In Owen’s debut novel, The Quick, the vampire community in Victorian London consists of both aristocrats and the poor, dependent on one another in a cautious allegiance to remain undead.
The Quick is a vampire novel, yet the word “vampire” is mentioned but a few times in the book’s 508 pages. Why did you choose this approach?
I liked the idea of vampires and their attacks being almost unspeakable—my inspiration was Coleridge’s poem “Christabel,” which features a vampiric creature who limits her victim’s ability to speak. I also think that suppressing the word “vampire” allows me to gradually reintroduce the reader to the vampire concept. The word carries a lot of preconceptions in modern media, and while I enjoy that side of the vampire story a lot, I also wanted to show vampires sneaking into the narrative, having their actions precede their name.
Victorian London has never seemed so gloomy or repressed as it is in your novel. How did you go about conceiving your version of this time and place?
I’ve been interested in Victorian London since reading the Sherlock Holmes stories as a child. The city was a fascinating part of the stories for me, incredibly varied in its population and different neighborhoods.
Characters in the story that are not vampires are labeled as being “quick.” Why?
I wanted a word that would designate the nonvampires without making them sound too pedestrian. “Quick,” in its old sense of “living,” seemed like a good choice. I liked its Biblical connotations—the reference to “the quick and the dead.” The word reflects human beings’ brief lifespan, but also their ability for change and adaptation.
Siblings and protagonists James and Charlotte grow up in isolation in Aiskew Hall, a vast and nearly vacant estate near York, in Northern England. What was your model for the house and surrounding grounds?
I spent most of my childhood in Yorkshire, and the countryside where I lived was a definite inspiration. Aiskew Hall is drawn from a couple of houses near York—one being the boarding school where my father worked. The school used to be a manor house, and I was always curious about what it had been like as a home. The library had doors with imitation book spines on them, and I loved the idea of a hidden room.
The vampire legend has been a part of our collective consciousness for well over a century. Why do you think this is so?
I think that the vampire’s versatility is one of the reasons why it remains so popular. Throughout the 19th century, it’s visible in many different genres of writing, used for an assortment of artistic purposes—everything from lowbrow comedy to political argument. The vampire is a wonderful device for embodying fears and desires. It’s close to home, and is more similar to human beings than a ghost or zombie. Yet the vampire trope shifts horror and pleasure onto a fantastic or grotesque canvass. Like a dream, the vampire can give us a skewed but revealing vision of reality—including, perhaps, some aspects of reality that we’d rather not think about.