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James Lovegrove Interview

Before each interview, we at Fantasy-Faction like to tell our readers a bit about the interviewee, in case they are new to an author’s work. Today I believe we shall let said author, and his extensive catalog of works, speak for themselves.

James LovegroveJames Lovegrove is the author of over 50 acclaimed novels and books for children. Straight after graduating from Oxford with a degree in English Literature, James set himself the goal of getting a novel written and sold within two years. The Hope was completed in six weeks and accepted by Macmillan a fortnight later. Subsequent works have all been published to great acclaim. These include Untied Kingdom, Worldstorm, Provender Gleed and the back-to-back double-novella Gig. Many of his early books are being reissued by Solaris Books in a series of compendium volumes entitled The James Lovegrove Collection, beginning in late 2014.

James has also written for children. Wings, a short novel for reluctant readers, was short-listed for several awards, while his fantasy series for teens, The Clouded World, written under the pseudonym Jay Amory, has been translated into seven languages so far.

More recently James has produced the Pantheon series, a set of standalone military-SF adventures combining high-tech weaponry and ancient gods. He has also written the first two volumes in a trilogy of novels about a policeman who tackles vampires and vampire-related crimes — Redlaw and Redlaw: Red Eye.

He has also dipped a toe in the waters of pastiche, having produced a series of Sherlock Holmes novels for Titan Books. These include The Stuff of Nightmares, Gods of War, The Thinking Engine and The Labyrinth of Death, along with the Cthulhu Casebooks, a trilogy mashing up the fictional worlds of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft. As of 2014 he has begun a new action-adventure series set on different planets in outer space, the Dev Harmer Missions.

Currently James resides in Eastbourne on the Sussex Coast, having moved there in August 2007. He has a terrific view of the sea from his study window, which he doesn’t sit staring out at all day when he should be working. Honest.

When did you decide you wanted to be a full time writer? Was getting published relatively smooth sailing or were there obstacles along the way?

The Hope (cover)I wrote my first novel, The Hope, over the course of six weeks shortly after I graduated, aged 22. This was back in 1998. It was picked up by the first publisher I submitted it to, Macmillan. I cannot help but think that this was extraordinarily lucky, and it certainly isn’t the path to a writing career which most writers take.

I think I’d realised I wanted to pursue writing full-time while I was at university. Before then I’d had my heart set on becoming a multimillionaire rock megastar, but the music industry is a harsh, unforgiving business and no record company seemed to find my band’s demonstration tapes as wonderful as we in the band did. Writing was Plan B, although in hindsight it should have been Plan A all along, because it’s the thing I did (and do) best.

The Pantheon series, beginning with Age of Ra is one of the most unique concepts in speculative fiction. Can you briefly explain the overall concept of the series?

There was no great “a-ha!” moment with the Pantheon series. It was simply a case of me coming up with an idea that interested me––the Egyptian gods are alive and well and ruling the world, badly––which I turned into the novel The Age of Ra. When that book sold well, my publisher, Solaris, asked for a sequel. I proposed a tangentially-related follow-up instead, featuring the Ancient Greek gods.

Somehow the meshing of military-SF and mythology worked, but to me what’s interesting about the ancient pantheons is that they are dysfunctional families. Family (functional or otherwise) has long been a theme in my novels and this was a new way for me to explore it. From that second Pantheon novel onward (The Age of Zeus) I’ve used the various different mythologies as springboards for adventure stories which transpose stories of old into a modern setting.

The Pantheon books seem to be extremely well researched. Was this a major undertaking? How much background in different cultural mythologies did you already have?

The Age of Ra (cover)I am not a big fan of research––it’s hard work and often quite boring!––but researching for these novels is easy and fun. It’s simply a case of reading books of myths. The only ancient gods I really knew anything about before I started the Pantheon series were the Greek gods. All the others I’d come across in various guises but had no in-depth understanding about. In each case, once I’ve done the background reading, I’ll start thinking of ways to synthesise the gods and their antics into a brand new setting.

Each pantheon has its own particular flavour––the Norse gods, for instance, are full of vigour and combativeness, while the Aztec gods are nebulous and irrational––and that informs the end-product. It’s like creating a dish out of the ingredients available in your refrigerator. You have a vague idea what you’re going to get but you never quite know until it comes out of the oven, and that’s part of the fun.

