LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview with acclaimed author Shaun Hutson
By James Whittington, Friday 20th December 2019
The British horror legend Shaun Hutson is back with Testament, a new novel featuring one of his fans most loved characters, Sean Doyle so we decided to catch up with this talented chap about his acclaimed work.
HC: Was there one author who inspired you to become a writer?
SH: My inspirations were always and still are cinematic if I'm honest. Even when I first started writing my influences and inspirations came from things like Hammer films, from TV series like The Avengers (with Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee) and from old Universal horror films. I read the Pan Books of Horror Stories when I was a kid and I think they were probably the first "literary" influences I ever had. I also read lots of horror when I was a teenager and starting out so some of the influences might have been subconscious but film was always the thing that inspired me. Hammer had such a distinctive style and I was lucky enough to see lots of their early films as I was growing up. My stuff still has a "Gothic" feel to it which was undoubtedly picked up from Hammer films. If I had to cite one single book or author that had an effect on me though I'd say William Peter Blatty and The Exorcist. I read it when I was about 15 and it scared the sh*t out of me. As did the film. The sequel, Legion (also a brilliant film) was also superb and Blatty's trick of letting you into characters internal dialogue was a huge influence on me.
HC: Can you recall how you felt when you saw your first book on shop shelves?
SH: To be honest, I can't remember how I felt when I first saw Slugs on a bookshelf. I was lucky and it was incredibly successful. I can remember going into shock when I got the first royalty statement because I'd never seen that much money before! The book that seemed to strike me most when I first saw it on the shelves was Spawn which was published a year after Slugs in 1983. It seemed a bit unreal, it had my name on but it was like looking at something written by someone else!! I remember seeing someone in my local W.H. Smith pick Spawn up and I (stupidly) went over to him and said "If you buy that I'll sign it for you." He looked at me, told me to f**k off and walked away!! I never did that again.
HC: A few years ago, you were one of the writers chosen to bring some classic Hammer film to book form, that must have been a dream come true.
SH: It was a dream come true. I'd grown up with Hammer films so to get the chance to work with them was incredible for me. As far as I was aware, their original plan was to novelize every film they'd ever made from 1956 onwards so the possibility of being able to work on Hammer greats like Brides of Dracula, Plague of the Zombies etc. was a thrill. As it turned out, that didn't materialise but I ended up doing Twins of Evil and two of my favourite Hammer films, X the Unknown and Revenge of Frankenstein. My own style was always influenced by Hammer films so it seemed to be a meeting made in heaven. I worked from the scripts and DVD's of the films but it was great to be able to insert scenes and, in the case of X the Unknown, to try and update the story a bit. But I didn't change anything too much. After all, you don't mess with the best. I must admit, I'd love to have had a go at Frankenstein Created Woman and The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll...one day maybe...
HC: Let's come bang up to date and your latest book, Testament brings back fan favourite Sean Doyle in a sequel to Renegades, why was the time right to go back to him?
SH: Doyle had reappeared in White Ghost, Knife Edge and Hybrid but Testament is the first "direct" sequel to Renegades. It needed the large gap in years to make the story work. It might have been that it took that long before I was ready to write it. He's very close to me so the changes he's undergone are similar to the ones I've experienced I suppose. I love writing Doyle because he is so much like me. Writers can't avoid that I think. The central character is always similar to the writer whether you want it to be or not. I just thought that there were unfinished things from Renegades that needed finishing so the story evolved pretty quick to be honest.
HC: How long did it take from first draft to final copy?
SH: I think it took about six months in total. That was writing fairly intensively and then going back to add or remove stuff. The fact that I don't plan things as intricately as I used to adds time. I don't write as fast as I used to. Slugs was written in about a month when I first started. I don't think I ever spent more than four months on a book when I was younger (and I know some would say it shows but they can f**k off ha, ha.). The pace that I use to write hopefully transmits itself to the printed page.
HC: How much do your books change during the writing process?
