Bram Stoker Festival 2012

Spooky, ghoulish goings-on, in the courtyards of Dublin Castle this bank holiday weekend… welcome to Bram Stoker’s imagination!

Ridley: The Bram Stoker festival was packed with things to do all weekend, from talks by Patricia Cornwell, writing workshops for children, plays and discussions on vampires. Christopher Lee was even awarded the Bram Stoker Gold Medal by the Philosophical society in Trinity College for his past role as Dracula. Bram, in his time at Trinity, was the president of this society.

So many of these events were ticket only and sold out quite quickly!

Latimer: We didn’t realise until too late that you had to have tickets for these events! So we really missed out. Derek Landy (author of Skulduggery was talking in one of the theatres) and there were lots of talks about vampires and vampirism in Trinity College (as Ridley says, Bram’s old Alma mater). There were a lot of interesting talks, and I was really disappointed that we didn’t get to go to them! 😦

Ridley: Well, no matter, we did manage to get tickets to one event at least!

We attended a night time, outdoor performance by the award winning street theatre company, Spraoi, in the Grand Courtyard of Dublin Castle. It was held there as Bram used to have a tedious desk job in one of the offices in the castle.

Latimer: I like to imagine Bram sitting at a desk inside the fantastic building that is Dublin Castle, daydreaming about Romania and vampires! I wonder did Dublin Castle spark off any dreams of Vlad’s castle? You can just picture vampire’s roaming the darkness of the Castle courtyards…

Our good friend Orbie joined us on this night of terror! She told me that there was a Bram Stoker App (made by the Science Gallery), that was devised for the festival. The App uses your phone GPS to tell you if you are in a hotspot for vampires or ghosts in Dublin. When it tells you, you are, you take a photo of the street or area, and a ghost will appear on your image! Or so Orbie told me… While we waited in the queue to go into the Castle courtyard… we tried to find some ghosts!

Then we got bored and the queue started moving, so we were swept inside and pretty much forgot until now about this App!

There was the chilling sound of people moaning like ghosts… The idea of the event was scenes and characters from Dracula. As the crowd moved forward under the arch into the courtyard, we were met with a massive moon display, against the backdrop of a dark and eerie courtyard. There was a man sitting within the moon, screaming and shouting…

We were pulled into a dark world, filled with vampires and ghouls. There were performers wandering around the cold courtyard, screaming and hissing.

As I was standing staring at an eerie display (wedding dresses hanging off a man-made tree) a ghoulish performer came up to me and started pulling at a plastic bag I was holding (it contained a proof copy of our book, which I was handing off to Ridley). I gave a nervous laugh, “you’re really getting into this” I said, there was absolutely no break in character, she raced off to pull at some of the other people (some of the crowd was also dressed up for the night as vampire’s and devils – she was particularly fascinated by these people, me in my north face jacket didn’t do much for her! Boring I guess!). 

As we walked from display-to-display, a rock band played Gothic sounding music under arches lit in an eerie green glow…

Vampire girls dressed in haunting white dresses stalked through the crowd. They came together at one display (a bench lit by a single street lamp) and performed a strange struggle – pulling out of a young girl dressed in white (eventually turning her into a vampire). I think these girls were Dracula’s vampire women!

As Orbie was talking her photos of this performance… this girl crept up behind her!

Naturally, I started snapping photos, THEN, I said “Orbie… behind you!” and she turned and jumped out of the way with a yelp, “JAYSUS”!

The crowd started to move then over to a macabre display of an autopsy table… two vampire ghouls were pulling at the body… Afterward I got some photos and it looks pretty creepy… The face… the face! Very scary!

All the while, a carriage was working its way through the crowd… the man inside looks like he could be someone important… eh? Well, yep, as it turns out, this guy was playing Bram Stoker…

He was heading towards this large wooden construct;

Once he reached the top he read to us, telling us to stay in the light, and out of darkness… away from the shadows…

He then sat back, writing at a typewriter.

Nearby, there was a display in the corner that looked important.. 

There was a massive coffin beside it… Dracula making his way from the port (as in the book… which for me is actually the Gary Oldman movie… I remember the port from the movie!)

Out of it came this massive skeleton! Dracula!

A performer dressed up as a more manageable-sized Dracula, made his way to Bram in his wooden tower, along with all the hissing vampire ladies!

Dracula looks like he’s smiling here, haha, going, ‘this is great! look at me Mammy!’ haha

Bram brought the night to an end, with a brief final reading from the book. It was pretty cool.

Ridley: The event was really interesting! (Though it was wet and absolutely freezing!! Our hands were red raw, time to buy some gloves, me thinks!).

Latimer: Yea! My hands felt like I’d stuck them in a -80 freezer! The pain traveled right up my arms! It was so cold! God bless my north face jacket (the best buy ever!) – it did save me from the cutting breeze, I just needed some gloves!

