Sunday, 27 April 2014

Interviews Interview with Steven Savile by DJ Forrest

Interview with Steven Savile


When you’re writing, especially in ‘Hidden’ chapter 2 when Owen declares he’s hungry, is this usually because you’re hungry also? 

SS: Ha. No. I’m usually sitting there with a coffee and either a sandwich or a cinnamon bun beside me as I work. Sometimes a carrot cake and a coke. Normally I’ll drop in a line like that as it’s a fairly human way of breaking the tension. If suspense builds relentlessly it can become quite tiring as a reader, you want some release where you can just relax and catch your breath. That said… maybe I was hungry and I’m just faking it.

I felt I knew Alice Proctor in your story, although searching the Torchwood databanks nothing came up, although a few people of that name are on FB, but I wondered who she was and where the name had come from.  But she does sound familiar!

SS: Totally fictitious, I’m afraid, though the inspiration would be my middle sister, who is an archaeologist by profession.

With your descriptions of the ‘serpentine twists and turns’ on the road to Caerphilly, and the various points regarding the place itself, have you personally ever visited there?

SS: Absolutely as much as possible yes, often I’ll write about areas I know very well. I did a scene in Silver, for instance, where the heroes break into what was my old flat in Jesmond when I was a student at Newcastle Uni. The OGMIOS hq, Nonesuch, is based on my old school – it was funny, the guy in charge of the Old Boys emailed me a few years ago because he recognised the layout of the building. I steal mercilessly from real life for my stories.

Given a  lot of the terminology throughout this story to do with rocks, minerals, archaeological and physics, and terms that were a little over my head as you know, I wondered if you were interested in this field, it certainly came across that you knew what you were talking about.

SS: I’m a firm believer in research. The old adage is write what you know. Basically that means go out and LEARN STUFF as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve got an insatiable appetite for learning now I’m no longer forced to do it for exams. If I’m going to write something vaguely fantastic, I’ll do my best to find scientific ways the ‘magic’ might be possible too. I’ve got a guy, Dr Phil, who is a mad scientist. I’ll drop him a mail and say ‘hey Phil… I wanna do this… how can I make it happen…?’ and he’ll come back with some crazy science that just might work. I know I’ve emailed before asking how I can make part of London disappear using lenses, for instance, and his replies are always fantastic to read, pushing the fiction into more believable areas as it goes on.

How did writing for Torchwood come about?

SS: I’d done Falling from Xi’an for Big Finish, which was in The Centenarian, one of their Short Trips anthos, and done Primeval, when Gary Russell contacted me to ask if I’d be interested. I basically bit his hand off. The weird thing was the timing, as I had no idea the tone of the show was changing for s2, so wrote the full snark of s1 in the original draft of Hidden… then had to rework it so they were all mates, or at least bonded closer. In the end we decided to place it between s1 and s2 so there was a balance with the cynicism and snark of s1 and the functioning team of s2.

Given the opportunity, would you write another Torchwood audio story or novel?

SS: I was always a little disappointed I didn’t get to do a full novel – I did Gordian for Torchwood Magazine, Blackwater for the Torchwood Yearbook and of course Hidden. Gordian spanned a couple of issues and was the first time Ianto died. I kinda took a little pride in that. It was quite amusing, I was chatting to the editor a while back and he said how much he loved the story, didn’t have a clue what it was about but it was fantastic. Heh. But I mean when you are going to write a story about an eater of worlds consuming earth, only to have Jack sacrifice himself to the nanogestalt so it would constantly feed on him and only him because he renewed as fast as it consumed… yeah… a bit bonkers. I had a wonderful idea I never got to play with, about all of Jack’s ghosts, all the lovers and loved from across the universe being drawn to him at the end, a sort of Day of the Dead thing where for one day only they all come back… but alas, things basically died before we got to play with that one.

Given that you have no say on who narrates your audios, who would you have wanted to narrate ‘Hidden’?

SS: I was really surprised they gave it to Naoko, given the story is mainly from a male pov – she must have loved reading the opening lines which were basically Owen perving over her legs… err I think it would have worked best from Jack’s point of view, as he was the only one who really had all the facts, but John had already read I think two of the audios at that point so it was about sharing the love.

Who do you find easier to write about in Torchwood out of the team?

SS: Jack, without doubt. Larger than life. Ready with the inappropriate quip etc.

The audio story came out in 2008 which would mean that this was based in the second series of the show.  When Gwen introduced herself to Parks, she used the term ‘Special Ops’ a title I thought was from Series 1.  Then Owen shifted uncomfortably in his shoes at the mention of ‘death’ so then that made me think it was the second series after his run in with Aaron Copley.  Trying to place where each of the novels and audios ran, I’ve either been looking in the wrong place or just can’t locate it, when is ‘Hidden’ set in the Second Series?

SS: Basically it’s s1.5 which is what it actually says on the CD jewel case as I recall. It was actually written as episode 4-5 of s1 were airing, so we had very little to go on as writers, and obviously changes were made at the BBC as the characters became more established, but it does mean you sort of blink and go huh a couple of times.

Knowing you have a deadline to meet when you’re writing for Torchwood, how much time did you have to research about archaeology, and the history of the churches and the statues, the alchemy and the discovery of Robert Craig as I’m thinking it must have taken some time to put all of this together?

