One of the things I most vividly remember growing up is my grandfather telling me you can take the boy out of Newcastle but you can't take Newcastle out of the boy. I left the city 16 years ago, emigrating to Sweden and a new life. Yesterday I released my first novel set in Newcastle since Laughing Boy's Shadow, which I wrote when I was 20... there's 24 years between books in my home town and one thing I know now more than ever before, you can't take Newcastle out of the boy.
It's a special town in that it owns part of my soul. That's one of the reasons the new book is called Northern Soul.
What can I tell you about it? Well, Jack's back, like me, returning to his home town.
Will Platt, an old school friend, reaches out to Jack. Just one job. A simple one, a pick up from a bonded warehouse down south. Jack Stone knows what trouble smells like. It smells like Will Platt. Jack wants no part of the job. But sometimes it's hard to walk away from trouble. That's because trouble has a way of looking for men like Jack Stone. A stroll down memory lane--which is run-down and desperate like the rest of this seedy part of town--turns into a world of hurt, Jack's innate sense of justice is tested to the limits when instead of a simple buzz cut he's treated to a front row seat for an extortioner's shakedown.
He can't just sit by idly and watch.
Jack's not that kind of man.
So Jack makes a deal with the devil, he'll do a job for them to pay off the old man's debt.
Lenny Parker's looking for a woman, Sindy Nightingale, an old cabaret singer from the 70s club circuit, a proper heart breaker, the kind of woman young boys pinned up posters of on their bedroom walls and fantasized about. The problem is Sindy doesn't want to be found. By the time Jack understands why it's too late, he's brought the devil to her door.
Northern Soul is the first full-length Jack Stone novel by Steven Savile & Steve Lockley and can be read as part of the on-going series or as a stand-alone novel.
You've probably heard the advice - if you can be put off being a writer you probably shouldn't be a writer - there are days/weeks/months when I think 'that's it, I'm done, enough is enough'. The worst period, a fair few years back, saw me go 19 months without writing a single word. Somehow I ended up on a train to go and see my mate Jan Lindgren to go and shoot some stuff one morning, and ended up with nothing to read and a note book and wrote the lines: 'The magician stared at the mismatched pair of gloves in his hands. The left glove was of white silk, the right was made of black leather. Closing his eyes he offered a prayer to a God he hand long since stopped believing in, and held the black glove to his lips. Exhaling slowly, he filled the glove, his breath giving it a miraculous life of its own. His first breath conjured the faintest outline of feathers in the soft leather, the second gave them definition, shape and form, while the third stretched out the tip of the thumb until it formed a hard beak. Again and again the magician breathed into the glove, inflating it with the spark of life, until the soft leather had turned forever into the flesh of a living, breathing, blackbird.' I had no idea what the story was, only that after 19 months of nothing I was writing again. That story, Bury My Heart at the Garrick, won the Writers of the Future Award. It was the last thing I ever intended on writing. My farewell, shut up and go away writing bug thing.
That was 10 years ago. In the time since I gave up I've written 5 original novels, collaborated on 5 more, written 10 media tie-in novels, written 2 computer games, and around 50 short stories and novellas. And every morning I wake up thinking I can't do this job. Every afternoon I sit at the computer crippled by doubt. And I lie to myself and make bargains with the devil and try to find a few words that day just to add to the pile, and think that life would have been so much easier if I'd never written that paragraph up there, because after 19 months of not writing I was almost out... but like a junkie it reeled me back in, and I'm not one of these guys who gets pleasure from writing. I actually find it really incredibly difficult. I agonise over getting what is in my head onto the screen. I don't ever so much as crack open one of my books once it's published either, so I don't even get that afterglow of Ahhh published, to keep me going. In March it will be 7 years since I quit my day job and writing became my livelihood. I can look at my shelves and see 'success' and yet like I said, every day I get up thinking 'failure'. I don't believe a single nice thing readers say about my stuff, but I do believe every single nasty thing. I think that one day I will quit. I'll just stop putting myself through it every day. I've talked about it a lot. Those feelings are always worse during the winter, as I suffer from Seasonal Adjustment problems, which makes it even harder...
So when that advice comes up and it says if you can be put off you probably should be, I kinda think yeah, because I wouldn't wish the self doubt, the self loathing, the agony of seeing yourself as a failure no matter what others see, upon anyone who wasn't stubbornly determined to put themselves through it.
