Barbara Roden, Author of “Endless Night”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

On the surface, it’s about an expedition to Antarctica in the “Golden Age” of South Polar exploration: the days of Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott, and Mawson. However, when the expedition has to replace a crew member at the last moment, it becomes apparent his replacement has his own reasons for wanting to go to a continent where there’s no daylight for months on end; the “endless night” of the title.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

The story started out as a look at the way in which an outsider fits — or doesn’t fit — into an already established group of people. I have a long-standing interest in Polar exploration, so it wasn’t difficult to come up with the idea of this taking place in the context of an expedition to Antarctica: a setting which would mean that my group of people was isolated from outside contact. It didn’t take long for me to realize that making my “outsider” a vampire was natural, given the setting, but I didn’t want to write a “traditional” vampire story: I wanted to make the vampirism more subtle, imply it rather than show it. I also drew on the idea of the “shadowy other” mentioned by Shackleton, the figure which he and two other men thought accompanied them on the last desperate leg of their journey. How would you feel in such an isolated setting, if you became convinced there was someone present who wasn’t supposed to be there? And how would you feel if, in order to ensure the survival of yourself and everyone else, you had to do something which goes against all your values and beliefs?

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

I certainly had to do some brushing up on my Antarctic exploration! I wanted to make sure I got the details right, the background and setting, because these details are, I think, crucial when it comes to “selling” a tale of the supernatural, whether it be vampires or ghosts. Because what’s going on in the foreground is so often unbelievable or incredible, making sure the background details ring true helps the reader to believe it, carries him or her along, persuades readers that yes, this might have happened.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’ve already mentioned my interest in Polar research; I’m fascinated by these men who were driven, it seems, to expose themselves to conditions which most sane people would go out of their way to avoid. And I was interested in the character of Emily, whose narrative begins and ends the story, and who has to make a decision that’s almost as terrible as the one her father made: does she make his journal public, and let the world know what happened, or does she keep silent? That must be a terrible decision to have to make about a loved one. It’s easy for the rest of the world to say “the truth must be known”; but it’s a different matter entirely, I think, when “the truth” has the potential to expose someone you love to misunderstanding or ridicule or censure.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

The book I drew on most was Lennard Bickel’s Mawson’s Will, about a real-life expedition which Douglas Mawson made to Antarctica in 1911 (and which he chose in preference to accompanying Scott on his ultimately fatal journey). I also had a large-scale map of Antarctica at my elbow as I wrote, and a copy of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with Doré’s wonderful illustrations nearby. Doré really did put Polar bears in the Antarctic, but like my character De Vere, I think we have to excuse so great an artist for this error.

What is the appeal of vampire fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

I think vampire fiction appeals because of thrill, the allure, of the unknown and the forbidden. It’s something that the earliest authors of vampire fiction, such as Le Fanu and Stoker, understood, and it’s been a mainstay of the genre ever since. Writers are drawn to vampires because of the mystery, and because of that juxtaposition of elegance — the seducer, the profferer of forbidden fruits — and the horror.

What are some of your favorite examples of vampire fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

The vampire story I’ve read more than any other is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” which is a stunning tale, and one that can be read over and over for the sheer beauty of the imagery and language. Dracula is, of course, such a huge influence on the genre that it can’t be ignored, but I’ve always been fond of tales of psychic vampirism, as being a bit more quiet and subtle than Stoker’s novel. Three favourites in this subgenre are Arthur Conan Doyle’s “John Barrington Cowles” and “The Parasite” and Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman’s “Luella Miller,” one of the most haunting stories I’ve read, and one that grows more disquieting on each reading.