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Virtual Book Club: Meet Rosemary A Johns

Fantasy Rebel

Today I’m delighted to welcome Rosemary A Johns to Virtual Book Club, my interview series in which I give authors the opportunity to pitch their latest releases to your book club.

Rosemary wrote her first novel at the age of ten, when she discovered the weird worlds inside her head were more exciting than double swimming. Since then she’s studied history at Oxford University, run a theatre company (her critically acclaimed plays have been described as “uncomfortable, unsettling and uneasily true to life”), and worked with disability charities. When Rosemary’s not falling in love with the rebels fighting their way onto the page, she heads the Oxford writing group Dreaming Spires. 

Rosemary is a traditionally published short story writer under the name R. A. Johns. Blood Dragons was her debut novel. Blood Shacklesthe second book in the Rebel Vampires series was released on the 1st November 2016.

The Series Rebel Vampires

Rebel Vampires is set in the supernatural world of Blood Life, in a secret London where vampires are both predator and prey. And death drives desire. Light is the ultimate British anti-hero: a Rocker and a rebel Blood Lifer, with a talent for remembering things and a Triton motorbike. Yet when the world needs saving? Light finds himself in the midst of it – and will risk everything to save those he loves.

Q: What is it about your novel that you feel makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?

Urban fantasy is a genre, which allows me to write gripping novels, which at the same time dig deep into the real world. Science fiction and fantasy have long been the domain of subversion.

I’m a subversive artist. I don’t tell a reader what to think or send a message in my books. But I challenge those little lies, in which every society cloaks themselves: disabled people can’t be the heroes, older people are boring, or a woman can’t save the day. Every culture has different ones. And they’re constantly changing. I’m originally a playwright and theatre too has a history of subversion.

I’m also passionate about book clubs – both physical and virtual. In fact I have free Questions for Book Clubs on my website. The questions explore and challenge. Blood Shackles – like the first book in the series Blood Dragons – are books, which explore deep and relevant themes: identity, memory, difference and division, freedom and love. Yet they do it through the creation of a divided paranormal world in London. An apex predator has evolved alongside our own, long hidden in the shadows. What happens when the two worlds collide?

Here are three examples to give you a taste:

  1. ‘There’s no darkness conjured in Blood Life that humanity didn’t invent first.’ Discuss.
  2. Blood Dragons is about love. Blood Shackles is about family. Do you agree?
  3. ‘I’m a slave. Everything’s about survival.’ In what ways is this true?

I hope that for book clubs my novels entertain but also generate plenty of discussion – and something truly different. The unique. I’m definitely one for that. 

I love visiting book clubs. I live in Oxford but have Skype – so distance is no problem!

Q: If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?

Expect dark romances with a thriller edge. Unique urban fantasy rooted in real world London. A strong voice, complex anti-hero and rebellion. Three words? Dark, intelligent and subversive.

One Verified Reviewer described Blood Dragons as: ‘Imagine Stephen King and Guy Richie getting together to write a script about vampires saving the day.’

If I was describing the Rebel Vampires series: a vampire series truly for adults. A British vampire as that complex anti-hero. A blend of love and all its complications, coupled with end of the world dangers.

‘If Interview with the Vampire and A Clockwork Orange eloped and had a book baby – this would be it!’ – The Silver Dagger Scriptorium

Rosmary A Johns Urban Portraits

All photos of Rosemary Neil Hanson Photography  

Q: P D James says you must be born to write. Do you think that’s true?

Some writers are born to write – and others forge themselves. I slithered bloody from my mother’s womb with a head full of other worlds…and a storyteller’s need to tell them too. My parents would say I could write when I was a toddler – but it was pretend writing. I’d sit for hours scrawling nonsense. At four I announced I was going to be a writer – and I’ve stuck with that ever since.

Does that mean I was born to be a writer? I was certainly born with a compulsion. An obsession. A need to tell the stories, which play out – like films – in my head. It’s part of my DNA. I love to read readers’ reactions in reviews; the characters in my head, who have clamoured to be heard, are out in the real world.

The first time I was professionally published I was fourteen; I’d sent in a short story but they didn’t know they were publishing a kid. Since then I’ve been published as a short story writer and a playwright, as well as running a theatre company. Blood Dragons – the first in the Rebel Vampires series – was my debut novel.

The only time I’m fully alive – buzzing, time standing still alive – is during a first draft.

We all have choices. We can all decide what we are. What we do. There’s no such thing as being born to be one thing or another. But I was born with a need to tell stories. So I write… 

Q: Who is the hero of your story? Or your hero within the story?

Light is the anti-hero, who’s on a redemptive journey. Although as Light says:

‘Crawling out of the black, Kathy once told me, would be my redemption. I never thought redemption would be this much of a bitch.’

