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Interview with Kim Newman, with an introduction by Wendy Zazo-Philips

I’m not sure if there has ever been a more prolific writer than Kim Newman. He is an English writer, journalist, and film critic whose works have spanned over four decades and have earned him many accolades, including the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award. In horror fiction, perhaps his best-known novel is Anno Dracula, which was followed by Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron, and Dracula Cha Cha Cha. Anno Dracula and The Bloody Red Baron have recently been republished by Titan Books. One of his latest works is Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles , which is a collection of short stories based on the characters of Professor James Moriarty and Colonel Sebastian ‘Basher’ Moran.

Wendy: When you adopt a well-known character like Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, you must satisfy two groups of readers: the fans (or potential fans) of your work as well as the fans of the character himself. Can you tell us more about how these two groups will be satisfied with your new collection Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles?

Kim: It’s a little presumptuous to assume these groups will be satisfied with the book, but I hope they are. I tend not to think too hard about how readers will respond to the work while I’m writing it – sometimes in revisions, I’ll change or delete things that strike me as too obvious or too obscure or generally in the way. I did know with this book that there would be a significant percentage of readers who are very familiar with the Conan Doyle stories, and so I salted through a lot of things that they might pick up – though I assume the general reader gets many of the Holmes jokes too. I did want to give my particular spin to the characters – and, like the Holmes stories as a whole, it’s a book about two characters rather than one – but it still derives from Doyle. I decided early on that I wouldn’t contradict anything Doyle writes in order to make things easier for me, though I do point out where he contradicted himself. I know there are people who follow my work, but I also know that I’m unlikely ever to attract the level of minute analysis that the Holmes stories have had over the years. I hope Thomas Hardy’s fans won’t be too upset by The Hound of the D’Urbervilles either.

Wendy: In the short story “The Adventure of the Six Maledictions” in Gaslight Arcanum: The Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes, one of the pivotal plot points is a recounting (with commentation by Moran) of “The Ballad of Mad Carew,” which was an actual poem written in 1911 by J. Milton Hayes. Was the poem the genesis of the story, or was it (and the Mad Carew character) added later?

Kim: Yes, I started with the poem – though it was a way to get into the recurrent 19th century motif of the cursed jewel or object. The initial idea was that the component stories of Professor Moriarty would all arise from a collision of Doyle’s world with that of another writer – Zane Grey, Anthony Hope, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, etc. – and Hayes certainly isn’t as famous or well-remembered as they are. The poem is obviously influenced by Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, which is the best of the cursed jewel of Empire stories (Doyle’s “The Sign of the Four” is another key entry in the cycle), but that takes place a bit before the 1880s/90s time period of Professor Moriarty. I also wanted to make something of the character of Carew.

Wendy: You mentioned in a previous interview that there are people that will claim not to enjoy reading or watching horror stories, but yet almost everyone has read or seen (i.e.) A Christmas Carol and/or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. What is it about horror stories that draw people to them, and why do you think people are generally skittish about admitting to liking them?

Kim: Horror is one of those forms that thrives on being disreputable, and probably needs to be in order to do its job – which ranges from just being harmlessly spooky to addressing the deepest, darkest material there is.

Wendy: There has been a deluge of young adult vampire novels in recent years, to the point that we had to launch a sister site, Reading Bites, for those reviews. Can there be such a thing as oversaturation of the vampire genre?

Kim: As someone interested in vampire fiction, I think there is now such a proliferation of material that I find it impossible to keep up with. In the reissue of The Bloody Red Baron, there’s a new novella (“Vampire Romance”) which was written partly to address developments in vampire fiction since I last worked on the Anno Dracula series.

Wendy: You’ve mentioned a couple of times before and in your biography that you used to work in cabaret, but (at least where I’ve read) you never discussed it in detail. Did working in musical theater affect your writing process?

