did enjoy Dark Hunt a lot, I didn’t find the storyline quite as compelling as that of Silver Kiss. I don’t want to say too much about what is responsible for the “Le Monstre” attacks, as I don’t want to give away the plot and its twists. I will say that I found it a really interesting and unusual take on a classic paranormal trope. But the overall story arc wasn’t as strong as that in Clark’s earlier novel. Much more attention was given to the ways in which the women dealt with what was going on, and the impact the attacks had on their everyday lives. While this was enjoyable, I did feel more could be have been made of the ‘scary monster stalking the streets’ story.

The fallout from the final showdown was, perhaps, the weakest part of the novel, and the ending seems rather abrupt. After a great climactic battle, the storyline seemed to be resolved so hastily that I was left almost expecting there to be more still to come. This was a shame, as the rest of the book was very gripping.

Nevertheless, it seems that there is more to come from Ayla and Shannon, and the (somewhat abrupt) ending does definitely leave room for a third instalment of the series. I certainly hope this is the case, as I’m very taken with Clark’s werewolves.
Dark Hunt also includes some bonus material – a short story entitled “A Wolf in Girl’s Clothing”, which tells the story of Ayla and Shannon’s first meeting, and a “sample chapter” from Desire by Moonlight, the “pulp novel of a werewolf assassin who takes out vampires for the government” (the “trashy novel” Ayla is reading throughout Dark Hunt). The former is a really nice addition to the series, and was definitely a “bonus” for me. The latter, though intended to be a parody, was actually completely believable! I have read my share of that type of urban fantasy, and, in fact, Desire by Moonlight was much better written than a lot I have read. But coming at the end of the second novel, it seems all the more silly and over-the-top, as it just doesn’t fit with the world of werewolves created in Silver Kiss and Dark Hunt.

So, overall, I recommend Dark Hunt, as a well-written and plausible story of female werewolves (and humans) who are much more than simply lycanthropic. If you enjoyed Silver Kiss, then you should certainly give the sequel a go. If you haven’t yet read any of Clark’s work, then I politely suggest you start.

Click here to read my review of Silver Kiss.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Grimmfest's Zombie Night - Friday 27th April

Grimm Up North Presents...

A trio of unrelenting zombie films for you to get your teeth into.

Venue: The Dancehouse
Tickets: £8.00
Start Time: 7.30pm
Cheap bar: Bottle beer from £1.50 per bottle!

It's gonna be a blast! Fancy dress (optional), beer from £1.50 per bottle, late night bar, three great zombie flicks (two premieres and one HD remastered classic) on the big screen. What more could any self respecting horror fan want?

Juan of The Dead (Pre-Release Screening): Official media refer to the attacks as isolated incidents provoked by Cuban dissidents paid by the US government. Little by little Juan and his friends start to realize that the attackers are not normal human beings and that killing them is quite a difficult task. They’re not vampires, they’re not possessed, but they’re definitely not dissidents; a simple bite turns the victim into other violent killing machine and the only way to beat them is destroying their brains…

War of The Dead (Northwest Premiere): A platoon of American and Finnish soldiers is driven deep into a Russian forest where its Captain discovers a terrifying secret.

The Return of the Living Dead (Remastered): In this genre defining classic, , three men and a gang of punks must do what they can to quell the threat that the now undead pose to an unsuspecting town., after the accidental release of chemicals that bring the dead back to life.

For more information, or to book tickets, go to the Grimm Up North website.

CFP: Medievalism Transformed: Putting Women in their Place(s)?

Constructions of Femininity in the Middle Ages

Postgraduate Conference
Bangor University
8-9 June 2012

Keynote Speakers:

Dr. Carol M Meale (University of Bristol)
Dr. Susan M. Johns (Bangor University)
Dr. Mari Hughes-Edwards (Edge Hill University)
Dr. Sue Niebrzydowski (Bangor University

Call for Papers:

The eighth annual Bangor University Medievalism Transformed Conference will be held 8-9 June, 2012. This is an interdisciplinary postgraduate conference and we warmly invite papers on women in the medieval period from graduate students working in literature, art, medicine, music, theology, archaeology and history; other subjects will also be considered.

Suggested topics are as follows, but are not limited to:

• Traditions and settings of women’s writing and reading practices
• Gender and place
• Construction of gendered spaces
• Relationships between verbal and visual artifacts
• Women’s use of devotional images
• Gendered architecture/architectural spaces

Please send a 250-300 word abstract to the conference convenors by 18 May 2012. Papers will be of 20 minutes duration with an additional 5 minutes for questions. In addition to your abstract, please include a short (no longer than 50 words) paragraph describing your area of study, institution and contact details.

Medievalism Transformed Conference
c/o School of English,
Bangor University,
Gwynedd LL57 2DG

This event is supported by the Centre for Medieval Studies, Bangor University and the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS – Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Monster High vs. Sweet Valley High

A while ago, I wrote a post on Mattel’s range of ‘Monster High’ dolls, particularly on their female werewolf, Clawdeen. Not long afterwards, I picked up a copy on Lisi Harrison’s first Monster High novel to see if Clawdeen shaped up any differently in print than in plastic. Like the toy range, Harrison’s novel is aimed at the ‘tween’ market – specifically pre-teen girls – which made me think back to what I used to read when I was a pre-teen girl myself. Some people may be surprised by this, but I actually devoted quite a scary amount of my ‘tween’ years to working my way through Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series. (For those of you who either don’t remember, or don’t want to remember, this series, the Sweet Valley High books were about identical twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, from California, who had to deal with all the usual high school problems of growing up, falling in love, being ridiculously rich and beautiful, and coping with jealousy from people marginally less rich and beautiful than themselves.)

Reading the Monster High novel stirred a distant memory of a werewolf-themed Sweet Valley High mini-series. I got rid of all my Sweet Valley High books when my tastes turned to more blood-thirsty fare, but I seemed to remember keeping hold of one of the werewolf books (A Date With a Werewolf)… obviously knowing where my future career would lead me. Sure enough, I managed to dig it out (along with a whole load of other books from my pre-teen/teen years that I don’t think I’ll mention here).

