By Marty Mulrooney
Kim Newman is an award-winning author, English journalist and film critic. In 2011 Alternative Magazine Online gave a glowing review of the Titan Books reissue of Anno Dracula: “Kim Newman is a master storyteller, steadily layering multiple details and characters on top of the core narrative without ever losing focus or confusing the reader. A breathless account of a 19th century England ruled by Count Dracula, Newman may have taken inspiration from a number of sources, but ultimately makes this unique story entirely his own.” After an extremely long wait and much anticipation, the fourth instalment, Johnny Alucard (Titan Books, September 2013), has finally been released in the UK. It is therefore with great pleasure that AMO welcomes back vampire fiction expert Kim Newman for an exclusive online interview!
Hello Mr Newman, thank you for your time and welcome back to Alternative Magazine Online!
Glad to be here.
What have you been up to since we last spoke in June 2012?
Besides working on Johnny Alucard (and a forthcoming novel called An English Ghost Story), I co-wrote and script-edited The Hallowe’en Sessions, a play which was staged in the West End (at least in a tiny space in it) last Hallowe’en. I also scripted ‘Sarah Minds the Dog’, an audio drama available now as part of a series called Tales From Beyond the Pale. I fit a short story or two in there as well, and have kept up the reviewing. Plus I’ve been working on some comics projects I can’t announce yet.
The third book in the Anno Dracula series, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, was first published in 1998. Why such a long wait for the much-anticipated fourth book?
Boring publishing reasons, mostly – which was frustrating, though the long gap has prompted me to do a lot of extra work on the reissues of the earlier novels that sets up stuff in the fourth book. It took a while to get back the rights to all the books in the series before it could be properly relaunched… only when I had all those ducks in a row could Titan step in and do the whole series properly.
Johnny Alucard was released earlier this month – during which era is the book set and what’s it all about?
It’s set from 1976 to 1991, with a 1944 prologue… it follows a new vampire character who has many names and moves from Transylvania to America, becoming a possible successor to Dracula as the archetypal monster of the century. It is set in the entwined fields of entertainment, crime and politics and deals with vampirisim in the movie business, the illegal drugs trade and the Cold War of the ‘80s.
Was it difficult to write an Anno Dracula novel without Charles Beauregard? Or Dracula, for that matter?
I consciously took the male antagonists off the table in Dracula Cha Cha Cha, though their ghosts linger throughout this book. This did let me have room for the nebulous figure of Johnny, who is admittedly a shadow of Dracula and shaped by his times as much as his original personality. I also got a chance to see what the three vampire women I’ve followed throughout the series – Geneviève Dieudonné, Kate Reed and Penelope Churchward – become without Charles’ direct presence in their lives. I miss Charles, but so do they… and that keeps him in the book somehow. I’ve always kept Dracula at several removes, and part of the thrust of Johnny Alucard is that even dead he’s inescapable – after all, he was dead from the beginning.
What familiar faces (both from real life history and the Anno Dracula universe) can fans look forward to becoming reacquainted with when reading Johnny Alucard?
As I said, Geneviève, Kate and Penny return, and they all have differing involvements with Johnny A. I’ve brought back several other folks, including Baron Meinster and Caleb Croft – who come from the movies Brides of Dracula and Grave of the Vampire but have developed their own plotlines in the series. Orson Welles, who was in Dracula Cha Cha Cha, is a major figure in the Hollywood section of the book. From the real world, I use Francis Coppola, Andy Warhol and other show folk… and there’s an array of borrowed characters in bit-roles. Oh, and Richard Jeperson – from my Diogenes Club series – shows up too.
Will Hamish Bond return?
Yes… though only for a walk-on or two. I’m tempted to give him his own story sometime.
Was it hard to return to the series after all these years?
Not really. I had written sections of the book a while ago – ‘Coppola’s Dracula’ was actually published before I started on Dracula Cha Cha Cha – and always knew I’d get back to turning them into a novel. Over the last few years, I’ve been working on the reissues and reimersing myself in the world of the series. ‘Vampire Romance’ and ‘Aquarius’, the novellas included with the reissues of The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha, were written during this period; together, they add up to a whole new Anno Dracula novel that fits into the series. So I sailed into working again on getting Johnny Alucard fully up to speed with the saga. I’ve started to feel it’s all one long book.
How long have you been working on this novel?
The first section, as I mentioned, dates back to the late 1990s. Andy Warhol’s Dracula, another novella, came out about 2000. There were long gaps off, but it has been a lengthy process.
Will there be a fifth book in the series?
Yes. But I’m not sure what it’ll be. The ‘story’ is complete in the four books. I’ll probably pick up a character from ‘Vampire Romance’ and ‘Aquarius’ and run with her for a while. I might look to Asia for a setting or context… India, China, Thailand, Malaya and Japan all have distinct vampire mythologies and pop culture milieux I could play with.
Johnny Alucard takes place in 1976 – could we possibly see the next novel taking place in the present day? Or even the future?
I have had a few present-day ideas, but one aspect of the series is the use of eras and places that are distant enough for a mythology to have built up around them. It’s hard to think of the present, even as it quickly recedes, in that way. I was pondering a War on Terror theme, but have gone cold on that… I’m more tempted by a future story, but I did something similar with the Diogenes Club series (Seven Stars has sections set in the future, with some of the Anno Dracula characters) and wouldn’t want to repeat. Plus fixing an inevitable future is asking for trouble when the real world undercuts it. I do occasionally have twinge-like notions about Anno Dracula 2013… I think Lord Ruthven is Prime Minister in coalition with the Lib-Dems, but Nick Clegg has to make all the announcements about tax cuts for vampires and selling off the UK blood supply to Bain Capital. I imagine Kate Reed is a blogger for the New Statesman who attracts a long stream of stake threat comments under everything she writes.
What do you think it is about vampires that has made them remain so popular over the years?
I think it’s the fact that they’re versatile – they can be and mean so many things. There’s room for an infinite number of interpretations … far more than, say, mummy stories. Zombies are big at the moment, but they’re a very limited monster. Of course, vampires are monsters you can have conversations with, which makes them fun to write.
What has been your favourite book to write in the Anno Dracula series so far, and why?
As I said, I’ve started to feel it’s one long book. I especially enjoyed doing ‘Aquarius’ and the Baltimore section of Johnny Alucard, though they were the bits I wrote most recently. The first draft of ‘Red Reign’, the novella that was the seed of Anno Dracula, was written swiftly… perhaps the most enjoyable draft was the first pass at Anno Dracula as a novel, since I already had the plot skeleton set and a sense of the world and could concentrate on drawing out the characters and the scenery. Penelope, who came into the book between the novella and the novel, is one of the people I really enjoy writing.
You’re also a film critic for Empire Magazine (I regularly enjoy reading your ‘Movie Dungeon’ reviews) – what’s the best vampire film you’ve ever seen… and what’s the worst?
My favourite vampire movies are Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Dracula (1931 and 1958), Nosferatu (1922), Dracula AD 1972, Daughters of Darkness, Blood for Dracula and Martin. As for the worst… skipping the zero budget nonsense and the porn, I’ve always disliked The Lost Boys.
Thank you for your time Mr Newman and I shall look forward to reading Johnny Alucard!
Johnny Alucard was released in September 2013 and is available now from all good book shops (Titan Books, RRP £12.99). Alternative Magazine Online will be reviewing Johnny Alucard at a later date.
BOOK REVIEW – Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
BOOK REVIEW – Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Kim Newman (Author, Anno Dracula)
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