Kim Newman's classic novel Anno Dracula imagines a world where Dracula wins at the end of Bram Stoker's story, conquering Britain and establishing a vampire-dominated society. Where did this horrifying scenario come from?
To celebrate the reissue of Anno Dracula from Titan Books, Newman explains the genesis of his story, including his literary influences and early discussions with Neil Gaiman and others.
When I was eleven years old, my parents let me stay up past my bed-time to watch the 1931 Tod Browning-Bela Lugosi version of Dracula on television. I can't overestimate the effect this has had on the subsequent course of my life, since the film was the spark which lit the flames of my interests in horror and cinema. I was captivated by Dracula, and became an obsessive in the way only an eleven-year-old can be obsessive. I think my parents expected the craze to wear off, but obviously it never did. Among my first attempts at writing was a one-page play, based on the film, which I typed, starred in, and directed in drama class at Dr Morgan's Grammar School in Autumn, 1970. Mercifully, this juvenilia has been lost.
Shortly afterwards, I read (and reread) Bram Stoker's novel, and went out of my way to catch as many Dracula movies as possible. I had the Aurora glow-in-the-dark hobby kit ('Frightning Lightning Strikes!') of Lugosi as the Count, and began to collect other novels (far fewer then than there are now) which sequelised, imitated, parodied or ripped off the character. When I happened to return to the building which had been Dr Morgan's assembly hall in February 1989, the stage was set for that year's school play, Dracula, which I regarded as a personal vindication.
Here's how Anno Dracula evolved. At Sussex University in 1978, I took a course entitled Late Victorian Revolt, tought by the poet Laurence Lerner and Norman Mackenzie (Wells's biographer), for which I wrote a thesis ('The Secular Apocalypse: The End of the World in Turn of the Century Fictions') which later cropped up as the work of the main character of my novel third novel, Jago. For this, I read up on invasion narratives (George Chesney's 'The Battle of Dorking', Wells's The War in the Air, Saki's When William Came), which imagine England overwhelmed by its enemies (usually the Germans).
I was already interested in alternate history science fiction and recognised in this mostly-forgotten genre the precursors of many twentieth century stories which imagine an alternative outcome to the Second World War featuring a Nazi occupation of Britain (Len Deighton's SS/GB, Kevin Brownlow's film It Happened Here). Other variants are the Communist Britains of Constantine FitzGibbon's When the Kissing Had to Stop and Kingsley Amis's Russian Hide and Seek, the fascist future of Robert Muller's After All, This is England (an underrated novel from a writer whose TV series Supernatural was also an influence on the Anno Dracula world) and the American-occupied England of my friend Paul McAuley's story ‘The King Under the Hill'. In a footnote to my section on these stories, I described Dracula's campaign of conquest in Stoker's 1897 novel as 'a one-man invasion'.
I'm not sure when all the connections were made, but at some point in the early '80s it occurred to me that there might be story potential in an alternative outcome to the novel in which Dracula defeats his enemies and fulfils his stated intention to conquer Britain. It still seems to me something of a disappointment that Stoker's villain, after all his meticulous planning and with five hundred years of scheming monstrousness under his cloak, has no sooner arrived in Britain than he trips up and sows the seeds of his eventual undoing by an unlikely pursuit of the wife of a provincial solicitor.
Van Helsing describes Dracula's project in Britain as to become 'the father or furthurer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life'. Yet Stoker allegorises Dracula's assault on Britain entirely as an attack on the Victorian family, an emblem of all the things he prized and saw as fragile. It struck me as an interesting avenue to explore the kind of England, the kind of world, which would result if Van Helsing and his family of fearless vampire killers were defeated and Dracula was allowed to ‘father and further' his new order.
I remember discussing this idea with Neil Gaiman and Faith Brooker (then an editor at Arrow) around 1984, when Neil and I were compiling a book called Ghastly Beyond Belief for Faith and trying to come up with novel ideas we could sell her (I also remember gruesome horror novel pitches called The Creeps and The Set). Among many projects we talked about but never did much with was the idea of a trilogy on my ‘Dracula Wins' theme, which would have concentrated on the workings of a vampire government from the 1880s to the First World War (Neil was keen on writing the trenches scenes). Nothing was ever written down, but the vision then was of a story that concentrated on high places: it was to have been set in the corridors of power, with Dracula as a major character, and the plot would be what eventually became the backstory of the novels, the workings of vampire politics, following Dracula's rise to power and the efforts of British revolutionary groups and foreign powers to oust him from the throne.