But I know I've got at least three original novels to write before I do quit... and by the time I'm done with them there will be three more... and even if I'm not publishing and haven't become flavour of the month, I'll still be writing. Because I can't imagine a life where I don't.
SOMETHING OF VALUE
There's one question I've been asked more than any other, and it's not 'where do you get your ideas?' it's 'What are you passionate about?' which translates to what do you want to write about.
I never have an answer for that. I don't want to think I'm not a passionate man. I mean Shadow of the Jaguar (Primeval) and Black Water (Torchwood) were different takes on ecology and environmentalism - and the pitch I've just turned in to my agent, The Harrowing, is another environmental/ecologically driven storyline. Jaguar was the trafficking of endangered species, Black Water was a thinly veiled oil story. So perhaps ecology and the environment is my thing? I mean, there's Father London in London Macabre, which is battled by a golem-spirit whipped up in the 1800s from the thick smog polluting the air. In Tau Ceti it was the terraforming of a new world in the shadow of an oppressive regime. With Slaine the land was being soured and drained of magic. In Laughing Boy's Shadow the city of Newcastle itself was a living breathing entity, being torn apart by the depression of the 90s.
So, yeah, maybe that's my thing.
It may sound flippant, but you might be surprised to know it's actually taken me years to work this out.
So, next time I'll have an answer about what I'm passionate about.
THE TERRIBLE TWOS
Here we are again. It’s been a few years. Lots of things have happened in that time. Not least Brad Thor slayed me in a mighty smack-down last year where I think we managed to get about 300 people to vote for us. I was quite proud of that. I mean, Brad’s a giant in the best possible way, and his readers are rabidly loyal and a very decent bunch. That was a lot of fun. Of course, last time I was invited to chat it was about Silver, my first thriller, which was just coming out so I guess we’re looking at Jan 2010, the best part of three years ago. So, anyway, it’s nice to be here again.
There’s a note in the back of the hardcover that says GOLD coming Jan 2011…
That’s what this little visit’s all about. The dreaded sequel.
I remember when a friend read Silver he said ‘it’s great, but it’s not your best book, and if you never write Gold it’ll just be a so-so unfinished tale’. That email has stuck with me for the last 3 years. It’s been like the email of Damocles hanging over my head to be honest. I mean, look at where we are. September 2012. And there’s no Gold on the shelves. Silver’s being forgotten about by readers and with good reason. It’s been a long time.
Now, let’s make no bones about it, following up anything is difficult if you’re like me. You want to purge yourself of the characters, do new stuff, develop. But it’s not as simple as all that. Sometimes the real world gets in the way, Sometimes it’s pressure, sometimes it’s completely external that you have absolutely no control over.
So, the terrible twos…
Let’s look at the evidence: The UK digital edition of Silver was listed as the #26 bestselling digital book of 2011, it sold into hardcover into Germany, France, Poland, Turkey and Spain and did pretty well everywhere but Germany, but then I wasn’t particularly kind to Berlin in the book so perhaps I did that to myself. It’s by far my most successful original novel and is neck-and-neck in terms of sales with my most successful media novel, the Von Carsten Vampire Wars series for Games Workshop.
At the time I did a lot of blog tour stuff talking on indie sites about thinking of yourself as a brand, and thinking about your product and brand identity. So any right-thinking chap would obviously sit down and dive straight into Gold, right? What can I say? It’s amazing how many bad decisions one man can make. Especially after leaving the book on the mother of all cliff-hangers (I didn’t really, honestly… I finished the book the chapter before and the last part that got everyone so frustrated was actually just setting up the next book). It’s the smart thing, right? So what did I do? I wrote London Macabre, vast sprawling novel of fantastic Victoriana (most certainly not steampunk) and then sat down to start Gold having cleansed my palette. You see, I have got this kind of magpie brain that just gets attracted to shiny ideas and because I work everyday, and work at least 6-8 hrs every single day, I am writing a lot, meaning I can explore these shiny ideas… so when I was commissioned to write a short novel (40,000 words) called London Macabre I figured it’d be about 6-8 weeks work and a nice break from the intensity of Silver. It wasn’t. It took me almost an entire year working unpaid on a speculative project. It was the worst possible business decision I could have made, and I’ve really been paying for it for the last 2 years. Even so, I ploughed on and finished the most complex novel I’ve ever written—which we couldn’t sell. It’s just come out now, actually, in ebook as an exclusive for Barnes and Noble here and print via a small US publisher, Crossroad Press, who in general do a lot of reprints of successful books so it’s a bit of a step in another direction for them. But it meant there was no Gold. The book everyone was writing to me about.
