INTERVIEW: Chatting About Writing with BFA Shortlisted Author Adam Nevill
Posted by phlambler on June 5, 2012
Recently we announced the shortlist for the British Fantasy Awards 2012 which included horror author Adam Nevill. Nevill was born in Birmingham, England in 1969 and still lives there. He is the author of the supernatural horror novels Banquet for the Damned, Apartment 16, The Ritual, and Last Days.
Geek Syndicate was fortunate enough to secure an exclusive interview with Adam, sending Scrolls co-host and Geek Syndicate reporter, Phil Ambler off to ask the questions. Read on for the full interview and to find out details from Adam’s next novel:
GS: Adam, thanks for sparing us the time for an interview. We know you’re incredibly busy, what with your recent nomination for the British Fantasy Awards 2012 and the launch of your latest book Last Days, so we appreciate the chance to hear from you.
AN: My pleasure, Phil. Thank you for having me.
GS: So Adam, you’ve been an author for a while now having been published as both an erotica and horror writer. For those that don’t know you, how would you describe your approach to/style of writing?
AN: Old school, in terms of the actual writing. I read a huge amount for years before I began writing seriously in my mid-twenties, and went to university twice for the sole reason of studying fiction in order to become a writer. Writing is as much about reading, and about thinking through your ideas, as it is about actually physically writing. In fact, I sublimated just about everything after leaving school to the whole idea of writing.
Looking back now, being that driven seems a bit mad. And my God, did I make life difficult for myself at times, particularly when working security night and day in order to get the time and headspace to write, effectively full time. I also wrote full time one year in the nineties and survived on the three thousand pounds that I’d saved the year before.
But I’ve always had a purpose to each and every day, even if I was very poor and under-employed in a conventional sense, and that is priceless. I’ve only met one or two other writers who went through the same process. Bizarrely we all shared the same love of the same books about becoming writers, and it took us all forever to get published. Maybe it was self-fulfilling and we should have played the markets, but I don’t think so. A long apprenticeship is what I recommend.
As regards horror fiction, I endeavour to transport the reader, to write well without over-writing, and to not write silly books. Whether I achieve this or not, I rewrite my novels endlessly until I can’t find anything else to change. Apartment 16 had seventeen drafts. I don’t consider my books to be pulp fiction at all, but I want to be a good storyteller with the potential of reaching a wide readership. I guess, above all else, I want my horror fiction to matter.
GS: Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing; either authors you’ve read or people you’ve met in your life (or both!)?
AN: There are literally too many authors to mention, and I’m influenced by all kinds of writers all of the time. M R James, Machen, Blackwood, De la Mare, Lovecraft, Blatty, King, Ellroy made me write horror. Through James Joyce and Colin Wilson’s books, more than those of any other writers, enabled me to identify that if I didn’t become a writer I would be profoundly unhappy. I probably already knew this, but needed the fact articulated by greater minds than my own.
Getting on for twenty years ago, my good friend Hugh, helped persuade me to change direction in the life I had and to enter a new one that would enable me to dedicate myself to writing.
My tutors on the Masters in Creative Writing I took in the 90s, really improved my actual writing and assisted me in removing the enthusiastic incoherence my work suffered from.
Ramsey Campbell and Peter Crowther brought me into print as a horror writer, and my agent John Jarrold secured an opportunity for me to write at the next level with the editor Julie Crisp at Pan Mac. They each played a huge role in getting me here.
So, it was a combination of key mentors, tutors, literary influences, supportive friends, other writers, books I had read, over decades that contributed to me becoming a writer. Many many variables. I distrust single, pithy, decisive mantras and pearls of advice about becoming a writer. It’s never simple. Nothing is simple about writing. You can make so much happen through self-discipline and hard work, but you still need other people and situations at key moments to bring you to readers.
GS: What was the first story you had published and what was it about?
AN: Mothers Milk, in Gathering the Bones. It is a surreal anthropomorphic tale of a lodger’s entrapment by domesticity and the manipulative family he boarded with.
GS: What did you spend the royalty cheque on!
AN: I saved it.
GS: We read The Ritual here at Geek Syndicate and have to say that we loved it. Such a great piece of writing which dripped darkness throughout. We read on your website that it was inspired in part by a hiking trip with a friend years ago. Without incriminating yourself, are all your stories based on some degree of personal experience?
AN: Thanks, Phil. My books always receive wildly mixed reactions, that nothing could have prepared me for – yours was a good one. In terms of biographical material, I always liked what Martin Amis said, that his books come from him but aren’t necessarily about him. I’d say my own experience is made strange in my imagination and then comes out in my writing.
GS: The Ritual almost feels like two stories in one with a natural split in the middle. Avoiding spoilers, did you always intend for it to go that way or did it evolve as you wrote it?
AN: By the time I reached the end of the first outdoors section, I had imagined what would happen in the second section to support the ideas I still wanted to write about in the novel. And although I had outlines and copious notes, what I ended up with was never prescribed. It’s one of the wonderful and worrying things about writing a novel. You don’t end with what you intended to write, you end with what you have actually written. Or needed to write.