Well, afterward everyone made their way home, out of Bram Stoker’s dreams and back to reality… Which took the form of a woman dancing in the window of her apartment (which faced an entrance to Dublin Castle)! She had the lights on, the curtains pulled back and was going wild dancing. Everyone stood there laughing (of course she knew everyone could see!). Then she jumped away, leaving her two flatmates (who were sitting down on the couch) staring blankly out at us! 

The festival was fun, hopefully they’ll make it a yearly thing! It would be pretty interesting. We’ll hopefully be more prepared next year! 😦

Dracula and Bram Stoker

What’s Bram Stoker got to do with Dublin?

Latimer: I admit that up until a few years ago, I didn’t know that Bram Stoker was Irish (maybe you do and you are gasping at my ignorance right now). It was actually a bit of a shock to me when I found out.

He is, for some unknown reason, not a writer we often talk about. He passes unnoticed.

While we wax lyrical about Joyce and Wilde, we never mention Stoker.

Another famous son 🙂

While vampire’s and vampirism literature were around long before Stoker’s time, he is now remembered as the creator of vampire lore. It just goes to show the power of his story-telling. He never even visited Romania.

Bran’s Castle, Vlad the Impaler’s castle

Bram Stoker started life as a very sickly child, spending his early years bed-ridden (up until the age of 7yrs). People say this is probably what led to the development of his fantastical imagination. Bram himself remarked later; “I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.”

When he grew up, he left the sick-bed behind. He attended Trinity College Dublin (TCD 🙂 ), played rugby and was a fantastic athlete like many other members of his family.

But, why am I talking about Stoker?

Recently I attended a talk about Bram Stoker’s medical family. And at this talk, I learned that this year is the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death and Dublin is readying itself to celebrate its, bizarrely overlooked son, with the first Festival of Bram Stoker, which will be held in October.

The Stoker’s shaped Dublin in many ways and were very influential at the time in Ireland.

They were a very well-to-do family. They lived in many grand houses dotted around Dublin. If you’ve ever been to the city, you’ll know there are lots of old Georgian style town houses around the streets. Bram Stoker’s family home is preserved on Kildare St (which is very near Trinity College). 

They were an intelligent family; there were 4 boys, including Bram, the 3 other brothers became doctors. And they had 9 cousins that also became doctors.

Sir William Thornley Stoker, President of RCSI

Bram Stoker’s brother, Sir William Thornley Stoker, was the former President of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI). Because his cousin William Stoker, was also a doctor, Sir William went by the name ‘Thornley’. I think that’s a cool name, Thornley Stoker… sounds, strangely enough, like a vampire hunter!  

Bram wasn’t interested in being a doctor. He studied mathematics in Trinity. He was also an active member of the University Philosophical Society. He petitioned for a young Oscar Wilde to join the society. He would eventually end up marrying Florence Balcombe, Wilde’s childhood sweetheart. When Wilde realised they were engaged, he left Ireland more or less for good, only returning twice more in his life. But, when Wilde was living in Europe (after his release from prison), Stoker would often visit him.

Lyceum Theatre, London

After a few years working in Dublin, Bram moved to England to become the manager of the Lyceum Theatre and of Henry Irving (the most famous and best actor of the day).

Bram also got to work on writing Dracula. He was a very methodical writer. He had a book that contained all of his notes, and timetables of events in the story. He would write down train timetables, to make sure that when trains appeared in his book, they ran according to the correct schedule. He also often wrote to his brother Sir William and would ask his medical opinion on any such events in the book. Sir William would write back and tell him, ‘yes, if he is hit here, this will happen’ and what pressure points should be detailed.

Brams notes

There was speculation that Bram got a lot of inspiration for the Dracula novel from stories his mother would tell him about the cholera epidemics in Sligo (where she was from). She would tell him stories about people being buried alive (which apparently they often were during the cholera epidemics).

Events and stories were noted in his notebook, along with newspaper clippings of strange events or interesting things that happened around him.

Dracula was published in 1897- and a first edition of the book, today is worth 250,000 euro!!

Original cover

The Bram Stoker society in Ireland is trying hard to get Stoker more recognised as an Irishman. They are collecting money to commission a statue of Bram Stoker to be put on display in Dublin.

The city is known for its statues… we have a lot!

Patrick Kavanagh, on the canal bench
Oscar Wilde in Merrion Park
Brendan Behan, Royal Canal just off Dorset Street
James Joyce, North Earl Street just off O’Connell Street
Children of Lir, Garden of Remembrance Parnell Square
Irish Famine statues, North Quays

Joyce and Wilde are happily on display… the poet Patrick Kavanagh sits (unhappily perhaps!) on a bench by the canal; but no Stoker!

Dublin is trying to reclaim Stoker- and why not? Hopefully it works; I think it would be nice to have a statue of Bram Stoker in Dublin. It was really interesting hearing about how his family shaped various parts of Dublin.

Myself and Ridley are primed and ready to go to the Stoker Festival! Stay tuned for that post 🙂

Bram Stoker Festival 2012 Post