I wasn’t worried. I had a story in mind that was really worthy of following up Silver. I was bursting to write it.
And I managed 50,000 words, or about a third of the novel, before I threw it out. And I really do mean threw it out. It’s gone.
Now obviously everyone thinks I must be barking mad, but let me explain. It was a lot of work and there was a lot of good stuff in it. So why throw it out? Honestly, because it was exactly the same formula as Silver. It wasn’t deliberate. I don’t quite know why or how it happened but I was subconsciously following an identical beat-sheet in my head. Open with a spectacular and sinister disaster/threat, go to Nonesuch for debrief, scatter the group to follow clues… heck there was even a scene with Noah visiting Margot, just the same as Silver. None of this was deliberate, but I found myself reading back through it and just going cold. I mean, I really don’t want to be the kind of thriller writer who by book two has fallen into an identifiable pattern. So I tossed it all.
That put me more than 12 months behind schedule. More like 16 months.
At this point it was probably around Feb 2011, or a month after Gold was due to hit the US in hardcover. It’d come to the realisation there was no way back from that.
The Internet’s changed the way we can interact with and approach authors. I think at that point I was getting maybe 5 or 6 letters a day asking ‘Where’s Gold?’ The other mails asked ‘When’s the final Slainé novel coming out?’ and I didn’t have a good answer for either, because by then Gold was feeling like a dim and distant dream.
I worked really hard for about 4 more months, researching heavily, and finally decided on my new plot line – and it was a good one. A really good one and I was about to dive in when I got a phone call from DICE – a division of Electronic Arts – asking if I’d be interested in helping them out on something called ‘Project Venice’ which had failed to get through the gate. Meaning they’d spent millions on it and it hadn’t been approved to go into the final stages of development. They wanted a story, and because of the similarity between what I’d done in Silver and what they wanted to do with Venice (Battlefield 3) they thought I was the man to help pull it all together. I ended up in about 2 months of non-stop meetings discussing terrorism and what I would do if I were a terrorist, how I’d go about inspiring fear, and another month writing full time on it. I wound up scripting a lot of little details for the Dima character, who let’s face it, is extremely close in style to Konstatin Khavin, working out what exactly the terrorist threats should be, and crafting what I think are still the most powerful scenes in the finished Battlefield game – which take place in Paris around the Euronext Stock Exchange and the moral dilemma of chasing a terrorist on foreign soil while the Gendarmerie try to stop you. The core of this was all harking back to Bin Laden’s last video urging the young men to rise up against the nodes of economy because the United States economy was a Paper Tiger that could be brought down just like Russia’s.
There was an inevitable cross-pollination of ideas, after all I’d just spent 4 months researching counterfeit culture and how to bring about an economic collapse through terrorism. That was when we hit the first major problem with Gold – I couldn’t do anything with the plot I’d come up with because it walked a very similar line to BF3 and the nature of computers and the punitive contract I’d signed meant that basically every idea I’d had on the project DICE owned lock-stock and two smoking barrels. It would been easier if I’d stayed with the project to the end, but I didn’t. I wrote the storyline, came up with the actual structure around it, building two layers of story simultaneously with a 24-style NOW interspersing the unfolding backstory. Someone else was brought in to write the video cut-scenes and character dialogue. What this meant was that I could never really know what was being used and where the game had evolved beyond our meetings and my storyline. The last thing I wanted was to be sued for ripping off myself.
So Gold sat in a weird stasis for a period while I looked at October 2011 as liberation day – BF3 would come out and I’d know for sure what had and hadn’t been used. Only it didn’t work like that because suddenly I heard rumours of an Andy McNabb novel featuring Dima as the lead character and I was left thinking crap, does this mean stuff they didn’t use in the game could serve as the story for Dima? As I said, a lot of my input for Dima was stuff that could quite easily have been stuff for Koni. So I had to wait to read the novel to work out if there was anything else that had become off-limits. And then there were download extensions, and it felt like the whole thing was never going to end.
In the end, and for the second time, it was just easier to chuck everything out, because this crap could just go on and on forever and it was doing my sanity no good. By now though Silver had exploded in the UK, with over 40,000 ebooks sold in a couple of months, hitting #2 and staying top #10 for 3 months. Suddenly there was a very vocal audience for a book that just didn’t exist. And I didn’t have a new storyline worthy of the team.