The idea lay about in my head gathering dust and the odd character (Charles Beauregard, for instance, came from a fragment called ‘Beauregard in the Fog' I wrote at university: he was intended as a dashing if troubled Victorian hero along the lines of Rudolph Rassendyll in The Prisoner of Zenda or Gerald Harper in the old TV series Adam Adamant Lives!), until 1991 when Stephen Jones asked me to write something for an anthology project he was working on, The Mammoth Book of Vampires. I felt a mammoth book of vampires should have some showing from the king of the undead, so Steve's request prompted me finally to set down the parameters for Anno Dracula.
The result was 'Red Reign', which first appeared in Steve's book (published by Robinson in the UK and Carroll & Graf in the US) and is the bare skeleton of Anno Dracula. For Steve's later The Mammoth Book of Dracula, I wrote ‘Coppola's Dracula', which will appear as part of the fourth book in the series, Johnny Alucard.
Meanwhile I'd already been drawn to vampires in my work under the name of Jack Yeovil for GW Books' tie-ins to their Warhammer fantasy universe. As Jack, I developed not only a system of vampirism that, crossbred with Bram Stoker's, survives in the Anno Dracula novels, but also the creature who became their most popular character. For the record, the Genevieve of the Jack Yeovil novels and stories is not the same character as the Geneviève of Anno Dracula, but she is her trans-continual cousin. That Genevieve (who lacks an accent because the primitive word-processing software of the day tended to throw up type-setting glitches which made them inadvisable) was introduced in Drachenfels and has her own complicated biography.
For me, book ideas are like coral reefs, built up as bits and pieces stick together over years. With Anno Dracula, I had the background and the two lead characters, plus the notion (inspired by Philip José Farmer) of a large cast list which would include not only real Victorians (Oscar Wilde, Gilbert and Sullivan, Swinburne) but famous characters from the fiction of the period (Raffles, various Holmesian hangers-on, Dr Moreau, Dr Jekyll).
In The Night Mayor, my first novel, I had explored the idea of a consensus genre world, whereby all the faces and figures from 1940s films noirs hung out in the same city; it was an obvious step to make the London of Anno Dracula a similar site, where the criss-crossing stories of all the great late Victorian horror, crime and social melodramas were being played out at the same time (yes, it all goes back to the likes of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man). This adds to a certain spot-the-reference feel some readers have found annoying but which others really enjoy: I admit to getting a tiny thrill when I can borrow a character from E.M. Forster or resurrect someone as forgotten as Dr Nikola. This also allows me to make the novel as much a playground as a minefield, and go beyond historical accuracy to evoke all those gaslit, fogbound London romances.
One of the things my plot needed was a plethora of vampires, since Dracula would have turned a great many Britishers into his get, starting with a couple of Stoker's characters (Arthur Holmwood, Mina Harker) and extending to a lot of real people from Queen Victoria to a horde of walk-on prostitutes and policemen. I decided that if Dracula were to replace Prince Albert as Victoria's consort, then all the other vampires of literature would come out of hiding and flock to his court in the hope of advancement.
After Dracula, the best-known vampire in literature was Dr Polidori's Lord Ruthven (this was before Twilight, True Blood, Buffy and other franchises which will have to take their lumps in later books), so he came forward to take the job of Dracula's Prime Minister and stick around for the rest of the series (in The Bloody Red Baron, the second Anno Dracula novel, I see Ruthven as John Major to the Count's Margaret Thatcher).
For my other major vampire characters, I drew on less-known names, borrowing from Alexander Dumas (in The Pale-Faced Lady), Eric, Count Stenbock (in 'The True Story of a Vampire', which I found in James Dickie's anthology The Undead), George A. Romero (in Martin) and the ever-dependable Anonymous (in 'The Mysterious Stranger') for the worthies Kostaki, Vardalek, Martin Cuda and von Klatka. I decided to let LeFanu's Carmilla stay dead, but at least gave her a mention, and thought it obligatory to have some fun at the expense of the real-life Elizabeth Bathory (my version owes more to Delphine Seyrig in Le Rouge aux levres than history) and Anne Rice's fashion-plate bloodsuckers.
