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Nassau, Bahamas – where the hunters base

Nassau, Bahamas – where the hunters base

Nassau, Bahamas – base for the Artemis hunter team

At the beginning of Death is for the Living, the Artemis team is based out of Nassau, in the Bahamas. It’s a nice central location, and a thriving city, which provides supplies, and much-needed cover, as well as a large enough marina complex that a yacht moving in and out won’t attract much notice.

The Bahamas are actually very pretty, but offer very unusual sailing conditions. With shallow seabeds and low-lying islands, it’s not the first place I’d take a deep-keeled yacht like Artemis, but in terms of finding tourists for cover, it’s a popular destination – and, as we know, Artemis isn’t just there to look pretty.

Nassau, Bahamas mapFor those of you wondering where the hell the Bahamas are, exactly, here’s a map. You can find Nassau without too much trouble, due East of the tip of Florida and North of Santiago de Cuba.

You’ll see the whole area is a mess of little islands and sandbars, which makes for gorgeous blue-green water, really nervous watching of the depth-sounder, and a lot of white sand beaches.

Because vampire clans like a large, transient population, the Bahamas are a prime area for them. Violent crime in Nassau is high, meaning that a few disappearances don’t raise too many eyebrows. Yachts move through the Bahamas in numbers, especially in winter, and liveaboards vanish all the time – either intentionally dropping off the map, or through accidents.

Due to the presence of vampires in the Cays, Artemis was based there semi-permanently to watch and hunt, and was supplemented by the presence of the wise-woman, Mama Gale, a magic user of some power and influence – at least until a routine raid went startlingly sideways.

However, don’t let me put you off the Bahamas. They’re a lovely place to visit – especially in daylight.

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Interview with Jean Vignaud

At a table in a hole-in-the-wall pub with a good view of the exits

J C Steel: I like the location.

Jean Vignaud: Try not to describe it too well, I would like to come back. My partner tells me you have some questions.

JCS: I heard you like Chinese take-out. How did you come across that?

JV: Take-out is one of my favourite things of this century. When I was born one had to travel to eat differently, and the experience was not always…positive. If you are trying to put the Frenchman at his ease by asking about food, be assured: I am quite relaxed.

JCS: In fact, you’re rolling a cigarette. You only do that when you think I’m going to ask questions you don’t want to answer, but I notice you never smoke them.

JV: Science has discovered many miracles. Among them, unfortunately, that smoking is not good for you. Not something for vampires to be concerned with, but for me, yes.

JCS: So there are some things that you miss about being a vampire?

JV: Ah. The end of the small talk. As the junkie misses his high, there are things I miss, having left the night. Cristina tells me you are fortunate, and have never encountered a vampire. Do you think, once this book publishes, that that happy state will continue?

JCS: I will quote you a great British author, Terry Pratchett: ‘…no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences.’

JV: A wise man.

JCS: I think so. Not a very popular definition of freedom in this day and age, as it happens. What’s your take on consequences and personal responsibility?

JV: I believe that my actions are my own. Who else should I blame? God?

JCS: You’re religious?

JV: I was raised a good Catholic, but according to that religion, vampires have no soul. Therefore, the only judge I need to satisfy is my own conscience.

JCS: Renouncing the chance to live forever sounds like a penance.

JV: …I fear I have not had enough rum to have that talk.

JCS: The first Pirates of the Caribbean. I understand you were an actual pirate in the Caribbean for a time.

JV: Pirates is such a generic term. In this day and age I would wear an expensive suit and gamble with other peoples’ money.

JCS: So you would equate stock-brokers with piracy?

JV: Let us say…in my day, if a man stole your money, the expectation was that you would try to kill him. Today, the expectation is that you elect him.

Background to Mama Gale

Background to Mama Gale

The inspiration for Mama Gale

Believe it or not, my godmother by courtesy was a lady named Cyralene Gale, and she ran the Bequia Bookshop until sometime in the early 1990s. Needless to say, she was neither a witch nor several hundred years old; she was originally from Barbados, but had lived on Bequia with her husband, Ian Gale, for longer than I’d been alive.

When I was a kid and we happened to be anchored in Port Elizabeth, one of my favourite things to be allowed to do was to go and hang out in their bookshop and dust the books, and occasionally, be allowed to stay over up at their house in the hills. Every so often, they would come out to our yacht for lunch – a visit which usually lasted well into the afternoon.

So, when I was looking for a name for this character, it was a given that she was going to be called Gale.

Mama Gale in Death is for the Living

Mama Gale is a bit of a mystery figure. She holds significant authority over the Bahamian hunter teams; she and Francis Hardy know each other well, and she’s got a history with Sean, Cristina, and Jean.

