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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Diabolis of Dublin - a vampire novel by Michael Mulvihill

When Michael Mulvihill asked me to review his most recent novel, Diabolis of Dublin, I was somewhat cautious, perhaps even reluctant. 

This wasn't anything to do with the quality of Michael's writing, most definitely not. After all I thoroughly enjoyed his first horror novel, the excellent Siberian Hellhole, the proof of which is in a much earlier earlier blog entry which if you are interested can be found HERE. 

No, the actual problem was the subject matter...........Vampires, blooming Vampires.

There were two particular things that provided the formative inspirations for my love of horror- the first was Universal studios productions of the Frankenstein movie series with Boris Karloff in his iconic splendour. The first movie I can ever really remember staying up late for (& well past my official bedtime) was 'The son of Frankenstein' which scared the living hell out of me and meant I didn't sleep for a week ( in fact I refused to sleep in my room alone) - it was wonderful! 

The second and possibly greater influence on my horror devotism (I'm not sure if that's a word, but I'm keeping it) was that of Dracula. Even from a very young age I, like many others, had had a fascination with all things vampire. For example I can distinctly remember reading one particular book, when I was about 10 years old, on Vlad the Impaler and other inspirations for the bloodsucking vampire myths. It had an effect on me like few other books have ever had - it opened up a world of these wonderfully terrifying creatures of the night. 

Then as my love of horror movies grow so did my love of the various incarnations by the likes of Lugosi, Lee, Langella et al, each in their different but wonderful portrayals of the eponymous Count. For me, vampires in movies such as the delectable Hammer films and a plethora of other incarnations meant that vampires were generally what symbolised all that could be perfect about the horror medium. They could be grotesque and nasty, they could be terrible and sadistic, but they could also be deliciously complex and occasionally textured and sympathetic creations. Whatever they were, they always symbolised one thing- what horror could really be.

That is until Twilight - bloody Twilight. Bloody Hell.
Now, I could cheerfully fill up endless rant-fuelled pages about the damage I think that twilight did to the reputation of vampires in terms of authentic horror story telling. Even typing the word 'sparkly' in relation to that abomination of book and movie series makes me turn a little queasy - and as for the memory of being dragged by my daughter to see one of this monstrosities at the cinema, sat in a packed auditorium and being only one of two males in the whole place is something that makes me feel more than a little traumatised. I know there are some that disagree with me (Michael Mulvihill himself will do so shortly) in the view that the effect of Twilight (and to a certain extent even the likes of Buffy the vampire slayer and Angel) has been to sanitise the whole Vampire genre. They have been transformed from blood sucking demonic creatures of the night into coiffured and perfectly formed specimens of souls who's only torture is to pine longingly at the object of their particular affections - god it's enough to chill me to the bone......and not in a good way.

So in recent years we have seen the once all-powerful vampire transformed into a simpering, whimpering love sick individual who has flawlessly pale skin, a penchant for chilled transfused blood and who sparkles rather nicely when finally bumped off either by another simpering vampire or occasionally a muscular pretty-boy Werewolf. The Vampire as a classic personification of horror has now been usurped by the Zombie though a veritable plethora of entertainment mediums , though there are signs that the genre may be feeling the beginnings of a backlash in some quarters. I'm not saying that this is all the fault of Twilight - but it is!

So when I received a copy of Micheal's book I was rather intrigued on two levels. Firstly would he be able to match the quality of his first book, Siberian Hellhole. Secondly, and for purely selfish reasons, more importantly, would he be able contribute to rekindling the view and genuine love of Vampires?

Let's see shall we? First a brief little overview.......a synopsis if you will.


It is the month of October and Dublin is preparing to celebrate “The Bram Stoker Festival.” But little does Dublin know it has a Dracula of its very own. 

Lucis Diabolis has just consumed the blood of the inner cities underclasses. The junkie hordes which inhabit the city have provided a meal for Diabolis that is less than gourmet. Having talked to demons and seen the ghosts of those who were violently killed in the city centre, the vampire returns to his home. 

On entering his tomb in Mount Jerome the consequences of consuming such impure blood begin to emerge. He spends his day experiencing side effects akin to the dreaded delirium tremens. When Diabolis emerges from his tomb he feels only slightly improved. He contemplates the rich, noble, aristocratic heritage, of Mount Jerome Cemetery and laments the wealthy people of long ago who are now underneath the ground in graves. Diabolis wishes that these aristocrats were alive so he could eat and drink their refined, noble blood. 