I am about half way through the series and I’ve notice that the books not only standalone plot wise but are often stylistically completely different from each other as well. Did you ever intend for the series to connect more? Why did you decide instead for this standalone format?

I have a fairly short attention span when it comes to novels. I hate repeating myself and I find it tricky to write proper sequels, keeping all the storylines and characters from the previous instalments consistent. I would much rather approach the same material from a different angle, and the Pantheon books have given me the opportunity to do that. So, while each novel is standalone, it intersects with the others on a thematic level. Essentially the novels are all about the interaction between men and gods, but none of them approaches the ideas in the same way as any of the others. It did once occur to me to have characters from one book cross over into another, but then I lay down in a darkened room for a while and the urge went away.

You have written a lot of very high quality books since 2009. What’s the secret to your prolificacy? Do you have a strict writing regimen?

I write pretty much every weekday, and if I take a day off it’s usually to do something else such as do a book review. I’ve been doing this job for so long now that I don’t have a problem turning out 1,500 to 2,000 words a day, more than that if I’m on a roll. If you think about it, that’s four or five pages, meaning that after eight or nine weeks, working five days a week, I’ve got 200 pages more or less, the length of a novel. I’ve had to build up my stamina to get to that level of productivity, but as I like to say, I couldn’t run a marathon tomorrow but if I trained for it over months and years, I could.

You’ve written a number of Sherlock Holmes stories in recent years. It’s quite an honor to be tasked with carrying on such a huge legacy. How did that come about? Have you always been a Holmes fan?

The Stuff of Nightmares (cover)I read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid, around 10 or 11, and loved them. They were exotic and dangerous and evocative. I never in a million years would have thought I’d be writing them myself one day, but when the opportunity came up, I seized it.

What happened was that Titan Books began publishing new Sherlock Holmes novels by authors I admired, and I was looking for a new challenge and thought I might have a go at one myself. One of the aforementioned authors was George Mann, who was also the editor who commissioned the first Pantheon book from me. I already owed him for that but I put myself further in his debt by asking him for the details of the commissioning editor at Titan who was in charge of their Holmes line. She, Cath Trechman, like the proposals I sent her but asked for proof that I could do the job, so I wrote the first three chapters of The Stuff of Nightmares and she gave me a two-book deal.

My aim with my Holmes stories is to be as faithful to Conan Doyle and the Holmes canon as I can while introducing, here and there, a taste of fantasy and SF that adds spice but doesn’t overpower the original dish. (That’s my second food metaphor in quick succession. I must be hungry!) The trick to Sherlock Holmes is threefold: getting Watson’s authorial voice right; making sure that Holmes himself is one step ahead of everyone and always earns his victories fairly, through deduction and analysis; and keeping the narrative as pacy as possible.

Staying on the Holmes front, one of your most brilliant creations, The Cthulhu Casebooks is a mash up of Sherlock Holmes and the monsters of HP Lovecraft. How did this unlikely pairing come to be?

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (cover)I cannot take full credit. The editor who took over from Cath when she went on maternity leave, Miranda Jewess, suggested that a Holmes/Cthulhu crossover might be a good idea. In fact, she sent me an email wondering if I knew someone who might be able to pull off such a feat, and I, being somewhat dense, assumed that she was asking for recommendations when actually she was inviting me to pitch for the job.

Once that little misunderstanding had been sorted out, I sat down and worked out a way of meshing the pure rationality of Sherlock Holmes with the sheer irrationality of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. The only possible solution, it seemed to me, was to give Holmes a whole parallel career as an investigator into the eldritch world of the Old Ones and Outer Gods. This career would be his “real” vocation and everything Watson had written about him and published officially would be a smokescreen masking the awful truth from an unsuspecting world.

Part of the fun with this trilogy, for me, has been creating supernatural interpretations for the canonical material. For instance, in the second novel in the trilogy, The Miskatonic Monstrosities, I posit that when Watson wrote about a Sign of Four, it was, rather, an even more sinister Elder Sign of Four.

I am quite drawn to the shifting dynamic of your writing which often moves from a standard narrative to more abstract and poetic style of prose. Who would you say has influenced your writing the most?

