An Interview With Theresa Cheung
Following my recent review of The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires by Theresa Cheung, I decided to put a few questions to the author and gain an insight into what attracts her to Vampire mythology.
Theresa, What is your background and how did you come to write the book?
I’ve been researching and writing about the paranormal for over two decades now. It’s a subject that fascinates me, and always ever since I read my first Anne Rice novel in my teens. I’ve already written two element encyclopaedias – one on dreams and one on the psychic world – and both were very well received so another encyclopedia was on the cards. I’d actually suggested a vampire encyclopedia for the series several years earlier but there was hesitation from my publishers about whether there might be interest from readers so the project was shelved. Then when the Twilight novels became huge best-sellers it was only a matter of time before an up to date vampire encyclopedia became an essential part of the element encyclopaedia series. I couldn’t have been happier when I was told that vampire artwork was going to be supplied by Andy Paciorek: his gothic and compelling drawings really make the book special.
It was when I was writing my psychic world encyclopeida a few years back now and compiling the entry for vampires that I fully realised what a huge subject it was and how much it deserved a 400,000 word study of its own. There were a couple of great encyclopedias written in the late 90s but nothing bang up to date.
Did you discover anything in you research for the book that surprised you?
Yes, I could go on for hours about how much I discovered that surprised me – that’s the fascinating thing about vampires they are impossible to pin down and will always spring surprise after surprise. I guess what surprised me most, though was my investigation on the modern vampire scene. There are a lot of people out there who not only believe vampires are real but that they themselves might be vampires, and these people aren’t scarey, mad or bad. Many that I spoke to were highly intelligent and sensitive and fascinating to talk to.
Here’s an obvious one: do you believe in Vampires?
I believe that within each one of us there is an aspect of our personality that is vampiric and I cover this extensively in the book. There are both positive and negative elements in the vampire within us, perhaps you could call it a vampire archetype. Negative in that it can sap the life out of us and other people we associate with but positive in that it offers us the possibly of transformation, of uncovering the truth about ourselves – a reality that is both terrifying and inspiring at the same time.
Obviously a lead on from the last question but, with such a widespread tradition, do you think there could be any truth in stories about Vampires?
There has to be. There are just too many stories and unsolved cases to suggest that there might be such a thing as real vampires, although they may not emerge in the guise most of us expect.
Where do you think Vampire legends and lore originated and why do we find it so fascinating?
There are several schools of thought about where the vampire myths originated – some people believe it was in Eastern Europe but other experts have suggested China, Africa, Egypt and several other locations. Part of the problem in pin pointing the exact place is that there seem to be vampiric stories in almost every culture. We find the legends so fascinating because the vampire legend embodies so many aspects related to the human condition – death, desire, control, sex, intimacy, violence, romance, mystery and the feeling of being an outsider or not fitting in which I guess everyone can relate to at some time in their life. Above all, though, vampires are fascinating and erotic because they embody or symbolise a need within us for an intense affirmation of life, suggesting perhaps that our desire for knowledge, mystery, excitement and intimacy may be far stronger than our fear of evil, death and the unknown..
What is your favourite Vampire story/legend?
This is very tough. When I was writing the book I had to be constantly reminded that I had a deadline to complete each entry because every one was just so fascinating and in many cases could have been a book in itself. An obvious choice would, of course, be the stories and legends surrounding Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory but I was equally fascinated by less well known but equally chilling cases such as the Liebava vampire, the Berwick Vampire, and so on – and what really made my spine tingle was the most recent and unsolved vampire sightings and reports, those within the last five years.
Do you think the way that film and television portrays the myth to be detrimental in any way?
I know a lot of vampire purists would think this is the case but in my opinion any representation of the vampire is enligtening because it reflects how writers, film makers and society perceive the vampire to be at that moment in time. There is no definitive way to present a vampire because as I say time and time again in the book the vampire is a shape shifter. He (or she) will take the shape of the fears and anxieties of the vessel he or she is poured in because they are impossible to define or pin down.
I know you mention it in the book, but one of Britain’s most famous ‘cases’ is the Highgate Vampire which is highly controversial. What are your views about the story?
From studying it for the book it became obvious to me that the existence of the Highgate vampire remains unproven and that celebrated accounts written about it by both Sean Manchester and David Farrant were subjective and very possibly flawed. Having said this the case has to remain open because there were a series of unexplained events that have to date not been explained. I guess what I’m saying here is that I’m keeping an open mind.
What projects have you got planned in the future?
I’m swinging to the other side of the force – and working on my angel books. When people ask me how I cam write about vampires and then angels I tell them that I like to see both sides of the coin. There are after all, angels of darkness.