It dawns on the vampire Lucis Diabolis that the cure for having consumed such horrid blood is simply to consume noble, rich, affluent blood. This will surely enliven and heal his system entirely.But how is the vampire Lucis Diabolis to find such blood? 

This is Diabolis dilemma, especially in an era where blood is so blatantly mixed, rendering true, noble blood, harder and harder to obtain............

Well that all sounds rather fab and dandy doesn't it? And yet I wasn't just going to take the writers word for it, because in science fiction/fantasy and horror blog summer school the first lesson of reviewing is that one actually should read or view the material for oneself before providing an opinion. It's a rather earth-shattering revelation but I thought I would give it a go  - and so read it I did.

I am more than happy to say that Michael Mulvihill's second novel does not disappoint, in fact I would as far so say that I enjoyed it even more than his first venture into horror. Siberian Hellhole was a beautifully crafted story that suffered only very occasionally from the authors obvious psychological technical knowledge getting in the way of the narrative. However in Diabolis of Dublin we witness the evolution and maturity of a writer and his craft moving ever towards an ever increasing level of confidence, and with it, skill. Not only has he crafted a lead character in Lucis Diabolis who simply oozes a delicious combination of evil charm and sadistic power, he has set the story against a backdrop of a city that Michael obviously knows well, and loves. I have never been to Dublin, but as a result of Michael's exquisitely detailed and textured description of both well known and lesser known locations, I feel like I now know the place. 

We are presented with a darkly eerie and exciting reading experience as we follow Lucis around Dublin in his quest to feed and rid himself of his infection. Michael Mulvihill is fast developing a style of prose that is both engaging and darkly atmospheric as he skilfully creates a tale of traditional tale of terror without ever succumbing to parody or cliche. 

Will this appeal to many of us traditionalists who yearn for a resurgence of nasty, violent vampire behaviour? Indeed it will. Do you like your lead vampires with barely concealed levels of grotesque depravity? Well here you have him. Do you like your horror writers who not only produces horror as it it should be written but also treats his subject material and reader with a genuine sense of respect? Well here he is.

Diabolis of Dublin is a traditional vampire story set within a contemporary location. It works beautifully. It is both beautifully written and expertly presented by a writer who is improving with his every work. This is exactly how tales of vampires should be - dark, threatening and deliciously frightening. I'm not sure if it will appeal to the legion of Twilight readers - and that we should be eternally grateful for methinks

I don't regard myself as a writer, more a scribbler of abstract thoughts and self-indulgent opinions within this blog. This isn't false modesty, I sincerely believe that I simply don't possess what it takes to be a writer of fiction - for one thing I don't have the patience ( or the talent!). 

Consequently I thought it would be nice to have a wee looksee into the mind of the writer and find out a little about what makes him tick and as luck would have it, Michael kindly offered to answer some of my inane questions to offer up a unique and considered insight into the formulation of his craft. Add to that a rather cheeky sense of humour - let Mr Mulvihill be assured that his assertions that I love Twilight and Justine Bieber are libellous, slanderous and any other 'ous' I can think of and that my legal team are fast working on an appropriate response that may well end up in court......either that I might just stick out my tongue at him and shout "Liar, liar pants on fire!!"

(Me) So Michael, what inspired you to become a writer on an already competitive & some would argue, saturated genre?

"My answer to the latter part of that question where you say an already “competitive& some would argue, saturated genre” is that I never factor these things in when I am writing something.  I just write and things like competition and saturation I don’t care about, I have a desire to tell stories.

We live in a new world, a world of technological innovation at a time when writers and readers are experiencing a revolution which I have dreamt of since I was a young adult where the constraints placed on writers could be lifted.  I can say thank goodness they are.  What I want to convey to you is that writers are free and thank goodness they are free to write what they want. Writers no longer have to be under the s and m chains and whips and torments of traditional publishing.  Stuart this wonderful change has come. So lets address the more from the heart aspect of this question, “What inspired you to become a writer” as you say in your question, and obviously in view of me being horror writer, which is implied in the asking of this question. The horror genre becomes very natural to my personality.  I am very obsessed with life and death. 

I write horror because I believe this genre has the great power to say things which are very true to the human  condition, this is what makes me want to write horror. I am acutely aware of mental illness, addiction, because of my academic interests.  I am all too sadly familiar, because of my clinical work, of the horrendous traumas our fellow human beings have inflicted upon each other. 