We first meet her directly after the Artemis’s return to their home port, when she comes aboard to decide what shall be done with the vampire captive, and not at all coincidentally, to evaluate Sean and Cristina.

‘…he stood, belatedly, as an Islands woman in a patterned dress came up the ladder, followed by Cristina. The setting sun, a huge red ball hanging just above the edge of the sea, illuminated her mass of silver hair.’

By the time we meet her, she appears elderly, but her authority is unquestionable. Francis defers to her; she shuts the team loudmouth down with a few well-chosen words. Although she is clearly powerful, it’s an adjunct to who she is.

‘…either immune or oblivious to the humming power coming off the tall, portly lady wearing her bright dress like a robe of office in the middle of their cockpit.’

Mama Gale is, by intent, more of a wise woman in the true sense of the phrase than a witch or a voodoo priestess (both of which character types have been done to death in my not-even-slightly-humble opinion).

She sees almost everything, but she comes across as a very calm presence, even if that is with a distinct undercurrent that it’s the calm at the eye of the hurricane, and she could unleash some serious whup-ass if the situation happened to call for it.

Cruising for vampires

Cruising for vampires

Sun, sails…and vampires

Incongruous trio of concepts. When I first floated (aha) the idea of a team of vampire hunters based on a yacht in the Caribbean, I frankly expected to get shot down in flames. It was one of those manuscripts I wrote to get out of writer’s block and because I was homesick, and never really expected to publish.

On the other hand, when the overwhelming reaction was ‘haha, neat, I’d tap that’, I thought it might be time to reconsider. (Contrary to many peoples’ belief, I can take feedback.)

Also, I have to confess, I did a lot more formal world-building on this one book that I generally do – possibly an offshoot of the homesick thing. That included exterior, interior, and side diagrams of the Artemis, the yacht that my team of vampire hunters is based on and charters to rich tourists as a cover. She’s a rather beautiful gaff-rigged schooner, and I’m not including the side elevations because honestly my drawing skills suck.

Technical talk: A schooner is basically any yacht where the mast at the front is shorter than the mast at the back.

Floating a plot

The interior plan, despite needing some touching up, is good enough to give you the idea. Artemis is 26 metres overall, or 85 feet for my US-based friends, which is pretty large as yachts go. She’s got quite a bit of interior space to play with (mixed blessing, because when the going gets rough, you’ve got further to fall), but it goes over great with tourists used to expensive hotels.

All that space is also helpful when you have multiple nefarious plots going on. This is key, because (take my word for it, having grown up on an approximately 14-metre [45 foot] yacht) it’s hard to conduct a successful plot and keep it secret. The complete impossibility of not hearing my mother playing Madam Butterfly on the stereo system in our aft cabin, for example, successfully put me off all types of classical music for life.

The other area where function defined form for my Artemis design was the rig. I needed at least six people (for reasons, read the book), and gaff rigs require a lot more crew than the more modern Bermuda rig. A big, classic gaff-rigged schooner was pretty much my perfect excuse for a big crew; something Artemis-size would need at least six people readily available and could easily excuse a few more if needed.

Technical talk: Gaff rig means sails with a spar (solid boom or strut) at both the bottom and the top of the canvas. Generally, a gaff rig will have both shorter masts and a great deal more canvas area per sail than a Bermuda rig.

Artemis interior plan

So, the Artemis: running nose to stern, you’ve got an anchor locker (beware, rotting seaweed smells), the forward cabin, the forward bathroom (or head as the Americans term it) one more single cabin, and then you’re at the double cabin shared by Sean and Cristina (and, later, Jean and Cristina).

You’ll note that the bathroom is about the size of your closet, and this is because to someone used to houses, most things on a boat will look small, or an odd shape. A yacht washroom will usually include a shower, and be designed in such a way that at least with the cupboards closed and things put away, you’re basically using the whole space as a shower closet. You’ll probably also have seen that a lot of the bunks look more like a slice of pie than the classic square or rectangular shape. Hopefully you’ve also taken a hard look at the shape of the hull and figured out why; boat interiors are designed to maximise space.

Aft of Cristina and Jean’s cabin is the main saloon, with the dining table portside and an actual bar starboard (see above, re. rich tourists – not that the occasional stiff drink isn’t a benefit to someone who hunts vampires). Aft again, and you’ve got the galley (kitchen) and chart table – when not in use for actual navigation, that gets pressed into use as a food prep area. Artemis‘s galley is pretty generous by yacht standards and includes the really vital bit of any well-designed yacht – lots of closable storage space (hatched-out bits).

Technical talk: Port means left, and starboard means right, as viewed looking forwards on a vessel.

