Johnny Temple Interviews Steven Savile, coauthor of H.N.I.C.
Steven Savile is the coauthor—with Prodigy of Mobb Deep—of H.N.I.C., the debut title in the Infamous Books imprint. Johnny Temple asks Steven about his music tastes, his writing habits, and what three films are scarier than The Exorcist.
Don’t forget about the H.N.I.C. limited edition, signed preorder package, available here!
Johnny Temple: When did you first hear Mobb Deep?
Steven Savile: Probably mid-90s, certainly right around the time of The Infamous‘s release, so that’d be 95ish. It was an interesting time in music: the Seattle sound and plaid were wearing out their welcome, Cobain had killed himself pretty recently, and some absolutely stunning albums were being released: Radiohead’s The Bends, Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, The Smashing Pumpkins’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Pulp’s Different Class, Alanis Morissette’s very bitter Jagged Little Pill, Bjork’s Post, PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love, Blur’s The Great Escape, Foo Fighters, Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, The Flaming Lips, Garbage, Leftfield, No Doubt, Supergrass, Paul Weller’s Stanley Road, Alice in Chains, The Verve, Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth, The Presidents of the United States of America, Blind Melon, Elastica . . . Ben Folds Five released their eponymous album to a review calling it the best thing to come out of America since Star Wars . . . bloody hell, when you think about it, that was the year Pink Floyd put out their last original album, Pulse . . . There was a lot of really good stuff coming out in a rush, and The Infamous was right up at the top with the best of them. Different, for sure, breaking new ground. That made it an exciting time to grow up listening to music.
JT: Does the Prodigy you know as a coauthor match up with the Prodigy you imagined through his music?
SS: Ah, Prodigy the artist vs P. the man? You’re always worried with celeb culture—or at least I am—that the person’s going to be really difficult, unpleasant, arrogant, or any variant of, especially if you’ve got an attachment to them through their music. I remember chatting with James Grant, a friend of mine who is the lead singer of Scottish band Love and Money, who were fairly big in the 80s when that whole scene was happening. I cracked a joke about how, like it or not, he’d been there through most of my life, including the bad sex . . . It’s kinda like that: These guys provide the soundtrack to our lives, so you worry. You don’t want them to be arseholes, basically. P.’s great. Very approachable, friendly, talented, passionate.
JT: What role, if any, does music play in your writing process?
SS: You might have noticed from questions one and two, I’m eclectic in taste. I’m also a peripatetic writer, coffee shop’s mains, so I stick on my Bowers & Wilkins P9 headphones (an audiophile indulgence worth every stupid amount of money paid for them and their soft, buttery, calf-leather ear cups . . . okay, this is developing into headphone porn), crank up my 64 GBs worth of Walkman tracks (yep, Sony still makes Walkman stuff), and have it on ‘random’ while I work. The music allows me to zone out the rest of the world, tunneling my focus down to just the screen. I work maybe 8–10 hours a day, so that’s a lot of music. I couldn’t imagine a world without it. Hell, I even love cycling through the town down to the cafe, through the park, over the white bridges that leapfrog over the lake, listening to my soundtrack of the city. It gives you a wonderfully different appreciation for things. I used to worry that I was shutting real life out, but far from it: I’m giving life an awesome soundtrack, just like in my own personal movie.
JT: Can you name the last three songs/albums/artists you have listened to?
SS: Last 3?
Hmm, it was “Happy Ever After,” Julia Fordham—a friend was talking about her on Facebook and I’d not listened to that particular track for probably a decade. Julia was one of my first teen crushes when she appeared on Saturday morning TV in the UK to promote that song. All I can say is, teen me had excellent taste in music.
Track 2: “The Garden,” by Rush, the final track on their most recent Clockwork Angels concept album—it might well be the finest song they’ve done.
Track 3: Marillion, “Beyond You.” I’ve got a thing for Steve Hogarth’s voice.
JT: What novels served as early inspirations for you as an author?
SS: Actually, starting out, I always wanted to be a comedy writer. My first stories were things like “Old Yawn and the Wizard’s Banana,” which was a crime noir fantasy in which a wizard had been kidnapped by demon mafia and forced to cast a perpetual rain spell on the city . . . At the time, I was reading a lot of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and erm, David Eddings and Michael Moorcock, with a soft spot for Tom Sharpe. So it probably wasn’t a surprise I started out by mixing them all together. I remember one of my first stories was called “The Ohmygodnotagainriad,” which pretty much summed up the entire fantasy quest thing . . . I got lucky, though—I met some good writers, like Stephen Laws and Chaz Brenchley, who gave very good advice and helped me keep my feet on the ground for the long haul. When I think about the fact I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years now, I know a lot of that staying power has been due to guys like that helping me out along the way and just generally being friends.
JT: What books served as inspiration for your part in the writing of H.N.I.C.?
SS: That’s a harder question. I know I set out intending to do a sting-in-the-tail kind of thing, so we’re looking at stuff like Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and maybe fusing them with the modern sensibilities of something like Hustle . . . but most of those are TV shows . . . so . . . hmm . . .
JT: Name 3 films scarier than The Exorcist.
SS: I’m not a huge fan of horror movies these days, so I’m going to dip back into the past a bit and pick out three I loved at the time. I have no idea if they stand the test of time or if the sets look a little wobbly and the acting hokey, but:
1. The Hitcher—Rutger Hauer, one relentless bastard proving no good deed should go unpunished. I remember this as being one intense movie at the time.
2. Alien—the original, the one which proves less is more . . . you barely see snatches of the creature, but it’s always there, lurking, stalking . . . and so much more frightening for it than any in-your-face gorefest.
