Interview with Kim Newman.
Mark had a chat with Kim Newman: where they talk about the Anno Dracula series, revisiting old writing and Kim kindly gives SFFWorld an exclusive!
SFFWORLD: First: going back to Anno Dracula, why did you want to write a vampyrric Jack the Ripper novel in the first place?
Kim: The Jack the Ripper element was the last thing that fell into place. I'd had the Dracula Wins premise in mind for years and the characters and the world grew out of that – but it wasn't until I realised I could use the Ripper murders as an excuse to tour every level of society that the actual plot of Anno Dracula came into focus. I had a long-time fascination with Dracula, which is the main motor of the novel/series, of course. I remember reading a long article in a history magazine about Jack the Ripper when I was in my early teens and getting interested in the way the case – a set of actual historical events – overlapped with the gothic horror/Hammer Films/Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors mythology that's at the heart of the monster canon.
SFFWORLD: How long did it take to write the novel first time around?
Kim: It was being mulled over for a decade or so, but I recall that the writing went very quickly. I first wrote a novella (which Steve Jones retitled 'Red Reign') version that had the basic story and the main characters, then expanded that into a much more complicated novel. I think writing the novel version took four or five months, but so much of the spadework was done in the shorter version and in all the research I'd piled up that there wasn't the stop-and-start aspect of the work that I tend to go through these days.
SFFWORLD: The books are known not only for their rapid pace but also for their mixing up of real and fictional characters. Have you always enjoyed mashing up the real and unreal?
Kim: Yes. I suppose a lot of it comes from that 1970s craze – which, in some ways, I'd like to get away from – for looking at characters like Dracula, Mr Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, etc., and unearthing the 'real' Vlad Tepes, Deacon Brodie or Joseph Bell. McNally and Florescu's In Search of Dracula was a big influence on this way of thinking. I now think that all this is interesting but slightly detracts from the real achievements of authors who might have been inspired by historical events and people but then came up with lasting work through their own imagination and efforts. The ultimate version of this is those stories which take Poe or Stoker or HG Wells or Mary Shelley or Lovecraft as lead characters and then get them mixed up with the events of the novels they will write – essentially robbing them of their actual genius and reducing them to diarists. I like some of the books that fit this pattern (Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard, especially) but the cumulative effect of them chips away at the reputations of the authors. The mix of real people and fictional ones (and especially borrowed fictional ones) really clicked for me in Doctorow's Ragtime and Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-per-cent Solution. Because I invented the world of Anno Dracula, the characters imported into it are taken out of their original contexts – which gives me the freedom to play with them a bit more than in a straight historical novel or a literary pastiche.
SFFWORLD: How much research do you have to do about the ‘real’ characters before you engage them with the undead? Are there any characters, fictional or real, that you’d have loved to included but haven’t?
Kim: Quite a lot. Each of the books in the series has meant reading up on different people or periods – Jack the Ripper for Anno Dracula, WWI and fighter pilots for The Bloody Red Baron, Fellini and la Dolce Vita for Dracula Cha Cha Cha, Andy Warhol and Francis Coppola and Orson Welles for Johnny Alucard. I don't tend to make lists of who I'd like to include in any given book when I start writing, but see who I need when a plot needs them. In Anno Dracula, I needed a policeman and had a choice of real and fictional people – I went with Doyle's Inspector Lestrade rather than the real Frederick Abberline because (before From Hell changed that a bit) Lestrade seemed to have more resonance and also to be better suited to turning up as a vampire (not just that his name sounds a bit like Lestat but that he's described as ratlike, suggesting a Nosferatu look). With the minor characters, I try not to make anyone up but to source them all from somewhere – I've occasionally had to switch someone in or out for practical reasons (like not having too many characters with similar names) and I always try to put some spin of my own on them (making characters thought of as villains neutral or heroic and supposed good guys into rotters, for instance).
SFFWORLD: Dracula is the great villain, of course: but do you admire him? What is the attraction of the character?
Kim: One of the things I wanted to do in the series was to take Dracula back to being a villain. He starts out in Stoker as simply devilish, but successive adaptations have tried to humanise or complicate him. Of course, I like human and complicated characters too – and I hope the books are full of them, but I wanted Dracula to be the ultimate monstrous evil bastard who corrupts and ruins everything he touches (or, in the greater scheme of things, exposes monstrousnesses that are veiled in our vampire-free world).
