I’m thrilled to have James Lovegrove on the blog today! James is the author of over 35 (35!!) novels for adults and children, and his newest, Redlaw: Red Eye just came out from Solaris! He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!
James, you’re the author of over 35 books, with your new one, Red Law: Redeye, just out! Did you always want to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I always wanted to be a rock star, but when that didn’t pan out I turned to writing. Actually, that’s not completely true. I think I always knew I was going to write stories for a living, since it was something I did a lot as a kid and found easy and fun. I even chose to study English at Oxford because I felt it would be good preparation for a literary life. It was only as I was about to graduate, however, that I realised I didn’t want to follow any other career path than fiction. So I sat down and banged out my first book, The Hope, in six weeks, sold it to a publisher, and haven’t looked back since. Well, I have looked back occasionally and wondered whether I should have tried being a rock star instead, but then, if I had, chances are I’d be a washed-up junkie by now, living on benefits and dreaming wistfully of the glory days. All in all, I think I chose wisely. And it’s 42 books at the last count. I just finished a new novella, Age Of Satan, yesterday.
Will you tell us a bit about the Redlaw series, and your hero, Captain John Redlaw?
I wanted to have a go at writing a series featuring a recurring main character, and John Redlaw had been sitting around in my back-brain for several years, since the mid-1990s in fact, when I first came up with the idea of a cop who polices vampires. Back then the idea was a pitch for the comic 2000AD, and I worked on it with an artist friend, Adam Brockbank, whose credits include the amazing graphic novel Mezolith. Redlaw the comic strip didn’t happen, sadly, but I couldn’t let go of the character and when I dusted him off a couple of years back, I realised he still had huge potential. He’s a sardonic hard-bastard, equal parts Judge Dredd and John (Die Hard) McClane, with a touch of Solomon Kane thrown in. He’s a devout Christian undergoing a constant crisis of faith. He has few friends, but the ones he has, he cares for deeply. In the series, vampires are a social problem, a blight that human civilisation is finding hard to deal with. They’re ghettoised, marginalised, resented and feared. They’re immigrants, the “other”, misunderstood but also potentially dangerous. Redlaw, toting holy water grenades and a gun loaded with ash-wood bullets, has to tread a difficult path between protecting us from the vampires and the vampires from us.
What made you decide to write a series featuring vampires?
All monsters are metaphors, and the vampire is the most metaphorical monster of all. It is protean. It can be taken to represent anything you like, and that is why it has persisted all this time in fiction. It can be the aristocracy, leeching off the poor. It can be the charismatic sexual predator, a literal lady-killer. It can be the capitalist elite, sucking the lifeblood of the workforce. It can be the alien cuckoo creature, like us but just different enough to be repellent. It can be – ugh – a mopey emo teen (“Nobody understands me!”). It can be all these and more. I felt, with Redlaw, that there was still mileage to be had in vampires, a new angle to be found, a new approach, and went with it. I use vampires in the series as an ironic counterpoint as much as a plot device. I try and show that, however monstrous and vile these creatures seem, there are always humans who are worse.
When you started Redlaw, did you already have an idea of how many books you’d like to write in the series, or did you just decide to see where the series took you?
I originally envisioned it as a series of three books – not a trilogy, because I’m going to leave it open-ended, with room for further sequels – but I certainly could see, when I began, that I had three separate ideas, three stories to tell, which together form a larger story. After Redlaw and Redlaw: Red Eye, there is a third volume planned, Redlaw: Red Sun, which will round things off, but as to when I get time to write it, I’m not sure. I have work commitments up to spring 2014 and a new series I want to start that year, so readers may have to wait a while yet for the conclusion. Sorry.
Why do you think vampires have become so popular recently?
I think vampires have been perennially popular. They go out of fashion every now and then, but not for long. Sooner or later someone comes up with a new way of telling a vampire story and it starts another cycle of vampires rising to the cultural forefront. I suppose the Twilight series must take some credit for the recent resurgence of the bloodsucking undead, but like I said, I don’t think they’ve ever really been out of vogue. They just like to lie low sometimes, gathering their strength before their next return.
What are a few things that really inspire you in your writing?