SS: I honestly can’t recall – I think I spent about 6 weeks working on it, maybe 2 more purely researching stuff. But when I’m researching that’s proper 8 hr a day reading background material, making notes etc.

Non Torchwood

I read that you’re originally from Newcastle, what prompted the move to Stockholm?

SS: I came over on holiday in 1997 and never went home. Basically on the last week in town the guys threw a party for me to say goodbye and I met my wife there.

What was the first novel you wrote and what prompted the decision to become a writer?  Had you written in school progressed from there or did you start writing later?

SS: First written and published is all a bit weird… I wrote a book called The Last Angel, then I wrote The Sufferer’s Song and then Laughing Boy’s Shadow – I was really young here, 21 for Angel, 22 for Sufferer’s 23 for LBS – then one weekend when the girlfriend was away skiing and I was alone in the apartment for four days, I fired up the laptop, opened up The Last Angel and rewrote it start to finish changing loads of it, and came out with The Secret Life of Colours, which was my first published novel, but technically the fourth time I finished one… Laughing Boy came out a few years later, and is called my first novel because chronologically I wrote it before Secret Life… but the whole timeframe is a bit screwy. I used to skip out of lectures at uni to write comic fantasy – I was very much influenced by Red Dwarf, Hitchhikers and Pratchett. My first ever rejection letter said simply: The world doesn’t need another Terry Pratchett. I used to entertain friends with stories like the Ohmygodnotagainriad, wrote a Moonlighting parody in a magical world where a wizard had been kidnapped after making it rain, and now it had been raining for 247 days and our investigators were finally on the case. It was full of really bad lines, fake noir humour, stuff like: she rolled her eyes at me. I picked them up and rolled them right back…

Which authors or books have influenced you over the years and have they in any way influenced your style of writing?

SS: Oh my, quite a difficult question. I admire and consider myself friends with a lot of great writers including Stephen Laws, Stephen Gallagher, Ramsey Campbell, Mark Morris, the 90s generation of British horror writers, they had a big impact on me, but it was Clive Barker’s Weaveworld that convinced me I wanted to be a writer.

What other genres have you written in?

SS: Thrillers, with Silver and the OGMIOS stuff, erm comedy with stuff like Dead Records, fantasy, lots of media stuff, I’m currently doing Rogue Angel novels for Harlequin – I’ve done 3 so far, they come out under the Alex Archer byline – science fiction… crime with the Jack Stone stories… basically whatever interests me. I consider myself a writer primarily, and that means I want to write the stories that light a fire in my heart at any given time.

What projects are you involved in at the moment that you can share with us?

SS: My Cthulhu novel, Sign of Glaaki, is just out, and next month sees my first Rogue Angel, Grendel’s Curse, hit the shelves. I’ve just finished writing Death Mask, which is the third Rogue Angel novel, and am working on a Norse fantasy, Runemaster, for Paradox Games at the moment.

I quite like the look of Shiftling can you tell us more about this novel and is it only available online or are there any High Street stores they can be purchased from?

SS: Shiftling is my love song to my misspent youth. It’s set in the 80s, a group of friends very much like the group of friends I grew up with, and a secret. It’s a coming of age story, and it’s about the unreliability of memory. It’s a fairly long story, short novel, and is probably my most political in nature, given it’s set during the miner’s strike and some very tough times in a very working class area. It was released as a limited edition hardcover in the US, and as an ebook. The way the rights are tied up, I think it’s a couple more years before I can include it in any sort of collection or reprint edition though, so it’s kindle only.

There’s a programme on CBBC where celebrities talk about what they did when they were 12, the music they listened to, the books they read, which Doctor was on the tv, that kind of thing.  So I wondered what your memories of being 12 were.

SS: Hmm 12 was a rough year. I’ve done my best to blank out most of it. I was viciously bullied at school for about 5 months of the year and ended up leaving where I was to go to a private school ten miles away. I’ve since learned that there were other kids been terrified by the same pair of kids, but of course none of us knew that, we all thought we were alone. It ended when my best friend Charles grabbed one of them by the throat and dangled him off a bridge threatening to drop him. Then they were all, oh we were only messing around. For me, 11 was good, 13 was fantastic… but 12… just a weird anomaly. Was never bullied or picked on either before or after… Fun fact though, the kid who sat next to me then went on to design the Conan the Barbarian computer game over in Denmark… 

Do you have a website for the fans to find out more about the books you write and the projects you’re involved in?

SS:  it’s in the process of being rebuilt, but could be ready by the time this goes out.

Can we find you on Twitter or Facebook?

SS: There’s an author page on facebook:
which is the best place to friend me for work, otherwise you’re bombarded by music and football and very little else on my personal page, and there’s a sadly neglected twitter at too

Annika Gabriella Brink asks: What inspires you? Name one of the best books you ever read? Which is your favourite sci fi or fantasy tv series?

SS: When I was 21 my favourite novel was Weaveworld by Clive Barker. It just blew my mind with its incredible imagery. I read it again when I was 44 and fell in love with it all over again, but not for the imagery this time, but for the philosophies and life lessons hidden in the prose. A wonderful novel.

As for tv, if we’re going all time – Quantum Leap – I refuse to believe Sam didn’t find his way home. If it’s more recent, Chuck, which ahh, has so many Quantum Leap in gags it’s not funny.

Photos courtesy of Steven Savile

You can read our review of Steven’s audio story ‘Hidden’ read by Naoko Mori here 

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