By Marty Mulrooney
Kim Newman is an English journalist, film critic (Empire Magazine) and award-winning author (the Bram Stoker Award, the International Horror Guild Award, the BSFA award). Anno Dracula, the first book in his alternative history vampire series, was published in 1992 to critical acclaim. With Anno Dracula having recently been reprinted in a brand new paperback edition by Titan Books and the rest of the series set to follow suit in 2012 (the eagerly anticipated fourth book is due in 2013), AMO caught up with Mr Newman for an exclusive online interview!
Hello Mr Newman, thank you for your time and welcome to AMO! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?
I always go by ‘novelist and critic’, though I sometimes add ‘and broadcaster’. I’ve never had a real job.
Anno Dracula was first released in 1992. Can you tell us some more about the book?
It’s a literary alternate history, in which Count Dracula comes to Britain in the 1880s, as per Bram Stoker’s plot, then defeats Dr Van Helsing and rises to power, becoming the Prince Consort and putting his vampire cronies in all the top jobs. Vampirism spreads through all levels of society. But not everyone is happy with the new regime. I wanted to write something which fit in every shelf in the shop – so it’s a vampire horror story, alternate world science fiction, a historical mystery (much of the plot is about the Jack the Ripper murders), a social satire (when it was written, Mrs Thatcher was banging on about ‘Victorian values’), a love story (though the genre didn’t exist then, it’s a vampire romance), a swashbuckling adventure (there’s even kung fu), a metafictional meditation on Victorian popular literature and even a tiny bit of western. If I could have included songs and made it a musical, I would.
The book and its subsequent sequels are being reprinted by Titan Books. Will there be anything new included for fans to discover?
Yes. Anno Dracula has a bunch of alternate scenes (you get three or four endings) from a pre-novel novella version (‘Red Reign’) and a film script I did shortly after publication, a short story which fits into the novel’s backstory, some essays and how-I-came-to-write-this bits, and some annotations. The next two books will have similar add-ons, plus new novellas that fill in bits of the history of the Anno Dracula world, looking at decades (the 1920s, the 1960s) that haven’t had their own novels.
What first got you interested in the character of Dracula?
The formative experience which set me on a lot of my paths in life was seeing the Bela Lugosi film late at night on television when I was about eleven. I read the book soon after, and got the Aurora glow-in-the-dark hobby kit, and generally became monster-crazed. To be honest, I still am. The first Dracula movie I saw in the cinema was Dracula AD 1972.
As well as Dracula himself, Anno Dracula features an impressive amount of characters from other people’s literary works, as well as from real life. Is it easier or harder to write with previously established characters?
You get something to work with, which helps. I try not to just drag someone famous on for the sake of it, but approach them as if they were my own characters (which, in the context of my invented history, they become). I like picking up things that the original creator didn’t pursue and running with them. In Anno Dracula, I do a lot with Dr Seward, who is actually Stoker’s most interesting, rounded character but gets edged out of Dracula by more glamorous folk. Naturally, I assumed his experiences would drive him mad.
Who are your favourite characters from the series and why?
Naturally, I like my lead couple – Charles Beauregard, Victorian adventurer, and Geneviève Dieudonné, progressive vampire – and have kept going back to them. I like that they’re different in each book (Geneviève sits out the second one) and yet the same. Kate Reed, a minor character in Anno Dracula, became a favourite, since she’s a viewpoint character in The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha. Fun as Charles and Geneviève are, they’re naturally heroic and gifted, but Kate is more like a regular person – for contrast with all the monsters, I needed someone who turned into a vampire but otherwise didn’t change, to the extent that people don’t even notice what’s happened to her. I tend to enjoy all my characters, though, even (perhaps especially) the despicable ones. I very much like Hamish Bond, vampire secret agent, in Dracula Cha Cha Cha.
How much research is required when writing alternate history books such as these?