I’m really pleased readers enjoyed the tension and atmosphere and suspense and enigma of the first half, but had I continued with that part of the story any longer in that environment, most of those qualities would have been lost. The first section of the book could not take another page. There are even scenes I cut out of the first half because it was too long and seeping tension away.
What I still wanted to say about defenselessness before sociopathic intent, as well as exploring other matters, needed the second half in that dreadful house. On every level I’m really pleased with the novel and finished it feeling the book was complete. That’s rare. What I am trying to achieve in a book isn’t ever going to be what every reader wants or expects. Reactions to the second half have proven that. But I think it’s the most imaginative and interesting part of the novel – it certainly was to write.
I guess at the risk of oversimplifying my intentions, the novel is about men of my generation. The first half is concerned with who we are now and how removed we are from history. The second half is about how we would cope when thrust back into history against our will. Because by various means, history is constantly trying to overwhelm us with variations of all the same mistakes and ghastly things we look back upon with a somewhat contemptuous perspective now. A hindsight maintained by very fragile means that could be swept away in a heartbeat.
GS: We were delighted to hear that The Ritual has been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards. When did you find out about that and how did you react when you found out, especially when you saw some of the heavyweights you’re up against?
AN: A Facebook post alerted me to the shortlist. And I was flattered and delighted to have my book voted that far by peers. I’m also pleased The Ritual is under consideration by the first juried panel. No award system is perfect, but that one now feels fairer and more valid, at least as regards the shortlists.
GS: So, your horror novels Banquet for the Damned, Apartment16 and The Ritual have been very well received so it is with some excitement that we heard that your latest book Last Days is now out. Can you give our readers a sense of what Last Days is about and how it came into being?
AN: Thanks for the anticipation. As a story, Last Days is about two guerrilla film makers who make a documentary about the enduring paranormal rumours about a hippy death cult that destroyed itself in 1975. Their investigation takes them through four countries and deep into occult history. But it’s very much a novel of our times – Last Days is a story about the rise of the sociopathic intelligence, its pathological self-interest disguised as religious fundamentalism and leadership and “the talent”. It’s about a portion of humanity’s tireless search for perfect victims. And it’s need to control, undermine, dominate those it comes into contact with, while destroying any opposition to its vulpine greed and monomania.
GS: Now that Last Days is out, are you sitting back and relaxing or are you beavering away on your next project?
AN: Bizarrely, as each novel is published I enter the last two months of writing the next one. And that is the hardest, but most satisfying and consuming period of time for me on a novel. Right now I have a new book published in May, and I deliver the next book the following month. So I have no time to kick-back. While waiting for my editor’s response on the delivered book, that usually comes in early August, I take July to write short stories I have promised to collections, develop new outlines for novels, and begin research for the book that will follow the one I will have just delivered. Not to mention publicity requirements for the book that has just been published. So it is a seven-day operation right now, and in this particular period there are always three books jostling for attention at the same time. But as it has taken me so long to get here, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
GS: To change tack, this is probably the typical horror writer’s question, but what scares the bejesus out of you?
AN: A great many things. I could go on all day about my fears. But am also genuinely afraid of disclosing them in case someone wanted to use them against me. I’m a haunted and paranoid creature. In my novels I explore a lot of my own fears, but the force I try and underwrite every story with, is probably the brief, half-understanding that one is close to something so vast and indifferent to us, a full revelation of it would be unbearable. I stood on a mountain top in Snowdonia last week and looked up at the moon, with 890 metres of thin air below me, and within the wonder and awe I felt, was a terror of being an insignificant speck on a planet, that itself was a speck within infinity. It reduced me to a child again for a few moments. If I can capture some of that in a book and transmit it to a reader, I’m doing well.
GS: Who are you reading at the moment that you would recommend our readers pick up (other than your own work of course!)?
AN: I’m on a real Patricia Highsmith kick. She was a master of claustrophobic tension and apprehension, of perceived and actual victimisation. Read Strangers on a Train to see what I mean. I’ve also not long finished The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock, which is just sublime.
GS: Finally, is there an exclusive, never heard before piece of Adam Nevill related news or gossip that you can give us?
AN: There is another film option imminent on another of my horror novels. My next novel is in its fourth draft, and is called … House of Small Shadows. I have also developed a way of resolving seemingly irresolvable problems in plot. But am keeping it to myself.
GS: Adam, it’s been great hearing from you and we wish you luck with the nomination and sales of your new book. You’re one of our writers to watch out for with some fantastic pieces of work behind you already. Looking forward to reading Last Days.
AN: Thank you for the kind words, Phil, and for nailing me to the virtual walls of the Geek Syndicate!
Last Days is out now and will be available from all good bookshops and online. We will be posting a full review here on Geek Syndicate in the next few weeks. In the meantime you can find out more about Adam at http://www.adamlgnevill.com/.
Reporter: Phil Ambler