When I was fourteen we spent several weeks chasing summer in France. The majority of my family are readers—apart from my youngest brother who wouldn’t know how to open a book. Towards the end of the trip we camped in Carnac, a place famous for its standing stones and Asterix and Obelix. There was an old Gothic cathedral next to the campsite and my dad insisted we all attend Latin mass. The nuns took one look at my bare knees and stuck me in a dark corner at the back of the cathedral.
As it was near the end of the holiday our mountain of books had diminished, until only The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice remained. The word vampire was enough to put me off. I imagined gore, terror and blood, followed by nightmares. However, I was getting desperate. I’d run out of books and, eventually, I had to read it. I don’t remember any other books I read that summer, but I do remember that one. Anne Rice changed my view on vampires, made them interesting and more ‘human’. They had lived through history and I found their stories fascinating and couldn’t wait to read more of her work.
Perhaps it was this summer that gave me a taste for all things Gothic, and although I have never written a vampire story, my writing does tend to embrace the darker side of life.
Years later when I was backpacking around America I headed for New Orleans, a city of unbelievable humidity, where it rained like clockwork in the afternoon. My friend and I stayed in the French Quarter and were told not to venture into St Louis Cemetery alone as it wasn’t safe. So we went in alone and wandered through the labyrinth of old decaying tombs. The Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is buried there. People have covered her tomb in triple Xs in the hope their wish will be granted. The cemetery is eerie and I can understand why so many vampire novels are set in New Orleans—the city embraces its past.
Anne Rice still lived in New Orleans back then, and her address was in the telephone book. I made my friend accompany me to the Garden District to see her house. A huge plastic dog sat on the balcony. I don’t know if she was home. We just stood outside and gaped at the mansion and then wandered around the beautiful streets and houses in the area. Later that day we took a tour to the old plantations. Live oaks with hanging Spanish moss gave a very Gothic feel to the landscape, perfect for filming the movie version of Interview with the Vampire.
When my brother and his husband got married, Anne Rice was selling her doll collection, so I bought them a Saint Veronica doll. It was the weirdest present they received and their dog was terrified of it, but at least it was memorable.
Rachel McEleney’s short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Seizure, Ghostly StringyBark Anthology, Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies and An Alphabetical Amulet Anthology. Her poetry has appeared on the UWA Poets’ Corner in Perth. Rachel lived in several countries before settling in the south-west of Western Australia. The south-west landscape has inspired her writing and she likes to spend a lot of time in the bush, particularly in spring so she can search for orchids. She is a PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University’s South West Campus.