So, I thought it would be kind of interesting to compare Monster High and Sweet Valley High’s take on werewolves, and to see if anything has changed in the world of tween lycanthropes in the last two decades.

Monster High

Harrison’s novel, in a wonderfully late-capitalist way, is an adaptation of a toy range. While the Monster High dolls are simply ‘characters’ with profiles, outfits and accessories, the book seeks to offer some backstory and ‘depth’ to their presentation. The story takes place in Salem, Oregon, where monsters (or RADs – Regular Attribute Dodgers – as they call themselves) have taken refuge, believing a) they are in Salem, Massachusetts and b) Salem, Massachusetts is a safe haven for monsters, given that a lot of witches live there happily. I’ll just leave that odd logic to one side for now, as Harrison does in the novel.

The story follows the parallel experiences of two new girls at Merston High. The first is Melody Carver, a human (or ‘normie’ as the monsters call them) girl who has experienced bullying due to her physical appearance at her old school. Her father, a plastic surgeon, has ‘corrected’ her face, leaving Melody feeling hollow as people now only like her because she is pretty. Her airheaded and materialistic sister, Candace, ignores any sign of Melody being bullied, calls her by the name (‘Smellody’) her bullies have used, and seems only to care about designer labels and expensive accessories. The second new girl at the school is Frankie Stein, the newly-created and green-skinned ‘daughter’ of Viktor and Viveka Stein, and granddaughter of ‘Dr. Viktor Frankenstein’ (a weird amalgam of the creator and the creation of Mary Shelley’s novel, viewed through the lens of subsequent films and Hallowe’en costumes). Though Frankie has had 15 years of memories and knowledge placed into her head – including, apparently, literature, art, culture, science and history – she is an extraordinarily shallow creation, who is absolutely obsessed with fashion and celebrity. Both Frankie and Melody are desperate to make friends at their new school, but both encounter problems with ‘fitting in’.

On her first day at Merston High, and in a scene which should be familiar to anyone who has seen any films about high school girls, Melody bumps into one of the popular girls and is humiliated in front of the entire cafeteria. The difference here, though, is that the girl she gets on the wrong side of is Cleo (a mummy), who is accompanied by Claudine (a werewolf). Melody is consistently snubbed and mocked by Cleo and Claudine, and also by Blue (a mermaid) and Lala (Draculaura, a vampire). The only friends she can make are a couple of rather odd human girls, who have also been slighted by Cleo and are out for revenge. Frankie, on the other hand, is immediately accepted by Blue and Lala, who introduce her to Cleo and Claudine, and soon the girls are all heading off to an expensive spa for the day. They admit later that they all suspected she was a monster, even before this fact was confirmed. Despite its tagline of ‘Fitting in is out’, the message of the book seems fairly clear: in a world where the popular girls are all monsters, you’re nothing without monstrosity. In fact, Melody’s experience at Merston High seems to suggest that the monsters are just as superficial, cliquey and bitchy as the girls she has left behind in Beverly Hills – only the criteria for acceptance have changed.

But what of the werewolf (since Clawdeen/Claudine was the creature that sparked my interest in the first place)?

The first description of Claudine reads as follows:
Two attractive alternative girls, consumed by their own conversation, tried to squeeze past them. The Shakira-looking one, who had auburn curls and a tray stacked with Kobe beef sliders, made it by Jackson. […] ‘Untrue!’ barked the girl with the sliders. […] The barker wore purple leggings and a black bomber jacket lined in fur the same color as her hair. (pp. 54-5)

The second:
Claudine turned away from the window. “Hey,” she said, tearing open a bag of organic turkey jerky. Her looks – yellowish-brown eyes, a mess of auburn curls, long manicured fingernails painted bronze – were just as striking as Cleo’s but in a more wild, feral way. Her style, however, seemed tamer: all-American with a touch of old-world Hollywood glamour. (p. 83)

It should be remembered, at this point, that Harrison has not actually revealed that Claudine is a werewolf. In fact, apart from Frankie, we’re not yet sure that any of the other characters are ‘RADs’. However, there are a good few clues as to Claudine’s nature here. She is often seen eating meat, unlike the rest of the characters who are remarkably picky about food (Lala is a vegan, and the school cafeteria is divided up into coloured ‘zones’ for people with restricted diets). Not only that, but she eats larger quantities of meat, and eats them impatiently: her tray is ‘stacked’ with beef sliders and she tears into the bag of jerky. Perhaps a bigger giveaway is her fur, which she is always seen wearing, and which is the same colour as her hair. Later on, it is revealed that this is because it is her hair. Notice as well that Claudine has a ‘mess’ of curls and ‘wild, feral’ eyes. Compared with the Elizabeth Taylor –esque look of Cleo and the pale Goth-look of vampire Lala, and it’s not difficult to play spot-the-werewolf.

In my previous post on Mattel’s Clawdeen Wolf doll, I commented on the focus on her sexual identity. The character’s profile on the official website, for instance, refers to one of her hobbies as ‘flirting’. This is not as evident in the novel, as all the female characters are obsessed with either attracting males or with punishing other females who have attracted the males they were after. What is introduced in Harrison’s novel, however, is that other mainstay of recent female werewolf fiction – the pack. Apart from Frankie’s creators/parents, Claudine’s family is the only monster family introduced in any detail. She has a large group of overprotective brothers, who are leery, hairy and generally hyper-masculine (in a frat-boy kind of way). Claudine is both resentful of their protectiveness and mindful of the need to stay loyal to them, which is fairly typical of the way the ‘pack’ is presented in much recent fiction.

