If you are a horror fan of the British persuasion, the chances are you’ll know Kim Newman. Even if you don’t follow him on that there Twitter, or read his Video Dungeon column for Empire Magazine, or read his ever excellent works of fiction, you’re guaranteed to have seen him interviewed for the DVD extras of some classic horror film or whatever and thought to yourself ‘That there is what a horror fan looks like.’
If you do only know him by his hat, tache and waistcoat combo, however, then you are missing a trick, because Mr Newman has produced the best literary horror series this country has seen in a long time in the form of the Anno Dracula novels. Set in an alternate world that supposes that the Count survived Bram Stoker’s tome, this sprawling, magnificently gore drenched series has been entertaining horror fans since 1992, even though it’s still only three novels in length. Now a fourth installment ‘Johnny Alucard‘ is set to invade portable reading devices (and their old fashioned paper counterparts) everywhere. Demon Pigeon sat down (metaphorically) with the Grande Dame of British horror to find out more.
DP: Firstly, it’s been a while since we’ve had a new Kim Newman novel on the shelves, what took you so long, lazybones?
Kim: Last year, the reissues of The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha from Titan included two new novellas which essentially add up to a whole new Anno Dracula book. And I had Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles out in late 2011. And there were the three Diogenes Club books in the 2000s. Any gaps in my bibliography are down to vagaries of the publishing industry rather than me being lazy – though, to my mind, I am pretty slothful.
DP:The new book, Johnny Alucard, is the latest in your Anno Dracula strand, and is set in 1976. What can you tell us about where we find ourselves in the new story?
Kim: It’s set from the ‘70s to the ‘90s, mostly in the US and Romania, and deals with the film industry, drugs, crime, politics, fashion, punk, disco, porn and blood. The surviving characters from the earlier novels show up in new jobs and decades, and Dracula’s cloak still casts a shadow over the whole world.
DP: Like all of your books, the Anno Dracula series melds fact, fiction, myth and legend together. What is it about this approach to storytelling that appeals to you as a writer?
Kim: I find it an interesting way to deal with big issues – I think we all live lives bombarded by momentous and trivial information all the time, and we tend to see what’s going on as refracted through movies, pop music, television, culture, etc. So that’s how I come into the world of these books. I do pay attention to stuff like plot, character and prose, as well – I try to ensure there’s a spine of some sort of reality that would remain even if all the white media noise were removed. It’s fun to do, sort of like collage or mixing, and you do get interesting new things from juxtaposing old or unconsidered trifles.
DP: Although you’ve seemingly taken ages to bring us book four, it’s not as though you’ve not been busy in the meantime. You work tirelessly to watch the dregs of b-movie hell so we don’t have to for Empire, and you are what I consider to be that rare thing on twitter, a celebrity worth following. I especially enjoy your ‘Empire Dungeon Quotes’ of a morning. Do you ever look at your pile of DVD’s to watch and weep?
Kim: The unwatched pile is the size of a 1950s fridge. And that’s just the conventionally packaged DVDs. I also have shoeboxes full of check discs. I have a similar to-be-read pile of books. I even have a backlog of comics to look at. Still,it’s nice to know I’ll never have to flip through cable channels in search of something to watch …
DP: Being an author is often thought of as a solitary pursuit but social media means authors are able (and sometimes forced) to engage with their readers more. Do you enjoy that freedom?
Kim: I’m still in two minds about this. I like the connection with a readership and live about as much of my life in public as I am comfortable with. I do get quite a lot of requests that pile up unanswered to look at films, read books or retweet kickstarter links and that’s a distraction from actual work.
DP:You work across two mediums primarily, film journalism and fiction, which do you consider to be ‘the day job’?
Kim: Neither. I just think of myself as a writer. Some of my fiction is very much an extension of my criticism – Johnny Alucard is all about movies and the cultural issues I am interested in – and I do try to bring the rigour of fiction prose-writing to reviewing and criticism. I do other things too – broadcasting, for instance. Like my novels, I think my life and work are mosaics or tangles where everything relates to everything else. That might not always make me comfortable to be around, especially when I’m wrapped up in a project.