Kim: In the early 1980s, I wrote plays and musicals and performed with a group called Club Whoopee. Based in Somerset, we appeared at Arts Centres, pubs, a few parties, etc., under the aegis of an organization called Sheep Worrying, which published a fanzine, put on stage shows, prompted local bands, issued a few tapes and records and did other vaguely countercultural (the buzzword of the time was “alternative”) things. One of the groups we toured with evolved into P.J. Harvey’s band. We weren’t very successful or, frankly, very good, though we did generate some good material. Some of my later fiction grew out of things I wrote for the stage, and I’d like to work in that medium again sometime (I’ve enjoyed writing plays for radio in the last few years). I certainly grew as a writer while doing this stuff, and a couple of odd things stay with me – in the musicals I wrote, I was working with a large group of people with a range of ages, talents and commitments but I learned to make sure that everyone in every show had some bit of business (a funny line, a character trait) that let them show off a bit. I did this because I noticed other people didn’t, and that small-part actors (who still had to show up all the time) got fed up with just standing about feeding nothing lines to the few “stars” in a show. Now I try to make sure every little character I write has something going for them, even if it’s very small. I enjoyed the technical stuff: writing to cover scene changes or contriving the action so it all takes place in a single space, directing the audience’s attention to one part of the stage to set up a surprise somewhere else, etc. One of the things that made it fun also led in the end to me moving on – you have to rely so much on other people, whereas writing prose it’s just your fault.

Wendy: I read with delight about the “Peace and Love Corporation,” which was a company of writers that included you, Eugene Byrne, Stefan Jaworzyn, Neil Gaiman, and Phil Nutman. What was that like?

Kim: Being in a small room throwing jokes at each other, with someone designated to take notes and write up the articles. We mostly wrote humorous pieces, firstly for men’s magazines and then for a short-lived comedy magazine called The Truth, though Neil, Eugene and I fiddled with some fiction projects that didn’t get finished, and Neil, Stefan, Phil and I worked up film outlines that didn’t get bought (I turned some into novels – Bad Dreams and Orgy of the Blood Parasites). The last real P&L project was Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock Rock – a parody of rock musicals (music by Brian Smedley) that Eugene and I wrote, with a few scenes and songs involving Neil.

Wendy: More and more, we are receiving requests to review independent and self-published works. How do you see these changes in the industry, and what do you think the future holds for authors?

Kim: I still think it’s difficult to reach an audience without a conventional publisher – they have publicists, etc. – and I personally value the process of editing that tends to get skipped in self-publishing. I think the future will be difficult, but it’s never been easy for most authors. George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891) is still horribly pertinent about how hard it is to earn a living as a writer.

Wendy: Was going to the library a part of your childhood? Do you still go?

Kim: Yes. I spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid, a teenager and in my twenties – I even went through a staying-out-of-the-cold-and-reading-a-novel-off-the-shelves-in-an-afternoon phase when I was really poverty-stricken. I’m afraid I don’t go these days – I have more books here than I can possibly read, and even when not using the internet to research I tend to track down and buy reference books for particular projects. I passionately believe in the importance of libraries and think that there’s no real replacement for them.

Wendy: If you could suggest one or two books for librarians to purchase to introduce their patrons to Kim Newman, which ones would you suggest?

Kim: My novel Anno Dracula and my non-fiction book Nightmare Movies, both recently reissued in expanded editions.

Wendy: The purpose of our website is to help librarians make well-informed decisions about which horror-genre books to purchase for their collections. What books written by other authors do you feel are “must have” titles for libraries?

Kim: I’d cite two other books with my name on the spine – Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books, edited with Stephen Jones, which each contain a hundred essays by horror authors on their favourite horror titles and an extensive list of further reading suggestions by me and Steve.

Wendy: What projects are you working on now?

Kim: I’m doing a new Anno Dracula novel (the long-delayed Johnny Alucard) and pondering some other long-in-the-works projects, a novel called An English Ghost Story and a 1920s schoolgirl adventure called Kentish Glory. Just now, I’m writing a new novella (set in swinging London) to go in the reissue of Dracula Cha Cha Cha.

Wendy: Is there anything else you’d like librarians and readers to know?

Kim: Just that I appreciate them very much.

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