In Blood Shackles the predators have become the prey. Light has been captured and enslaved. But he’s a rebel even within the Blood Lifer world. He’s a savant: he remembers everything he sees with photographic clarity. Once it was a blessing? But now? When he remembers every horror and loss, as well as every glory? It comes to be a curse. Yet it could be what helps him save his family. His species. Even himself from slavery.

Light is at the heart of the series – he was sparked by my autistic son, who is also a savant. The concept of memory is an important one in the novels. In Blood Dragons he’s telling the story of their lives to his human lover, who he’s stayed with for 5o years but now has dementia. She is forgetting Light, their love and even herself.


Click here to look inside or buy

Special offer until 30th November 99p

No ordinary paranormal romance…the beginning of something new.” – Vamped Magazine

My dad is a Londoner, like Light. London is at the heart of the series – but this is the Blood Lifer world and this is London in all its ‘dark and glory’.

In Blood Life, emotions are ‘amplified’. In Light there is passion and obsession. But also loyalty.  He never breaks a promise and although a highly reluctant hero, he becomes one nonetheless. My Spartacus.

Oh, and he rides a motorbike. A Triton, of course.

Q: Tell us a little about the major areas you had to research.

I’m passionate about psychology. How our minds work. Why we make the choices we do. And how we can be helped – or broken. And for this book? I had to delve deep into how you break someone. And then how they can be put back together again. But what cracks would still remain…

I had to get into the mind of a slave. And then live inside it, whilst I wrote.

Human slavery – of men as well as women – has been increasing in England. It’s something that’s been niggling and biting at me for a while. If I was a politician I would be campaigning. As a writer? I write. As a writer of fantasy? I think what would happen if the slaves weren’t the humans but the vampires…

The methods in the book are real. Adapted of course to fit with Blood Lifers. But real both physically and mentally to the techniques used by slavers and traffickers right now. It’s a thought, which stops me dead.

I’m fascinated by both power dynamics and the concept of freedom and control. Both mental and physical.

‘…you never truly submit until your mind’s in bondage…’

That’s the beauty of fantasy – such an important theme can be explored within a thriller framework. Because it’s in a journal you live it – joy, agony, terror, love – right alongside Light. I wanted readers to experience it with their breath held.

Q: Do you write with an imaginary reader in mind? If so, tell as a little about that person.

I write what I would love to read. Simple as that. If I won’t love it? I don’t write it. That doesn’t mean I don’t imagine the reader – I do. But to be fair they love the same novels I do!

Not that it would make a difference once I start writing. I’m not in control. I plot. Research. Make detailed notes. But once I put pen to paper? I see it like a film in my mind and I’m simply writing down what’s happening. A puppet? Maybe. But I do the polishing at the end so I claim some credit.

There’s a second layer to this, however, in Rebel Vampires. Blood Dragons is a memoir: Light’s partly writing it for his human lover Kathy (he reads it to her). But there’s a part of him, which knows he’s writing it for himself. And who knows? Maybe even the ‘reader’ (this is where you come in…), who may discover it and know the ‘truth’ as well.

Blood Shackles is a slave journal. Light is forced to write it by his Mistress, Grayse, who picks him out like a mutt at a pet shop. But Light? He likes to play games. This time with ‘Reader’ Grayse.

‘So, dear Reader (because I know you’re reading this, there’s no use pretending otherwise), did you reckon giving me this poncey journal – all softness and stink of leather – would make me spill my Soul? You already have my body. You think you have my mind.

My thoughts, however..? They’re my own.

Write in it every day, you’d ordered, with that little smile.

What do you think this is: Bridget Jones’s Diary?’

Yet there’s something far more serious going on. Light knows how to use words and stories to manipulate, convince – and make women fall in love. But he’s a slave? Isn’t anything justified to survive? Reliable narrator? I’ll let you work that out…

But the journal becomes something far more important to Light. And he imagines a reader beyond Grayse:

‘I forget you’ll see what I write.

It’s like there’s you and then there’s Reader you.

It’s so much easier to spill my guts to Reader you because with her there’s no consequences. We have an understanding: what happens in this journal, stays in this journal.’

The idea of the ‘Reader’ is central to the series.


Click here to look inside or buy

Special offer until 30th November 99p.

“Gut twistingly intense” Amazon Reviewer.

Q: Regardless of genre, what elements do you think make a great novel? Did you consciously ensure all of these are in place?

Each genre has different elements. But sometimes keeping to the same ‘formula’ can make you fall as flat as leaving out that special bit of magic too.

You shouldn’t have an identikit plan. Some of the greatest books are the most unique. But what they all do? Engage your emotions.