What is interesting, perhaps, in the Monster High book and toy range (and I’ve only read the first book in a series, so I don’t know if this comes up later on) is that any question of transformation is avoided. Claudine/Clawdeen appears to be more a hybrid half-wolf, half-woman than a woman who transforms into a wolf. She has a pelt while clearly in ‘human’ form, which allows her to hide her lycanthropy by getting body waxes at an exclusive spa (where mermaids can take salt baths and mummies can get massages). At no point is it suggested that she, or her brothers, will undergo a complete bodily transformation, nor that she will pose any particular threat to human beings should this happen. Indeed, the only monster who causes harm to humans is the (bizarrely male) gorgon, Deuce, who accidentally drops his sunglasses and turns an innocent bystander to stone (which is dismissed rather callously by the narrator).

Sweet Valley High

How, then, does this compare to a tween novel of nearly twenty years ago? In many ways, the world of Sweet Valley High and Monster High are scarily similar. High school cliques, ‘girl politics’ and the need to attract good-looking males are consistent themes of both series. The materialistic world of these teenagers is also similar in both series. The characters of Monster High are so obsessed with designer clothes and labels, it is difficult to read some passages due to the sheer number of brand names. Even the supposedly ‘alternative’ Melody, who is explicitly described as rejecting her contemporaries’ obsession with fashion, doesn’t wear trainers, but ‘Converse’, and is attracted to a young man when she notices that he also wears this brand of shoe.

This is not a million miles away from the world of Sweet Valley High, where Jessica Wakefield’s focus on appearances is often held up as a contrast to Elizabeth’s studious and serious persona (studious and serious while dressed in expensive clothes, of course). At one point in A Date With a Werewolf, Jessica is musing on a series of gruesome murderers which may have been perpetrated by her boyfriend (who may also be a werewolf); her reaction to this, and to the discovery of a mutilated body in her own bed, is to go to Harrods. After all, she thinks, ‘If shopping wouldn’t cheer her up, nothing would.’ (p. 131).

If the reference to Harrods threw you there, I should probably give some summary of the plot of A Date With a Werewolf. This is the second book in the Horror in London mini-series (I’m afraid I haven’t kept, or maybe never read, the other two). Elizabeth and (implausibly) Jessica have won prestigious internships with the London Journal, and are spending the summer in England. Jessica has caught the eye of Lord Robert Pembroke, a member of the aristocracy, and Elizabeth is sort of cheating on her long-time boyfriend with ‘sensitive’ poet Luke. Meanwhile, a series of brutal murders are occurring in London, and are being covered up by the papers. Luke has persuaded Elizabeth that these murders are the work of a werewolf, and, worse, that the lycanthrope is none other than Robert Pembroke. Believing her sister to be in danger, Elizabeth investigates further…

I could dwell on the ludicrousness of this storyline, but I won’t. Suffice to say, the version of lycanthropy in Sweet Valley High is quite different to that presented in Monster High. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the werewolf is a vicious killer. Within the opening pages of this book, Elizabeth finds a dead woman: ‘And her throat had been ripped open… as if by a wild beast.’ (p. 2) In case we didn’t get the beast reference, we are then told: ‘And as if to add credence to the werewolf theory, some of the Pembrokes’ sheep had been found with their throats ripped open – just hours before Joy’s murder.’ (p. 3)

As the story progresses, it’s clear that we’re in ‘Wolfman’ territory (in fact, the sequel to this book was called Beware the Wolfman). The werewolf is a lone predator, possibly an aristocratic male transformed by some sort of curse, who is changed from human form to wolf, and is consumed by an uncontrollable blood lust. To underline this, the book contains a veritable encyclopaedia of lycanthropy, including warnings from gypsies, a silver talisman with a pentagram on it, wolfsbane, full moons, ‘wolf imagery in Native-American rites and rituals’ (p. 37), silver bullets and ‘medieval werewolf trials’ (p. 90). The book owes much of its presentation of werewolfism to The Wolfman, particularly in the presentation of the alleged werewolf’s father, who seeks to both protect his son and understand his curse. Weirdly, the book seems almost prescient, as its presentation of Lord Pembroke Sr. seems to point forwards to the recent remake of The Wolfman more than the original.

Obviously, with the books being set in London, there are nods to An American Werewolf in London, particularly the fact that Luke takes Elizabeth to drink in a pub called ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’. I can only assume that this pub is a little different to its famous namesake, as it is in central London and apparently serves coffee.

The London setting of the book is not very convincing, to say the least. This version of London is a couple of miles away from Stonehenge, has large country estates (with sheep) close by and has a royal family who all live cosily in Buckingham Palace. One of the subplots features the ‘youngest daughter of the Queen of England’, who has escapes from Buckingham Palace, pretends to be a ‘working-class girl from Liverpool’ and helps her boyfriend to set up ‘free medical care for the poor’ (clearly, all that time locked up in Buckingham Palace means she hasn’t heard of the NHS).

This inaccurate and romanticized version of ‘London’ has a direct impact on the version of lycanthropy in A Date With a Werewolf. We are in the Victorian Gothic world of the tortured, but killer, werewolf, rather than the North American world of the wolf pack. The London that Elizabeth and Jessica visit is the home of Jack the Ripper, and an ‘eerie werewolf exhibit at the wax museum’ (p. 16). It is a world in which a member of the aristocracy can murder his servants with impunity, as his father has ultimate control of the press. There is even a secret door that opens from a wood-panelled library, activated by removing a first edition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The Gothicism of this fictional London is what allows for suspension of disbelief, both on the part of the implied readers and on the part of Elizabeth, the supposedly ‘level-headed’ heroine. This is noted clearly in the book, when it is stated that: ‘…ideas that would have sounded ridiculous to Elizabeth under the bright California sun somehow seemed more reasonable when voiced through an English fog’ (p. 4). (I’m sure it goes without saying that, for the entire duration of the girls’ trip, London appears to be engulfed by an inexplicably nineteenth-century fog).

So, what have we learned from this? Anything?

