This week I’m joined by Berni Stevens, author and cover designer, as she tells us about the book that changed her life. Berni has just published Laughing All the Way on the Jingle Bells Express with Choc Lit. Over to Berni …
I’ve always been a big fan of Agatha Christie, and when I worked for her publishers, I was the only member of staff who’d read every one of her books. But in spite of my having read all her books by the age of thirteen or fourteen, I can’t claim she changed my life. However, what she did do, was awaken my ‘darker side’, for which I’ll always be grateful.
Like a lot of people, I studied Wuthering Heights for English Lit GCE. Heathcliff, the tall dark, Gothic hero fired my imagination, even though he became (thanks to Cathy) a really nasty piece of work … and then … I discovered Dracula. There is no better Gothic anti-hero than the infamous vampire Count in my opinion. I read the book again and again, loving the sense of unease that builds so slowly page by page. The ingenious way of telling a story through journals and letters intrigued me. How Bram Stoker managed to get inside each character’s head so successfully was incredible too. It was a book way ahead of its time in a way.
One of the points I always like to make, is that one of the main characters is a woman. Not a simpering Victorian woman having the vapours all over the place either, but a feisty, intelligent and resourceful career woman. One that all the men in the book look up to and actually listen to. I get really annoyed when Mina is portrayed as a weak, simpering type. She’s a worthy heroine in my opinion.
My fascination with Dracula has lasted – well actually it’s grown – over the years. I started watching every Draculafilm I could find on TV. As a keen and aspiring artist, I tried my hand at drawing creepy pastel portraits of the Count, and the various actors who played him. In fact, before I went to art college, I had quite a lucrative business going; selling portraits of vampires. I graduated to drawing rock stars somewhere along the way and sold a few of those too – thanks to the small ads at the back of the New Musical Express.
I have yet to read any book that’s affected me quite as much as Stoker’s Dracula. I have many different editions – sadly not a first edition as yet – but it would be way out of my price range anyway. I do know that Sharon Osbourne bought a signed first edition for husband Ozzie at auction and paid somewhere in the region of £40,000. Unsigned, it would still be worth between £15,000 – £25,000, depending on the condition. I do have a copy which is ninety-five years old and still has its original dust jacket, and that’s worth three figures because of the dust jacket. So should you spot a first edition with the original yellow and red cover …!
I joined the Dracula Society twenty years ago. I’m now on the Committee and I design the quarterly magazine, which is sent out to our members. We’re a literary society for fans of the Gothic, I hasten to add, not an excuse to dress up and run around dark, wind-swept hills at midnight. You might need a very different kind of society for that!
I have to say when I first joined the Society, I felt full of confidence that I could hold my own with the other members. (Well, I’d read the book loads of times … right?) Hmmmm, well so had everyone else. Plus the membership has plenty of professors, doctors and lecturers among its members. Academics who really know their stuff. And they’re all worth listening to.
When I first went freelance in 2004, I didn’t have many clients … actually if I’m honest, I didn’t have any… which gave me time to write. Interestingly, just starting to pop up in the late 90s/early noughties, was a new genre – called paranormal romance – but they were all American, set in the US, and I read a lot of them. I had already become addicted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which cleverly combined scary bits with comedy, teenage love and heartbreak. I’ve always admired that kind of writing, where you’re laughing one minute, crying the next, and then scared out of your wits. Keeps you on your toes.
There’s not much romance in Dracula, unless you count the enduring love between Jonathan and Mina. Contrary to Coppola’s Dracula, Mina does not resemble Dracula’s long-dead wife, in fact there’s no mention in the book of his ever having married at all. Although there’s a scene in the early chapters, where the Count prevents the three vampire sisters from biting Jonathan, and they berate him for being unable to love. To which he replies, ‘Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past …’
A germ of an idea started to form … why not write a paranormal romance set in present day London? I started writing, and the result was Fledgling, my first published book which was taken by a US publisher, and has since been published here in the UK by Choc Lit, as Dance Until Dawn. I’m still proud of it, and it’s all down to a book first published in 1897, which has held me in its thrall since I first read it at the age of fourteen. There’s a reason why Dracula has never been out of print since then … it really is that good.
About Berni Stevens
Berni Stevens lives in a 400-year-old cottage in Hertfordshire, with her husband, black cat, an ever-growing family of goldfish who seem to think they’re piranha, and occasionally her son when he needs feeding up! She trained in graphic design, and has worked as a book cover designer for over twenty-five years.
Her love of paranormal fiction began at school when she first read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and she’s been a dedicated fan of the fanged ever since. She’s on the committee and book panel of The Dracula Society – a London-based literary society for fans of gothic literature, film and theatre. She also designs their quarterly magazine.
Berni worked for many of the big London publishing houses before going freelance, and now works both for publishers and many self-published authors. Any ‘spare’ time is taken up with dance and Zumba (she’s a licensed Zumba instructor), going to as many rock concerts as she can, and hiking canyons every summer in the stunning Utah desert.
Dance Until Dawn, a paranormal romance, was Berni’s UK debut with award-winning publisher Choc Lit, and was followed by the sequel, Revenge is Sweet.
One Magical Christmas, was Berni’s first festive RomCom, and her second RomCom, Izzy’s Christmas Star, came out in 2019, with Izzy’s sequel, It’s Only Rock and Roll available from February 2022. Berni’s 2021 festive book, Laughing All the Way on the Jingle Bells Express is available from November 30th 2021.
To keep in touch with Berni you can use the following links:-
Twitter : https://twitter.com/Berni_Stevens1
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/berni.stevens.5/
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/berni.stevens.5/
Berni designs wonderful covers. (She’s done all of mine! Mx) To find out more check out https://www.bernistevenscoverdesign.com/
And if you are interested in the Dracula Society, here is a link for that www.thedraculasociety.org.uk
If you received a mysterious invitation for a fun-filled festive train ride the week before Christmas, would you go?
When teacher Dee Nicholls receives her invitation, she isn’t sure what to make of it. Surely it’s some kind of joke to get her out of bed early on a weekend? Perhaps a clever festive marketing ploy?
But as the Christmas countdown begins, it becomes clear that Dee isn’t the only “Jingle Bells Express” invitee. There are other people out there who have received the same invitation: Tom the intern, Rachel the aspiring writer, Dylan the musician and his dog Muttley – and they’re not the only ones!
Could the unusual festive journey they eventually take together, show them all the true meaning of Christmas, and also that happiness is sometimes right in front of you – if you just take the time to look?
What an interesting post, Berni, thank you and I hope that your new book sells very well! Mx