MacPhail: horror story has lessons for us all

Want to read more?

We value our content  and access to our full site is  only available with a  subscription. Your subscription entitles you to 7-day-a-week access to our website, plus a full digital copy of that week’s paper to read on your pc/mac or mobile device In addition your subscription includes access to digital archive copies from 2006 onwards

Just want to read one issue? No problem you can subscribe for just one week (or longer if you wish)

Already a subscriber?


Subscribe Now

Never in my life have I had any interest in the literature of horror or in the films of that terrifying genre and, until this summer, I had never read a book or watched an entire film in the category.

A contemporary author through a weaving and narrowing net of books and a brief encounter had earlier this year sparked my interest in one such work and the story behind it.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a classic of the genre and I am grateful to the Irish author Joseph O’Connor for being the catalyst that brought me to this masterpiece. A recent television adaptation aired over the first three days of the year has brought the subject back to mind.

For Christmas last year I was given a copy of Joseph O’Connor’s novel, Star of the Sea. I had never heard of the book or the author, but immediately became engrossed in the story and in awe of O’Connor’s rich mastery of language.

This led me to attend a talk and reading at the Edinburgh Festival in August, where his just-published historical novel Shadowplay was the subject. Sometimes these events can be fairly boring. Not so with Joseph O’Connor.

As he read excerpts, discussed content and took questions from, it was clear this man was a master of his trade. He could articulate his thoughts, his inspirations, the background to the book and the process of writing it beautifully and with a precision, ease and humour that kept us all hungry to hear his every word.

Shadowplay is based on the lives and interweaving connections of Bram Stoker, his boss and idol, actor and theatre operator Henry Irving and the even more famous theatre star Ellen Terry. Among the many strands of the book, the strongest theme is how unknown Bram Stoker was during his own lifetime, and, conversely, how famous and everlasting his name would become through his creation of Dracula and crucially how none of the three could have predicted this.

During the lives of the three close friends, Stoker was no more than a hard-working theatre manager and personal assistant to Irving and his attempts at writing had gone relatively unnoticed. Irving and Terry were the biggest stars of the time, but there is no doubt as to whose name has been etched deeper in the consciousness of humanity since.

Stoker’s primary ambition was to be an author, but time and time again his work would be rejected, publications would go unnoticed and, through anger and frustration, he would destroy his own manuscripts. He also had to endure discouragement and disparaging comments from Henri Irving, whom Stoker idolised and was devoted to. However, he struggled on regardless and, through the creation of that one character, brought to life in that one novel, Dracula gave Stoker posthumous fame and success none of the three could have imagined during their lifetimes.

This is the best time of year to re-evaluate goals and ambitions and there are two valuable lessons in this story.

First, if you want to make an impact on the world, do what Bram Stoker did and keep forging on regardless of adversity. Secondly, if you are working for or with someone who dismisses your dreams and gifts, get out and plough your own furrow. Had Stoker done this, I would speculate he might have enjoyed success during his lifetime as he could have focused fully on his literature, free of the ties of his job and, more importantly, the negativities of Irving.

Happy New Year and follow your dreams!