Simple answer: a lot. I’m amazed that I could even do the book back in 1992, when the internet wasn’t a tool I could use – now, so much useful stuff is easily available online that would once have taken a week’s work to track down (recently, I needed to know the name of the Chief Clerk of the Bank of England who signed the notes in 1892 – and there it was on Wikipedia). I did immerse myself in the periods for each of the books, and became a temporary expert on WWI aviation or late 1950s social changes in Italy. I also watched a lot of vampire movies.
The fourth book in the series, Johnny Alucard is due for release in 2012, although you have been quoted as far back as 2000 saying it was close to completion! Why has there been such a long wait?
Boring publishing reasons, mostly. The UK publication of the third book in the series was botched – my fault as much as anyone else’s – and my former publisher didn’t want the fourth. I’ve been fiddling with it, off and on, ever since, and waiting for someone (the lovely folks at Titan) to get behind the series and, finally, bring them all out in uniform editions which will look like a set on your bookshelves. I have to take into account a lot of added 21st Century history and vampire culture, though it’ll still end in about 1989 (a hundred years or so after Anno Dracula).
What can you tell us about Johnny Alucard?
It follows a vampire who becomes the new avatar of Dracula, but consists of a series of near self-contained novellas set between 1944 and 1989 that look at the cultural impact of Dracula in a world where he actually existed. I imagine versions of Dracula created by Francis Coppola, Andy Warhol, Orson Welles and others, and the general idea is that Dracula will rise to power again in Hollywood. You also get Barbie the Vampire Slayer, a disco craze for powdered vampire blood, Geneviève as a private eye in California in the 1970s, Quentin Tarantino in his video store days, and other cool stuff. The material is mostly there, but still needs a lot of organising.
You have won the the Bram Stoker Award, the International Horror Guild Award and the BSFA award. Which of these awards means the most to you and why?
I’ve a few others – the British Fantasy Award, the Rondo Award. I am always happy to receive a gong, and am grateful to the voters, juries or committees that bestow them, but I try not to obsess about them. I don’t campaign, for instance – and tend to think less highly of awards which can be won by people begging all their friends to vote for them. I’ve been nominated for the World Fantasy Award more times than anyone else who’s never won one.
I am a huge fan of your monthly segment ‘Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon’ in Empire magazine. Can you tell us some more about this?
The original brief was to review all the films which went straight to video (now, DVD) without getting a theatrical release, but it’s expanded a bit and I now do some backlist and TV titles too. It still means watching a lot of under-the-radar discs.
What is the worst film you have ever seen?
I often cite Satanwar, a video cheapie I saw in the 1980s, as the dullest thing I’ve ever seen. But, seriously, I hate Top Gun more. On the whole, I think films about rich people getting married should be the subject of a Daily Mail-style ‘ban this sick filth’ campaign.
Can a film be so bad it is actually good?
Rarely, though there’s a lot of entertainment value to be had from some schlock. A film can also be so bad it’s actually really bad. I worry that the rise of snarky put-down-type reviewing, and things like Mystery Science Theater 3000, have robbed a generation of their ability to discern the good things in Attack of the Crab Monsters. I find ‘interesting’ and ‘dull’ a more useful grid than ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
Has there ever been any interest in adapting Anno Dracula into a feature film?
As I said, I did a script in the 1990s. It’s been optioned a couple of times, without much happening. There’s always interest, but I’m a bit wary – it’s a huge project, and I’d need to be persuaded that it wouldn’t turn out like Van Helsing or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’d still like to see it.
What is next for you Mr Newman?
I’ve just turned in The Hound of the d’Urbervilles: The Crime-Book of Professor Moriarty, which Titan will publish this Autumn. It’s about darkly comic Victorian crime capers. Also out now is Nightmare Movies, a new, expanded edition of my non-fiction study of contemporary horror cinema, from Bloomsbury. I will need to do more work on the next three Anno Draculas.
Thank you for your time!
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (Titan Books, £7.99) is available now from all good retailers. AMO’s review will follow shortly!