The differences in the werewolves in these books points to diverging traditions of lycanthropy. A Date With a Werewolf is the older, Western European tradition (which was dominant from the late Middle Ages onwards, and was refracted through the lens of late Victorian Gothic), in which the werewolf is a tortured, yet brutal and animalistic, loner, whose human form disguises the beast within. Monster High belongs to a newer pattern of presenting werewolves – particularly female werewolves – that is rapidly superseding the older type. I call this the ‘American’ tradition, as it is more common in countries with native wolves. These werewolves are not loners, but rather members of a hierarchical (and often patriarchal) pack structure, which is constructed as both a source of support and constraint. That the earlier book takes place in a foggy and Victorian-esque London, the later in a small town in Oregon, highlights this.

While the werewolves may be different, the modes of femininity presented in tween fiction have sadly not changed much over the past two decades. Materialistic, narcissistic and obsessed with attracting the most popular and best-looking boys (despite occasional nods to ‘sisterhood’ and ‘friendship’), the girls at Monster High are little different to those of Sweet Valley High. Sadly, the only lesson I can really take from my comparison of these two books is that this particular construction of the vain and shallow teenage girl clearly transcends species.

It's enough to make you howl, really.

Manchester Monster Convention

Saturday 14th – Sunday 15th April 2012
Sachas Hotel, Tib Street, Manchester

Weekend Tickets: just £10
For more information on this event, and to book tickets, please visit the Hic Dragones website.

Saturday 14th April
Doors open at 10am

Talks (Jefferson Suite)

11.00am Before Dawn - a new British horror film set in Yorkshire
Dominic Brunt (Actor/Director) and Neale Myers (Cameraman/Digital Effects Artist) will be showing clips from their new Yorkshire horror movie, Before Dawn, talking about the movie and answering questions

12.30pm Q&A with Sam Stone and David J Howe
Sam is the author of the Vampire Gene series, and David has written numerous books on Doctor Who. Both authors will be reading from their work, answering questions and generally talking vampires, monsters and Who.

2.00pm Tales from the Crypt: Two Real-Life Vampire Cases
Talk by Geoff Holder, author of Paranormal Glasgow and Paranormal Cumbria, covering the hunt for the Vampire with Iron Teeth, and the infamous case of the Vampire of Croglin Grange.

3.30pm In Search of Real Monsters
Talk by Richard Freeman, Zoological Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology

Signings (Washington Suite)

1.20pm Sam Stone and David J Howe
2.50pm Geoff Holder

The Monster Market (Washington Suite)
Stalls will be open from 10am to 5pm

Film Screenings (Jefferson Suite)

From 6pm Monster Movie Triple Bill (sponsored by Grimm Up North)
Island of Lost Souls
Whisperer in the Darkness
Reel Zombies

Sunday 15th April
Doors open at 10am

Talks (Jefferson Suite)

11.00am How to Make a Monster
A talk on creative writing, horror and monsters by Rick Hudson. Rick's work has been published by a wide variety of magazines in the UK, US and Europe as well as appearing in collections and broadcast by the BBC. He is currently working on a documentary for the BBC and a film for a leading Hollywood studio.

12.30pm Psychopaths, Deviants and Serial Killers, Oh My!
A talk on the psychology of 'human monsters' by Jacquelyn Bent, who is currently completing a doctorate in Criminal Psychology at the University of Huddersfield

2.00pm Q&A with Leah Moore and John Reppion
Graphic novelists, creators of the Wild Girls series, the Albion series (with Alan Moore and Shane Oakley) and the Raise the Dead series (with Hugo Petrus). The duo have also created The Complete Dracula and The Complete Alice in Wonderland, and are currently working on the Thrill Electric, a motion comic set in Victorian Manchester.

3.30pm Writers Panel: Readings and Q&A
With Wayne Simmons (author of Flu and Fever) Simon Bestwick (author of The Faceless, Tide of Souls and Pictures of the Dark) and Scott Stanford (author of Dorothy - The Darker Side of Oz and Abaddon Rising)

Signings (Washington Suite)

2.50pm Leah Moore and John Reppion
4.20pm Wayne Simmons, Simon Bestwick and Scott Stanford

The Monster Market (Washington Suite)
Stalls will be open from 10am to 5pm

Convention closes at 5pm
Tickets for the event cost just £10. To book, please visit the Hic Dragones website.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Interview with - a new site showcasing the latest book trailers

With more and more writers and publishers releasing trailers for their new titles, there’s no doubt that book trailers are becoming a big part of the publishing industry. is a new website, showcasing the latest book trailers from around the net. I caught up with the site’s designer and editor to find out a bit more…

She-Wolf: So, tell me about the site…

Bookreel: is a site aiming to bring together book trailers from a wide range of genres, everything from children’s books to YA, romance, fantasy, horror...

SW: And what about you – what’s your background?

BR: My background is mostly in writing music, which in turn has led to an interest in building websites as well. I was left in charge of getting a site online for a band I write for, and tinkering with that led me further down the rabbit hole in terms of playing with coding… so maybe not such an odd progression as it initially seems!

SW: And so you decided to make a site dedicated to book trailers? Where did the idea for come from?

BR: The idea was entirely accidental and grew from a discussion one evening with my fiancée. We were musing the online future of books in relation to the music and film industries and the trends digital media has brought about in consumerism. My partner mentioned book trailers, the existence of which I was aware of having written music for a couple of them, but I honestly hadn’t realized they were so big. So from there the creation of was entirely organic. As consumers of books, we both thought a site that had book trailers categorized by genre and author, much like a library, would be useful to people.

SW: Are there really that many book trailers out there?

BR: Absolutely, yes! And there are more and more being made daily, from pretty much every corner of the publishing world – classics, children's books, thrillers, graphic novels and so on – I don’t think there’s any genre that hasn’t had a book trailer made.

SW: You’ve made the decision to include self-published and small press titles alongside titles from the big publishing houses – tell me about this decision.