SFFWORLD: Do you have a favourite character in the series? Geneviève Dieudonné seems to me to be a recurring favourite!
Kim: I love them all, even the evil ones. Geneviève is fun to write, but needs to be surrounded by more fallible folk to work well – I particularly like writing Kate Reed and Penny Churchward, who are in different ways not able to live up to Geneviève. Every time I return to the series, I find new or old characters to play with – in 'Vampire Romance', the new novella included in the reissue of The Bloody Red Baron, I enjoyed Herbert von Krolock (the gay vampire from Polanski's Dance of the Vampires) since he allowed me to do a sort of camp, waspish, Noel Cowardy character and the Japanese vampire schoolgirl Mouse/Nezumi (a composite character, inspired by anime like Blood: The Last Vampire and Dance in the Vampire Bund). I'm currently writing a swinging London story with Kate Reed as a viewpoint character.
SFFWORLD: What do you like personally about writing the series?
Kim: Oddly, I think I like the serious elements that I hope are always there complementing the fun stuff.
SFFWORLD: After Anno Dracula, how did The Bloody Red Baron come about? Was there always a plan to write more than one novel in the series?
Kim: I originally envisioned a trilogy spanning 1885-1918, but that didn't get very far and I'm not sure what the middle book would have been. When I started on Anno Dracula, I assumed it would be complete in itself – there are a few things I would have saved for later if I'd known there was more to come – but I knew well before it was finished that the series would continue.
SFFWORLD: What is it like revisiting books you wrote over twenty years ago? Is there much re-editing?
Kim: I've fixed a few typos and inconsistencies – but mostly left the originals alone, except for adding footnotes.
SFFWORLD: Do you find your writing much different to how you wrote then? Is your writing routine different these days?
Kim: The big difference is that the earlier books were written pre-internet (or, at least, pre-wikipedia) and all the research materials were books. So much stuff is now available online and writing this kind of work means looking up things all the time – which, paradoxically, makes it slower going since there's a temptation to stop and find something out now rather than leave a gap and look it up later.
SFFWORLD: I am looking forward to Dracula Cha Cha Cha; I know it’s set in the late 1950’s, but what more can you tell us about it?
Kim: It's set in 1959 in Rome, with Dracula engaged to be married to Asa Vajda (the Barbara Steele character from Mario Bava's The Mask of Satan). The three vampire women from Anno Dracula are all in the city for different reasons, and Charles Beauregard – the human moral compass of the series – is on his deathbed. There's also a murderer drawn from Italian cinema who's killing off vampire elders and Hamish Bond, vampire secret agent, is involved. After the grim, muddy, war-centered Bloody Red Baron I wanted to have a little more fun with things.
SFFWORLD: And then there’s Johnny Alucard, which is the new novel in the series. Has it spent long in the writing?
Kim: It's been about fifteen years coming – a few sections have been published as short stories, and the first of those ('Coppola's Dracula') came out before Dracula Cha Cha Cha. It's mostly finished, though the manuscript needs some tidying up.
SFFWORLD: That brings us up to the 1970’s. Would you like to continue the series further? Dracula 2000, for example?
Kim: At the moment, I'm working on a novella tentatively entitled 'Aquarius', which is Anno Dracula 1968 – swinging London, student protests, etc. That bridges the gap between Dracula Cha Cha Cha and Johnny Alucard. Dracula 2000 has already been used as a title by that weak Gerard Butler movie, and there's a Dracula 3000 out there too – which features the rapper Coolio in perhaps the worst-ever screen vampire performance. I can reveal – exclusively, since this is the first interview I've done since I struck the deal with Titan – that there will eventually be a fifth novel in the series, set in the early 2000s.
SFFWORLD: And more Diogenes Club?
Kim: Titan will be reissuing the Diogenes Club collections, and I hope to do more in that series when I get the time – in the meantime, beyond the Anno Dracula series, I've three other novels in the works … Kentish Glory, a 1920s schoolgirl superheroine story (a sampler appears in Mysteries of the Diogenes Club, out from MonkeyBrain), Angels of Music, a Phantom of the Opera/Charlie's Angels mash-up (bear with me), and a thing I've been working on almost as long as Johnny Alucard called An English Ghost Story.
Thanks again, Kim!
Anno Dracula, published by Titan Books is out now. The Bloody Red Baron, the second in the republished Anno Dracula series is due later this month (April 2012.)
Mark Yon, SFFWorld