Nothing inspires me more than getting up in the morning with a vague idea of how the next few pages of a book are going to turn out, sitting down and starting to write, and seeing a few random thoughts turn into a piece of coherent storytelling. I’ve been doing this job long enough that the mechanics of plotting and prose are well ingrained and I don’t really have to focus too hard on those. Instead, what I enjoy is surprising myself with a plot twist or achieving some verbal or narrative effect that I haven’t managed before. To be honest, it’s quite hard work turning out 1,500 to 2,000 words a day, but it’s worthwhile if I feel that, by the end of the day, I’ve done something new or learned something or pushed myself in an unfamiliar, exciting direction.
What are some of your favorite scary reads?
I’m not that much of a horror fiction fan. I grew up loving Stephen King’s work, but with him it’s more about the storytelling sweep and the narrative voice than about the horror tropes he uses. Likewise Ray Bradbury, who strayed into the horror field from time to time. It was the poetry of his language that engaged me, more than the scary stories themselves. I can’t recall the last time a horror novel really scared me. I would read ghost stories as a kid, people like M.R. James, but I found something like The Hound Of The Baskervilles far more chilling, even though it’s only a “pretend” ghost story. I have a soft spot for zombie novels, but again, they don’t really scare me and I don’t even get off on the gore. I just like the genre, and always have, ever since I saw Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead on video. I used to love the Marvel horror magazines of the 1970s, and the Warren Publishing magazines too, Creepy and Eerie. Funnily enough, the last time any story on paper raised the hairs on the back of my neck was Alan Moore’s Lovecraftian comicbook miniseries Neonomicon. Truly unsettling and sinister, that. I honestly had to look over my shoulder a couple of times while reading it, convinced there was something weird and uncanny going on behind me.
What makes you want to put a book aside in frustration?
Bad prose, first and foremost. People who can’t write or who over-write. Books that are too long and take ages to get going. Too much narrative trickery, i.e. an author playing endless metatextual games or buggering about with tenses and voice. Dumb plotting, as when a character withholds valuable and useful information for no good reason other than to allow the hero to stumble into trouble (Dumbeldore, I’m looking at you). Lots of things, basically. I have a very short attention span as a reader. Partly that’s because there are so many books I want to read, partly it’s because I have very little spare time to read – a fatal combination. If I’m not gripped by page 50, it’s thanks very much, so long, on to the next book.
What are you reading now?
Mainly a bunch of comics, because I’ve got a huge reviewing stint coming up (for the magazine Comic Heroes). The novel Amped by Daniel H. Wilson is sitting by my bedside, his follow-up to the wonderful Robopocalypse, but I’ve barely managed ten pages of that. I’m sure it’s good but there are so many other demands on my time that I’ve not been able to settle down with it and do it justice.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Ideally I’d just loll around all day on my backside gradually whittling down my to-read pile and feeling absolutely no guilt about it whatsoever. Most evenings I’ll catch up on my TV shows or a movie on DVD. Once in a while I get out to the cinema. I try and keep in shape, so that’s at least three decent exercise sessions per week. I like to goof around with my kids. That’s about it.
You live in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. Where would you take a first time visitor? What do you love most about living there?
Eastbourne’s seafront promenade is beautiful: the beach, the floral displays, the grand old buildings. It’s more or less unspoiled, remaining much as it was back in Edwardian times, which was when the town first became popular as a seaside resort destination for Londoners and people from further afield and started to flourish. Most of the land round here is owned by the Duke of Devonshire and he has prevented it from becoming over-developed and cheapened. There are also spectacular chalk cliffs just a few minutes’ walk from my house. It’s a natural beauty spot, although notorious, too, as a place for suicides. Seriously, we have on average one suicide per month here, someone leaping off the cliffs. There’s a chaplain whose full-time job it is to patrol the area and talk people out of killing themselves.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events?
I’m just about to start work on the first of two Sherlock Holmes pastiches for Titan Books. It’s a dream project for me. Since the age of 11, when I first got into Conan Doyle, I’ve wanted to write a Holmes story. I’m not doing straight detective tales, I’m giving them an SF/fantasy twist, but I plan to include all the familiar phrases and devices, because it would be foolish and wrong not to. After that there’s the sixth book in my Pantheon series, this one to be called Age Of Shiva, and next autumn will see physical-copy publication of my three Pantheon ebook novellas, collected in an omnibus edition entitled Age Of Godpunk. And then there’s that future project, a space opera series, about which I can’t say much, as it’s still in the tentative, formative stages, embryonic, not yet ready to see the world.
Keep up with James: Website