I enjoyed cramming in as many previous vampires as possible, to the extent of writing a speech which finds Ruthven nastily listing all his peers and being rude about them. In follow-up novels, I have enjoyed working a little more with Les Daniels' Don Sebastian de Villanueva and Barbara Steele's Princess Asa Vajda, though I'm wary of doing too much with other people's characters when their original creators might not yet be finished with them.
The final element which dropped into place was the actual plot. I needed a spine for the story, which would enable me to explore the world I had created and wanted something which would take the readers on a tour of my London that would include the slums and the palaces. The story of Jack the Ripper would have been hard to keep out of Anno Dracula, but the idea that the unknown serial killer was a vampire (a theme Robert Bloch made his own in 'Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper' and which has been rehashed several times since) not only struck me as old hat but also not quite right for a story in which vampires were out in the open rather than cowering in the fog.
So, with the world turned upside-down, Jack the Ripper should be a vampire-killer; Stoker had obligingly called one of Van Helsing's disciples Jack, made him a doctor and indicated that his experiences in the novel were pretty much pushing him over the edge. Therefore, Stoker's Dr Seward became my Jack the Ripper, driven mad by the staking of Lucy Westenra, with whom he was in love, and stalking vampire whores in Whitechapel. To make his situation more complex, I made Mary Kelly, the Ripper's last victim, the get of the vampire Lucy and also her near-lookalike.
The Ripper story is nowadays almost as big a favourite with the conspiracy theorists as the Kennedy assassination, and so it became quite natural to depict the effects of a series of sex crimes on a volatile society. With a killer on the loose, my other characters had all sorts of reasons - self-serving or noble - to find out who he was, to hinder or help his crimes or to make propagandist use of him. I was trying, without being too solemn, to mix things I felt about the 1980s, when the British Government made 'Victorian Values' a slogan, with the real and imagined 1880s, when blood was flowing in the fog and there was widespread social unrest. The Ripper murders also gave the novel a structure: the real dates of the killings - I couldn't resist adding the Ripper's most famous fictional victim, Wedekind's Lulu, to his historical list - became pegs for the plot, and other actual events like a Bernard Shaw speech, the bogus letters from the Ripper to the press or an inquest also fit into the fantasy.
The Ripper theme imposed a specific date on the action, the Autumn of 1888. It is often assumed that the events of the Stoker novel take place in 1893 (the dates he gives fit that year), however there is a chink in the argument. Published in 1897, Dracula ends with a present-day chapter locating the bulk of the story seven years in the past; it is implied that the book itself is part of the story, a non-fiction compilation memoir compiled by Mina Harker at the behest of Van Helsing and presumably agented for publication by Bram Stoker the way Holmesians assume Arthur Conan Doyle agented Dr Watson's memoirs. Numerous small details - like the use of the phrase 'new woman', coined in 1892, or even the comparative sophistication of Dr Seward's phonograph - jar with the notion that the book takes place before 1890, however. If Stoker had wanted to specify a year, he undoubtedly would have – it was not yet a convention to pin fictions down to a calendar date, even in the 19th Century equivalent of a techno-thriller. I plumped - as did Jimmy Sangster, Terence Fisher and Hammer Films for their 1958 Dracula (Horror of Dracula to heathen Americans) - for an 1885 setting for the main action of Dracula, and opted to shift on to an alternate timetrack half-way through Stoker's Chapter 21 (on page 249 of Leonard Wolf's annotated edition). Stoker's Dracula is already an alternate world story, set in a timeline where social and mechanical progress advanced slightly faster than in our own, and where certain givens of London geography are altered (his London boasts a Kingstead Cemetery in the region of Hampstead Heath, presumably corresponding to our own Highgate Cemetery). In reworking history, I took as a starting point Stoker's imagined world rather than our own, even to the extent of finally presenting to the public Kate Reed, a character conceived by Stoker for Dracula but omitted from the novel (and who has become more important in the sequels). There are a few other anachronisms (some deliberate) because I wanted to overlay the actual 1980s on the imaginary 1880s.
And now, twenty years on, it's taken on a life of its own.