Shaun Hutson is one of the very finest and most creative authors around. He has written over 50 best selling books (some under pseudonyms) touching on many genres but he'l always be associated with horror thanks to books such as Slugs, Relics and Deathday.
Here he chats about his second Hammer tie-in book, X The Unknown.
To try and win a copy of X The Unknown along with Hands Of The Ripper by Guy Adams click here.
HC: Can you recall the first Hammer movie you saw?
SH: I can certainly recall the first Hammer film I ever saw it was a double bill (anyone else remember those?) of The Phantom Of The Opera and Night Creatures. I was about six and my mum took me (no she wasn't a weirdo, I pestered her to see it and she buckled...) and it frightened the sh*t out of me. I had my first ever nightmare that night. So I’ll always have Hammer to thank for that. How could you not love a film company that gave you sleepless nights at such an early age?
HC: What was it about them that grabbed your attention?
SH: I was struck at the time by the imagery (the skeleton riders on skeletal horses in Night Creatures) but as I got older I was so impressed by the acting, the direction, the set design and everything about them to be honest. They were always done so elegantly and with complete sincerity by the cast. I grew up with Hammer films and I think they probably shaped my writing more than I ever realised. First and foremost though they were great entertainment. The fact that they were done on small budgets just makes them more impressive. I certainly think the plethora of horror films these days could learn something from Hammer as they had a style which modern horror films certainly don't have. That gothic feel that Hammer had was unique to them. I know other studios at the time like Amicus and Tigon tried it but no one could come close to Hammer.
HC: Do you have a favourite Hammer film?
SH: It's difficult to pick out one single Hammer film as a favourite. Obviously the first of the Dracula films with Christopher Lee was superb. I love Brides Of Dracula for all the reasons I've given before. Plague Of The Zombies is still tremendous and I recently saw Quatermass And The Pit on a big screen for the first time and was amazed how well the dialogue and plot had held up considering it was released in 1967. It's probably not one of their best but I also love Taste The Blood Of Dracula which has one of the best opening sequences in any Hammer film along with Kiss Of The Vampire. If you push me I'd have to say Brides Of Dracula. I saw it on an old black and white TV one Friday night when I was about ten and it made an indelible impression on me and my underwear! Some great set pieces and brilliant performances from Peter Cushing and David Peel.
HC: How did you approach your book, X The Unknown?
SH: The first thing with X The Unknown was deciding whether or not to leave it where it was originally set which was the 50s. I decided against that and tried to make it more relevant to a modern audience by moving it to modern day. I didn't do this because I thought I was improving on the original, I'd never be that presumptuous, but the fear of nuclear weapons and radiation which was very prevalent in the 50s isn't so strong now so I thought I'd better find a more contemporary menace. Some of the dialogue had to be changed too (to update it) and new characters were added just as they are in any novelisation (well, any that I do!). Other than that I stuck to the structure of the film because it worked fine as it was. The only other major change was shifting the location from Scotland to Buckinghamshire but that was never going to damage the story. With any novelisation I think the main consideration is the source material and you shouldn’t mess around with that if it’s fine to begin with. There was nothing wrong with X The Unknown so I didn't tamper with it!
HC: Why did you change certain elements (without giving too much away)?
SH: The parts I changed were changed for the reasons I've given earlier. Also, despite the fact that it's first and foremost a novelisation I suppose pure ego made me want to try and put my own stamp on it in some way shape or form. While always staying within the structure of the original I tried to put in what have, over the years, become the trademarks of my own writing. Some of my regular readers will probably be surprised that it isn't as violent as some of my own novels but I didn't feel the need to go over the top with the violence (which some will be mumbling makes a change...). Don’t get me wrong it's still pleasingly revolting in places (I hope) but it doesn't have the charnel house touch that some of my own books have because it wasn't necessary.
HC: Did you work through many drafts of the book?
SH: I've only ever done one draft of any novel. If there are things wrong and an editor points them out then I'll change those at a later date but I'm not the kind of writer who does one draft then goes through it all again picking bits out here and there. I work fast and hopefully this is reflected in the finished book and I certainly don't go over stuff time and again because it breaks my flow (sorry to sound pretentious there!). I do and always have done, one draft which is then changed accordingly (never major surgery unless I've really screwed things up) and that's it. Once one book is finished I hate going back to it. I never read anything I've written once it's past the proof stage. If I did I’d always find fault, find things I could have said differently or better and you have to let the bloody thing go eventually so why dwell on it? If I can't get it right the first time around then that's tough, that's one of the reasons I used to use such detailed notes and outlines. Once I started writing I knew everything that was going to happen and to whom and at what time so there was no need to deviate from that original story.
HC: How different is it writing a tie-in to an original piece? Which is harder?
SH: It's much harder writing an original story than it is a novelisation in my humble opinion. After all, with the novelisation all the characters, the plot and the story are there in front of you, you just have to make sure you bring it to life in a way that honours the original. I hate authors who try to be too clever with novelisations. Just follow the plot because fans of the film will have certain expectations and no one's got any right to mess around with those expectations. If I was asked to do the novelisation of Titanic I wouldn't feel the need to set it on a bloody spaceship! People who have seen X The Unknown will have certain ideas about what it should be like. People who like Hammer films will have ideas on how the book should be to reflect Hammer's very distinctive style. However, newcomers to the story will find that there is plenty there to surprise them too. It’s a fine line to tread but I hope I’ve done it without overbalancing too often.
HC: Would you consider writing a film script for the new Hammer?
SH: Would I consider writing a film script for the new Hammer? Where do I sign? I would love to do that. Considering how much their films meant to me when I was growing up I don't think it would be too much to say that to script a film for Hammer would be about as good as it got for me.
HC: What classic Hammer movie would you like to novelise next?
SH: To be honest, I'd love to have a crack at Frankenstein Created Woman. There is so much material there, especially in the character of Christina. I watched it again (on the Horror Channel strangely enough!) the other day and even then I was thinking how I'd do it. Plague Of The Zombies or Kiss Of The Vampire would be good to do as well. I think one of the first things I look for with a novelisation is how I can expand it and those all offer scope for that. I suppose the most logical one for me however would be Brides Of Dracula as it's my favourite Hammer film. Now that really would be fun.
HC: So what other projects are you working on?
SH: Next I'm doing the novelisation of The Revenge Of Frankenstein, in my opinion the best of the Hammer Frankenstein series. As with Twins Of Evil and X The Unknown I'll stick to the original structure of the films and it's then just a matter of finding some different angles and expanding the existing material here and there.
HC: Shaun Hutson, thank you very much.
SH: No problem.
To try and win a copy of X The Unknown and Hands Of The Ripper click here.