It was, all in all, my worst nightmare. Screwed by my own success. Because people wouldn’t wait forever, and my friend’s prophetic ‘if you never write Gold’ was really starting to ring in my ears a little too loud and clear for comfort.
To make matters worse there were rumblings. Variance, who put the hardcover edition out in the US, hadn’t put out a new title in getting on for 12 months. Was I about to dedicate 9 months of my life to write a book where there’d be no publisher at the end to actually get it to readers? Were they still excited by the story? Were they even going to be around in 12 more months when it was done and dusted? Lots of questions to worry about that took me further and further out of the actual writing process. And in the middle of all this I’d been contracted to write a novel for Guild Wars 2, Sea of Sorrows, which had gone sour when my editor Will McDermott, was fired from Arena. The whole thing started to take a toll. The stress of making mortgage payments, the expectancy of readers, all of it, just served to really drag me down and it was Gold that was suffering. Big time.
So I had to get over it, pick myself up and start again. No choice. No time for feeling sorry for myself. But I didn’t dive straight into Gold. Instead I had an idea for something a little different – tangential. I needed to get the team moving again, having adventures. And I had some ideas that linked into the opening part of Silver where the team are described as treasure hunters working under cover in dangerous territories. We needed to see these things. I needed to write them. So I started plotting three short novels, Solomon’s Seal, WarGod and The Prophet. These are ‘Ogmios Origins’ novels, letting us meet the team doing what they do best.
This week sees the release of Solomon’s Seal (in the US here:here and the UK here: here) co-written with one of my best friends and long term writing partner’s Steve Lockley. It focusses very much on the events of Jenin, the refugee camp in Palestine where Orla, the female member of the team, was abused and tortured pre-Silver. It’s a fundamental part of the story that I really wanted to tell. With the discovery of the long lost Seal--real or not--Konstantin and Orla find themselves in Jerusalem and Palestine fighting for their lives in a desperate race to stop all hell breaking lose. They don't know who they can trust. They don't know which way to turn next. All they know is they have to find the Seal and divert the detonation of a dirty bomb at one of Jerusalem's most holy sights in the process. It’s a proper balls to the wall thriller. I’m really pleased with it. I think readers will be too, because it fills in a lot of blanks.
Then there’s WarGod coming next month, which was written with up-and-coming adventure writer Sean Ellis, which is about Julius Caesar’s legendary sword, Crocea Mors, and is very much Ronan Frost up front and centre, and the final one of the set, The Prophet, which is about the lost Templar “treasure” the head of Baphomet. That’s a Noah-Orla tag-team effort with Rick Chesler.
And then we get Gold. I’m reluctant to put a release date on it. It feels honestly like it’ll be summer next year.
The fact is it’s actually really hard to write a sequel to a successful book – harder by far than I expected, and made harder because it was successful, when you realise that what you’d been doing was in fact write the same book again. Hell, even the internalised pressure increases exponentially, I want to it to be the best it can be. I want it to be thrilling. And the thing is, real life has changed me in the years since writing Silver. We all change, obviously, but even the way I think has changed in part. I mean, I’m suddenly aware that there are new things to be frightened of, intimate things, so Gold isn’t going to be so much about the spectacle of fear like Silver was, it’s going to be much closer to home. One reason for this is actually something that happened to a family friend. He’s a journalist. Actually a respected journalist who works for newspapers like The Times in London. His sister works with my better half. 14 months ago Martin was found guilty of terrorism in Ethiopia and sentenced to 11 years in prison. It was a trumped up ‘crime’ and we’ve all been sitting and praying he’d come home while the politicians have been locked in silent diplomacy to bring him and his partner Johan back to Stockholm. It’s funny how even as an outsider this stuff changes you. It does. I’ve found myself thinking about Greta, Martin’s sister. About how it feels to be the one left behind, not knowing. This reality impacts on Gold in ways you wouldn’t expect, but in ways that will make it much more powerful, I think. More intimate and real.
So that’s it, the terrible twos, and why it was easier to give birth to triplets than write a sequel to a successful book.
Remind me never to do this again.
Words have power. They do. And written words carry an added dimension of truth with them. People believe what they see written down. Somehow it feels more real than what they hear. I couldn't tell you why.
A few years back I was in the security queue at the airport and an over zealous Homeland Insecurity guard wanted to search my bag. I had 4 things in there. The laptop to work on the plan, a copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, a pen and a small moleskine notebook. The guard took the book out of my bag and started to flick through it, then cracked the spine on the brand new paperback and really started pulling at the pages.
