The Voyage Back
Coming back to VAMPIRATES and working with the talented, passionate team at UCLan Publishing to create fresh editions of the six book sequence for the next generation, I was determined that the “reVamp” wouldn’t simply be a case of giving the books a “new look”. Although, can we just take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous new visuals? I’m so thrilled with the stunning new covers and logo, the detailed and extensive character art and the ship cross-sections which take readers deeper into the story world than ever before.
Whilst the swashbuckling new look evolved, I instigated a fresh edit in order to tighten up some plot points and character development. And I offered to write a bonus “Crossing Story” for each of the books. I wanted readers, existing and new, to understand that there was heart and authenticity in this relaunch. But, of course, I also dearly wanted the opportunity to hang out again with some of my favourite characters.
The six “Crossing Stories” reveal fresh information about six favourite characters - Sidorio, Darcy Flotsam, Johnny Desperado, Lady Lola Lockwood, Jez Stukeley and Grace Tempest herself. Although the format of each “Crossing Story” is the same – an interview with Grace (except the last one, where Lorcan turns the tables and interviews her) - I let the different characters dictate the tone and mood of each story. Thus, Sidorio delivers a spectacular twist to his origin story, involving further entanglement with Julius Caesar. Darcy’s has a characteristic thread of music-hall comedy. Johnny’s is suitably tragic. Lola’s is high camp – and probably my own favourite. A moody Stukeley barely plays ball with the interview concept whilst Grace magnanimously allows the focus to be switched and seems to relish the opportunity to make sense of her epic journey.
I loved writing each of these and, after some initial nerves, it was amazing to me how easy it was to slip into the personae of these characters after a sizeable break since writing Immortal War. I realised that, in all that time, the characters had simply been resting and, like actors waiting for the call back, they were gratifyingly willing to return to the fray.
Continuing the actor metaphor, it’s interesting to me that at least half of the characters here – Sidorio, Darcy and Stukeley – were never intended to become key characters in the sequence. Sidorio was initially designed simply as a counterpoint to the Vampirate Captain – a necessary rule-breaker. His character began to expand in my mind as, at countless school events, I read the chapter in Demons of the Ocean where he and Grace dance around each other on Feast Night. By the time I came to write Tide of Terror, I knew I had unfinished business with Sid. Darcy was initially, in her own words, “a figurehead by day and a figure of fun by night” – something of an homage to the wonderful Aunt Sally and Saucy Nancy in Worzel Gummidge. Little did I suspect how Darcy’s friendship with Grace would evolve or that, by Blood Captain, we’d be seeing some seriously heroic leadership from her. And then there’s Jez Stukeley – a character specifically introduced in Tide with the dual purpose to be loved (by his crew and my readers) and swiftly killed, to demonstrate an amplification of jeopardy. But Stukeley refused to die and, in fact, over the sequence as a whole, is possibly my favourite character of all.
Like the best actors, each of these characters became so much more, over the course of the sequence, than my first brushstrokes of them. It’s a luxury for any author to have six books over which to tell their story and this gave room for the characters to evolve both on their own and in relation to each other. One of my favourite scenes is in Black Heart, where Lorcan Furey and Cheng Li finally get some “screen time” together. I remember the excitement when I realised they had not yet met and how that might play out.
Bringing the sequence to a close (if not a definitive End), I felt a huge responsibility to honour each character’s journey as they made their final appearance – whether this meant steering them towards safe harbour or giving them a noble demise. I felt a similar responsibility when bringing them back for the “Crossing Stories”. Although some people assume my series of books is merely “high concept”, for me, it is entirely driven by the characters – and this has been mirrored back to me by the feedback I receive from readers around the world. I feel deeply connected to Vampirates’ vast cast of characters and I’m absolutely thrilled that, with these irresistible new editions, a fresh generation of readers will be able to meet them and follow their voyages to date.