Go aft again and you’re at the aft bathroom – slightly larger, and as Artemis is a luxury charter yacht in her spare time, there actually is a tub in this one. Bathtubs on yachts are unusual, partly because of space concerns, and also because they use a lot of water to fill. When you’re anchored, and the principal method of refilling your water tanks is to ferry water from shore in your dinghy, most people get very parsimonious with water use.

You’ve then got one more double cabin – usually Jean and Kim, or, later, Kim and Sean – and then a few more single cabins, two of which are usually occupied by Mary and Francis. Nobody’s in the ‘captain’s cabin’ on Artemis, because it gets used for charterers much too often to make it worth anyone’s while.

Inside, and in colour, Artemis would be a lot of varnished wood and dark fabrics. The galley counter would be something easy to clean, some variant on Formica, and the chart table would feature a lot of fancy gadgets on the bulkhead (read: wall) and a lot of shallow, flat draws underneath for storing charts. Because Jean learnt to sail in an era where ‘Here be monsters’ was considered a perfectly acceptable alternative to ‘No idea’, and Francis and Cristina both believe in back-ups, there’ll also be a sextant, chronometer, and a few really thick books.

And that’s the Artemis, folks – hope you enjoyed the tour.

Who’d become a vampire hunter?

Who’d become a vampire hunter?

The ones who don’t stand by and do nothing

The crew of the Artemis are an eclectic bunch, but they have exactly one thing in common; they fight to save your ass from something you don’t even believe in.

Most people think that vampires are a European danger, bred in the slums of the Old World. It’s not a word commonly associated with the Caribbean. But near the Equator, day and night are predictable; darkness comes fast, and people come out after dark to enjoy the cooler air. It’s a vampire’s paradise – and before the land around the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was divided by modern borders, it was better known as the Spanish Main.

Francis Hardy is Bahamian. Son and grandson of Islands fishermen, he’s lived on and near the water all his life, and he’s the public face of the Artemis when she’s ferrying rich tourists to see the beauties of the Bahamas.

Francis isn’t much given to talking about his past, or how he ended up leading a team of vampire hunters. If pressed, he’ll admit to having worked as the strongman in a floating circus when he was younger, but now he’s an old man in a profession that doesn’t generally lead to a pension.

  • Age: 48
  • Born: Commonwealth of the Bahamas
  • Height: 1.80 metres
  • Weight: 115 kg
  • Languages: English
  • Favourite food: Lamb curry
  • Never drinks: American beer
  • Music: Latin pop – Manu Chao is a top pick but then again so is Shakira
  • Quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
  • Most often grumbles about: People who think the earth is flat
  • Personal quirk: Likes to know what’s in whatever he’s eating

Kim Marruci mixes a great cocktail, and she’s the favourite when the charterers want to learn to surf. She keeps a note in the log of how many bad pick up lines each charter group lays on her, and Francis calculates the ‘extras’ bill accordingly.

She was on an exchange year in California when she got news of of her brother’s death, and if he hadn’t left a package to be delivered to her in the event of his death, she would never have known how he died.

Rather than assuming he was doing drugs, or trying to sell it to a tabloid magazine, Kim walked into a hunter safehouse in Sint Maarten a week later and has never looked back.

  • Age: 24
  • Born: Italian Republic
  • Height: 1.69 metres
  • Weight: 64 kg
  • Languages: Italian, English
  • Favourite food: Sushi
  • Never drinks: Vodka
  • Music: Nordic heavy metal – Skalmold and Clickhaze are somewhere in all her playlists
  • Quote: “My eyes are up here.”
  • Most often grumbles about: Charterers
  • Personal quirk: Likes anything that smells of patchouli or sandalwood

Sean Kosinsky handles the barbecues on the beach and makes sure that the beer doesn’t stop flowing. Artemis is the first boat he’s ever dealt with smaller than a cruise liner, and learning to sail isn’t coming easily to him.

He was kidnapped out of his North Carolina college frat house when a clan master was looking for a new plaything, and only a very timely hunter raid on the shelter where he was being kept saved him from slavery or being Changed.

  • Age: 22
  • Born: United States of America
  • Height: 1.86 metres
  • Weight: 86 kg
  • Languages: US English
  • Favourite food: Poached eggs
  • Never drinks: Absinthe
  • Music: Anything from Mozart to Rachmaninoff
  • Quote: “Assuming direct control
  • Most often grumbles about: Boats
  • Personal quirk: Corrects everyone else’s log entries to US spelling

Mary Cox works as chef and tour administrator for Artemis‘s charter tours – and team medic the rest of the time.

She was studying medicine at Edinburgh University when she and a friend were attacked by a fledgling vampire on the way home one night. The hunters saved her life, but were too late for her friend. She and Francis have worked as a hunter team for over five years, which makes them the senior team in the area.

