How to relocate a vampire



Readers often tell me that they take my novels on holiday as travel and history guides. I love giving readers an experience on the page, but I love it even more when they are inspired to leave their armchairs and experience the characters and the history firsthand. As an historical novelist, nothing informs my work like travel.  I love to walk in my characters’ footsteps, breathing in the air that they breathed, literally sharing molecules with them.

For Dracula in Love, which recreates Bran Stoker’s Victorian Gothic thriller from the perspective of Mina Harker, the vampire’s eternal muse, I planned to visit allof Stoker’s original haunted settings, but I also wanted to add some newgeography to an old story.  Mina needed a history and a place of birth, both missing in the original.  Moreover—and more radical—I wanted to disentangle Dracula from his Transylvanian roots.  After all, Stoker made up that Dracula lived there.  Why couldn’t I change it? My first step was to relocate myself to London and into a temporary flat in Pimlico, where early in the story, a naive Mina dreams of settling with her future husband, Jonathan Harker.  Later, I moved to a neighborhood developed in 1890, the year in which the novel is set. (My flat, coincidentally, is not far from where Bram Stoker resided.)


Without intentionally planning it, I ended up literally living in the settings of my book! I spent part of my days wandering through the various collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the pre-Raphaelite room at the Tate.  I soaked in the atmosphere at Highgate Cemetery, where Mina’s unfortunate friend Lucy is buried, and on Fleet Street, where another female character Kate Reid, a lady journalist ahead of her time, lives and works.

I ate and drank in London’s historic pubs and restaurants, some of which became settings in the novel.  I also traveled to another famous Stoker location, Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, taking the same route Mina would have taken.  I landed there during Goth Weekend, when vampire fans make an annual Halloween pilgrimage. There, I was treated to the same windswept cliffs, haunted churches and cemeteries, and red-roofed Victorian skyline that inspired Stoker. In order to give Mina a history, I traced the roots of her maiden name, Murray, to Sligo, on the west coast of Ireland. I then discovered that Stoker’s mother was born there—a happy coincidence—and that he’d been influenced by its ghoststories and mystical folklore.  With its rocky sea-scape, ancient Celtic monuments, ominous skies, and fairy mounds, Sligo was indeed the perfect place for a girl with preternatural gifts to be born, and for a vampire to discover and fall in love with his obsession. But I still needed to find a new home for the vampire himself.  Fortuitously, while reading a collection of Stoker’s handwritten notes, I discovered that his original choice for Dracula’s home was Styria, in southern Austria, so I made a reconnaissance trip to explore its possibilities. Again, I discovered a layered, lush landscape, fascinating Gothic and Baroque architecture, and a rich (and spooky) folkloric history, rife with tales of goblins, succubi, and witches.  The city of Graz, perfectly preserved because it was not bombed in WWII, provided a great substitute to the Budapest of the original.  And the surrounding countryside, with its foreboding mountaintop castles and inns, proved anevocative setting for the vampire’s lair. Though I worried over readers missing the Transylvania backdrop, I’ve had no complaints,not even from Dracula himself, who does make noise if provoked.  I am guessing that he is as happy to live in southern Austria as I was to visit it.
Karen Essex

img_karen_side_sharp_01Karen Essex is the national and international bestselling author of LEONARDO’S SWANS, KLEOPATRA, PHARAOH, and several other acclaimed novels, as well as an award-winning journalist and a screenwriter. She has written and developed many projects for major studios and networks and is currently developing a television series with Lions Gate Entertainment. Her books are published in twenty-nine languages. A native of New Orleans, she divides her time between Los Angeles and London.