James Lovegrove is the author of over fifty novels for adults and children. Born in 1965, in England, he became a published writer soon after graduating in English Literature from Oxford University. He spent the advance from his first novel, ‘The Hope’, on a round the world trip and later used those experiences to inform the writing of his third novel, ‘The Foreigners’. James likes to write across a broad range of genres, with recent books including Science Fiction, fantasy, crime and horror.
James is probably best known amongst genre audiences for his best-selling ‘Age of…’ series of nine military SF novels, which led to the creation of the ‘Godpunk’ sub-genre and which explore what it might be like if the gods of a particular Pantheon came down to Earth. More recently he has started a new SF series for Solaris Books, starring Dev Harmer, an agent for Interstellar Security Solutions. His most recent novel and second in the series is ‘World Of Water’. In his spare time, he writes original Sherlock Holmes adventure novels and reviews SF for the Financial Times. You can look him up on: http://www.jameslovegrove.com/
SFCrowsnest: What led you to become a writer?
James Lovegrove: My usual gag answer to this is ‘Because it was the thing I did least badly’. There may be some truth in that, but as a kid I always enjoyed reading and I grasped pretty early on that people actually wrote these things that were called books, so I knew it was a viable career option. It may have helped that one of my parents’ friends was a children’s author (James Reeves) and he seemed to lead a nice life, as did the father of a schoolmate of mine, Anthony Buckeridge, who wrote the Jennings series. At any rate, I enjoyed writing when young. I made comics of my own, I contributed to just about every school magazine and, by the time I was at university, I was writing short stories and dreaming sincerely of becoming the new Stephen King – or at least being as successful as Stephen King. Looking back, I believe my path was set more or less from the very beginning. Dammit.
SFC: Who or what would you cite as major influences on your writing?
JL: King was a major early influence and so was Ray Bradbury and Moorcock. Stan Lee, too, whose wonderful verbosity helped foster in me a love of words. In my twenties, I got into Ballard, Vonnegut and Colin Wilson. I’d also cite Alan Moore as an influence. The sheer imagination on that man could power a jetliner.
SFC: ‘World Of Water’ is the second book in the ‘Dev Harmer’ series, following on from 2014’s ‘World Of Fire’. Can you tell us a little about Dev and the series?
JL: I had a hankering to do an outer-space action series and Solaris seemed amenable to the idea. It was Ben Smith, Solaris’ Head of Publishing, who suggested setting each book on a different planet so that the series could have the same similar-but-different vibe as the ‘Pantheon’ books. I went away and had a think and came up with an interstellar policeman/spy character who is helping to maintain peace in the farthest-flung corners of the known universe, a kind of futuristic James Bond fighting a new Cold War. His name is Dev Harmer and, in the books he exists, for the moment, purely as a downloaded consciousness which is beamed into a specially cloned host body on each planet he is sent to. The body is adapted to its environment and Dev in turn has to adapt to the body. For me, part of the fun of the books is creating a brand new world each time, with its own special quirks and hazards, and then throwing Dev in at the deep end and seeing how he swims – literally, in the case of ‘World Of Water’.
SFC: You’ve referred in previous interviews to the influence of pulp fiction on this series. Could you say a little more about your love for the pulps and what impact it has had on this series?
JL: I’ve always had a fondness for the Golden Age pulp characters such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider and so on, the precursors of the costumed super-hero. Their stories are, on the whole, very badly written, scribbled at breakneck speed by hack writers who were being paid by the word and working to inconceivably squeaky-bum-tight deadlines. But the results invariably have a huge energy and narrative drive, a veering, vertiginous sense of everything only just managing to stay on the rails and are full of wonderful, freakish characters and situations. I wanted to capture some of that energy for myself, if I could, and channel it into my own work. I binge-read a bunch of old pulps in the run-up to starting ‘World Of Fire’ and then set myself the challenge of writing in a similar style, using short terse sentences, a maximum of three per paragraph (with the odd exception). This was so that I could shake things up and not fall back on my old, usual stylistic mannerisms. It’s designed, too, to contribute to the fast pace of the books’ storytelling. I also made a conscious effort to provide plots that are full of twists, turns, reversals and over-the-top action scenes. Basically, a Dev Harmer adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until it collapses, panting and drained and in need of a foil blanket and an infusion of electrolytes, at the finish line.
SFC: Dev’s ultimate enemies in this series are the AI race called Polis Plus. Why did you choose to make the bad guys robots, rather than aliens?
JL: They are aliens in the sense that they’re an extra-terrestrial, non-human race, but I wanted the bad guys to be digital sentiences capable of inhabiting host forms much as Dev does, so as to create a strange kind of parity there. I also felt it would be interesting to make Polis+ devoutly religious beings, worshippers of a god entity they call the Singularity, even as the human race in the books exists in a post-religious state, having done away with and, effectively made illegal, any kind of faith. It seemed fun to point up the irony of flesh creatures jettisoning God and a belief in an afterlife while their enemies, whose digital existence makes them effectively immortal, embrace spirituality. There’s a certain amount of political commentary in the books, too, if you want to look for it – stuff about ideology-driven conflict and self-martyring combatants. But that’s for the subtext nerds. Everyone else can just enjoy a rip-roaring space romp.
