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Character interview: Cristina Batista

Character interview: Cristina Batista

Interview with Cristina Batista

Sitting on a nice secluded end of a breakwater with a good view of the harbour

J C Steel: There are times I miss sunshine, wind, and palm trees.

Cristina Batista: I didn’t want to move to Europe in my teens, and having seen it, I still don’t want to move there.

JCS: Your family was originally from Spain. Which area?

CB: My father was from Cáceres, in Extremadura. I have no idea where my mother was from, she left after I was born.

JCS: And your father moved you all onto a yacht and sailed for the Caribbean. What was growing up on a yacht like?

CB: …when it’s how you grow up, and you have known nothing different, growing up on a yacht is very normal. I played in the harbour with the children from other boats, when there were any; I learnt to row and sail; I learnt to shop in the open markets, and how to tie up a dinghy so I didn’t end up swimming after it. I explored around the anchorages, I snorkelled. You must have been asked this one often enough.

JCS: Very, very often. Now I’m asking you. How about schooling?

CB: We had a basic set of material from a correspondence course. It wasn’t designed for complex thinkers, but it provided the basics.

JCS: Yeah, amen on the last part. Where did you spend most of your time?

CB: Mostly between Grenada and Martinique. We visited St. Eustatius once.

JCS: Do they still keep an elephant at Pitons?

CB: I think so. I haven’t been there in a few years. Papá liked the less touristy areas. Union Island was one of his favourites.

JCS: Least favourite aspect of living on a yacht?

CB: Water runs. For something that empties so quickly, it takes an amazing number of jerry-cans to fill a water tank.

JCS: Any opinions of living in a house?

CB: I have hardly lived in a house. Let’s say…they don’t move, and if you open the windows there are bugs everywhere.

JCS: You have Spanish citizenship. How do you respond if someone asks you where you come from?

CB: I tell them I spent most of my life in the Caribbean. My nationality is never very relevant to my life until I need to pass Customs.

JCS: Most people don’t believe in vampires. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing, from your perspective?

CB: I find that the facts remain the facts no matter your beliefs. It makes my job a little easier, in some ways. Vampires have a vested interest in human ignorance, so populated areas can provide good cover under the right circumstances.

JCS: Is it true that vampires can be driven away with a cross?

CB: No. Or any other type of religious symbol, either, unless you sharpen it.

JCS: Where do you think that belief originated from?

CB: I’ve noticed that people believe a lot of strange things when it comes to religion. Personally I prefer stakes and fighting knives if I need to kill a vampire.

A different look at organised religion

A different look at organised religion

Organised religion = mass obsessive compulsive disorder?

It’s not a very popular opinion, granted. However, the similarities between certain practices and outcomes of organised religion and OCD keep hitting me.

Let’s jot down a definition of obsessive compulsive disorder, for those who have never experienced it or met someone with it. Per Psychology Today: “Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations (obsessions) and engage in behaviors or mental acts in response to these thoughts or obsessions.”

Now let’s take a real-life example of religion in action.

I went to the grocery store this weekend, and got to the checkout. I was paying my bill, and noticed a gentleman standing about a metre off the far end of the checkout belt – about four metres away from me. For a few seconds, as I paid my bill, I thought he was just standing there chatting on a phone headset, and I just happened to be in his line of sight.

As my card was processing, I looked at him again. He was still staring at me, and muttering something along the lines of “There’s no room, I can’t come in.” I realised at this point that there was no very small phone headset I’d missed because it was the end of a long day: he wasn’t putting his groceries on the belt because that would have entailed approaching a woman. Goodness knows how he gets groceries under normal circumstances; my local Safeway’s checkout attendants are predominantly female.

So let’s look at that definition of OCD again. Anxiety disorder, in which the sufferer engages in acts that, to those who don’t share in their obsessions, appear to be irrational or even harmful. This man, due to his belief that approaching 50% of the human population is either forbidden or actively harmful to his chances of a pleasant afterlife, take your pick, was apparently unable to place his groceries on a checkout belt until all female presences had cleared the area. Sure enough, when I looked back from the exit, there he was, paying for his groceries (and still staring at me).

If you want another example, let’s take a look at the Catholic practice of self-flagellation. “Flagellation is the beating or whipping of the skin, most often on the back, and often drawing blood, as a bodily penance to show remorse for sin.” By and large, self-flagellation is practised by the extremely devout: the late Pope John Paul II, for example. (For a more pop-culture reference, see Opus Dei, most recently documented in the Da Vinci Code.) The practice is based in the belief that this life is simply a preparation for death and eternal life thereafter; suffer in this life, stock up brownie points for the next.

Now, I agree completely that some things that Catholicism defines as sins, let’s say murder, are pretty drastic. Some remorse is undoubtedly in order. However, do please raise your hand at this point if you’re aware of any cold cases pointing to the last Pope as a serial killer.

See again that definition of OCD. Because some individuals on the fundamentalist end of Catholicism believe that suffering now will give them a pleasant eternity after they die, they engage in acts that are actively self-harming, not merely offensive to those around them like my friend from the grocery store.

Someone’s going to say that socially-accepted misogyny and self-harm aren’t all there is to organised religion. I agree. I’ve known some exemplary folk who were very devout in one religion or another. My point is that the underlying practices overlap remarkably with a well-documented anxiety disorder. They’re, at root, a defence against fear.

Guadeloupe – en route to the South

Guadeloupe – en route to the South

Guadeloupe – a really conveniently-placed island

In the case of the Artemis crew, it’s a convenient place to take on stores when you’ve sailed out of the Bahamas ass-backwards, with insufficient supplies of water, fuel, and food.

Guadeloupe mapWhat most people don’t know about Guadeloupe is that it is legally part of France; one of their overseas territories, or as the French refer to it, a département outre-mer. Given that, the fact that it speaks French with a liberal spattering of Creole is probably less of a surprise. It’s the southernmost of the Leeward Island chain, which stretches from St. Maarten (by Anguilla) in the North to Marie-Galante, a dependency of Guadeloupe, in the South.

Guadeloupe, before it got summarily re-named by Columbus, was known as Karukera, or the island of beautiful waters. As you can see from the header image, that’s not an inaccurate name for the place.

If you look at the curve of the island chain, then you’ll see that when sailing in from the North and seaward, Guadeloupe is a pretty logical spot to pick as a stopping point. In addition, the marina is large, and there’s various sections of anchorage, marina, and tourist beach speckled around, with a fair amount of traffic. Just the spot for a team of vampire hunters on the run to make a pit stop.

Guadeloupe monkeysMy only visit to Guadeloupe was in 1992; we began to head for Europe, sailing out of Martinique, and managed to blow out the leading edge of our jib. Since starting a four- to five-week sail with one of your primary sails frayed is considered contra-indicated at best and bloody stupid at worst, we made a left into Guadeloupe and spent a week there sorting it out. I can therefore personally attest to the fact that the marina’s a maze. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much more of the island than the marina (sails, supplies, water, go, is probably the executive summary of the visit).

I do still have a trio of hand-carved wooden monkeys that I picked up there, which hung over my bunk all the way to Gibraltar and are hanging from the curtain tie-back by my desk as I write. Because, if all goes well, there really isn’t a hell of a lot to do on a sailing yacht crossing the Atlantic, I spent a number of hours watching them swing back and forth as the boat rolled. These days, they only move when one of my cats goes on the rampage and uses my windowsill as a trampoline.

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.

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