  • Age: 37
  • Born: Scotland, United Kingdom
  • Height: 1.58 metres
  • Weight: 57 kg
  • Languages: English
  • Favourite food: Hawaiian pizza
  • Never drinks: Whiskey
  • Music: Country and blues – Fats Domino is up often on her playlists
  • Quote: “When Robert Burns said ‘A man’s a man for a’that’, he’d never had to deal with charterers
  • Most often grumbles about: People grabbing plants and corals without checking if they’re poisonous
  • Personal quirk: Hates having to wear sunscreen

Jean Vignaud can handle Artemis under sail as well as Francis can, substitutes for Mary in the galley, and climbs the rigging the way most people climb the stairs to bed. Because he’s not a people person, he tends to work as a deckhand on cruises.

Because he rarely discusses anything more personal than the slogan on his T-shirt, the fact that he became a vampire during the reign of Charles IX of France isn’t commonly known. Why and how he chose to renounce being vampire is something even his partner doesn’t know, but his record on killing vampires is exceeded only by Francis’s.

  • Age: 463
  • Born: Kingdom of France
  • Height: 1.73 metres
  • Weight: 78 kg
  • Languages: Latin, French, Provencal, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, English
  • Favourite food: Ginger beef on Shanghai noodles
  • Never drinks: Smirnoff Ice
  • Music: Anything by Dire Straits
  • Quote: “Money for nothing is good.”
  • Most often grumbles about: Powerboats
  • Personal quirk: Rolls his own cigarettes but never usually smokes any of them

Cristina Perez-Batista can sail the Artemis, lead snorkelling tours, or teach charterers to surf behind a dinghy. She doesn’t like having to deal with people but fakes it well enough when she has to.

She jumped ship aged fourteen when her father decided to sail back to Europe, and lied about her age successfully enough to get jobs as crew for a few months before she was picked up ashore by enforcers under the aegis of a sub-clan of Changar. She managed to engineer her own escape and get far enough from where she was being held that Jean came across her before the enforcers did.

  • Age: Nearly 19
  • Born: Kingdom of Spain
  • Height: 1.66 metres
  • Weight: 65 kg
  • Languages: Spanish, English
  • Favourite food: Anything with seafood
  • Never drinks: Beer
  • Music: Anything but classical
  • Quote: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
  • Most often grumbles about: People on boats who know nothing about boats
  • Personal quirk: Hates wearing shoes
Death is for the Living – excerpt

Death is for the Living – excerpt

Death is for the Living – Prologue

Everything was dark, but this time, she was sure she was awake. There was a damp breeze on her cheek, and a soft surface under her. By contrast, her body was burning. The air smelled of earth and rot and wet leaves, and it was silent except for her own raucous breathing.

She lay there until she began to wonder if it wasn’t another fever dream, and then flinched as a voice broke the silence a little way away.

“And she was the only one, you sure of that?” It was a woman’s voice, with an Islands accent, slow and unhurried; not one she had heard before.

There was a pause, one that reeked of reluctance, and a male voice replied. “Alone and unbound, and several kilometres from the house. I thought she must be a fledgling, but…” his voice trailed off, a faint French accent evocative enough that she could almost feel the shrug.

“Not yet,” the woman’s voice agreed, and her tone was darker, grimmer. “You think she has the strength for this fight, boy, or are we just saving trouble for later?”

“I think she will stop fighting when she is dead, this one,” the man’s voice said. There was rock-solid certainty under his tone, such utter surety that she wished, briefly, that she were that sure. Absent memories, vision shut down, and fever tearing through her, fighting seemed about as impossible as levering her eyelids open.

Her throat was bone-dry, and she longed for liquid even through her throat and neck felt as though they had been savaged. She couldn’t remember why that might be.

She was suddenly aware that there was a presence beside her, blocking the flow of air, and a hand clamped onto her shoulder. It triggered a flash of rage and thirst combined, and it was enough to let her move, to flinch away, swing her arm. She had almost bitten him, and couldn’t remember why that would be a bad idea.

He was long gone by the time her retaliation completely failed to connect, the cooling breeze again moving over her face. It made the thirst worse.

Through the pounding in her ears she heard his voice: “Tu vois. She fought; she did not bite.”

There was a rustle of cloth. “Indeed I see. Make sure it her struggle you see and not your own. If she survives she may not thank you for it.”

There was a longer pause, as her heartbeat slowed and the lancing pains from the movement quieted with it, and she wondered absently why he didn’t just walk out. His desire to do so was almost as thick in the room as the smell of the jungle.

“Then let her choose,” he said at last. “She has earnt that much, at least, non?”

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