DP: As a lover of cinema, I’m surprised you’ve not been drawn towards writing for the screen. Is there a half-finished screenplay locked away in some dingy corner of your ‘My Documents’ folder gathering electronic dust?
Kim: I’ve sold options on my books and done treatments/scripts … but no feature films, as yet, have been made. I wrote and directed a short film, Missing Girl, which is on my website and there have been a couple of short adaptations of my stories, an episode of The Hunger (‘Week Woman’) and an Australian version of my story Ubermensch. I’d rather be a writer of published novels than unproduced scripts, but I remain cautiously interested in working in film/TV. I have written audio dramas – ‘Sarah Minds the Dog’, which is part of an online horror series called Tales From Beyond the Pale, and a couple of things for the BBC – and last year worked with other writers on a theatre play, The Hallowe’en Sessions, which had a successful run in the West End (albeit in a tiny theatre).
DP: You’ve won countless awards from the ‘horror’ literary community, but like most genre authors you’ve not been so duly recognised by the wider literary awards world. Does this frustrate you or is it part of the same genre snobbery that means horror and sci-fi films don’t get best director nods?
Kim: Snobbery seems to me to be inherent in most awards systems – even those bestowed by the genre communities. I’m not especially awards-obsessed … I don’t campaign or nag my friends to vote for me or nominate myself for these things … but I have been happy to receive the weird range of awards I have had, from the Bram Stoker Award to the Bram Stroker Award. I don’t have any particular whine about not being taken seriously by mainstream culture, either – I think my work has been reviewed sensibly by the general press and I get invited to literary fests as much as genre conventions.
DP: The Anno Dracula series is creeping up towards the modern day, but lives nicely in its own little timeline, so do you have any plans for how far you can take it? Will we be seeing Anno Dracula novels set on a distant future space station?
Kim: Part of the set-up for the books and stories is that each takes place in a different place at a different time, at the moment from 1888 to 1991 … and the settings are chosen to have a certain mythic/pulp/literary resonance, whether it be gaslit Victorian London, the front in World War One, Rome at the time of La Dolce Vita, swinging sixties London, disco era New York, cocaine-and-big-deals 80s Hollywood. This means there has to be a certain distance, a time to build up the legends around the truth and to transform even a horrid reality (vile Victorian slums) with an overlay of almost-appealing mythology. I don’t have that on the last 20 years yet. I have toyed with a science fiction one, but probably not space-based … I might do a 1980s Japanese cyberpunk Anno Dracula, or go back and do a Western. I’m not settled on where to go next, though there will be another book eventually.
DP: I understand you got into the Dracula mythology through the film versions. When you got to the source novel, were you disappointed? I recently reread it and was dismayed by how little I enjoyed it. Do you find yourself going back to it for inspiration?
Kim: I read the Stoker very soon after seeing the 1931 film, and I’ve been back to it over and over, and kept up with all the other adaptations. It’s not as good a novel as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, She, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Picture of Dorian Gray (all roughly contemporary with it) but it is a great work … I keep finding things in it that send me off down new paths. With Johnny Alucard, I was struck by the Count’s relation to money … when we meet him, he’s looking for buried treasure and there’s a terrific moment (which isn’t in any of the films) when he’s stabbed and bleeds gold coins.
DP: Lastly, do you listen to music when you write. If so, what gets your literary muscles working? I always pictured you being a fan of Viking Metal. Please tell me this is the case…
Kim: I usually have the music collection on random … but when writing about a specific time/place, I do listen to appropriate music. My tastes are eclectic, but include Hollywood/Broadway musicals, 1950s and 1960s pop, early music, folk rock, jazz, novelty records, doo-wop, psychedelia and symphonic classical.
Johnny Alucard is available now in all good bookshops, shit bookshops, some supermarkets and the usual despotic internet sites. Visit http://www.johnnyalucard.com