Freda Warrington is a British author, known for her epic fantasy, vampire and supernatural novels. Her earliest novels, the Blackbird series, were written and published when she was just finishing her teen years; in the intervening years she has seen numerous stand-alone novels and a trilogy published. (The original Blackbird series has recently been put back into print by Immanion Press.) Four of her novels (Dark Cathedral, Pagan Moon, Dracula, The Undead, and The Amber Citadel) have been nominated for the British Fantasy Society’s Best Novel award. Warrington has also seen numerous short stories published in anthologies and magazines.
Born in Leicester, Warrington grew up in Leicestershire. After completing high school, she trained at the Loughborough College of Art and Design and afterward held a job at the Medical Illustration Department of Leicester Royal Infirmary. She eventually moved to full-time writing, pursuing a love she had had since childhood. In addition to her writing, Warrington works part-time in the Charnwood Forest.
A TASTE OF BLOOD WINE and A DANCE IN BLOOD VELVET are getting stunning new reissues from Titan Books, and Freda answered a few of my questions about the series, and more!
Kristin Centorcelli: You have an art background and have an extensive number of titles under your belt already, but what made you decide to first dive into writing (at age 16, no less!)?
Freda Warrington: Actually, make that age five! I don’t know, it just seemed natural to write stories as soon as I could hold a pen (with drawings in those days, ahhh!). As an only child, I shied away from the rough and tumble of other children but loved reading and became a big daydreamer. Writing my daydreams down, or trying to recreate the magic of a story I’d enjoyed, just seemed a normal thing to do and a pleasant way to spend my solitary hours. Trouble is, I’ve never grown out of it! My first novel to be published – A Blackbird in Silver – was started when I was 16. It was by no means the first novel I’d started, but the first one I actually managed to finish, because I always had the closing scene in my head and I had to reach that goal.
FW: The covers are gorgeous, aren’t they? They have great designers!
In 1918, we meet the vampire Karl on a First World War battlefield, struggling to break free from his possessive megalomaniac of a creator, Kristian. Kristian demands total obedience from all his vampire flock, but Karl has other ideas. Cut to 1923, and we meet Charlotte, the shy daughter of a Cambridge scientist. Her sisters are confident party girls, flappers if you like, and her aunt’s a snobbish bully who despairs of making Charlotte fit for ‘society’ and a prestigious marriage. However, Charlotte’s happier beavering away in her father’s cellar laboratory – until she meets his new research assistant, Karl, who is secretly trying to find a way to destroy Kristian. Charlotte needs to escape the oppressive demands of her family, just as Karl needs to escape Kristian’s clutches. After a shaky start, the two are drawn to each other, but it’s only a matter of time before Karl’s identity as a vampire is revealed and things begin to go Horribly Wrong!
So yes, it’s a gothic romance, but there’s a lot more to it than a love story. And I should point out that I wrote it LONG before the more recent outbreak of vampire romances! They may be commonplace now, but when I first conceived the characters – in the early 1980s – vampire/ human relationships were generally shown to be impossible. (And Charlotte’s relationship with Karl certainly isn’t easy – nasty things happen, and tough decisions have to be made that may not be entirely moral…)
Part three of this rather long answer is that I’ve long been fascinated by vampires since watching the Hammer Horror films in childhood! I began A Taste of Blood Wine as escapism from a difficult time in my life. I was also inspired by the classics such as Dracula and Carmilla, and the early Anne Rice novels, which portrayed the vampire as a thinking, feeling creature with his own tale to tell, rather than as a monster that must be staked. However, I was always frustrated by the impossibility of any relationship between vampire and human, other than predator and victim. The vampire can represent so many paradoxical elements of psychology: our fear of death or of the dead coming back from the grave, but also our desire for immortality, eternal beauty, power over others. He or she can be sinister, charming, dangerous, civilised, intelligent, lonely, compelling – and of course the perfect metaphor for the temptations and dangers of sex! With Karl and Charlotte, I set out to explore how a human could break through the barriers and encounter this intriguing creature as an equal. But, I should add, it’s an important principle that my immortals are not “Vampires Lite.” They can’t live on animals, nor abstain completely. They need human blood. In other words, they are proper vampires. This poses them (and their potential human lovers) with all sorts of deep, painful moral dilemmas.
So each vampire has its own way of coping with its bloodthirsty, supernatural nature. And that makes them incredibly interesting to write as characters.