BR: Essentially, I didn't want to exclude anything, but also book trailers are an accessible form of promotion for someone (i.e. many self-published authors) working on a tight budget. They’re a great way to make people aware of titles without having to spend a fortune, so in terms of the Big 6 and indie authors it’s a fairly level playing field.

SW: There are a couple of other book trailer sites out there, what makes different?

BR: There’s a few others out there and they’re cool sites, but none of them seem to work in the way that I like to browse. For me it’s important to be able to look through information in different ways and I’m presuming (rightly or wrongly) that I'm not alone. So, for example, rather than trailers one after the other on one page, works with one trailer to a page – with the synopsis underneath, links to where you can buy the book, a rating system, a comments system (whereby you can log in to comment via your Twitter or Facebook credentials rather than having to join yet another site) – all of which can be browsed by category (including a short excerpt of the synopsis) or alternatively there’s an A-Z of authors. And, naturally, there’s a good old fashioned search function too.

SW: So people can rate the trailers on the site?

BR: Yes. I just thought it’d be a nice interaction and would give people browsing for something new an indication of a book’s popularity.

SW: I notice there are also some interviews on the site as well. Why have you decided to include these?

BR: Although the site is primarily about the trailers, I didn’t want to move that away from the authors in any way, so I thought an interview section where the author can talk about their book and trailer would be interesting.

SW: You have a lot of trailers up so far – any personal favourites?

BR: There are some quality trailers out there, that’s for sure, and they seem to get cleverer each day! Singling out any personal favourites is really hard, but off the top of my head, I was very much taken with the trailer for Dorian Gray, a French graphic novel by Enrique Corominas, based on the novel by Oscar Wilde. [Ed. - to see this trailer, click here]

SW: And have you found any good books as a result of seeing a trailer?

BR: Yes, I recently bought The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson as a result of coming across the trailer. It’s a fantastic read by the way (and a cool trailer).

SW: Given all the trailers that you’ve seen, do you have any advice for writers thinking about getting a trailer made for their book?

BR: That’s a tough one. As a very general guide, I would say try and keep it around the 90 second mark, anything over that feels like it’s going on a bit. Watch a few other book trailers (preferably on!) that fit with your genre and get a general feel for what works best. And please please please don’t use any images or music that aren’t your own without explicit permission first, or you'll end up in a heap of trouble! There’s also a few places online you can contact to make your trailer for a reasonable fee. Above all, though, it has to be representative of your book.

SW: So, finally, why do you think writers should consider making a trailer? What are the benefits?

BR: I think they’re a great way of getting people’s attention, and if executed correctly can reach a far wider audience than just getting your book online and hoping for the best.

SW: Thanks for talking to me, I’ll look forward to checking out new content on the site.

BR: And thanks for having me.

To watch and rate new trailers on, send in your own, or to contact the Editor, click here.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Review of M.T. Murphy, Lucifera's Pet (M.T. Murphy, 2009, Smashwords Edition)

I like reading books and being able to say ‘that’s not what I was expecting’, and mean it in a good way. And that was exactly my first thought after finishing Lucifera’s Pet. It really wasn’t what I was expecting, and I do mean that in a good way.

On first glance, M.T. Murphy’s tale of a centuries-old all-powerful vampire, who battles to retain her power with the help of a werewolf familiar (the eponymous ‘pet’) sounds like well-trodden ground. Lucifera Romana has been a vampire for nearly two millennia, and, at the beginning of the book, is a ‘master vampire’ with a reputation for brutality and ruthlessness. She is also fantastically beautiful, though it appears that most vampires have never actually laid eyes on her. The book begins a werewolf killing and eating a mugger who was foolishly trying to rob him, which sets the scene for the violence that will follow in the rest of the book. In the opening chapters, this beautiful vampire and killer werewolf are set up as being of a fairly familiar type. Lucifera, for example, has a name that sounds like ‘Lucifer’, and is described thus:

‘After all these years living in a thousand different places, her husky voice still has a hint of an accent. Spanish? Romanian? No one can really guess her origin beyond the fact that she is not from around here.’

The werewolf, on the other hand, is more ‘urban’ – despite his Irish accent, he appears to be more at home in the Los Angeles setting than his vampire companion – and less aloof and disconnected.

The first part of the book, narrated from several different first person perspectives, tells of a battle between Lucifera (or, rather, her minions) and another vampire, who, it seems, is her nemesis. There is betrayal, double-crossing and violent assaults, which sets up the world of Lucifera’s Pet as a cold, calculating and unfeeling one. No matter how loyal or long their service, no-one can rely on the protection of their ‘master’.

There are some issues with Part I, which are a result of Murphy’s unusual story-telling technique. Each chapter has a different narrator, and I was a little confused at first. In the first three chapters, there was not enough difference between the narrative voices, or enough signalling of the shift in perspective, for me to work out who was narrating what. Murphy’s decision to use this unusual technique is a bold one, and I must admit that I was not convinced at first. In addition to this, Chapter Two is rather misleading. Given that this chapter – of all those in Part I – has the most intriguing backstory for its narrator, and names the speaker in the very first sentence, I assumed that this particular narrator (Christopher) would be one of the main characters. In fact, I almost forgot a lot of the details of the wolf and the vampire in the preceding chapter, as I was automatically reading them as secondary to Christopher.

Despite this, though, the quality of writing and the vividness of description and detail encouraged me to keep reading – and I’m really glad I did. By the end of Chapter Seven (the final chapter of the first part), the shifting perspective stops being confusing and becomes a really compelling aspect of the story. And in Part II, Lucifera’s Pet really comes into its own.

Without giving away too much of the story, the second part of the novel focuses on the vampire and her werewolf, offering much more of an insight into their relationship and their respective histories. The narration, again, shifts between first person voices, but this is restricted to Lucifera and her ‘pet’, and the story alternates between the two. The chronology also alternates, shifts and converges, but this is very much a strong point of the story, as it resists linear progressions for the protagonists – they do not simply move from ‘good’ human at the beginning to ‘bad’ supernatural being at the end. It also allows for some of the story to remain untold, giving the overall narrative of Part II a rather light touch.

