Interview: Kim Newman

IMG_7722_Cropped_B&WI recently had occasion to highly praise British author, Kim Newman‘s fun, postmodern take on the dracula mythos, Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard (review). Kim kindly agreed to the interview which follows.

John: You said in the acknowledgements at the end of your most recent novel, Johnny Alucard, that episodes had previously been released “disguised as novellas”. Can you explain what you meant by that – in other words had you already envisaged the novel, or did you have some other cunning plan in mind?

Kim: I actually can’t remember if I had a plan in mind for Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard when I wrote Coppola’s Dracula, which I did before Anno Dracula: Dracula Cha Cha Cha. I suspect that I must have, or I wouldn’t have set up so much stuff with the character of Ion Popescu that became the spine of the book. Certainly when I wrote ‘Andy Warhol’s Dracula’ and picked up Ion in New York, I had a firmer idea of how he would become Johnny Alucard. One of the things I’ve tried to do with the Anno Dracula series is vary them while still carrying over characters, themes and other distinguishing marks (each novel has a first person section and there’s a La Ronde thing with famous mad scientists over the four books). This time, I wanted to tell a story that took place over a longer period of time and had a global reach – which pushed me towards nearly self-contained sections in different times and places to give a sense of a bigger world. The corollary of that is that it doesn’t have the thriller type overall plotting of the earlier books, though individual sections do.

John: Given the references to Thatcher’s Britain, and the horrors that entailed in itself, why did you choose to set most of the book in the USA?

Kim: I felt I’d already addressed Thatcher’s Britain in the Victorian values of Anno Dracula – and also in my non-series novel The Quorum and other stories and books – so I made a conscious effort to get away mostly from the UK in this book. The earlier books are set in Britain and Europe (France, Germany, Italy) so it made sense to move to America here, as the century moves on and America becomes more culturally and politically dominant. Of course, this was also my first chance to write about Romania, so there is a little more about Dracula in his own original environment.

John: Your work as a film critic clearly armed you with plenty of background material, but did you need to do a lot of additional research as well?

Kim: Yes, all these books are very research-intensive – both in specifics (a lot of stuff about WWI aviation for Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron, Jack the Ripper for Anno Dracula, Andy Warhol’s life and works for this) and general material about the places and people and times I write about. Not to mention all the books and movies I’ve drawn on to create this world where all sorts of fictional characters interact.

John: I especially enjoyed the spot the character game you played in the book – the guest appearances of Travis Bickle and Columbo, for example. Do you feel that a knowledge of film and popular culture of the period is important to enjoyment of the book? I mean, I couldn’t distance myself from my own love of the cultural references, but I wonder if you have a sense of how a younger reader might approach the novel?

Kim: I always try – when using borrowed people – to give them something worth doing or relevant to the plot. At that point in the book, my ongoing lead – Geneviève – had to be interrogated by a Los Angeles cop, and given the time period I could have used any number of fictional or even real people but went with the one who seemed the most fun to write. I usually look at these bits of the series as like casting a movie – I need someone for a role and pick someone who fits. I hope that readers who, say, don’t know Columbo will just enjoy the interplay of characters – and maybe credit me for qualities that William Link, Richard Levinson and Peter Falk brought to the creation of Columbo – and follow the story. When you see a movie, you don’t have to recognise a bit-player to enjoy a scene, though sometimes it’s nice to see an old friend pop up, even or especially in an unfamiliar setting. Sometimes there are cases where I make a reference which I hope will prompt the reader to look further: in this book, for instance, the character of Feraru comes from a novel called The Lost by Jonathan Aycliffe, which provides exactly the backstory I needed for someone. I think The Lost is a terrific book which people should read, and hope Feraru’s appearance in Johnny Alucard serves as an ad for it.

John: For those who don’t know the Anno Dracula series (I’m one of them, although I have read other works by you), what was the original impulse behind it? And it seems from the ending of Johnny Alucard that you’ve paved the way for more in the series – is that the case?

Kim: The original notion was simply what if Dracula won? Instead of being destroyed by Van Helsing, he overcomes his enemies when he moves to Britain in the 1880s and then becomes essentially the ruler of the British Empire, bringing vampires out into the open and making for huge changes in society. That led to the series, in which 20th Century history plays out much as it did, but with vampires as a significant minority group.

John: I, and a few other critics, have described your novel as postmodern, or perhaps metafiction in some sense. Besides simply being a terrific story. Is that deliberate on your part, or simply a consequence of the layering of text and subtext, as well as the non-fictional elements?

Kim: I don’t tend to think too much about categories like that while writing, though as a critic I’d certainly diagnose postmodernism and metafictionality in the results. The best subtext creeps in while you’re concentrating on something else, which has certainly been the case here.

John: I’m sure many people who subscribe to the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast and website are aspiring authors, so we like to ask the people we interview some craft questions. To begin with, what’s your process and routine in writing? – are you, for example, an outliner or an intuitive writer? And do you have a particular routine?

Kim: I tend to have very, very rough outlines (a page or less) for novels – it helps if I know where we’re going but now how we’re getting there. Of course things change in the process of writing. On top of that, I do make a lot of notes about background material – especially for books like the Anno Dracula series which require a lot of detail (and not just detail drawn from life or history, but given a fantastical spin by being set in a world with vampires).

John: The chapter structure and alternating points of view gives the book a cinematic feel. Did you envisage your novel in that way as you wrote?

Kim: this is in many ways a novel about the movies – making them, watching them and living in them. There are even script sections, reviews and critical essays. However, in general, I tend to be more focused on point of view – what’s going on in characters’ heads – than in script-style scene descriptions. We see some things very like the way we see movies – and I’m interested in the way the movies have informed our perception of our own lives – but I think I incline towards more elliptical plotting and characterisation than that.

John: You’ve written in the Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes worlds, not to mention role-playing games such as Warhammer, universes, if I can call them that. Do you have any that you prefer and, if so, why?

Kim: My own, of course – and when working with other people’s universes I like to rearrange the furniture to suit my comforts. Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles, a novel set in Conan Doyle’s world but where I had final say on the edit, is a different beast to Dr. Who: Time and Relative or the Warhammer books, which were written with oversight from the BBC and Games Workshop (not that either interfered much – or at all – with what I wrote). I see all my work as interconnected at some level so I don’t really have preferences … it is nice sometimes to pick up ongoing characters who are like old friends, but I also enjoy meeting new people.

John: You haven’t, to my knowledge, written any screenplays. Is writing screenplays something that you’ve tried, or hope to do in the future?

Kim: I have done some screenwriting, but nothing that threatens to get made. The reissue of Anno Dracula includes extracts from a screenplay version I did when the book first came out. I’ve written for radio and the stage, and I enjoyed that immensely. Film and TV involves more compromises, so I’ll always be less committed to that kind of work than prose.

John: Are you able to tell us what your next project is?

Kim: Yes. It’s a novel called An English Ghost Story, which I have just finished. The next thing I write will be non-fiction: a BFI film classic booklet on Quatermass and the Pit.


John Dodds Article by John Dodds

John Dodds is the author of The Kendrick Chronicles crime novels (Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss ) and, under a pseudonym, JT Macleod, has written a collection of historical/paranormal/erotic/romance stories calledWarriors and Wenches, as well as the first novel in YA steampunk superhero series which he is shopping around agents.


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