I've got a smart mouth sometimes. I remember the conversation well. Actually it wasn't so much a conversation as a diatribe. It went something like this: "Dangerous things, books. They contain words. Words make up ideas. Ideas make people think. People start thinking for themselves instead of thinking what they're told to think and you get revolutions. Revolutions can change the world. You're right to be frightened of that book. You don't want to let it into you country because you can't afford to have people thinking for themselves. You know what they say? The pen is mightier than the sword. But here's the thing, if I really wanted to do some damage on that plane the most dangerous thing in my bag is that pen. It's a steel tipped fountain pen. Thrust hard enough it could easily be plunged into someone's neck making it a lethal weapon, but you keep on worrying about the book."
Needless to say everyone around me looked on with first mild amusement and then a little horror as the mouth just wouldn't stop.
But the thing is it really irritated me. I mean really.
This morning most Brits have woken up to the headline in the daily newspaper of The Real Truth. This is in response to a similar headline run in 1989 four days after the events of Hillsborough. Americans reading this probably have no idea what Hillsborough was, but for every football fan in Britain there's an element of 'it could have been me' about it. As a Spurs fan, doubly so because only a few years earlier in the same stadium at the same stage of the FA Cup police HAD opened security gates at the Leppings Lane end to allow us onto the field as we were being crushed to death inside the stands. That should have been a salutary lesson to the police and the FA and Hillsborough should have been removed as a semi-final venue because it quite simply couldn't cope with the volume of support.
96 people died that day.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember I was out shopping with the then girlfriend in the Metrocentre in Newcastle and had stopped to watch the preview moments in the window of the electronics store. It was a bit of a ritual, most men would watch the teletext results or the vidiprinter scrolling through the scores on a saturday in the 80s. You'd see them crowded around the shop windows just waiting, then see the air punched and a grin and a yes, or you'd see shoulders slump, some muttered 'bollocks' and people shuffle away to finish shopping with their partners. The crowds in the previews looked bad.
Then when we got home to watch the match we saw them spilling onto the pitch, trying to climb over the barriers caging them in, passing kids forwards, and we saw bodies lying on the pitch and a single ambulance and one paramedic because at 3:15 the police ordered the ambulances to stay outside. They told us everyone who had died was deceased by that point. They chose that time.
Four days later The Sun newspaper ran a headline: THE TRUTH and it claimed that the Liverpool fans had not only been complicit in the 96 deaths but solely to blame. Reading the paper you'd think these people were scum. It claimed they robbed the bodies of the dead. It claimed they pissed on the policemen trying to help the wounded. It claimed some fans beat up the police as they tried to give the kiss of life to dying kids.
It was a gross lie masquerading under the title THE TRUTH. It was nowhere near approaching the truth. It was a manufactured cover-up to mask the failings of the police force at the time, who treated those people like scum in the wake of the Heysel Stadium disaster four years earlier in which 39 fans died as a wall collapsed due to a large group of football hooligans breaching a fence. That along with the political climate, the working class revolts of the 80s and dissatisfaction with the Thatcherite government meant it was all too easy to smear these people. The police tested alcohol levels on the children who died, for instance. Anything they could do to smear the dead and protect the culpable.
People believe what they read. Last year in the minute's silence at the FA Cup final Chelsea fans chanted 'murderers' at the Liverpool fans in attendance.
Long before the documents were finally released yesterday football fans already knew the TRUTH, that the disaster was due to the catastrophic mistakes made by the South Yorkshire police. We suspected that the deception of all deaths occurring before 3.15pm was a lie that would let the authorities off the hook, because it meant that their subsequent actions of keeping the paramedics out of the ground wasn't a contributory factor in any of the deaths.
But what the release of those documents yesterday did was reveal how in the days and weeks following the tragedy, the authorities - and most particularly the senior officers in the police - didn't show any sign of humanity. They didn't care about the scores of dead people or grieving families, they simply wanted to cover their arses and keep themselves out of court so they instigated the largest cover-up in my life time, from the top down. And three of the leading policemen behind it have since been knighted.
The release of documents is too late to be called justice.
Don't get me wrong, it's good it is happened, and it had to happen in the end, but there was no justice for the 96 on the day of the tragedy or in the ensuing years, and that for me is a permanent stain on the authorities whatever they do now to try and make amends.