Characterization is also a real strength of the second part of Lucifera’s Pet. Though the two eponymous characters appear to be very much ‘of a type’ in the opening chapters, the expanded version of their history gives them more depth and complexity. We learn about each of their lives prior to becoming a vampire/werewolf, but also of their initial transformations, adaptation to their new lives and, eventually, their meeting. Some things, which had previously seemed a little clichéd or stereotypical, are revealed as more nuanced – one important instance of this is the explanation of how Lucifera came by her name (which I found a charming detail, and somewhat unexpected).

There are unfortunately some slightly clunky anachronisms in this part of the book. The language that Mickey (which is, we find out, the werewolf’s name) uses during his childhood in eighteenth-century Ireland can be excused by the fact that this is a retrospective reflection, told as his life is ‘flashing before [his] eyes’ in the present day; however, the Ancient Roman ‘Romana Trading Company’ in Lucifera’s story didn’t really sound very authentic to me. I should probably also mention that there are a couple of minor editing errors (specifically a bit of inconsistency in capitalization). Nevertheless, these are, to some extent, mitigated by the engaging writing style and by how believable the characters and their motivations seem to be – their immortal supernatural status notwithstanding.

One detail I particularly liked, which I think gives a good indication of the subtlety with which Murphy draws his characters, comes shortly after Lucifera is transformed into a vampire. In an earlier chapter, it has been made quite clear that, as in many other vampire novels, a lack of remorse is part of the vampiric ‘curse’. When Lucifera goes on her first killing spree, she appears to have jettisoned human feelings. And yet, when faced with slaughtering the only woman who has previously trusted and supported her, she has a moment of pause, and decides to use her new powers to make the woman’s death as merciful as possible. She says:

'I took no pleasure as I tore the soft flesh of her neck. Her impending death troubled me far more than the others had. I wondered if she would haunt

Then her blood hit my tongue. All my misgivings were washed away by that delicious nectar. Sulpicia spent her dying moments reunited with her lost family in her mind. I spent those moments with my face buried in her warm flesh, stealing her life one drink at a time. Merciful death never tasted so sweet.'

This combination of mercy and brutality, kindness and selfish desire, is typical of the way Murphy explores the moral grey areas of his characters. Though it doesn’t make his protagonists ‘good’ – and they really aren’t – it does make them, ultimately, sympathetic and kind of likeable.

Part III of the novel returns to the point at which Part II ended, in present-day Los Angeles, and continues the battle between Lucifera and her ‘master vampire’ rival, Emil Vladu. However, this story now has more layers as a result of what has been revealed in the central portion of the novel. As the story resumes, the implications and significance of various interactions seem clearer.

Overall, Lucifera’s Pet is a well-told and well-crafted story, with an individual story-telling style and some enjoyable characters. It doesn’t really offer any significant departure from the standard vampire and werewolf mythos – silver is toxic to both, crucifixes are a problem, and lycanthropic transformation is a painful but exhilarating experience. I did enjoy the fact that, in this world, werewolf blood (though rumoured to be poisonous to vampires) seems to be more of an aphrodisiac than anything else. Despite this, though, the conditions of being a vampire/werewolf in Lucifera’s Pet are similar to those found in other novels and films.

This is not a criticism, though, as Murphy’s characters are interesting enough not to need dramatic ‘new’ traits. Additionally, given the recent trend for ‘explaining’ vampirism or lycanthropy through spurious pseudo-science (it’s a virus that transforms DNA being a popular explanation at the moment), it was nice to read a novel that steered clear of any real rationalization, and just asked us to accept that these creatures exist. Lucifera and Mickey don’t seem to really care where vampires and werewolves come from – and it’s easy to go along with that.

Lucifera’s Pet is a strong recommendation for vampire and werewolf fans: a mixture of ruthless, bloody violence (why nip at the neck, when you can tear out the throat?), compelling and (almost) tender relationships, and a handful of sex scenes makes it an engaging and readable book that will appeal to fans of darker urban fantasy. It is self-published, but compares well to many traditionally-published titles (and is much better than some). Though it was first published a couple of years ago, I definitely encourage you to look out for this one.

Friday, 9 March 2012

CFP: The Place of Hell: Topographies, Structures, Genealogies

An International conference held at King’s College London and The Warburg Institute on May 31 and June 1, 2013.

Call for Papers

A belief in Hell has been a staple of Christian thought from the earliest period of this religion. The depiction of Hell and its denizens – the devil, demons and the punished sinners – has an equally long history going back to at least the sixth century. From the eleventh century onwards, images of Hell become proliferate and more detailed in their presentation of the damned and their torments – in parallel to such texts as the popular Apocalypse of the Virgin. Artists come up with different solutions in picturing the various torments inflicted upon the sinners as well as the places where these torments take place. In the art of the late Byzantine period and the late medieval west, the various figures of the damned are presented with inscriptions detailing the crimes and sins for which they are being punished. In western Europe, literary texts add detail to the vision of Hell as well, starting with the 11th-century Vision of Tondal and culminating in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The images as well as the texts that we assume they are illustrating offer a rich field for research. Questions of iconography as well as the exploration of social meanings attached to these powerful representations present themselves. The exploration of developments within the body of texts on and depictions of Hell can be particularly fruitful.

The aim of this conference is to explore the place Hell occupied within society and art as well as the way Hell was envisaged as a physical place. The conference is organized as part of the Leverhulme Trust International Network project Damned in Hell in the Frescoes of Venetian-dominated Crete (13th-17th centuries). The island of Crete was governed by the Venetians from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. During this period, the interplay of the religion and culture of the colonizers (Roman Catholic and Italian) and the majority of the population (Byzantine and Greek Orthodox) created tangible tensions. We are therefore particularly interested in material from the historical era covered by the project, approaches that involve comparisons between east and west, and presentations with a particular focus on Crete. Did depictions of Hell on the island’s churches follow theological debates and trends? Was their primary function the edification of the Orthodox congregations, or are other readings possible?