They grip you because they draw you in. Make you escape your life. Pull you into a new world. And that’s the most important element.

Emotions are at the heart of everything I write. That means characters’ motivations: greed, ambition, self-sacrifice or passion. What is that grain of truth, which drives them? The greatest actors find it. And that’s why you can feel for the worst villains – because they’ve found their emotions and made you identify with them. If you can discover what they love – then you’ve done it.

The right pace, tight plot, propulsion, complex characters, great setting, love (in my genre but most books need it somewhere), good world building, distinctive voice, interesting themes, a unique hero/anti-hero and originality are all important.  

But emotion? That’s the beating heart of a great book.

Q: Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer? 

I am a rebel. At heart this means I challenge what I see in front of me. I question. And I think.

Freedom – and what this means for both men and women – has always been central for me. It can be political and economic on a grand scale. Or cultural – the type of freedoms we assign to the marginalised. How we divide the world. Or it can be more intimate – freedom between one person and another – within a family and between siblings. Or sexual control in a relationship.

I studied history at Oxford University and seeing how this freedom changed over time and in different places – and it isn’t a positive progression with all groups improving their freedom as time goes on, as we often like to imagine – informed this side of my writing.

Along with this identity – how we define it, what it means and how it can be transformed – has always been at the heart of my work. In Blood Shackles the slaves’ identities are stripped from them. What this means – and how they come back from this? That’s the chief question of the novel. 

Q: Twenty words on why your book should be a reader’s next read…

A compelling adult twist on vampire fiction: a thrilling dark romance with an anti-hero’s struggle at its heart.

And if you’re not convinced yet, here’s a short self-contained teaser.

‘London’s not yours.’

I stiffened. ‘The Lost have walked these streets as long as you humans,’ I whispered, low and intense, ‘which makes them ours, as much as yours.’

I might as well have clouted you. You drew back, with a shiver. ‘You hunt here – parasitically. But England? The world? It belongs to us. You’re just…’

‘Parasites?’ I offered. You didn’t even have the decency to look away.

‘These are my streets,’ you tapped the sticky table for emphasis, in a boozer, street, postcode you’d never have ventured into, if it hadn’t been for me.

I took a drag on my e-cig. ‘Over hundred and fifty years says different, sweetheart.’

You wore that narked expression, which I’d hoped we’d left behind for the night. ‘My home. Not yours.’

‘Any reason it can’t be both?’

‘On account of you’re…’ You stopped yourself, pushing your Guinness away with a jerky shove. Your shoulders slumped. You finished softly, ‘…not human.’

‘Right. Because I’d missed that.’ I took a mouthful of nuts, munching thoughtfully. You’d withdrawn hermit-crab like, your hair falling in two curtains over your mug. ‘There were humans once, who thought like you, the last time a Blood Lifer had the courage to reveal himself to a First Lifer. It was one of my ancestors. A man of reason, in an age of superstition. He reckoned our two species could live out in the open – side by side – so I was told. These First Lifers? They thought he was the devil.’ You’d raised your nut. I could see your peepers – dark grey now – through the veil of your hair.


‘They burnt him.’ 

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

The third book in the Rebel Vampire series – Blood Renegades. It’s released June 2017.

Light has only two weeks to give his witness to a Blood Life inquiry, on trial for his life, before he’s burnt at the stake – because who wants to hear the truth?

There will be ancient Long-liveds, conspiracies and of course dark romance. This is a book about home – what it means and what it means to be homeless. And there may even be revolution…

‘Betrayal. Death. Hope.

Isn’t that how all truly great stories start?

I don’t know if anyone will hear it. Governments silence their critics. Censor. Detain. Execute.

Bollocks to them.

The Blood Life Council’s atrocities and war crimes–

Mr Blickle, please note: we are not at war.

Yet. We’re not at war – yet. And my name is Light.

Very well. Light. But we’re not holding this inquiry to debate the nature of the Council’s actions. Rather those of your terrorist group.

‘We prefer ‘freedom fighters’.’

Rosmary A Johns Urban Portraits

Rosmary A Johns Urban Portraits

Q: Rosemary, where can we find out more about you and your work?

I love connecting with readers. You can follow my blog and see my website: I hold contests for readers each month and you’ll find plenty of other free stuff, reviews and features.

I also have a VIP Newsletter with news of releases, promotions and my free short story “All the Tin Soldiers”. To subscribe click here. 

I’m very active on both Facebook and Twitter @RosemaryAJohns – so come and chat with me there.



Goodreads Author:

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One comment

  1. Thanks for having me on your book club Jane! I hope everyone’s having a good day and feel free to ask me anything…I’m always up for a chat about books!

    Comment by Rosemary A Johns on November 26, 2016 at 10:51 am