Writing horror also helps me to give therapy to myself.  The Ancient Greeks believed that the best type of therapy for oneself is plenty of writing and plenty of reading and exercise so this what I do. 

In vampire horror I can attack the false pretences that a vampire is a supernatural creature that has a full grip on immortality.  If this is so why are they afraid of daylight?

With vampire literature I can also show how transient life is.  There is so much I personally can play around with.

I have been writing horrific stuff since I was 17 for so many reasons.  I may be an exclusively horror author all my life.  But a lifetime is still a long, long time, at least I sincerely hope it is. "

(Me)  Diabolis of Dublin is your second novel. What lessons did you learn from the experience of your first book, Siberian Hellhole?

" I have learnt from writing Siberian Hellhole that I can write one book a year or at least one hundred thousand words a year. 

Maybe I can write much, much more.  I learnt that I do prefer novels than the short stories I write.  

But having said that I do think that my short story “Resting Without Peace” which is in issue 66 of is a good example of a short story I wrote.  After writing Siberian Hellhole my main focus is now on writing horror novels. But every year I intend to publish short stories in BP and when I feel comfortable with the range of short stories I have published I will chose the best and put it into one volume and see what the horror community/reading community think. So the first lesson I learnt was focus and goal setting in my writing.

The second lesson I learnt is that people we would think represent the traditional mainstream, like people in National Newspapers and traditionally published authors have loved Siberian Hellhole and so now I see that it is not a futile exercise for me to at least submit Diabolis of Dublin to traditional publishers, this is the reason why I unpublished it from Kindle.  I will publish it again if I have to, but judging from the reactions of my work it has become a conviction that my work deserves to be mainstream published and yes I desire it, so I must give it a go.

I learnt from writing Siberian Hellhole that I am not finished with The USSR or Post USSR, Russia or the former bloc countries. I could write and research so much about this, I really have an interest in this place.  Definitely I will write some book that will either be set in Siberia or a former Soviet Republic either in the Soviet Period or during Glasnost, or such a novel will be inspired by the immense education I got from researching it.

Siberian Hellhole was set in Siberia.  But I know as a writer I need to challenge myself. Diabolis of Dublin” was done from a lesson I learnt from Siberian Hellhole.  People kept asking me why am I not basing my stories in Ireland since I am Irish? What can I say, the gauntlet was thrown down to the author and the gauntlet was answered."

(Me) Some within the horror community view examples such as the Twilight series as a terminal nail In the coffin of vampires. So why did you choose to write a vampire novel?

" This answer may seem pedantic.  But I want to be focused and address every part of these questions and statements you are giving me.

So lets talk about Twilight.  (I bet visitors to your blog just love Twilight, The Vampire Diaries and Justin Bieber, Beverley Hills 90210, hunks and cheer leaders, the whole high school scene and fashion, and that’s cool! And that shows you how well I know your readers right)

Look here Stu, more and more publishers want writers to pull genres together.  This is what Twilight is.  It is a mixture of teen angst, high school drama meets vampire, meets stunning good looks meets the fashion cat walk, designer clothes meets fashion style, meets horror, and what you get is what some mainstream publishers want, and what some people of our time call, ‘great writing.’  This is also the era where some people want to kill literature and all things literary.  In these times writing quality matters less than “The High Concept.”  If you can pull big themes together, do a vulgar lab based clone job on them, pushing as much as you can together, and if your novel sounds like an extension of a movie script, this is what is most desired by the mainstream.

In contrast I believe writing should be intelligent and it should be beautiful.  But this is out of bounds with conventional mainstream writing which seems to be stylistically cloned from other best selling writers.  If it sells well it has to be brilliant and definitely superior to something that does not sell so well.

Is twilight the nail in the coffin of the vampire genre? No.

Look I know your readers love Twilight and want more of it so they will be sad to know I have never watched it/read it. But they will be demanding me and possibly torturing me to read it and watch every one of the series.  But I also want to say that this type of torture should be made illegal under some article of UN Human Rights Law.

So why do I say no the Twilight series has not done a destructive job to vampire horror?
Number One, Horror is a special genre.  Horror has its own publishing houses, its own movie makers and its own production companies that are dedicated to making horror that is not mainstream. These non mainstream genre people will always make non mainstream stuff, some of which will feature vampires or vampire related themes like “Midnight Son” 2012 which are absolute gems.  I really loved “Midnight Son.”

The beauty of our genre is that our genre proves that something does not have to sell millions to gain cult classic status, nor does it have to be on some silly bestseller list, or to be widely applauded.  My favourite vampire piece is Abel Ferrara’s “The Addiction.”