SFC: Dev has so far visited a fire world and a water world. What’s next?
JL: If all goes according to plan, it’s ‘World Of Air’ next. The dénouement of ‘World Of Water’ finds Dev on PearlTwo, a gas giant that has been colonised and turned into a leisure planet for the moneyed classes. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how Dev, who’s not afraid to speak his mind and has an innate mistrust of authority, rubs up against the holidaymaking elite around him. Especially since quite a few of them seem intent on killing him dead.
SFC: I really enjoyed your last SF series, the ‘Age Of…’ books. Is that now dead and buried or might you resurrect it in the future?
JL: Cue a Dr. Frankenstein cackle, a mighty lightning storm and a pallid hand twitching with new life… because the seventh ‘Pantheon’ novel is coming out this September, ‘Age Of Heroes’. This one deals with the Ancient Greek demi-gods – Theseus, Perseus, Heracles, et al – who are still alive in the modern world, gifted with immortality thanks to their half-divine parentage. Some of them have coped with a life spanning three and a half thousand years better than others… and now somebody has started bumping them off one by one and Theseus, who used to be a crimefighter but gave it up to write crime novels, leaps in to investigate the mystery and try to unmask the murderer. It’s a whodunit, but it also approaches things from the other side, in that the other main character is a professional assassin who begins to doubt his life choices and question his status as, for want of a better word, a henchman. The novel is me taking the theme of the interaction between gods and men, which is what the godpunk sub-genre is all about and coming at it from another skewed angle to see what emerges.
SFC: The readers of SFCrowsnest may not know that you write across many genres, not just Science Fiction, but fantasy, horror and crime, too, with some of your recent books featuring the one and only Sherlock Holmes! Given that many authors stick rigidly to genre boundaries, what are your reasons for ranging so widely in your fiction?
JL: I probably have a very short attention span. Also, I like all sorts of different kinds of fiction. I read widely, not just confining myself to any one genre and I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity and the ability, to write widely, too. I think I would go mad if I was stuck doing the same sort of book over and over and I definitely would be certifiably, drooling-all-over-my-crayons insane if I spent all my time just churning out volume after volume in some interminable fantasy or space opera saga. A change is as good as a rest, so they say.
SFC: What does your typical writing day look like? Do you have one?
JL: I try to be at work by just after eight, once the kids have been packed off to school and then I’ll scribble away – yes, kids, longhand, on paper! – for two to three hours, until I have five or six pages done (anything between 1,500 and 2,500 words). Then I’ll type out my incredibly messily scrawl on the computer and spend an hour or two honing and refining the prose until it’s exactly how I want it. I liken the process to doing a rough sketch in pencils and then going over it with ink pen and brush to make it as neat and sleek as possible. By two or three o’clock, I’m done for the day, although if I’ve got some reading to do for a review then I’ll slot a bit of that in. Usually, with a slice of cake beside me.
SFC: What are you working on now, if you don’t mind telling us about it?
JL: I’m currently writing my fourth ‘straight’ Sherlock Holmes novel, ‘The Labyrinth Of Death’. By coincidence – although probably not – it too features Hellenic myth and culture, although more than that I’m not prepared to say, because spoilers. This is, in fact, my fifth foray into Conan Doyle’s world, because I’ve also recently completed the first in a trilogy which pits Holmes and Watson against the Elder Gods, and, worse, from the Cthulhu mythos. That book, ‘The Shadwell Shadows’, is out this November, with the subsequent two volumes to follow annually.
SFC: What do you like most and least about being a writer?
JL: I think the best thing about being a writer is the freedom to live life on your own terms. Yes, you’re working for other people, ie editors and publishers and you’re beholden to your readership but, still, every day you’re able to sit down and be by yourself and be yourself and conjure stuff up out of your imagination. There aren’t many other jobs that allow you to do that. The downside is that it’s a precarious profession, there’s no guarantee you’re going to make a living from one year to the next and while there are of course multi-millionaire writers out there, they’re in a vanishingly small minority. The rest of us just about get by. And cry a lot when no one’s looking.
SFC: Is there anything about your writing career that you would do differently, if you had the chance?
JL: I’d like to have earned much more money! Also, there are a couple of books in my backlist which probably didn’t turn out as well as I hoped and which I’d rewrite extensively if I had the chance. But, then, seeing as I’ve published well over fifty titles, that’s not a bad disappointment-to-satisfaction ratio.
SFC: What advice would you give to unpublished, aspiring genre writers?
JL: Genre publishing is tricky. The number of imprints available is limited, which means getting published and indeed noticed is that much harder than it is in, say, mainstream literature or crime fiction. Above all else, aspiring genre writers should try and bring something new to the table, not just rehash what other authors have done. Those other authors may have been successful at it, they may be famous because of it, but that doesn’t automatically mean you will be, too. Learn from them, emulate them, but be original. And don’t be a dick. Genre publishing is a very small world and if you become known for dickery you’ll get nowhere. In fact, as a general rule of thumb, whoever you are, whatever you do, don’t be a dick.
SFC: Thank you.
interview content: (c) James Lovegrove, Patrick Mahon and SFCrowsnest 2016