C.M. Vassie is the brilliant York author behind the sensational best-seller ‘Scravir, While Whitby Sleeps.’ As we eagerly anticipate the release of his highly-anticipated sequel, ‘Scravir II: Lacklight,’ we caught up with Christian to unravel the magic within his books.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your Whitby Books?
That’s an easy one! The inspiration for the first SCRAVIR book came directly from Whitby Goth Weekend in the autumn of 2016.
Like thousands of other people I went to Whitby that weekend to enjoy the old town and the sea and found myself stunned by the beautiful costumes, the creativity and sense of mischief. It’s not every grand day out where you find people pushing prams containing vampire babies or carrying elaborate invented weapons or having a brain in a glass cloche strapped to the top of their head. And not just young people or old people but a complete intergenerational mix, all in costume, parading, laughing, chatting through the narrow streets, along the wave swept piers and up the 199 Steps.
How many places have the power to create an army of people in period costume?
At the same time I found myself looking at all this grizzly dark chaos and thinking. What if there were real bodies on the streets of the old town during Whitby Goth Weekend? Would anyone notice? Would we all simply assume that the bodies were colourful props put there to add to the Gothic fun? How long would it take for us to realise that hidden among the Goth revellers was real evil?
And from that SCRAVIR was born.
Q. Music is important in the first story and bad things happening in the Whitby Pavilion. What gave you the idea to make Thor Lupei, the nemesis in the story, a Goth music star?
Music is a key part of WGW and it is natural that it should be a key part of the first SCRAVIR story. Music is hugely important to all cultures. It accompanies most of the key moments in our lives: it arouses us at sports events, feeds our appetites in the supermarkets, placates us between floors in the lift, gives us permission on the dance floor, soothes our rage when the telephone puts us on hold and sits with us when we are stuck in a traffic jam. Music walks with us from cradle to grave.
As a musician I have created the music for many television shows and films and played and sung in many bands. Thor Lupei has been alive for a very long time and music is like a passport to enable him to reach his victims. He has seen the power of rhythm and melody in many cultures over many centuries. Lupei is a charismatic preacher man using music to seduce his flock, a master of ceremonies grooming and manipulating the subconscious of all around him.
Avoiding spoilers, the second SCRAVIR story has its climax in a very different Whitby!
Q: Where does the word SCRAVIR come from?
At the start I wasn’t so much focused on the origins of the word. I simply wanted a word that sounded Gothic; something that drew on the aesthetic, the fashion, and the culture of horror writing that shapes WGW. Dracula and Scravir nestle comfortably on the same tongue …
The new story, SCRAVIR – Lacklight, explores the Gothic language as Daniel, the hero, explores the mysterious pages of the book that he stole from Thor Lupei. Gothic isn’t just a font; it is a real language that existed in written form between the 3rd and 6th centuries. In that old language SCRAVIR might have been written as SKRAPHIR.
Q: What inspires you about Whitby?
I grew up in York and we would come to Whitby, Runswick Bay and Robin Hood’s Bay, to find ammonites and fish and chips and to splash about. For me, as for millions of others, the streets of old Whitby, the North Sea, the wind and waves, the rock pools are part of the fabric of our lives. Whitby draws us back over and over. The old streets echo to our footsteps and to those of people who have gone before us.
Much of old Whitby was torn down early in the twentieth century, we are lucky it didn’t all disappear. For me, the old town is a time portal. It offers us the solid fabric of the world people saw as they went about their lives hundreds of years ago. When we look down at the harbour from up on the 199 Steps we are simultaneously seeing the present and the past. The people buried beneath those wind-blasted gravestones in St Mary’s graveyard climbed those same steps and saw much of what we see
When we are ten years old a century seems an impossibly long time. It really isn’t. You just go back eight or nine generations and you are standing on those same steps at the tail end of the 18th century … The whaling ships are in Whitby harbour and the press gangs are entering the pubs to steal men and boys for the navy, and the fisherwomen are working twenty hours a day to feed their families.
Q: How much research do you do?
I was never really interested in history at school. Too busy making sense of the here and now, and to eager to step into my own life to worry about kings and queens, which was more or less all we were taught. I love that joke about the Vikings where someone says that all we know about them is that they were skeletons who lived underground.
But as you grow up and time passes you do get more of a sense of being part of a continuum. Suddenly the hit songs that prove you are hip and funky and among the coolest people in town become old-fashioned and prove to others that you are not hip or funky or cool anymore. This happens over and over again, to every single one of us! Liking Nirvana is no longer a marker for teen rebellion, it tells people that you were a teenager a long time ago. And so it goes.
I am now very interested to know who slept and ate behind the doors on Church Street in Whitby. Who lived in the yards before they became holiday cottages? How did they feed themselves and keep warm?
Lives were harder than we can imagine. My books are fiction but I absolutely want them to be based on the solid rock of real social history. For me that is what the old town of Whitby represents. Not the posh lives of the top hats living up on the hill of west cliff but the dreams and drudgery of ordinary folk down in the yards. The women who got up at four in the morning to prise flithers (limpets) off the rocks to bait the lines their husbands or brothers would take out to sea in their fishing boats. The women who, up to their thighs in the frozen waters of the harbour, would carry their menfolk to the fishing boats then return to their homes to dry off in front of the fire knowing that if their men waded out to the boats and sat in their wet clothes all day they would die of hypothermia out on the North Sea. The people who lived five and more to a room in the cottages knowing they were only ever a few days from hunger and the workhouse. The boiling cauldrons of whale blubber that filled the yards with smell and smoke around the clock. The cost of candles and potatoes …
The real adventure lies in properly immersing ourselves in other realities. The research I did for The Whitby Trap and the Whale Bone Archers feeds into experiences of Daniel and Tiffany in SCRAVIR – Lacklight.
Q: What books inspire you?
Of course, the structure of SCRAVIR is inspired by the way Bram Stoker wrote Dracula; telling a story from multiple viewpoints. Among the books I have read more than once are: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and The Second Angel by Philip Kerr.
I love many of Stephen King’s books, both his fiction and his books on writing. The French writer Jean-Christophe Grangé has written some great books, including the clever thriller Le Vol des Cigognes or Flight of the Storks. Books by James Baldwin, Chinua Achebe, Haruki Murakami, Stieg Larsen, Jo Nesbo, Patricia Cornwell, Raymond Chandler, Hilary Mantel, Edward Bunker, Fred Vargas are also in the big stack of books that loiter invitingly by the bedside asking to be revisited.
Q: Will there be a third SCRAVIR?
By the time the reader reaches the end of SCRAVIR – Lacklight I think they will have as clear an idea as I do about that. My hunch is that the characters are not yet ready to let me get on with the rest of my life!
A heartfelt thanks to Christian for graciously sharing his time and insights with us. Our conversation took place just before this year’s Goth Weekend, and conveniently aligned with the impending launch of “SCRAVIR – Lacklight,” adding an extra layer of excitement to our discussion.
Where can I buy these Whitby books by C.M. Vassie?
The Whitby Guide are pleased to stock all of Christian’s books in our online store. Available now for immediate delivery.