David Cameron issued a heart felt apology, Kelvin McKenzine, the editor of the newspaper who declared 'The Truth' ... has spent a good amount of time covering his arse and squirming rather than just saying, look, I lied because those people were easy targets. But in writing those headlines and making those claims he did change the world for nearly 25 years. He changed the world for the families and friends and loved ones of those 96 dead people. He made it a living hell in which they had to fight to get the REAL TRUTH out.
Those documents confirmed that the police deliberately tried to smear the fans and falsified statements to cover their incompetence. the police checked the police records of those who had died to try and find reasons to put the blame on them. Reprehensible. They proved the 3.15 threshold was a falsehood. The lives could and should have been saved. They proved large scale criminal corruption by the people meant to protect us.
The officers' initial crimes on the day were primarily negligence and incompetence. Whilst they are criminally responsible for these, there is no suggestion of mens rea. The police officers' actions to change statements and fabricate a case against Liverpool fans after the event however are very much pre-meditated, malicious and intended to pervert the course of justice. Those are the crimes should be tried.
It wasn't journalists who finally gave us the truth. It wasn't diligent detective work of the police. It was the families of the victims. Ordinary people. It takes a lot of heart-ache and a lot of resolve in the face of let-down after let-down to keep pushing year after year after year to get at the truth. Ordinary people who wouldn't give up.
Words have power. Especially ones that are written down. Especially ones that appear presented as the truth in the newspapers we buy. It takes something incredible to overturn them and show the real truth. This isn't finished. And it shouldn't be until those proven to have lied and deceived are found guilty and condemned by the real truth.
FALCATA TIMES INTERVIEW
With his latest title hitting the shelves today, Black Chalice, we grabbed a quick word with Steven to find out a few things about his own “Chivalrous” nature.
Here he chats to us about writing, what he can’t live without and how addictive little things like Coffee can be to a writer, dammit….
Falcata Times: How would you say that your perspective has changed about selling your own work with multiple novels under your belt?
Steven Saville: I’m not entirely sure it has. Like a lot of writers I still have this little voice inside me still whispers “Shhh be quiet, you don’t want them to find out you’re making this up as you go along…” and occasionally mocks, “I can’t believe you’re still getting away with this.” I think a lot of us feel something similar, like we can’t believe we get to do this for a living and expect someone to turn up at any moment and say, “Hey, Sav. You’re a big fat faker.” Actually, amusingly, I’m listening to Ben Folds’ A Working Day from Lonely Avenue – lyrics written by Nick Hornby that starts all gung-ho about his creative genius then rapidly goes down hill, including things like, some guy on the net thinks I’m shit and he should know, he’s got his own blog, and I’m a loser, I’m a poser, yeah really, it’s over, I mean it, I quit, everything I write is shit. So I guess that’s a perfect encapsulation of the inside of my head when it comes to my confidence or lack thereof.
So, invariably what happens is I send stuff off to the agent thinking “There’s no way anyone is going to like this…” and when an offer comes back that little voice says “I can’t believe they fell for it AGAIN!”
It’s a very strange game this. I am genuinely humbled though by every single person who goes and spends money they’ve worked hard to earn to buy one of my stories. So more than anything I think I am more appreciative of readers than I was when I was younger. Back then I think it was more of a divine right of writers to be read, now my thoughts are more in line with ‘you sacrificed 7.99, meaning you chose it over a McDonalds or a movie ticket, or a latte and cake down at Nero’s, so I know I have to give you at least that back in value.’
FT: How would you sell yourself as an author?
SS: Does very cheaply count? The truth is for a long time I’ve been able to hide behind franchise names like Warhammer and Stargate and Torchwood, but over the last few years I’ve stepped out of the comfort zone and into creating my own worlds, like Black Chalice, which whilst on the surface appears to be part of a created concept is 100% me, for good or ill, and Silver, my debut thriller, which as of writing is tearing up the Amazon UK charts and hovering around #13. It’s exciting to be out there alone. If I were meeting a prospective new reader who wanted to know what of mine they should read those are the two I’d pick out right now because I think they’re the best examples of where I am as a writer. As to a sales pitch though, I don’t know. I write across the board. Horror, thriller, fantasy, science fiction, dramatic comedy… you name it, I think I am probably a sales guy’s worst nightmare as you never know what it’ll be next.
FT: How would you say that your experience of writing and publishing has changed your methods of writing?
