East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Like an old girlfriend


This is a complicated story. It starts at the turn of the last century, as a 20-years younger myself is trying to create a character for a series of stories. I had just read Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars, hot on the heels of Kim Newman’s Seven Stars, and I wanted to do something similar.
In case you missed it, Stoker’s story (that you can find here both in the 1903 and in the 1912 versions) has been filmed a number of times, and many fans fondly remember the very loose Hammer Films version, known as Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (because Hammer knew how to sell movies), and featuring the delectable Valerie Leon.

There’s two things I found interesting in Stoker’s novel… (beware, here be SPOILERS!)

The first is the way in which the female lead, Margaret Trelawny, that is supposedly being possessed by the soul of an ancient Egyptian queen, evolves from a rather commonplace damsel in distress into a strong, independent woman. Stoker seems to thing it a bad thing, but it’s pretty obvious, from a modern point of view, that being possessed by an ancient Egyptian queen is good for the character.
The second is how, at least in the 1903 version of the story, Margaret dies, but the ancient queen makes good both her reincarnation and her escape.

Now that was the bit that got me thinking. What if queen Tera had been able to steal Margaret’s identity and go on to live her own adventures?

And so I outlined a character, called Valerie Trelawney (using the Stevenson version of the family name, spelled with an ‘e’), a kind of adventuress with a sideline in Egyptian mysteries, often hinting at the fact that she has actually a first-hand experience of ancient Egypt.
Is she bluffing? Is it just a cunning stunt to hook gullible marks?
Or is she really an Egyptian queen enjoying a new lease on her life?
Valerie had an apartment in Cairo, filled with strange relics and weird books, and she was the sort of character that is considered scandalous by proper gentlemen and ladies. “Bohemian” was the adjective used habitually to describe her.

Other influences included the Irene Adler from the Carole Nelson Douglas novels (I never wrote a post on the subject, did I? I should) and various suggestions taken from Hammer movies and other horror and adventure fare.

I wrote two stories, featuring Valerie, and set somewhere in the 1910s – I liked to imagine my heroine as a sort of Gibson girl – and taking place in an admittedly poorly-researched Egypt. I slipped a bit of Lovecraftian elements in there, and I am sure there is a lot of my usual ideas about Egypt and stuff, if under-developed.
The stories were called The Belzoni Papyrus and Curse of the Crocodile God – they were written in Italian, and have long been lost after a brief circulation. It was 2001 or thereabouts. One of the two also found its way into a fanzine but I never saw a copy, so for all I know, it might be a legend. And considering how my writing skills have improved over these eighteen years, I am sure that these stories should remain lost.

BUT… yesterday I pitched a story featuring a sort of revived (yet again) and slightly improved Valerie Trelawney – and should the pitch bounce back, I might try and write something anyway, because going back to my old character has been like meeting an old friend.
Or an old girlfriend.
Who knows what will come out of all this?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Like an old girlfriend

  1. What an interesting thought process regarding your character. Valerie does sound formidable!


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