First of all, thanks a million to Charlotte for letting me hog her blog for the day! I’ve written before about how people ask me what my just published book Leaving the Pack is about, and how werewolves are the literary equivalent of the denim jacket – a staple that never goes out of fashion for very long – and that I didn’t think of bandwagons when I started it, way back in 1990. Then, werewolves were the American one terrorising London, or were the wolf-like beings of Whitley Strieber’s Wolfen, from nearly a decade before (we’re ignoring Teen Wolf). I reasoned that if a species of intelligent wolves could exist, there was no reason why a race of men who were like wild beasts inside, whose hormone and pheromone production was affected by the moon, could not also exist.
I wrote a “scientifically feasible” novella, and slowly expanded it into a novel over a number of years as I worked on other things. And as the years passed, I saw werewolf books and movies appear again. And, just like the Wolfen, my werewolves were different to everything I had seen and read about both before and after. They’re not paranormal beings. They can’t infect you; only kill you – albeit with extreme ease. But they only kill you if you upset them. In short, they’re real. So real that I had at one time considered writing “an Interview with the Werewolf,” where I got the whole novel from one of their kind spilling the beans on the rest of his race. However, when I am asked about the book, a one-word answer is handy – werewolves.
End of story. Everyone knows what to expect.
But will they get what they expect? No, not if they expect shape shifting. But the problem is potentially greater than that. My next book is called Five Days on Ballyboy Beach and is a contemporary romance. When I am asked about that it’s going to take a bit more explaining – a guy who is on a camping holiday with some college friends and realises he’s in love with his best friend, even though his current girlfriend is going to join them later… But if people expect that old story about falling in love with your best friend, well, they’re probably going to get something nearer to what they assume than those expecting to read a werewolf book about transformations and killings and the undead and silver bullets when they pick up Leaving the Pack. No, they won’t be disappointed, but my problem is that some readers might think it’s all horror.
Though a part of me still sometimes wonders whether I might not get a knock on my door one of these nights from some dark strangers inquiring exactly where I got my information from, I don’t expect them to bite my face off and tear me limb from limb. My werewolves are real, and just as human as the rest of us. They are born and grow up, and get old and they want to and do have families, and they fall in love. I had to exert effort to convince my own mother to read this book. She didn’t think it was going to be shite, but werewolves aren’t her cup of tea. She told me my aunts were happy for me and all, but this kind of book wasn’t for them, either. I had to assure them all that it wasn’t scary, that it wouldn’t freak them out, that they’d like it. They haven’t finished it yet – well, one aunt has, but she’s not as faint of heart as my mother and the others – and I’m hoping they aren’t actually scared by any of it. But I do know that even if they are a little, they’ll be happy they read it, because in real life, even werewolves have more time for love and romance than they have for killing. Unless you upset them. And even then, they’ll probably only damage you.
And you really can’t get infected…
Nobody believes in werewolves.
That’s just what Paul McHew and his friends are counting on. They and their kind roam our city streets: a race of people from whom the terrible legend stems; now living among us invisibly after centuries of persecution through fear and ignorance. Superficially Caucasian but physiologically very different, with lunar rhythms so strong that during the three days of the full moon they are almost completely controlled by their hormonal instincts, you might have cursed them as just another group of brawling youths or drunken gang-bangers.
Now at the point of extinction, if they are to survive their existence must remain restricted to mere stories and legend, but, paradoxically, they also must marry outside their society in order to persist. The responsibility for negotiating this knife-edge is given to Paul, who runs the streets with his friends during the full moon, keeping them out of real trouble and its resultant difficult questions. Having succeeded for years, he finds his real test of leadership comes when he meets Susan, a potential life-mate, to whom he will have to reveal his true identity if he is ever to leave his pack. 10% of the author’s royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.
The rain started as Susan made her way to the coast that evening. The clouds, building up all day and brooding darkly above the mountains, swept over the city and sea on a fierce, sudden wind out of the north, bringing the night with them. A number of enormous bolts, shooting down out of the black mass to the buildings and into the boiling water, followed by thunder to make men flinch and dogs cower, were the prelude to a downpour of seemingly biblical proportions. The water gullied down the streets, bringing the traffic to an almost complete halt. The bus crawled along for another half an hour, the driver’s foot forever on the brake as the cars in front continually stopped.
Susan felt herself get irritated.
She was going to be very late meeting Paul.
It would have been quicker to walk, but the rain outside would have drenched her instantly. The very force of the drops would have plastered her light jacket to her skin and the water rebounding off the ground and puddles would have saturated the rest of her body. In some places, where the accumulated litter and rubbish of the city had clogged the drains, there were veritable ponds to cross and even the cars had to take runs at them. She took deep breaths and told herself it was fashionable for a lady to be late. Visiting her mother had been good. She had recognized Susan and they’d had a pleasant conversation.
The lights in the elder woman’s eyes appeared distant however, as if she were talking from a different epoch, but nevertheless, just as she was going, Susan told her about Paul. Her mother had seemed pleased, but told her she was a bit young to be going out with boys, she’d plenty of time for that and should be studying hard. Susan had smiled and agreed, wondering at the same time if the relationship was really serious and deciding that it was too early to know.
The bar – a wide, low-roofed room with some tables around the edges and a view out over the water – was heaving. The rain had driven the masses from the beach and half of them seemed to have taken refuge here. They would be trapped there in their shorts and t-shirts, miniskirts and beach tops until the rain ceased or at least eased and the floods abated. When she walked into the bar, however, she saw Paul immediately.