Topics for papers may include, but are not limited to:

· Texts about Hell and punishments for sinners in the Greek Orthodox world and/or the Latin west(13th-17th centuries)
· Images of Hell, with particular emphasis on its layout and topography as well as the layout of its pictorial representation
· Comparative papers on the intera_ction between Orthodox and Catholic notions and representations of Hell in the late medieval and early modern eastern Mediterranean
· The origins – both textual and pictorial – of perceptions and representations of the Afterlife and Hell in particular within the Christian tradition
· The use of Hell and punishment for sinners within contexts of social control (especially in rural communities) and afterlife management strategies

Papers by early career scholars soon after the completion of their PhD are particularly welcome.

Papers are restricted to 25 mins. Please send a short abstract and a brief cv to: Dionysios Stathakopoulos and Rembrandt Duits by June 30 2012.

Accepted speakers will be offered free accommodation and either a full refund of or substantial assistance towards their travel costs.

Review of Jason McKinney, Dog World (Jason McKinney, 2011)

Two things that I’m quite taken with at the moment: werewolves (obviously) and the apocalypse. So, I was naturally intrigued when I was sent a review copy of Jason McKinney’s self-published novel, Dog World, a military thriller telling the story of the werewolf apocalypse. I was, however, also somewhat trepidatious, as the recent explosion of self-published novels has left the market swamped with vampire, werewolf and other supernatural novels.

McKinney’s novel begins in Iraq, with a group of US soldiers facing a brutal attack from an unknown enemy. Reports of wild dog attacks, and a growing pile of bodies, are eventually revealed to be indications of an organized lycanthropic assault. Many of the soldiers are killed, and the survivors must band together to fight their werewolf enemy. The reader discovers that this attack is the work of the Aberration, a powerful werewolf group hell-bent on world domination and the farming of human ‘cattle’. Not all ‘lycans’ side with the Aberration, though, and it is left to the ‘good’ werewolves and the surviving humans to fight off the coming ‘werewolf apocalypse’.

McKinney’s werewolves are of a recognizable type. By this I mean that the transformation scenes and bodily changes his ‘lycans’ undergo will be familiar to fans of werewolf fiction. For example, one character, changing for the first time, experiences it thus:

“He felt his bones growing as they moaned in protest to the new additions. A raspy groan echoed painfully from his throat. He was desperately fighting to not start howling because of the fiery pain that criss-crossed his body. He thought of all the werewolf movies he’d seen as a kid. He knew now that they howled not in triumph but in torment.”

The main difference, then, with McKinney’s werewolves is the setting – these animals are not forest-dwelling loners or city-dwellers hiding their secret, but members of the US military. As the other characters become more aware of the existence of werewolves, Dog World offers some idea of how such supernatural creatures might be integrated into the macho and brutal world of the US army and Marine Corps. I particularly liked the coining of the term “poodle” as a derogatory term for werewolves, as it seemed to fit well with the culture McKinney was trying to depict.

Another interesting departure in Dog World comes with the references to vampires. In McKinney’s novel, these creatures are not undead rock stars or pale-faced heart-throbs, but rather corrupted and diseased scavengers, who subsist on the leftovers of the werewolves’ kills. It is unusual to find the hierarchy of werewolf/vampire thus presented, and I think McKinney deserves credit for a rather original take on this.

However, as with the book in general, this interesting idea is sadly not very well executed. The idea is there, but the craftsmanship needs much further attention.

Overall, the book is marred by frequent punctuation, formatting, spelling and grammar errors. "Where” and “were” are misused, as are “too” and “to”; apostrophes are omitted or added incorrectly; the dread phrase ‘could of’ appears on numerous occasions; spellings are occasionally inconsistent (so the vehicle is a “Humvee” on one page, and a “Humm-Vee” on another). These, and other errors, should have been dealt with by a proof-reader.

As well as being in need of a very rigorous edit, Dog World would also have benefitted from a thorough critique from a writing partner or group prior to its publication. I struggled to follow the first few chapters, as the number of characters (with backstory) introduced was overwhelming. Most of these characters were incidental, and most died before the end of Chapter Two. By the time the main group of characters (of which there were nine, which is far too high for a novel of this type) came together, I had completely lost track of who was who. This made it difficult for me to identify with any of the characters later in the story.

In terms of plot, there is also too much going on, and I think a good writing group or partner would have helped trim this down. Again, I lost track on numerous occasions. More seriously, though, there were some contradictions and plot-holes – such as conflicting versions of how vampires came into existence – that were rather frustrating. This frustration was added to by some inaccuracies in the pop culture references and in the ‘historical accounts’ given throughout the book (in overly lengthy exposition passages) – for instance, the frequent references to “The Black Plague” rather than “The Black Death”, or the misnaming of the character from Lord of the Rings as “Golem”. That these points weren’t picked up at a critiquing or editing stage suggests to me that these necessary stages of book production were either rushed or ignored completely

That said, I am aware that I am not the target audience for Dog World. One of the reasons the wealth of characters lost me was that I couldn’t follow the military ranks, jargon and abbreviations used in describing them. In addition to this, I found it very hard to identify or sympathise with such brutal characters – for instance, at one point a reference is made to lobotomizing POWs (albeit lycanthropic ones), which the central characters seem to think is fair since they are at war. However, I know lots of readers who love books of this genre, and who would find these aspects a positive, rather than a negative, feature of a novel. With some work, McKinney’s writing would definitely appeal to these readers.

