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London Under Midnight (2006)

CoverLondonUnderMidnightSevern

Severn House cover 2006

Severn House, UK, 2006, ISBN 9780727863980 hardback

Severn House, UK, 2007, ISBN 9780727891808 paperback

While Vampire Sharkz graffiti spread through London that summer like wildfire, its population carried on with life as usual in one of the richest cities on the planet. But beneath the surface, there is change. Men and women are going missing without trace. What has the old African preacher seen emerging from undergrowth near the river Is this the essence of evil encountered long ago…

Simon writes:

VAMPIRE SHARKZ – THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU

The graffiti spread across London that long, over-heated summer in a great blazing rash.

And so begins Chapter 1 of London Under Midnight, a vampire novel in the tradition of Vampyrrhic and Vampyrrhic Rites. To be more specific, the seed was planted when I wrote the short story “Vampyrrhic Outcast” (new edition of Mammoth Book of Vampires edited by Stephen Jones). There, a woman is hurled into a river by a shadowy creature. When she realises she cannot drown she begins to understand a profound change to her body has taken place. This is one of the story strands that London Under Midnight follows into some uncanny and dangerous realms. Meanwhile, Ben Ashton, an investigative writer, is given the assignment of tracking down whoever is responsible for the VAMPIRE SHARKZ graffiti that mysteriously appears in the strangest of places…

London Under Midnight is my first urban novel – I’ve added an article below about the whys and wherefores. It’s entitled “Occult Territory” and if anyone is a fan of Arthur Machen’s work they’ll know where I’m going with this.

The title? Around eighty years ago Lon Chaney starred in London AFTER Midnight; it too featured vampires but the film was lost decades ago. Incidentally, Tod Browning planned to have Chaney take the central role in Dracula but this brilliantly versatile actor died before filming began and old Vlad was played by Lugosi. So the title, London Under Midnight, is a respectful nod toward the Lon Chaney classic that is no more.

Occult Territory – A Rough Guide To Here, There and Beyond

One of my favourite authors, Arthur Machen (1863–1947), coined the phrase ‘occult territories’ for places that evoked not only a sense of awe but had the power to reach into our minds to either frighten, disturb or inspire. Machen found occult territories in the dramatic hills of his native Wales as a child. In adulthood he discovered them again when, as a fledgling writer, he headed to London to find his fortune.

England’s capital for him was an enchanted place. It was a love-hate relationship, however. He wrote about its splendor, comparing it to ‘fabled Babylon,’ but as he worked in his lonely garret he also demonized the city: ‘its immensities and its solitudes overwhelmed me’ then this alarming description: ‘London began to assume for me its terrible aspect. It was rather a goblin’s castle than a city of delights.’ This wasn’t pure paranoia on Machen’s part. His income had dried up, he existed on dry bread and green tea and faced either starvation or the workhouse if he tried to remain in the city. Wisely, he decided to return home to his parents’ house in Wales. However, eventually he would return to London and make home for himself there. Fame did come, of sorts, with the publication of his short story The Bowmen, which launched the famous ‘Angels of Mons’ myth in World War 1.

I first read Machen’s work in my twenties. Until then I’d hardly ever visited London, but suddenly my stories were beginning to sell. Editors invited me to that ‘fabled Babylon’ and I found myself crash-landing in a world that was alien, exhilarating and completely terrifying. Kings Cross is the station that doesn’t so much receive trains from my neck of the woods, but devours them whole in its jaws of brick and steel. That’s how it appeared to me as I left the train to find my way through the dizzying vortex that is the London underground. For outsiders London is an assault on the senses – all those exotic smells, sounds, exotic ethnic cultures, roads swollen with traffic that all of a sudden vanish as you turn into a lonesome alleyway in Whitechapel where Jack the Ripper stalked his victims – for all I knew his descendents might still be continuing the family business – so, as I walked, I did plenty of looking back over my shoulder, half-expecting to see a furtive, shadowy figure looming toward me.

These days I’m a regular visitor to London (and not a nervous one now I’m getting to know the place; although I still get a buzz of excitement every time the train pulls into Kings Cross Station). I’ve explored its secret hinterland with two fellow writers, DF Lewis (www.nemonymous.com) and Mark Samuels (by the way, Mark’s recent novel The Face Of Twilight is a wonderfully dark evocation of the mysterious side of London; highly recommended, and available from PS Publishing). On our long walks, punctuated by refreshments at London pubs (including some frequented by Machen a century ago), we visited the huge Victorian cemeteries of Kensal Green and Highgate; we viewed a Knights Templar church, came across a tiny coffin lying on a woodland path (and I mean tiny; it was empty, obviously made for a mouse-sized animal and lined in crimson silk); we marveled at Egyptian mummies in museums, picked our way through Dickensian bookshops, and in it all glimpsed the unique spirit of London.

After so many visits to a metropolis that can trace its history back nearly two thousand years it fired-up my imagination. Most of my novels have rural settings but my first urban novel, London Under Midnight, has been growing quietly for years in my subconscious. In part it’s also a conduit for that sense of trepidation and awe I felt on my early visits to London – that occult territory, which Machen wrote about with such haunting lyricism. Yet for all the formidable descriptive powers at the man’s disposal he admitted he had ‘never seen London.’ Nobody has. Pay a visit; you gaze on extraordinary facets, glimpse veiled elements, but deep down the city keeps some parts of herself forever hidden from view.