FW: The earliest version of the novel, which I wrote for my own entertainment, was actually set in the eighteenth century! When I came to work on it properly, the 1920s seemed a perfect setting because you’ve got the old, Edwardian world transforming into the modern world. Fashion, technology, morality, society, everything is in a vibrant state of change but the shadow of the Great War still looms over everyone. I loved the glamour, the atmosphere, the blend of old and new. It’s a period that perfectly mirrors the changes that Charlotte goes through as she moves from the shadow of her oppressive, Edwardian upbringing into becoming her true self.
KC: What kind of research did you do for the novel?
FW: Read lots of books about the 1920s! I also spent a weekend with a friend who was studying in Cambridge at the time, and had a lovely time absorbing the atmosphere, looking at some of the settings such as the colleges, and the Cavendish Laboratory. I’d already been on a river trip down the Rhine so that was an evocative location for part of the action. And I read up on vampire lore, mainly to acquaint myself with how it all started, and what I wanted to use or discard for my own vampires. I also have a little twist in the form of the “Crystal Ring”, an astral dimension that only vampires can enter. That just came out of my head!
KC: You’ve written about everything from vampires to faerie…do you have a favorite supernatural creature?
FW: Sword n’ sorcery, epic fantasy, contemporary and supernatural fantasy and alternative history too! My “Aetherials” in Grail of the Summer Stars are a human-like race who can live on Earth or in their own otherworld, but they aren’t elves or faeries exactly. They can change shape, but they aren’t shape-changers either – they are just themselves! I like them a lot, but I think I still like vampires best because they have that edge of danger about them. My least favorite supernatural creature would be the zombie. No offence to any zombie fans, but I just find them horrible without being remotely interesting!
KC: You’ve undoubtedly influenced many writers with your work, but have there been any authors that have influenced you and your work in a major way?
FW: So many… apart from the obvious, such as Tolkien and CS Lewis, I loved the classics we studied at school – Thomas Hardy, the Brontes, Shakespeare – and my imagination was particularly fired by Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, Michael Moorcock, Alan Garner and Joy Chant in my formative teenage years. There were many more – I found the books that fascinated me as a child and teenager were the ones that stayed with me. I’m much less influenced these days by anything I read, however brilliant it is, because as a writer you settle into your own voice as you mature.
KC: What do you enjoy most about writing fantasy?
FW: I think I never grew out of the idea, from the Narnia books, that you could pass through a wardrobe into another world! You see surreal paintings, or have weird and wonderful dreams, and think, what if that were real? I like the freedom of fantasy to create your own worlds, where the rules are different and you can ask questions such as, what if we really could fly, or if magic worked, or non-human beings walked among us? All fiction is a subset of fantasy, of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be fiction. It’s a question of degree, of how much you bend the rules in your created world. But I don’t like to see fantasy dismissed as sub-Tolkienian fluff, because creating your own world and rules gives so much scope to explore really serious subjects – conflict, sacrifice, heroism, morality, to name but a few – in a way that you can’t always in real-world fiction. For example, the evil Serpent in my first novel A Blackbird in Silverwas actually an expression of my terror of the Cold War and nuclear annihilation! I couldn’t do anything about it in real life, but I could express my fears in subconscious, metaphorical form.
KC: How do you like to spend your free time?
FW: Free time, what’s that? Haha – I’m not actually a workaholic, but I do find it hard to relax because I’m always fretting about deadlines and the work I should be doing rather than reading or wasting time on Facebook! I like walking, yoga, reading, watching bits of TV – The Big Bang Theory, Doctor Who, good dramas and documentaries – and visiting our favorite coffee shop with my husband. He loves to travel, so we go to Canada and/ or North America most years. We also enjoy science fiction conventions, and the occasional Goth festival.
KC: What’s next for you?
FW: I’m working on a brand new fourth book in my Blood Wine series, called The Dark Arts of Blood. It feels strange to go back into my vampire world after all this time, but also wonderful because it’s like catching up with old friends! After that, I’m not sure – I have a number of ideas but I don’t know which one I’ll be working on. I’m looking into bringing out some of my backlist, such as my Richard III novel, The Court of the Midnight King. Also I have a number of short stories about my vampires, so something I’d love to do is put them into a collection along with some new ones. We shall see… You can follow my info and news on my website, www.fredawarrington.com.