3. The Shining—Kubrick’s best, I think . . . and in honour of Doctor Sleep coming very soon. There’s something powerful about the enemy within, the human monster. As with The Hitcher, it’s non-supernatural. I’d almost be inclined to switch Alien out and go for a trio of human monsters like Jacob’s Ladder, maybe, or The Silence of the Lambs. I like my horror possible.
JT: Have you read 50 Shades of Grey?
SS: I read a page—well, a few lines of a page—before I had any idea what it was all about.
JT: Harry Potter?
SS: Yep, I read them all the week the new ones were released—day of release, sometimes, to avoid risk of spoilers towards the end of the series. Loved Potter. There was an unexpected side effect of Harry, too. Long before they were huge—so we’re talking 2002, I guess—I was working as a teacher in Sweden and going through a divorce. I could never be bothered to cook, so I would go and visit a bar in town which had excellent food; one of my best friends was the barman, so I’d get good conversation, too. Normally I’d take a book, read a bit, watch the sport on the big screen. Well, my co-teacher had suggested we do Harry Potter with the kids, so I figured I’d better read it. I remember going in with book 3 and sitting down, and within five minutes, this gorgeous woman comes over to talk to me. Now, remember, I’d been going to the bar regularly, always ignored. First thing out of her mouth? “Good book? I’ve been thinking of reading it to my daughter . . . ” And so it goes, over the course of the night, maybe seven or eight single mums come up to talk, Harry breaking the ice. Next day, I was reading something else, ignored . . . day after, Harry . . . and again, several very attractive women of a certain age sidled up next to me to chat. Harry Potter was, amazingly, a hit with a certain female demographic—early 30s, single mum, looking for a guy who would be a good surrogate dad kind of thing. The Harry Potter effect.
JT: As I understand it, you have a master’s degree in the philosophy of comparative religions. Does this course of study play into many of your novels? Can you give an example or two?
SS: Yep, I have a BA (Hons) in political science and an MPhil in Comparative Religions, which actually was probably less religious than you’d expect: it all revolved around the Satanic Verses affair, Rushdie and the wrath of Islam, etc. But the obvious impact on my writing nowadays would be in the thrillers—Silver, WarGod, Lucifer’s Machine and Solomon’s Seal. They are all overtly political/religious in nature, and look at, for instance, the implications of the discovery of the first extant Seal of Solomon in Israel and the ramifications for Palestine. Lucifer’s Machine is about a Baphomet machine, which links in to the linguistics of Baphomet as a prophet, or the Prophet, and the idea that the Knights Templar were accused of worshipping the head of Baphomet at one point (or the head of the Prophet) . . . so it’s quite contentious, meant to make you think, and actually prove that neither relic needs to be authentic to have the desired results.
JT: Given how prolific you have been as a writer, I assume you work on different projects simultaneously. If this assumption is correct, how do you slip between characters and story lines without losing the threads? Is it something that comes naturally to you, or do you have techniques for this?
SS: I’m a full-time writer; I try to write every day of the year, but will inevitably have around three to four weeks of downtime in a twelve-month period, including the odd weekend. I write maybe 400-500 words an hour, put in 8 hour days like a normal working day, so by rights, mathematically, I should produce 4,000 words a day, 330 days a year, which is a staggering output. I don’t do that. That would work out to be something close to ten books in a twelve-month period. But I do manage 1500 words a day, every day, and that adds up comfortably to half a million words a year. An average paperback is, say, 90,000 words, so in terms of output, that’s five novels in a twelve-month span. Or it would be, if I didn’t spend time editing, rewriting, etc. I reckon I comfortably do three novels in twelve months, though. That’s very prolific. Very focused. One thing that makes it look more like example one is publishers’ schedules. I mean, I’ve got H.N.I.C. right now, just released Lucifer’s Machine a few weeks back, Penguin is putting four Top Trumps books out, and there’s a new unmentionable novel (embargoed right now) which was due in August but I suspect is going to be late . . . these are all ‘old’ books for me, in that I’ve probably finished my part on them at least twelve months ago—longer, in some cases—and they’re all coming out in a rush to meet schedules and making it look like I’m chained to the desk all day every day.
But to answer your direct question, yeah, I tend to write more than one project at once, but not more than two. I make sure they’ve very different genres, so it’s obvious when I’m doing x or y. And I’ll set aside part of my brain for perhaps editing a third book, which again is looking at the flow of sentences, word choice, etc., and not actual writing.
JT: What was the first work of fiction that changed your life?
SS: I think, probably, Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. That was the book that had me sit there thinking, Damn, this is what I want to do. I’d been thinking about writing, dabbling a bit . . . but never something so vast, so powerful.
JT: What is the most recent work of fiction you’ve read that has blown your mind?
SS: Right now I’m reading the Bright Empires books by Stephen Lawhead, another writer I’ve long admired. We’ve got a plotline that involves a multiverse of here and nows and thens that are and might not have been, and playing out across this vast canvas is a quantum physics–driven mystery in which we see one main character die, only to carry on impacting the plot because that’s only part of his timeline, etc. Mind-bending fun.
Posted: Jul 16, 2013
Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art
- The Failure
- South of the Pumphouse
- Infinity Blues
- Seriously, You Have to Eat
- Go Fish
- Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene
- The Lost Treasures of R&B: A D Hunter Mystery
- Drawing Autism
- Dance of Days: Updated Edition
- Hello Sunshine
- The Half That’s Never Been Told: The Real-Life Reggae Adventures of Doctor Dread