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Interview With an Author: Kim Newman

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author and movie critic Kim Newman and his latest novel, Something More Than Night
Author and movie critic Kim Newman and his latest novel, Something More Than Night

Kim Newman is a popular and respected author and movie critic, known for his acclaimed alternate-history series, Anno Dracula. He writes regularly for Empire magazine and contributes to The Guardian, The Times, Time Out, and others. He makes frequent appearances on radio and TV and is the chief writer of the BBC TV series Mark Kermode's Secrets of Cinema. He has won the Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, British Fantasy, and British Science Fiction Awards and been nominated for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and James Herbert Awards. He lives in London. His latest novel is Something More Than Night and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Something More Than Night?

Initially—and revealing how long the idea was percolating—the idea sparked when Boris Karloff (born 1887) and Raymond Chandler (born 1888) had centenaries within months of each other. That prompted me to make connections between them... biographical, in that, I realised they both spent parts of their childhood in Dulwich, London (where Karloff was born, as William Pratt, and Chandler went to school) and adult years around Hollywood, Los Angeles... personal, in that they had contrasting attitudes as a British Anglo-Indian who projected ‘foreignness’ and an American people thought was British... and social, in that they were associated with genres (horror/monster, detective/noir) I love and wanted to explore. In the back of my mind was that the two real-life characters would make interesting casting for Holmes and Watson.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it?

Given that I first scribbled notes in 1988 and the book didn’t come out till 2021, a lot of things changed. Though the characters and themes stayed constant, some of the specifics are very different from my original outline. I think the major breakthrough was in realising that the voice of Chandler in his letters—dictated late at night and slightly stream-of-thought—was different from Philip Marlowe in the novels—honed over many rewrites—and that I didn’t need to match one of the great prose writers of the 20th century to write a book with him as the narrator.

Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

Not really—or I’d have kept them. My first outline used a theme that was in the plot until almost the point I started actually writing the book which I decided to drop because it’d been used too many times in the years since I made those notes and which I now find problematic... the corpse the characters obsess over was going to be a movie starlet (it was around the time of Twin Peaks). But too many middle-aged male ‘tecs have brooded over too many enigmatic martyred women in the last thirty years. And, after writing several books with mostly female casts (Angels of Music, the Drearcliff School novels) I wanted to focus on male relationships here... so the corpse in the case is a male detective.

Something More Than Night is set in 1930’s Hollywood. How familiar were you with Hollywood, Los Angeles, and filmmaking at this time before writing the novel?

The subject has been a lifelong interest, so I was generally well-up on the research... though I found myself going down some new specific byways as I got deeper into the writing.

How familiar were you with Boris Karloff and Raymond Chandler?

Ditto. I had a big pile of biographies, general reference books, BluRays/DVDs, and picture research on my desk throughout. I have to say, the research was pretty constantly delightful. Just rewatching the movies over and over remains enormously pleasurable.

If you had to do research, how long did it take you to do the necessary research and then write Something MoreThan Night?

The writing took a little over a year—in the unusual circumstances of 2020-21—and I was researching pretty heavily throughout... but I had been prepping for very many years.

Do you have a favorite Karloff film/performance?

Not an original thought, but Frankenstein (1931). So much in his subsequent career—and the history of horror fiction—descends from that indelible performance, and it doesn’t even use one of his strongest assets, his voice. As for his ‘talkie’ performances, I think he’s especially good in The Black Cat and The Body Snatcher.

A favorite of Chandler’s short stories/novels?

The Long Good-Bye. Though on some rereadings it might be The Big Sleep. And the most underrated is The Little Sister.

Do you have an idea/theory regarding who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep?

Several. Within the fiction, it doesn’t matter to Marlowe (and therefore the reader) because it’s not a case he’s being paid to solve. Throughout the book, people assume he’s on a case—where is Rusty Regan? —his client hasn’t actually, explicitly hired him for though he does secretly want to know the answer. Outside the fiction, Chandler was gluing together several plots and didn’t think this strand was important enough to tie off—he may have regretted that later.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

An academic book, Vampires in Italian Cinema, 1956-1975 by Michael Guarneri, and a vintage paperback novel, Storyboard, by John Bowen.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

It’s difficult, but my spur-of-the-moment list at this second is:
Ramsey Campbell
Richard Condon
Stanley Ellin
Bram Stoker
Cornell Woolrich
In a few minutes, it might be very different, and would probably include Shakespeare and Stan Lee.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

No—I grew up in a house with a lot of books and my parents never told me not to read any of them.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

Not that I can remember. But I have an English degree so I probably coasted through something.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Technically, yes—I’ve picked up multiple editions of Ian Fleming’s Bond books in paperback (they’ve had several remarkable cover designs) and I have a whole bookshelf full of variant editions of Dracula. If I just wanted the texts, I already had them.

Is there a book that changed your life?

A whole library of them.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

I’d love to have read Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the week it came out before everybody knew the twist ending. Stevenson is such a master plotter and embeds clues brilliantly. Would I have guessed? Hard to imagine since the solution is so unusual, yet now such a commonplace.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I just watched Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth this weekend and that’s going to stick with me for a while.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Restaurant meal with friends, reading books, watching movies, writing, thinking about what to write next, conversation... which is pretty much my average day. I know that makes me very very fortunate.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

‘Would you like more time?’ The answer would be yes.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just roughed out a couple of novel ideas—one very dark and cynical, one very light and sweet and fantastical. I’m equally in love with both.