I think it is also fair to say that Dog World is for American readers only, unless readers from outside the US have a high tolerance for inner monologues from non-Americans waxing lyrical about how fair and good the US government/military is. English readers in particular might find the depiction of “Britishness” a little too hard to take seriously. Aside from the continued use of the word “British” by characters who would, in reality, have described themselves as “English”, Dog World also has a character with “a mild Cockney accent” (?) who uses phrases like “allow me to cut to the meat of it, gentlemen” and “thanks for the tip, fellows”. Perhaps the oddest "Britishisms” in the novel were the way all the English characters used the expression “you’re taking a piss” when accusing someone else of making fun of them (for non-UK readers, the expression is “you’re taking the piss”), and the way everyone blew a raspberry when they gave someone the Vs (again, for non-UK readers, this is a British hand gesture, roughly equivalent to giving someone the finger, and definitely not always accompanied by a raspberry!).

I don’t want to dwell on any more of these errors here. As I stated at the beginning of this review, McKinney’s basic idea for the novel, and his original take on werewolves (and their relationship to vampires) is great and could have been developed into a really strong thriller. Instead, sadly, the “finished” novel reads like a first draft, and so is something of a let-down.

Had this book been brought to the writing group I used to co-ordinate, I certainly wouldn’t have rejected it outright. I would have advised the writer to keep listening to feedback, working on it, trimming it, redrafting it and giving it some overall polish (and I wouldn’t have said that on a public website). However, this has not been presented as a work-in-progress, but rather a finished product that is available to buy. I wonder if the current boom in self-publishing is making it a little too easy to hit the “publish” button before a book is actually ready…

Thursday, 8 March 2012

CFP: 3rd Global Conference: Performance: Visual Aspects of Performance

Tuesday 13th November – Thursday 15th November 2012

Salzburg, Austria

Call For Papers:

Theatre and the many varied expressions of performance practice are by their nature inter-disciplinary forms of art. They draw ideas and symbolisms from diverse theoretical and creative fields of humanities, making historical references and links, presenting social relations, putting forward great ideas and dilemmas of the mind, highlighting aspects of the human personality and employing all existing art-forms in order to create a performance as a whole. Performance practice, whether in a theatrical space, site-specific space, or as a street or public performance of any nature, can be examined from the artistic point of view, but also from a cultural, a sociological, a historical, a psychological, a semiological, an anthropological, as well as from an educational perspective. The term “performance practice” refers to the interface within which the work of the director, performer, movement director and choreographer, scenographer (set and costume designer), musical director, composer, lighting designer and sound designer meet. It also includes all aspects and issues involving the creative process, from the initial concept to the final realization and presentation to an audience.

The aim of this conference is to develop discussion with a focus on the visual aspects of performance brought up by visual and spatial artists and researchers in various performance disciplines and practices.

Papers, workshops, presentations and pre-formed panels are invited on any of the following themes:

1. Narrative and Meaning
* Visual interpretation of text / of narrative
* Visual literacy and perception within performance
* The relationship between narrative, visuality and textuality
* Challenging of established aesthetics, the relationship of old and new traditions
* Visual expression and symbolism in theatre and performance
* The notion of the visual metaphor
* The role of imagination today (before, during and after a performance)

2. Design Processes
* The birth of a visual concept
* Design as theatrical action
* Visual resources, and interpretation in performance
* Scenographic materials, form, texture, composition and light
* From design to realization – the process for the creation of a visual/spatial environment
* Collaboration and practice in the visual aspect of performance making
* Aesthetics and visual principles in performance
* Media and new technology as performance visual elements
* Challenging traditions: New approaches in performance design and practice

3. Set and Costume, discourse and practice
* Scenographer: The author of space?
* History of scenography
* Leading figures in the world tradition of scenography
* Costume and the body, embodiment and expression
* Actor-character: Dressing the performer, dressing the character
* Body and space: The spatial dynamics of costume
* The performativity of costume / The narrative of dress inperformance
* Costume sociology

4. Perception
* The gaze of the spectator / Aspects of spectatorship
* Experience and perceptions of the performer
* Experience and perceptions of the audience
* Cross-cultural appropriation, Inter-disciplinarity and Interactivity in performance
* The impact of new media on performance
* Liveness / humanness and the contemporary technological context

5. Pedagogy & Policy
* Designing theatre for diverse settings and audiences (e.g. children, elders, communities, people with disability)
* Performance, ethics, poetics, and politics – visual approaches
* Teaching the visual aspects of performance practice, context and approaches

Papers will also be considered on any related theme. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 4th May 2012. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 3rd August 2012.

300 word abstracts should be submitted to the Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats, following this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract, f) up to 10 keywords.

E-mails should be entitled: Performance3 Abstract Submission

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). Please note that a Book of Abstracts is planned for the end of the year. All accepted abstracts will be included in this publication. We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Organising Chairs:
Sofia Pantouvaki
Professor of Costume Design for Theatre and Film
Aalto University
School of Arts, Design and Architecture

Rob Fisher Network
Founder and Leader, Inter-Disciplinary.Net
United Kingdom

The conference is part of the Critical Issues programme of research projects. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting. All papers accepted for and presented at the conference will be eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers may be developed for publication in a themed hard copy volume(s).

For further details of the project, please click here.

For further details of the conference, please click here.

Please note: Inter-Disciplinary.Net is a not-for-profit network and we are not in a position to be able to assist with conference travel or subsistence.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Manchester Medieval Society Lecture: John Gillis

The Fadden More Psalter

MANCHESTER MEDIEVAL SOCIETY and MANCASS are delighted to host jointly a lecture on The Faddan More Psalter by John Gillis Senior Conservator of books and manuscripts at Trinity College Library

Thursday 22 March 2012 at 6 p.m.

A large, leather-covered book was unearthed in 2006 in a peat bog in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Despite its covering of brown peat, lettering and illuminated decoration were visible and it was immediately obvious that this was a Psalter (book of the Psalms), datable from its decorative style to the eighth-century, a golden age of manuscript illumination in Ireland and Northumbria. John Gillis is working with the National Museum of Ireland on examining and conserving the manuscript.

Venue: The Historic Reading Room, John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Deansgate Building.

Non-members are always welcome.