Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Stained-Glass Windows and Ancient Curses.

I've always loved the beauty of stained-glass windows. There's something alluring about the jewel-like effect of watery colours cascading over stone walls and floors, illuminating, what would otherwise be, a dark interior. It's mesmerising, and many have found that, too, over the centuries. In the medieval period, people flocked into the magnificent gothic cathedrals to gaze in awe at the coloured lights, feeling themselves lifted above the the squalor in which they lived and drawn into the glories of heaven. And like books, those rich windows told stories, teaching a largely illiterate population biblical and moral lessons, and reminding them of the glorious world beyond this one.
The Abbey in Annandale, NSW, Australia
In the Victorian era, when the tax on glass had long been lifted, stained-glass windows became a status symbol with the newly established upper-middle classes. Their neo-gothic mansions boasted enormous windows of coloured glass, displaying the source of their wealth and their newly established coats-of-arms. It was meant to impress. One such Victorian mansion, near where I live, became the inspiration for the D'Antonville window in my books. But unlike those in the houses of the nouveau riche, mine displayed the sad history of a cursed family. As in a church, it told a story.
The stained glass window from St Alban's Episcopal Church in Hertfordshire in the UK (pictured here), was how I envisioned its central character, Marcus Antonius Pulcher, to appear.
http://st-albans-church.org/the-story-of-saint-alban/
      Here's how I describe it in my book, BloodGifted:

      I wandered through the downstairs hall and came upon another set of stone steps leading up to a half-landing from which streamed a beam of coloured watery light. Curious, I followed them up and came face-to-face with the image of an ancient Roman soldier.
     I sat on the topmost step and leaned my back against the wall for a better look.
     Within the confines of an exquisite lead-lined window, the soldier - whom I recognised from last night's ceremony as Marcus Antonius - stood at attention. One hand rested on a large rectangular shield at his feet, the other held a spear. The shield carried the image of a sword flanked by two coiled serpents, whose glowing red eyes were shaped like teardrops.
     My breath caught in my chest. It was the same image as on my ring.
     Hovering on either side of Marcus were eight smaller figures in Roman military uniform. I looked closer and recognised the faces of Alec's friends - Terens, Sam, Cal, Jake and four others I didn't know.
     A soft thud sounded behind me. I turned to see Luc coming up the stairs.
     "You forgot these." He handed me half a breadstick and a fresh mug of coffee.
     I blinked and refocused as I gratefully took the food, the window temporarily forgotten. Luc sat on the step next to me, leaned his back against the stone balustrade and watched me eat the breadstick. I thought I heard him murmur, ma petite, ma fille, once or twice.
     "Yes, that's him - Marcus Antonius Pulcher." He pointed at the window. "Your ancestor, my Laura."
     I stared at the image with renewed interest, barely registering the way he called me "my" Laura.
     "What you see on the shield - the two serpents - represent his children, twins: a boy Lucius Antonius and a girl, Antonia."
     I was taken aback. Kids could be difficult sometimes, but it was a bit harsh to show them as snakes. Either he was a mind reader or my face betrayed my thoughts, for he gave a faint smile. "The serpent was not regarded as evil among the ancients. It was seen as a symbol of immortality, for it shed its wrinkled old skin and grew a healthy new one."
     "Oh." What woman on the planet wouldn't want to do that?
     "You are directly descended from Antonia. I was hoping I'd get the chance to tell you the story while you were here."
     "Please do."
     Luc smiled and turning back to the window, recounted Marcus's story. I felt myself drawn back all those centuries, like a silent witness to a long ago scene as he described Marcus's ride into the village, the failed attempt to rescue Roman captives, the massacre of the villagers and the witch's curse turning him and his men into vampires. But his last words haunted me....

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Thursday, 18 February 2016

I Always Knew Rasputin Was a Vampire.

When choosing an antagonist for my books, being a historian, I naturally veered toward an infamous character from history. And what a huge playground that is in which to roam. With such a plethora of interesting villains it was hard to know who to choose. Psychopathic Roman emperors such as Nero and Caligula; murderous conquerors like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane? Or more recent notorious individuals who still haunt the popular imagination, like Grigory Rasputin, the Mad Monk and confident of the last royal house of Russia - the Romanovs?
Decisions, decisions....
Characters like these make great choices for fictional villains. For one thing, they're all dead so can't sue you for character assassination! Perfect.
Why did I decide on Rasputin? He's a mysterious, fascinating and controversial figure considered evil by some sources and a saint by others. All depends on who you read. Many consider him responsible for the demise of the Romanovs, and much has been written on his strange relationship with the Czarina, Alexandra Fedorovna, wife of Nicholas II. Almost all the sources are in agreement that he had some form of hypnotic influence over the Czar's family. The fact that he was so hard to kill - poisoned, shot, bludgeoned and thrown into a freezing river to drown (he eventually died of hypothermia) - was a spur to my already-overactive imagination. What else could he be but a vampire?
It was to good to resist.

Here's how he first appears in BloodPledge, Bk2 in my Dantonville Legacy series:

     By the time I got to the top of the stairs, Kari was already at the bottom with a group of men. As I joined her, five faces turned to look at me - Marcus Antonius, Jake and Terens, and two men I didn't recognise. One stood an inch or so taller than the rest, with deep, penetrating eyes that seemed to bore into my soul.
     "Ah, our little Ingenii," he drawled. "How I was looking forward to meeting you." If a voice could drip evil, his did. Hypnotic eyes. Strange warmth crept over me.
     "Lower your eyes snake," Marcus Antonius snarled. I was vaguely aware of him pushing the man onto his knees.
     I blinked and gripped the marble bannister as Kari stepped in front of me, blocking him from my view. "Go back upstairs, Laura," she whispered over her shoulder.
     "Control your pet, Timur," Alec said from behind me as he came down the stairs, His voice held a lethal tone.
     Kari glanced up at him, smiled then stepped aside and went to stand next to Jake. Hie whispered something to her I couldn't catch; his mouth was a hard line, jaw clenched.
     Alec joined me and took my hand. He was formally dressed in a lead-coloured suit with black lapels and matching shirt, and a lavender tie that set off the brilliance of his eyes. The cut of the suit, in particular, emphasised the width of his shoulders and nearly took my breath away. It was a stunning contrast to my ivory dress and for a moment I wondered if he'd listened in on my conversation with Kari.
     ... The man rose, his gaze locked on the ground, the knuckles of his clenched fists white as they hung by his side. It seemed the very air around him crackled with suppressed rage. Had the others felt it? As Jake led him away - Kari by his side - I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped I would never have to meet the man with the penetrating eyes any time soon.
     Alec's gaze followed him until they were out of sight.
     "Who are they?" I asked.
     "Count Timur Szechenyi and Grigory Rasputin." Marcus Antonius answered in his deep baritone voice. He'd remained standing in the hallway, sword sheathed.
     "The Rasputin? The mad monk who got the Russian royal family killed?"
     "The same."
     "No wonder they couldn't kill him." From what I remembered of my high school history, he was supposedly poisoned, shot, bludgeoned and his body thrown into a frozen river by Russian aristocrats trying to protect the Czar's family. Obviously, they were unsuccessful.

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Until next time,
Happy reading.