He didn’t notice her arrive, and for a few seconds she just watched him from the doorway: standing quite alone in the centre of the room where there were fewer people. It didn’t seem to bother him at all. He didn’t look out of place, like you sometimes see people and would have said to your friends: ‘Hey, look at the loner,’ if you’d been back in your teens. It was as if nobody knew he was really there: a mere observer, a step back from the rest of the bar; just standing there watching everyone with an enigmatic smile on his face, as if he’d seen all this before, was appreciating a play for the second time.
To her, however, it was impossible not to notice him. She would have been less surprised to see him in same spot telling jokes or relating a story to an enraptured audience. His aura seemed to fill the air around him, swelling his being until it was the kernel of the room, the core around which everything else revolved. As she looked at him, she felt that this was a man who could do anything he had a mind to do, who was strong enough to make a decision and stick to it in the face of any opposition.
He knew his mind and was not afraid to go with how he saw things, despite what others might think, could take seemingly impossible things and make them his own. It had been a long time since she had known a man like that, and she had often wondered if she would ever encounter another. Paul turned suddenly towards her and caught her eye smiling broadly. It almost seemed as if he had known she was there all the time, and she was a little taken aback; her gut clenched the way it had when they had first met. She grinned back, then went over and embraced him.
“Sorry I’m so late. What a nightmare!”
“No problem. I was just doing a little people-watching.”
“So I see – you look quite the anthropologist watching a tribal dance.”
He laughed and nodded. “Not far off, not far off.”
They got some drinks and sat down in a quiet corner where a young couple had just left to brave the rain, bored and whining kids in tow. Susan noticed that Paul was carrying a small rucksack. She wondered what he had it for, but decided to wait and find out rather than ask directly. A part of her hoped it was an overnight bag, for she longed to spend the night with him again. The tiny piece or her which took offence at his presumptuousness was silenced by the rest, remembering that she had invited him into her house, and had done it just once.
“How was your mother?” asked Paul.
Susan shrugged slightly before nodding. “Good. She recognized me, and we had a good chat.”
“That sounds great. Did you tell her you met the man of your dreams?”
Susan smiled softly. She was not sure why, but she decided to lie, not really ready to reveal how much she believed that herself. “I didn’t. I’m not sure how old she thought I was, so I didn’t want to upset her.”
Paul didn’t reply, but took her hand and squeezed it softly. She felt bad then. A panicked thought shot through her mind that he could see through her childish deception, but there was nothing in his expression to suggest that. She smiled more brightly at him, brushing his face with her hand.
“I told the nurse, though, and she was delighted.” Paul laughed and moved his hand to her knee, which he squeezed harder.
“Was she now?” he asked as he kissed her on the lips.
They had some more drinks, while outside the torrent subsided. The clouds dispersed, quickly whipped south by the strong wind and the last rays of the day broke through. Once the rain ceased, the bar emptied as the tourists made for their hotels to change and spend the hours of darkness in the restaurants and clubs nearer the city centre. Susan and Paul also left, walking the promenade that separated the beach from the coast road.
It was a balmy evening, the dying sun making an effort to evaporate the puddles of standing water, raising the humidity again. They strolled towards Chawni Point, jutting into the sea between them and the river, just another couple among many others doing likewise. The clouds had retreated to the horizon where they hung red across the sky as the glowing sun set, like galloping horses on the edge of a plain, circling some compelling predator. Soon after, the lamps along the sea wall came on and they kept walking as the moon rose above the clouds and poured its argent life across the ocean.
When they reached the Point, they continued walking around it and stopped at a pub that faced the sea on the eastern tip. The bar was a favorite of both strollers and bikers, which made a strange but agreeable blend. Susan came here now and then herself, and it was as full as it always was. They took their drinks outside and sat on the sea wall in the mild evening breeze, gazing at the waning silver disc reflected across the oily water. The satellite seemed to seep life directly into Paul’s eyes, so brightly did they glow in the gloom.
The hot passion of before had not returned, and she wondered if it would disappear with the moon each month. However, it was replaced with something else, something more precious to her for being less tangible. She felt that her life would be like the night sky without the resplendence of that satellite, should Paul retreat his presence. She would be without meaning, without life, were he to suddenly disappear. The thought gave her a slight surge of fear, but that fear gave way to something else as she recognized it for what it was: love; the worry that someone she needed would not need her in return.
Her heart soared tentatively in this private revelation, glad it had at last encountered this mysterious sensation, but amazed at its abruptness, its sudden evolution. She felt an urge to reveal it then and there, to make her declaration of love in the pearly luminescence, above the vermeil waves, but quelled it cruelly.
Reluctant to show her vulnerability, despite its potential luxury, she had not gotten to this pearl-drenched headland by falling at anyone’s feet and would walk away from it as proud as she had arrived, arm in arm with the man whose very skin seeped steel. She would carry her concern untended until ready to tell him the true depth of her feelings and presumed it was an anxiety shared by all, a trepidation that never quite left. Susan wondered if the moon depended upon the night as much as the night depended on the moon, in the infinite dance of the earth and its satellite, and she felt the silver light fill her own being, not directly, but through his luminous eyes. After midnight, they continued westwards past the southern part of the harbor, in which most of the smaller private crafts were moored, and back into the city, where they caught a taxi back to her flat once more.