SS: The answer is probably radically. I used to think of writing as a great adventure. I remember sitting down to write The Secret Life of Colours (The Last Angel) without a clue what was going to happen from that opening line: It was another day in hell. I had no idea what was going to happen from then, and my hero, Dan Manelli, a good old hard drinking Italian cop became Gabriel Rush, a Native American psychic before the ride was over. With The Sufferer’s Song I spent about two months creating dozens of lives in Westbrooke, the fictional Northumbrian village, spinning stories about them, and setting up a brother vs. brother showdown for the last chapter, only to start writing and have one of the two brothers go and kill himself before I was 100 pages in, meaning right up until the day before I finished the 160,000 word manuscript I had no idea how it was going to end. Or Laughing Boy’s Shadow, the first chapter of which came out in a rush after getting home from watching Aimee Mann in concert, and like Secret Life was just a rush of ‘ooh what’s going to happen next.’
Then I got my first professional writing gig and found I needed to write a series bible of about 10,000 words covering themes, characters etc, and a detailed 10,000 word outline of the novel, for the editors at Black Library to take to the acquisitions meeting so the marketing boys knew what they were going to be selling. It was the same with Sláine and Necrarch and Primeval. Torchwood: Hidden was a little different, it was just a case of pitching an idea and the editors signing off on it, though the story I really wanted to do, Dr Who on a submarine with zombie submariners was nixed, there was a lot of freedom.
It was almost an act of rebellion with the last 3 novels, Silver, London Macabre and Black Chalice, that I only worked off a single page concept, which was much more liberating than the extreme confines of having done such detailed outlines before, but still offered the safety net of knowing exactly where I was going beat for beat.
FT: With the experience you’ve gained now what do you wish you could have told yourself when you were starting out?
SS: I think this one links to the last one, in that, at the end of the day you need to find the method you’re most comfortable with – outlining isn’t evil. I kinda wish I could tell the 20 year old me that. Might have saved me some very weird moments… then, I think the only other thing I would have said would be something like ‘have faith’ or … no… actually… ‘Be the best Steven Savile you can be. Don’t try and be the best Stephen King or Clive Barker or Jonathan Carroll or David Gemmell. Be the best Steven Savile you can be, because no-one ever got to St Peter only to be told, ‘man, if only you could have been more like Clive Barker, then you’d have really been using the talent God gave you…’
FT: What characteristics of your protagonists do you wish you had, and why?
SS: Oh man, my protagonists are almost all badly damaged human beings, like Alymere in Black Chalice, or Noah Larkin in Silver. I don’t write big strong heroes. My ex-father in law used to joke ‘when will you write a happy story’ and I never had an answer for that. The only happy story I ever tried to write ended up being utterly heartbreaking, so I guess the answer is probably no time soon. But, I think all of my protagonists have something in common, and that’s courage to carry on even long after their self-belief has waned. It’s something I like to think I’ve given them, but in truth I think they’re very much idealized version of the man I wish I could be. I wish I had their strength.
FT: Which characters are most like you and why?
SS: That’d be telling, wouldn’t it? If we look at the cast of Chalice, I don’t have the confidence of a Bors de Ganis, who is modelled after my grandfather – a man who used to carry pit ponies on his shoulders and carry sacks of coal 10 miles home for his mother when he was young. He was a giant of a man with a beautiful big heart. I don’t know if I am more like Lowick, who is something of a bear, a brave caring soul with massive internal conflicts tearing at him, or more of an Alymere, in that I frequently doubt myself. Probably somewhere between the two.
FT: What of life’s little addictions could you not live without and why?
SS: An easy one: coffee. I’m a coffee shop writer. Right now I am in Akademibokhandel in Hötorget, Stockholm, which is our version of Borders, basically. I’ve got a large latte to my left and a cinnamon bun to my right. Without these things no books would ever get written.
FT: With regular trips for book tours around the country as well as to various conventions, what is the absolute travel essential that you couldn’t do without?
SS: As sad as it sounds, it’s my iPhone. I’ve got documents to go running on it, it’s got Bluetooth obviously, and I’ve got a little stowaway keyboard. I can write, listen to music, surf the net, do the social networking rubbish and it fits into my pocket. Steve Jobs basically owns my soul.
FT: How has multiple novels under your belt changed how you accept criticism?