World of Fire (cover)I started out my career as a huge admirer of King and Bradbury and did my level best to emulate the solid folksiness of the former and the lyrical poeticism of the latter. That probably accounts for the tonal shifts you mention. However, as time has gone by, I’ve incorporated many other authors’ styles into my own. I draw from pretty much everything I read. Nowadays I’m more interested in the mechanics of plotting than the nitty-gritty of prose. I adapt my prose to suit the dictates of the plot of each book, so that, for example, with my Dev Harmer books––pulpy outer-space action thrillers––I deliberately went for a breathless, tumbling prose style like that found in classic pulp fiction.

There’s been quite a British Invasion making its way into mainstream fantasy and science fiction over the last few years, with many of last year’s most exciting and critically lauded books being from UK based writers. What do you think is the reason for the mass appeal of British speculative fiction?

I really am not in a position to comment on that. I don’t feel I have a broad enough knowledge of the genre. All I can say is that readers are always on the lookout for something fresh and different, SF readers more than most, and therefore they’re receptive to authors who can offer new viewpoints, new perspectives.

You seem to be quite active on social media and also to enjoy interacting with your readers. How important do you think social media and this type of interaction is to an author’s success these days?

I try not to be too active on social media. I often see writers who seem to spend hours producing blog posts and rabbiting away on Facebook and Twitter, and I say to myself, “How do you find the time? Wouldn’t you be better off, you know, writing?” I don’t feel I need an online forum for my thoughts and opinions, but I do enjoy interacting with fans on a semi-social basis, just bantering and joking around. Very, very occasionally I’ll say something serious, but on the whole I steer away from the hard topics, particularly politics. That’s a true minefield. I’m sure I could further my career by spending even more time cultivating a social media profile, but I have other things I need to be doing, not just writing but spending time with family and friends.

When you’re not writing, what takes up most of your time?

Reading, movies, watching TV, boardgaming (I’m developing a couple of card games and an app game), exercise (I’m a qualified Pilates instructor, believe it or not), enjoying the company of my sons while they’re still young enough to like their dad, taking our ridiculously tiny Yorkshire terrier for walks… Lots of stuff, really.

Which of your novels would you consider your magnum opus, and why?

Gig (cover)

Hmmm. I guess my second novel Days means a lot to me because it condensed many of my ideas into a single, satisfying whole and confirmed that my first novel wasn’t a flash in the plan. One of the books I’m proudest of is one that virtually no one has read, a back-to-back double novella about a rock band called Gig, which turned out as close to its original conception as it could possibly have been––the purest translation from thought into actuality that I have ever managed.

What can we expect from you in the next couple of years?

I have two more Sherlock Holmes novels lined up: The Devil’s Dust, in which the great detective meets the great white hunter Allan Quatermain, and The Christmas Demon, a dark festive tale. I am shortly to begin work on a new Pantheon novel, Age of Legends.

I’ve just delivered the manuscript of a Firefly novel, which is out in March 2019. Yes! The tragically truncated TV show Firefly is being continued, in novel form at least. Titan Books contacted me in January 2017 to ask if I would be interested in pitching for this project. I jumped at the chance, since Firefly is one of my favourite TV shows ever (and Serenity one of my favourite movies). I made room in my schedule, and now, a year later, the book––titled The Magnificent Nine––has gone for editing. It will be one of three Firefly novels released, with Nancy Holder and Tim Lebbon authoring the others.

For me, the great thing about the show wasn’t so much the cowboys-in-space setting as the characters, and I had a blast writing them myself and trying to capture the tone of their dialogue: the sarcasm, the banter and the language with its mix of high-flown, stylised English and Western-movie drawl. I also included, in appropriately adapted form, just about every cowboy trope I could think of, from town-square shootout to besieged wagon train to bar-room brawl. I can’t wait for my fans, and Browncoats, to read it. Like writing Sherlock Holmes, this is another dream come true.

There are various other things bubbling away on the back burner. I’ve lately been offered some very intriguing and tantalising prospects. Life is getting exciting!

Thanks again to James Lovegrove for taking the time to speak with us today! If you’d like to learn more about his many books and series you can visit his website and follow him on Twitter @JamesLovegrove7.

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