These are examples of non mainstream exquisite vampire stories and I don’t care home much Twilight has sold or any of that nonsense, because I know in my heart of heart the makers of Twilight can’t tie the shoe laces of the makers and creators of “The Addiction,” and “Midnight Son.”

Now people might say okay Mike these are great examples of the horror genre.  I would also cite examples of mainstream vampire fiction and cinema that has done the genre proud. I believe “True Blood,” “Let Me In,” “Let The Right One In” are great examples of adult vampire horror.  I believe that “The Vampires Assistant” is a great example of young adult vampire horror. 

I also believe that the horror genre for children is thriving and in respect of that may I site “Monsters House,” “Coraline,”  “Paranorman,” “Hotel Transylvania,” all of these examples of our genre will inspire the next generation to do fantastic things with horror and of course with vampire horror.  So Stuart it takes more than a nail in the coffin to kill a vampire and please tell that to those out there who do not know this about our beloved vampires. "

So why did you choose to write about vampires?

" I have studied and completed six higher level degrees of a sociological, psychological, philosophical, psychoanalytical quality.  I am relieved to say that Bram Stoker was also studious and research orientated in his approach to writing so at least I am not alienating myself when I say my approach to horror is a very studied and thought through approach.
I am a qualified and practising part time clinical hypnopsychoanalytical therapist with a specialisation in anxiety, trauma, stress, worry and mild depression.  I remember when I was studying hypnotherapy I was extremely excited because I knew once I would finish it I would be done with my studies and I could recommence my creative writing endeavours.

At this time of my life, I watched a documentary about PTSD amongst war veterans and the psychiatrists treatment of the condition in psychiatric facilities using hypnosis.  This documentary 1946 “Let There Be Light” remember was made before psycho-pharmacology was introduced to the market in the 1950’s.

My studies as you may guess are endeared and tied in to the horror genre. I have studied truly horrific things.  One of the exam questions for the course asked me to analyse the character of Bram Stokers “Dracula” in view of Freud's personality types: oral, anal, phallic, genital.  I knew Freud at the top of my head. I spent all my twenties reading him.  All I had to was read Stokers book.  In the answering of this question I knew I simply had to write horror about vampires.  

You see Stuart I have no other choice, vampire horror brings out the side of me as a creative horror writer that is philosophical, psychoanalytical, literary, sociological, macabre, Gothic, grotesque, and much, much more.  Vampire horror simply I believe brings out the best in me."

(Me) Diabolis of Dublin is set in the city that you've been a resident of for some years now and the affection that you have for the place really seems to come across. How inspiring is the city for you as a writer?

 " Dublin inspires me, Ireland inspires me.  My home city and country inspires me because I see a city of three decades, three different worlds three different places.  And I also know of a Dublin and Ireland before I was born which possibly inspires more than just the Irish.

I know the Dublin pre -boom, in the 1980’s when we were decidedly poorer and more unemployed than our European counterparts.  When we were less wealthy, less materialistic, and when there was much, much less homicides and suicides. This was the Dublin and the Ireland were abortion and divorce was illegal and the Catholic Church were powerful. 

Of course in the South we were always cognisant of that place up North, that part that was compromised in the formation of The Irish Republic back in the days of The Easter Rising, Michael Collins and his battle for Irish Independence, the oppressive Black and Tans and our fratricidal civil war. That fratricidal civil war was all over The North.  And when I was growing up right until the start of the 21st century this province that was a part of the UK showed me what bloody, raw, terror, horror and degradation the human spirit can rise down to.  No wonder being an Irish man I have a strong appetite for the Gothic and the horrific.

I also know the Dublin of now, the Dublin of post-boom, of recession, of austerity, it is a Dublin where the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and the middle class are being cut by a million cuts.  Austerity is very ugly.These factors and more have profoundly inspired my writing.  I guess after Diabolis of Dublin, I can really call Dublin home, I can genuinely be called a Dublin writer and an Irish writer.

No doubt being a Dublin man, being an Irish man has really shaped this second novel. 
I am deeply inspired by change, sometimes I get nostalgic for the past, or I despise the way things have gone. Now I don’t have nostalgia for the Ireland of the 1980’s, but it seems like overnight roughly 1997 when the Irish economy changed.  The Irish became wealthy and something has changed within the soul of the people.  Suicide is too, too common, people are, I really have to repeat changed.

