If you’re a fan of Dracula novels then Kim Newman’s name will sound very familiar. He’s written a marvelous series of books that are alternate histories and weave their way through real events and fictional ones.
The first book, “Anno Dracula” was about the main characters’ involvement with count Dracula in the 1880s when he became consort to Queen Elizabeth. He began a reign of terror as he brought vampires into the mainstream world. A tyrant, cruel and arbitrary, he was eventually faced with a revolution.
Now, in “Dracula Cha Cha Cha“, it’s 1959 and WWII is in the past. Hitler viewed vampires of Dracula’s lineage as being impure so the great vampire found himself on the wrong side of the battle. On Hitler’s hit list Dracula decided to help the allies win the battle. As a reward, Dracula is allowed to reside in a “Palace” that might be considered a prison by some.
Dracula is planning to marry a Moldavian Princess and all involved are wondering what the vampire is plotting. What power will he gain through his marriage? As everyone arrives in Rome for the wedding – the plot begins to unfold.
Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes club is a main character throughout the series. He is still human and aging while his companion, Genevieve is a vampire. These two wonderful characters are brought back in the third book in this series. Charles is 105, Genevieve still a youthful vampire and they’re mystified by a masked killer who is murdering aging vampires.
Mr. Newman was kind enough to answer some questions for me about “Dracula Cha Cha Cha”.
IMP: You’re obviously a fan of both history and popular fiction. How do you choose which characters to weave through history and which pieces of history will be changed? Do you come up with a variety of plot lines and then choose ones that speak to you?
NEWMAN: In this series, I began with a premise – Dracula’s victory – that prompted the creation of a fantastical version of 1888, but in subsequent novels, I’ve tried to keep history more or less on our track, albeit with vampires as major players and a some jiggling to keep my own principle cast in play in a way that edges some real folk to the sides of the picture (Lord Ruthven remaining Prime Minister, for instance, means some real politicians don’t get their spell in office). I want to go for a fractured reality rather than a ripples-in-a-pond alternate history whereby the parallel world becomes unrecognisable. So, the 1959 of Dracula Cha Cha Cha is an augmented version of our own history and our image of the period as seen in fictions like La Dolce Vita, The Talented Mr Ripley and the Bond books/films. I tend to select dates/locations and have some idea of a plot, then cast around for folk from history or fiction to be supporting characters. Sometimes, it’s inescapable – I needed Biggles in The Bloody Red Baron and the Barbara Steele character from La maschera del demonio in Dracula Cha Cha Cha because I associate them so much with the times and places of the novels – but sometimes I’ll scout around to see which pre-existing characters make the best fit. Often, this means taking someone not that well-known, like Caleb Croft from the 1972 film Grave of the Vampire, and giving them a major role: without the need to keep too much continuity with earlier versions of the character, it’s easier to make them part of my ongoing series.
IMP: The characters in “Dracula Cha Cha Cha” seem to be more introspective than in the first two books. There’s reminiscing, memories of the past, why is that?
NEWMAN: It’s mostly because we’re seventy-five years into the Anni Draculae, and the antagonists of the first book – Dracula and Charles Beauregard – are getting on in years, while the three female characters – Geneviève Dieudonné, Kate Reed, Penelope Churchward – have lived through a lot in the earlier novels and need to sort things out among themselves. After two novels set essentially in times of revolution and war, this is also the first chance I had to write about the Anno Dracula world in a time of relative peace – not that a war or revolution is ever far away – and so there’s room for a more gossipy tone.
IMP: Are your characters, Hamish Bond and Gregor Brastove an homage to James Bond?
NEWMAN: They’re clearly my take on Ian Fleming, though filtered through the Anno Dracula world so they’re both vampires – but also because I wanted to pull back a bit from the specifics of Fleming’s (or even the Bond films’) characters so I could play with that whole 1960s Bond craze for superspies and diabolical masterminds. Hamish Bond is as much the various Eurospy knock-offs of James Bond as he is the original, and as a shapeshifter he takes on aspects of many incarnations of the super secret agent archetype. In the Anno Dracula rules of vampirism, vampires pass on attributes of themselves when they turn other people into vampires – and this Bond was turned by Daniel Dravot, the Kipling character from ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ who has lurked in the background of all the books and who I can’t help think of with Sean Connery’s face since he played him in the John Huston film, which is why Hamish starts out like the Bond of the books (or the newspaper comics) but transforms into something Connery-like (and, later, other actors’ readings of the role) as the world changes from Fleming’s 1950s to the films’ 1960s. Brastov is a character from Charles L. Grant’s book The Soft Whisper of the Dead, but he makes sense as a Bond villain – they’re all versions of Dr Mabuse, Professor Moriarty or Fu Manchu, who’ve been knocking about in the Anno Dracula novels themselves. In many ways, Dracula is an avatar of the Bond villain too. The joke about the white cat was one of the first things I thought of for the book.
IMP: Count Dracula is always more of a “presence”, a “force of nature” that the other characters must do battle with on some level. Why the choice to keep him “in the shadows” so to speak?
NEWMAN: Fred Saberhagen’s brilliant novel The Dracula Tapes – and a run of sequels – had done a fine job of presenting Dracula’s side of the story, and the trend with film and novel representations of the character was to make him a viewpoint character, to give him love interest or shading. I just decided to take another route, to turn him back into Stoker’s incarnation of everything evil – and I reckoned it would be more effective to have him as a permeating influence rather than a direct player. I’ve tried to come up with different things for him to do or represent in each novel, and to play some tricks with his actual presence or participation in the narrative. The first book treats him like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (or Heart of Darkness): he’s talked about all the way through, but we only meet him at the end. Obviously, I couldn’t do that again – so the later novels give him different roles, which I hope surprise some readers. This approach also means I can give more room to other characters, many of whom define themselves by their relationship with or attitude to Dracula – I’ve become very fond of Lord Ruthven, who was the default vampire character before Dracula came along (many film versions of Dracula play more like Ruthven than Stoker’s brute), and it struck me that he might resent being eclipsed in popular imagination by a cruder vampire.
IMP: Without giving away what happens in the novel – what are you plans to continue the series?
NEWMAN: Johnny Alucard, the next novel, is set in the 1970s and ’80s, mostly in Romania and America, and deals with manifestations of Dracula in the movies and politics – it also brings along my regular characters, and finds them still trying to fit into the world somewhere. I’ve just finished writing that. I will do a fifth book, but I’m not yet sure what it’ll be about – I might bring the series into the 21st Century, but equally I might go back and look at what else has happened over the century.