Thursday, 27 October 2011

Moved By The Breeze

Photo by Ed Swinden

My final blog for this year's Manchester Literature Festival.The poet Jean 'Binta' Breeze takes us into her home, read more here

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Monday, 10 October 2011

Anne Rice At The Cheltenham Literature Festival

The first book I read of Anne Rice was Merrick. I was eighteen and the book was in Portuguese. Whether it was the fact that it was in Portuguese or the fact that Merrick performed black magic, which I was more aware of since living in Brazil, I don’t know, but it laid out the menu of Anne Rice's vampire novels from then on for me to devour. I have since been a huge fan of this author and didn’t think twice about going to see her at Cheltenham’s Literature Festival this year.

We are in the Main Hall of Cheltenham’s Town Hall in the Imperial Square. I am surprised by the lack of goth outfits in the room; a gothic nun is sat in front of me and a few other cloaked characters are scattered amongst us (could they be vampires blending in?). The lights dim, and like the men in the Pet Shop Boys 'Go West' clip, our heads turn left to watch the inspiring author make her way to one of the two seats centre stage.
Charlotte Higgins, Chief Arts Writer at the Guardian Newspaper  conducts the interview. It has been fourteen years since the author of the best seller; Interview With A Vampire came to the U.K. She appears at ease, comfortable and ready for the hour-long conversation before her adoring fans.

Trivial info; Anne pronounces New Orleans as New Orlee-ans. Noted!

The idea for Interview With A Vampire was a whim, we are told. She found the concept of sitting down and interviewing a vampire interesting. How would somebody who has lived for centuries talk about living among mortals? How would an immortal deal with killing and feeding off their brothers and sisters? Anne reveals that many people at the time she was writing the novel, which began as a short story, told her the title was ridiculous and that nobody would want to read it. She feels crushed hearing these comments, inevitably creating doubt as to whether it is such a good idea to continue. The year of publication was 1976 and her negative peers were, thankfully, very wrong.

Charlotte asks Anne whether she has ever read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and if this book had any influence on her writing the first novel of the vampire chronicles. ‘I took it out of the library when I was a little girl’ she informs us, her hypnotic eyes scanning the emptiness above our heads, ‘but I only got through the first few pages. I found it very scary. It was a baby in a bag’ (chuckles from the audience). She’s such a charmer.

Discussing the film of Interview With A Vampire, Anne owns up to being let down initially at the choice of casting Tom Cruise to play her beloved character Lestat. She only found out about it when she opened the LA Times one Sunday to see it in black and white. ‘It sounded a bit like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn making the film’ she jokes with a strand of honesty. On the subject of potential other films (after the flop of the film version of The Queen Of The Damned – one she didn’t entirely consent to) we are thrown a hook with the bait; The Tale Of The Body Thief. The audience shuffles with mutterings. I, for one, shuffled the most!

Sexuality is heavy in many, if not all of Anne Rice’s novels, despite the fact that her vampires are not akin to romping it up like Edward and Bella – Anne's vampires' age and wisdom outlive this primitive drive. Those of us who have read a good number of her books immediately notice Charlotte’s faux pas when she describes Anne's characters as being ‘guiltless’ with their sexuality. Anne’s eyes widen slightly, and asks; ‘You don’t think the guilt, conflict and darkness comes through?’ (I DO Anne! I DO!) ‘In sensuality one finds one's salvation’, Anne says. ‘There is wisdom in the flesh, we are flesh, God made us flesh, that is where we find our salvation and liberation’. I too find salvation and liberation in this act, though the wisdom is still yet to come.

After a sequence of stumbling stuttering, Charlotte moves swiftly onto the popular homoerotic theme of the vampire novels. I say popular, yet I learn not all readers are able to identify this ‘sinful’ theme within these books. During book signings in Dallas, Texas and the Bible Belt in the South, Anne tells us of the butch, burley men who arrive in caps and jackets asking; ‘When is Lestat coming back’ and soldiers enquiring when the next vampire chronicle will be out, all completely unaware of the underlying 'sinful' subject matter. I suppose the evil they see is the superficial blood-sucking murderer Lestat… or it could be a private refuge for them to treat their innermost desires?

Anne Rice went from being an Atheist/Agnostic to a born again Christian. From 1998 to 2010 her life was dedicated to Christ, which inspired her to write the novels; Christ The Lord; Out Of Egypt and Christ The Lord; The Road To Cana. On 28th June 2010 however, her readers were posted this on her facebook page:
- 'I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.'

On elaborating as to why she chose to leave the faith, Anne begins to speak passionately about her incredulity of certain actions within the organized religion; the clergy abuse scandal, anti-gay marriage, anti-feminism etc. But the step out the door for Anne was a story about a nun in Arizona being excommunicated for helping a dying mother survive by terminating the pregnancy of her dying foetus.

In her new series, The Songs Of The Seraphim, we see how her main character, Toby O’Dara is faced with complex, soul-searching questions. One member of the audience asks Anne what the difference will be in these new books in their relation to God and the questions which were raised, and answered in a previous novel Memnoch. As she mentioned earlier, each book is different due to the different perceptions of the passing time. In Memnoch, her belief in God and her trust in the Almighty was skeptical, therefore he was written as an indifferent God and Memnoch, the fallen angel, was the one who tried to show souls the path to redemption. In her new series, Toby will be working with the belief that he is assisting a loving, caring God.

Her characters who began their tales in the 70s will now be left at peace. They have lived for centuries, told their stories for decades and it is time for the author to move forward on to different projects. Her writing is pleasingly excessive, her characters are eternally deep and multi-dimensional and she has taken me, as well as many of her readers out there, on journeys through eras, realms and emotions.

Her latest book ‘The Wolf Gift’ will be coming out within the next few months. So beware!