Vampire Fiction Gets Fresh Blood

Portstewart's Philip Henry on horror writing, 12-hour shifts and his own brush with the spirit world

Vampire novels set in Northern Ireland are as rare as a summer heatwave in these parts, but Philip Henry, like the monsters he writes about, is not frightened of a challenge.

Having been told by publishers that horror in the UK was dead, the Portstewart writer, undaunted, decided to try his luck on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Tipped off about the potential in the US market, he began researching US publishers on the internet after completing the manuscript for his first book, Vampire Dawn, and was soon signed up by the Pennsylvanian publisher Black Death Books.

Henry's cutting edge tales from the Causeway coast - which include everything from a vampire husband buying his wife a gift for their 116th wedding anniversary to an Elvis vampire singing 'Love Me Tender' to his assailants - have travelled across the globe, with devoted fans contacting him from as far afield as America and Australia.

'I think there is a market for vampire novels,' Henry remarks. 'It's a genre that a lot easier to market, people know what to expect. Vampire Dawn was meant to be a stand alone novel, but I got so many emails from people - some from real hardcore goths - wanting more from the characters that I knew I would do a sequel.

'I have since written a second book, Vampire Twilight, and hope to complete the trilogy next Hallowe'en with Vampire Equinox.'

Henry cites Buffy the Vampire Slayer and An American Werewolf in London as key influences in his writing, which mixes fun with fangs.

He has written horror fiction since his childhood days growing up in Ballymoney, but it was only when he felt trapped in the boredom of 12-hour factory shifts as an adult that he decided to bring his work to a wider audience.

'I was bored most of the night and would lift bits of paper and make notes when I was there. When I got a couple of days off I would write them out,' he recalls.

Henry spent 18 months working on Vampire Dawn when, in 2001, an unexpected redundancy package from the factory offered him an escape route. The free time enabled him to complete the book in just over a month.

The 34-year-old has not restricted himself to vampire fiction, however. His book Mind's Eye saw the fictional pupils of a Portstewart secondary school terrorised by a sea monster.

Henry's latest release, Freak, set for release later this year, is again set on the north coast, and incorporates various elements of all his novels to date.

'Freak is the story of a freak of nature and is my most ambitious book,' Henry admits. 'It follows the story from the character's conception to the present day. His mother notices the strange powers he has and as he grows, the book becomes about how these powers manifest themselves and isolate him from everything else.

'It is a superhero story and it is all about how the character uses the powers to change his life. But he is a dark avenger. It is not exactly truth, justice and the American way. He is more the kind of guy the criminals have nightmares about!'

Freak will be published through Henry's own creative initiative Coral Moon, a project he established to ensure his work could be enjoyed by readers on a more regular basis.

Also a musician, Henry hopes to release his own records through the Coral Moon label, and also has plans to produce a road movie, which he describes as 'a cross between Withnail and I and The Wizard of Oz'.

Henry's writing is at its best when he uses humour to bridge the gap between the magical and the mundane. He knows too that fear means different things to different people, something he learnt first hand when he had an otherworldly experience of his own.

'I am the first to go and look if someone says they have seen a ghost,' he explains. 'I believe I saw a ghost once. I was driving from my mum's in Ballymoney at 11pm at night towards the village of Balnamore. I saw a man on a horse and when you see a man on a horse in the country you automatically slow down. I got a better look and the man was wearing tails and a top hat.

'I got closer again and the next thing he disappeared. I would have seen him if he had turned up a lane or gone through a hedge, but there was nowhere to go. It was only when I told people in the area that they said it was a well known ghost. I was buzzing that night!' 

Philip Henry has definitely seen a lot and now he's ready to stake his claim as the new dark prince of Northern Irish horror writing.  

Ross McKee