SH: I used to plan everything out from beginning to end but I don't tend to do that anymore. I have an idea and I just sit down and write. It all evolves in its own time. Then I go back and re-write stuff and slot in bits and pieces here and there. It's like assembling a jigsaw (and the pieces don't always fit!). I write out of sequence too. A scene I feel like writing one day might not come until half way through the book but I'll do it nonetheless and then hope I can use it later. It's more like making a film I suppose. Not everything is shot in sequence. My next book, Progeny, is a good example of that. I was going backwards and forwards all the time adding bits and writing new chapters to slot in (trying to make it make sense!!). But I find that easier to do these days. Obviously I have an idea of where the story is going but I don't always know every scene until I write it.
HC: Doyle has a new, younger operative beside him, did it take long to get that character correct?
SH: The character of Gideon Vale was supposed to embody everything Doyle didn't like. Also, I knew that I couldn't just have Doyle moaning about the modern world, technology, how times had changed etc. without having something to balance that up. Vale is the more sensible side of the book I suppose. What I was also very conscious of doing was a "buddy movie" type thing but where the characters who started off hating each other didn't end up being friends (which always happens in films). Every time Doyle said something I had to think of Vale's point of view to come back at him with. I wanted Vale to be his equal (in sarcasm etc.). There's a sort of mutual, grudging respect between them but that's about it.
HC: Do you ever censor yourself and what are your views on censorship?
SH: It's very hard for me to censor myself as anyone who's read my books will tell you. If something works within the context of the book then I'll write it, no matter how revolting or terrifying. I've been censored over the years but usually by editors or, in the case of Chainsaw Terror, by others. I did Chainsaw Terror under the pseudonym of Nick Blake back in the 80's and it ended up having about 20 pages cut out and then it was still banned by a well known retail chain! It was re-issued as Come the Night and did okay but once a book has been banned you've pretty much had it ha, ha. Another well known bookshop chain banned Deadhead because of its storyline concerning child snuff films but the ban wasn't complete and Deadhead still sold well. It's being re-published by Caffeine Nights next year. I appreciate there are some things that probably NEED censoring but it's hard for a writer to censor himself (well, it is for me anyway). There were a couple of scenes in Testament that I knew I just shouldn't write so I didn't! But, all through my career I've had stuff cut or editors wanting bits removed (Spawn, Erebus, Shadows, Compulsion and Breeding Ground all had scenes cut). An editor on Necessary Evil wanted all the swear words removed!! That didn't happen. Sometimes you need a second eye going over your work (well, I do) because you're too close to it while you're writing it and, if those suggestions are worthwhile then I'll listen.
HC: Who would you have play Doyle if your books were made into a movie or series?
SH: I think Cillian Murphy would be a good choice. However, the way film companies mess books about they'd probably end up casting James Corden! If I had to pick anyone I'd choose Aidan Turner (from TV's Poldark) I think he'd be brilliant.
HC: What keeps you going as a writer?
SH: I sometimes wonder myself ha, ha. I sometimes think its a case of having to write, some need to get all the ideas and stories out of my head. A reader once said to me "I love your books but I wouldn't want to be inside your head." I laughed but I knew what he meant. The thing that really helps is good feedback from readers. It's incredibly satisfying when someone tells you they loved your book or that you've made some kind of impact on their lives. I don't think readers realize how much that kind of praise means to an author. You spend ages creating the book and then you put it "out there" and just hope to God that people will like it. There's no way of telling obviously. You just have to keep your fingers crossed.
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
SH: Testament has just been published, I've got a new novel called Progeny coming out next year and I've just been messing about with some short story anthologies. I did short stories for magazines when I first started but, lately, I'd been getting lots of ideas that were good but didn't work as novels so I thought "why not" and put a few of them together. I've also done the opening of another book called Hidden but that's only about 30 pages in so far. It might turn to sh*t ha, ha. The war novels I wrote when I first started are being re-issued by digital publisher Endeavour and some of my early pseudonym work is being re-published soon too so at least my readers will be able to get their hands on stuff that might have gone out of print.
HC: Shaun Hutson, thank you very much.
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(Photo credit Dawson James Photography)
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