Dublin is a violent place. Violent homicides, and ordinary homicides, were rare in Ireland.  Your readers might think since when is a homicide not violent? Recently we had in Dublin a man burnt to death whilst sleeping in a camp in a park, we also had another man who was stabbed and his heart and pieces of his lung were eaten in the first case of what is believed to be cannibalism.  So a less violent homicide, an ordinary homicide?  Well, I am almost laughing at the term.  I know that we had one man going into a farm and killing a son and a man with a shot gun, but you see his methodology of homicide was less ferocious.  Look homicide in Ireland when I was a kid was rare.  Now it is every week.  It is deeply shocking.

There are so many histories in Dublin and in Ireland that have shaped the novel “Diabolis of Dublin”  it touches on so much of what is uncomfortable and sore about Dublin and Ireland.  You could say I am using the Vampire Diabolis to show you my city.
The case for Dublin being a worthy setting for a novel is immense.  The case for an Irish man being a horror writer is even more acute.  Dublin was transformed by our literary king James Joyce into a city that could produce the wanderings of Ulysses, a mega sized novel.  James Joyce lived only up the road from me in Brighton Square Rathgar, where I am communicating this interview with you Stuart.  I could go on and on, suffice to say Bram Stoker lived some time in Rathgar in Orwell Park, Oscar Wilde the great wit amongst other things he lived two miles down the road in Merrion Square. 

I think that yes absolutely if you want to write good horror Dublin can indeed be your host.  And Irish people are gifted at being dark, morose, macabre, Gothic and morbid.  I would definitely like to raise the point that Wilde's work “The Picture of Dorian Grey” is extremely dark, it is about split personality and it reminds me of “The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”  It is absolutely awesome from my perspective that this city bred the likes of Wilde and definitely Bram Stoker, for me he is the Father of Vampire Horror. "

(Me) So what is the next writing project for Michael Mulvihill?

"My third novel is very weird, I am enjoying writing it, I am reading The Mask of Insanity to help me this is a psychiatric book about psychopaths (sorry Stu I am not reading Twilight yet).  And yes this third novel is about vampires and it is set in Dublin.  I should not say much more because it is not wise to speak about concepts for a book which has not been finished. I think that you may understand this. 

I can also say that I have been watching tonnes and tonnes of documentaries about the Soviet Union.  I am obsessed with dystopias and with ideologies of social constructs with messianic and megalomaniac dreams that say Heaven shall be created and you end up in hell.  I do believe the West has this pretension that it is heaven whilst the east is hell.  But people in Greece are eating out of Garbage bins and in Chicago there is 21000 people homeless, so you do see how the West is Heaven as per old, old Western Propaganda.
I am also trying to write a fourth book, yes at the same time. It will tackle the issue of alienation and dystopia in a far less “Hunger Game” fashion because I am uninspired by this, and I don’t believe that this is a truly good example of dystopic. fiction I might be wrong, please feel free to vigorously disagree and I won’t mind in the least.  But I think a true dystopia will really open ones eyes.

I want something, some example of dystopia that feels more real but also blends well with the horror genre.  But this is something that needs thinking and needs research and it is something which unlike the third novel which I have written maybe forty thousand words of, I have written no words of this but I know I will.  It is banging against my heart and shouting at me to get a move on and I promise I will.

Sometimes people when they say they like the dystopia genre they like it only for entertaining purposes.  The dystopia I intend to create will be very, very oppressive and disturbing and real, frustrating, paranoid and crazy at least I hope it will.

Stu my next project is horror.  Don’t think just because you mentioned our bellowed “Twilight” that I will start writing first love romantic vampire stuff, vampire meets human, falls in love, and says, “hi human we can be friends, I no longer drink your kinds blood, I have gone tee total on ripping flesh apart. I much prefer to fall in love with the view to having sex with you instead, though I have been dead these past five hundred years.”

All this enterprise would be of course for your beloved blog fans to scream and say, “O My Goodness it is so, so wonderful. "

So there you have it - a fabulously detailed, informative, intelligent and considered set of answers from a talented and thoughtful writer.

Any of my blog readers who took offence at being labelled lovers of Twilight,The Vampire Diaries and Justin Bieber, Beverley Hills 90210, hunks and cheer leaders, the whole high school scene and fashion can forward their legal complaint on to me and will of course take the appropriate litigating action towards Mr Mulvihill. I may admire him and his work but I also have a reputation to consider........

Hang on a minute though - nothing wrong with Cheerleaders - right?

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