SS: Having had some charming souls inform me during the writing of one particular novel that they wanted to come to the local signings and slash my face with a knife my ability to cope with folks saying they don’t like a book is much easier. I really only get frustrated nowadays when someone says something like ‘I thought this was great, but I’ll only read the next one if it is discounted and has good reviews…’ it’s like the reader doesn’t trust their own judgment. The fact is the more you sell the more people you’re not going to please, so if you can hit 33-33-33 love-meh-hate you’re doing okay as a writer and have done your job. Remember you should be pushing yourself, meaning you’re going to write stuff that will turn some readers off just because it touches raw nerves or goes against something they believe. At the end of the day NOT reading your reviews would be a much healthier way to go. I know lots of writers who say they don’t, but can still quote every one star review on Amazon. Trying to think about it a little more honestly, I guess the first few reviews still feel fairly important, so I’m very much on edge waiting for those to come in, but I can still remember when my first couple of things came out and you wouldn’t hear any sort of feedback for months until the trades like The Bookseller ran a little review, or it was covered in genre fanzines etc. It’s a brave new world now with barriers well and truly torn down.
FT: On long journey's, reading is often the pleasure of choice, who's work will you grab at the airport to ensure a good journey?
SS: I have a few favourite disconnect writers that I always associate with travelling – David Nicholls (One Day, Starter for Ten, The Understudy) for instance, Mike Gayle (The Importance of Being a Bachelor, The To Do List), Lee Child (Jack Reacher books), stuff that I can just kick back and immerse myself in. Nothing too heavy. Oddly my flight patterns seem to be tied to the release of certain authors. I’ve found myself landing in London the same week as Douglas Coupland has had a new novel out every time since the release of JPod. He’s one of the few writers who I find laugh-out-loud funny whilst also being deeply connected to my generation. My current ‘wants’ are all laced with nostalgia for the 80s and my youth. I guess it means I am entering my mid-life crisis.
FT: Out of all your novels, which is your favourite and why?
SS: It’s supposed to be the one I’m working on, obviously, but I am still going to plump for one that’s not on any shelves yet – London Macabre. My agent describes it as the bastard child of Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman. It’s quite different from anything I’ve ever done… is massive in terms of story. It’s one of those I can’t give an elevator pitch for. Not even remotely. I sat down almost 2 years ago and started to write, knowing I finally wanted to give everything to trying to get it right. London Macabre was the result. In terms of the ‘next’ one… of all the ideas percolating right now, Glass Town is the one that excites me the most because it is every bit as unique as London Macabre. I think I finally have the confidence to start telling those stories that are unique to me. It’s taken a while, now I just have to hope it’s worth the wait.
FT: With everyone having their own personal view as to who should be cast in a film version of their work, who do you think should play your principle protagonists and why?
SS: Hmm, let’s pick Silver because it’s actually one a friend of mine asked the other day and I’ve been thinking about ever since:
Konstantin Khavin, Jean Reno, without a doubt. Noah Larkin, Rufus Sewell. Orla Nyrén, Orla Brady, her namesake. Jude Lethe, Justin Long. Ronan Frost, George Clooney. Sir Charles Wyndham, Sir Ian McKellan.
A veritable cast of erm six.
FT: Authors are generally a superstitious lot and upon completion of novels follow a certain ritual, what is yours and how has it changed from the original?
SS: You know, I genuinely don’t. And I’m completely unsuperstitious. When I finished Chalice for instance, I seem to recall taking the next day off to read a book and watch tv, then dove into doing a short story I owed Jean Rabe for an anthology. When I finished Silver my folks were over from Newcastle so we went out for a meal to a steakhouse in the city. When I finished London Macabre I wound up doing about 4 interviews the same day to promote Fantastic TV. I feel like I should have a nice single malt and smoke a cigar or something. That feels like the writerly thing to do.
FT: What was your impression of an author’s lifestyle and status and how has that interpretation changed since you've published a number of books?
SS: When I was young I used to correspond with a few writers I loved like Richard Laymon and Stephen Lawhead, and I always held these guys up on a serious pedestal. I adored the different places they could take me and was in awe of their gifts. I always imagined in my head landing the first book deal would change my life. It didn’t. I carried on with the day job for years before I finally walked out. Now I understand that a writer is a businessman as well. I get that beyond the actual writing you need to be at least passingly familiar with so many other trades, like accountancy, marketing etc. It ain’t all waiting for the muse.
FT: What are the best words of wisdom or tip that you'd give to a new or soon to be published author?
SS: One’s already appeared up top, about being the best you you can be, not the best some other guy who’s already out there. The other is that it isn’t a race. If you write 3 truly brilliant short stories a year and 1 brilliant novel every 2 years, and have a career that spans 30 years you’re looking at 90 truly brilliant stories and 15 brilliant novels and that by anyone’s yard stick is one hell of a career.