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Dracula Bytes: the Bram Stoker Festival, Dublin

It was the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin this weekend, and the old boy's home town really vamped it up in his honour, from up on the big screen to down on the streets.

It was the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin this weekend, and the old boy's home town really vamped it up in his honour, from up on the big screen to down on the streets. All ghoulish life (or undeath) was here - a Goths v Zombies dance-off, a Shapeshifter's Ball, a Goth Karaoke, and club nights that brought a whole new meaning to the phrase dead on your feet. Not to mention an exhibition on the science and superstition of blood, gruesome make-up tips (probably not recommended for that hot first date), and a cookery class that would have given Mary Berry something to really get her teeth into.

All good grim fun, of course, and a testimony to the vast industry the old corpuscle-craver has spawned over the years. In fact, as one of the speakers observed - only half in jest - if you could cash out all the money Dracula has made over the last century Ireland could probably pay off its national debt and then some.

But Stoker City had its serious side too, and having just published a novel that takes Dracula as its springboard, that was what I had really come to see.

Dublin was Stoker's inspiration in more ways than one, even if he was living in London by the time his most famous work was written. As John Sean Hillen, author of Digging for Dracula, revealed, Stoker may well have been inspired by the mummified corpses in the crypt of St Michan's, and not just by the 15th-century Romanian warlord Vlad Tepes (and we all know what he was famous for, don't we).

Another lesser-known Stoker story, The Judge's House, clearly drew on the legends surrounding the 18th-century library where Stoker was a reader, and which was once the home of Archbishop Marsh. Even now it is said to be haunted by the prelate's wandering ghost. A particularly eerie sound-tour brought that venue to horrific life - definitely not one for the musophobic....

Stoker's own life also haunted his work. As we heard in the debate on Madness and Sexuality with Paul Murray, Jarlath Killeen and John Griffin, he was fixated with horror stories from a very young age, and died of late-stage syphilis, which he must have contracted many years before. Commentators have suggested that Dracula is steeped in the horror of this disease, and the fear of corruption carried in the blood and transmitted through sex. It was a fascinating conversation between two experts on Stoker's life and writings and a psychiatrist, who came at the question from a completely different angle - John Griffin opened up some intriguing possibilities about elements of Stoker's childhood, sexuality and psyche that might have been transfused into the elusive and reclusive figure of the Count.

Saturday night was Literary Death Match night, and this is where I stopped being a spectator and got my performing boots on. If you haven't been to a Literary Death Match before it really is huge fun (even if you are quaking in the green room hoping the judges will be more bark than bite). Four writers read their wares - in this case on a theme of vampires, violence and sex - and the judges decide which two go into a riotous 'write-off', which usually involves some sort of literary parlour game. I read a rather risqué passage from The Pierced Heart which is a nod to the far more famous 'brides of Dracula' scene in Stoker (seemed to hit the spot - one judge actually started stripping off), and we also had cannibalism in an Oxford college, poetry inspired by New Orleans 'city of the dead', and - our eventual winner - new Irish writer Dave Rudden on the vampires of modern Dublin 'who look just like us'.

A chilling thought, and I couldn't help remembering that John Sean Hillen had told us that one American Dracula expert once offered $10,000 in gold bullion to anyone who could find him a real-life vampire. Or a real-undead one, presumably. The money, as far as we know, is as yet unclaimed....

And I can't conclude without a quick mention of the great places we found to eat - Dublin's restaurant scene is full and thriving, and we had fantastic, though very different, meals at the Peruke and Periwig and Bison Bar.

So to sum up - if you like your fun with a decidedly dark side, Dublin does a mean Drac craic...

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