Interview: Simon Green
by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: August 1, 2005 / Show Official Info /
SFRevu: In a nutshell, for someone who's never read a Nightside novel, how would you describe John Taylor and the Nightside?
Simon R. Green:The Nightside books are hard-boiled urban fantasy with a gonzo sense of humor. Basically, it's a private eye who operates in the Twilight Zone, solving cases of the weird and uncanny.
The greatest mystery in his life concerns his own family background. His father drank himself to death after discovering John's mother wasn't human after all... [and] now those in the Nightside see John either as a King in Waiting, or a rogue con man and trickster.
Interestingly enough, I originally created the Nightside as a television series, but couldn't get it off the ground. I used the first two scripts as the basis for the first two novels. Now the books are doing so well, there's been serious interest in film and television rights... though as yet no-one's actually got around to threatening me with large amounts of money.
Do I really need to explain that the Nightside is based on Soho? Or at least, Soho as it was when I knew it in the 1970s.
SFRevu: Would you tell me about your background?
Green: I've worked the author's usual background of assorted jobs: shop assistant, bicycle repair mechanic, journalist, actor, eccentric dancer and mail order bride. (But only when money was really tight.) I have a BA (English Literature & Philosophy, Joint Honours,) and an MA (Modern English and American Literature,) and a lot of good they ever did in getting me a job.
I started writing in 1973, sold my first short story in 1977, and then just sold a handful of stories here and there until I was laid off from my job in 1985. I ended up living on benefits for the first time in my life (?28 a week, if you're interested), after I'd just turned thirty. Hard times... I was to stay unemployed for three and a half years (it was the Eighties; there was a lot of it about), and I decided that this was the time to take my writing seriously.
So during that period I wrote seven novels, all of which were rejected over and over again. Until, in 1988, ACE bought the first Hawk & Fisher novel, and asked me if I'd like to write five more books featuring the same characters...
This enabled me to sell five more of the seven novels I'd written, plus the novelization of the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and I was off and running. I'm currently working on my thirty-second novel.
SFRevu: When did you know you wanted to become a writer? And what sparked your interest in science fiction, fantasy and dark urban fantasy?
Green: I've always wanted to be a writer. Well, actually, no, I wanted to be a rock god and the lead singer in Led Zeppelin, but that position was unfortunately already taken. So I became a writer instead.
And I've always loved SF & F. My dad had a whole bunch of old Galaxy magazines from the 50s, plus a big run of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels that I devoured, plus a run of Thorne Smith's comedy fantasy novels from the 30s, which I still feel are the best of their kind ever written. So, I was corrupted at an early age, and have celebrated it ever since.
I always say I write fantasies, Romances; some are set in the past and are called sword and sorcery, some in the modern day and are called urban fantasy, others in the future and are called space opera. To me, they're all Romances, in the grand old tradition.
SFRevu: Was it hard to persuade your publisher to cross genres?
Green: My editors have always been very supportive over my tendency to go dashing off in any new direction that looks like fun.
SFRevu: Were there any specific influences or homages you had in mind when creating Taylor and the Nightside?
Green: Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Quatermass, Dr Who, Sapphire & Steel, Ultraviolet, Urban Gothic...all TV shows that have influenced me greatly. And let's not forget Buffy. And I've always liked private eye novels and films. Hell, I even know who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep. Putting the two genres together seemed obvious to me. Next up, I'm writing the fantasy equivalent of James Bond. Really.
SFRevu: The Nightside books have some truly harrowing images in them. What frightens you, and has that worked its way into these stories? Have you written anything that you found particularly unsettling when reading it afterward?
Green: What frightens me: waking up the day after with a blinding hangover, lying in bed next to a Grey alien...
To be fair, there are many autobiographical elements in everything I write. You can't really scare people unless you write from the heart. The scariest thing I've ever written was a scene in the second Hawk & Fisher novel, Winner Takes All, where a character committed suicide by cutting his wrists. It was very stark, very upsetting, and I was sure my editors would want me to tone it down, but no...
SFRevu: Taylor's stories involve his mother's identity, though it was a seemingly minor connection early on. That story element has come to define the overall narrative arc of the series. Was this the intent from the start?
Green: The mother's identity started as a joke in the first draft, and then seized my imagination and proceeded to take over the back story. But Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth will be the last part of the story arc, and after that I'll be moving on to pastures new. I've just signed a contract to write three more Nightside books, and hope to do many more.
SFRevu: What would you be willing to say about Paths Not Taken and Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth (coming in February 2006 from Ace Books)?
Green: Book four, Hex and the City, tells who John's mother is. Book five, Paths Not Taken, has John travelling back through Time, visiting earlier and earlier historical versions of the Nightside, as he searches for the truth about his mother's involvement with the creation of the Nightside. Other secrets will also be exposed, including who really stole Merlin's heart.
Book six, Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth, completes the story arc, as John returns to the modern Nightside just as his mother comes out of hiding with a vengeance. Expect the Apocalypse...
SFRevu: One thing a reader will note is that your SF, fantasy, contemporary and horror series all interconnect, often through asides or anecdotes from the characters. When did you start working characters and references from your previous work into new stories? And what is the most obscure self-reference you've made so far? (Side note: I consider these bits Easter eggs and really enjoy them, so thanks!)
Green: I've always enjoyed having characters from one book turn up in another, linking the series together. You're right, they're Easter Eggs for the alert reader. Did you spot that Razor Eddie first appeared in a Hawk & Fisher novel? And have you guessed who the Travelling Doctor is yet?
SFRevu: Do you have an end-point in mind for the meta-plot of these series?
SFRevu: Will you be revisiting any of your previous settings for additional stories?
Green: I prefer to look forward rather than back, but there's always unfinished business, isn't there? I plan to do one more Blue Moon novel at some point, and another Deathstalker series, telling the story of the first Deathstalker, Giles. That's why I spent so much time setting up the First Empire in Deathstalker Coda. But for the moment I am still Deathstalkered out...
SFRevu: Lastly, have you ever thought about writing Bruin the Bear and Sea Goat children's books?
Green: Absolutely. The legend has to start somewhere.
SFRevu would like to thank Simon R. Green and Catherine Milne, Ace Books, for their help in making this interview possible.