A couple of weeks ago I did an interview with Geoff and Carl at the wargaming podcast The Independent Characters. It was heaps of fun, and went up on the net earlier this week. I talk mostly about Baneblade, but within that cover my work process, what it’s like writing for The Black Library, where my ideas come from and other writing-craft related topics. Be aware, there are spoilers.
Posts Tagged ‘Interview’
Tags: Baneblade, Black Library, Interview, The Independent Characters, writing
Tags: Interview, Interzone, local paper, Somerset Guardian
Local journalism… I dunno. I really shouldn’t throw stones, and it would be wrong to adopt the glossy, international magazine attitude to our colleagues in the local press (it’s not a nice one), and I have screwed up myself more than once in print, but… They got my name wrong, said I have three books out this year in one part of the article and then four elsewhere, (truth: three already, four in 2013), the story implies this is my first published short story, when it’s actually my first for Interzone, and states my mother read me The Hobbit, when I actually read it myself. All actual facts I told the nice lady. I think I got them right. I think I did. Yeah.
Still, it’s good to have the publicity, and I have some sympathy for journalists being under pressure and all… But come on! Spell the name correctly, at least, eh? Sheesh. There’s no “y” in the middle, no “y” I tell you [cue noises of Hulk-style roaring and things breaking in the background].
It’s not as bad as the time I was in the paper as a kid, and they called me Amy Haley. I cried about that (I WAS EIGHT, in case anyone thinks I should grow a pair. I had some, they just hadn’t dropped), as I knew everyone would rip the piss for weeks at school. They did. Great. Now I’m having flashbacks.
Tags: Death Ray, Elphaba, Gregory Maguire, Interview, Journalism, Oz, The Wizard of Oz, Wicked
This is an interview with the author Gregory Maguire who wrote the novel Wicked, which was turned into a wildly successful musical of the same name. From Death Ray 05, published in 2007.
Gregory Maguire is an American writer with a passionate interest in children’s literature, being co-founder of a charity dedicated to furthering reading among the young.
He is primarily known for penning revisionist fantasies, often based upon well-known fairy tales. However, his most famous works take their inspiration from a more recent source. Maguire has taken L Frank Baum’s famed series of novels, borrowed his world and put his own stamp firmly upon it, often adding his own characters into crucial points of the stories, or looking at Baum’s own characters from alternative points of view. The first book, Wicked, centres on Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and portrays her as a passionate rebel rather than as a hook-nosed harridan with a nasty allergy to water. It has been adapted into a musical that has enjoyed great success both Stateside and in London town.
Guy Haley: You are very passionate about literature for children. Why do you think that is important that children read?
Gregory Maguire: I heard a report this week that said at the age of 10, only 43% of American kids read for pleasure. At the age of 15, that has dropped to 19%. When I hear statistics like these, I fear for the loss of certain skills that imaginative reading enhances; apprehension of subtlety, ambiguity, tolerance for differences, willingness to suspend judgment until the last page (or even beyond). I think reading for children, even more than reading for adults, is central to the survival of a literate citizenry. That is why I still write for children, even though my income is much richer and stronger when I publish for adults.
GM: Tell us a bit about your organisation, the CLNE.
GH:I helped found an educational charity called “Children’s Literature New England” 21 years ago. For two decades we met (four times in the UK) and considered topics of literary interest as they are dealt with in books for children: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”; “Swords and ploughshares”; and “The Fairytale belongs to the poor.” Writers and artists such as Philip Pullman, Quentin Blake, Maurice Sendak, Ursula K Le Guin, Philippa Pearce, Jill Paton Walsh, Penelope Lively, Peter Dickinson, Susan Cooper, Russell Hoban, John Rowe Townsend, Alan Garner, and many others collaborated with us to consider these literary themes as expressed in books for the young. This is built on the notion that children’s literature is no less an art form than novels for older readers.
GH: Why do you choose to use the “toolbox of the fantastical” to tell your tales? Do you think that fantasy is more effective at bringing messages to children (and adults) than stories with a contemporary setting?
GM: I am afraid that as a Luddite, someone who doesn’t have an iPod, a cellphone, a play station, or a digital camera, I cannot convincingly portray our increasingly technological contemporary world with any verisimilitude. So writing stories that take place in the past or in a fantastical setting makes me much more comfortable.
That said, I also think that the kind of relaxation that once must go through in order to tolerate a “magic” story might just make one more tolerant of larger themes, too, and I care deeply about the themes of my stories – more than about the plots, characters, settings, or the mechanics of magic.
GH: Some of your greatest successes have been with stories set in Oz. Why have you chosen to use L Frank Baum’s world?
GM: Oz – unlike Middle-earth or Wonderland – is an imperfectly realized magic land. I admire much of what L Frank Baum did, but it is what he failed to do, or did less well, that allows me license to parachute into his magic kingdom and see if I can make any more sense of its history or politics than he did. Basically, I took a land of fabulous incongruity and I tried to superimpose an orderly civilisation upon it, with its own history, religions, cultural conflicts, etc – to be an anthropologist of Oz.
GH: Do you ever feel awkward, playing in the sandbox of such a renowned man?
GM: He is conveniently dead, so I am seldom embarrassed at dinner parties.
GH: You also use fairytale a lot, especially in revisionist fantasies for adults. This seems quite popular in film and literature at the moment. Why do you think that is?
GM: As we become something of a post-literate society – or perhaps I should say that as our shared literacy becomes more audiovisual and less textual – the fairy tales, like the parables, remain conveniently portable and functional vessels of story that, because we get them young – and frequently – may in fact be the final shared narrative that most people in the west can agree that they share in common.
GH: How do you feel about the success of the musical Wicked? Are musicals as valid an art form as literature in your mind?
GM: I love the musical Wicked and am buying tickets today to see it for the 26th time. It is a different art form than the novel and as such made some changes to the plot, which do not bother me. The basic theme of the story is the same as in the novel I wrote – which is that we should beware demonising our enemies, or seeing the world in absolute moral tones of black and white.
GH: You say that you enjoy English novels. Why is that?
GM: I believe the English write more delicious prose, by and large. I also grew up in a time when English writers for children were very easy to find in the libraries in the US I loved CS Lewis at the age of 10, also the books about Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear, and Tom’s Midnight Garden.
There are exceptions. Among my favorite US writers living and working today are Jess Walters, Ron Hansen, and Daniel Handler.
GH:Who are your major influences?
GM: As to the Wicked cycle, I would say TH White’s The Once and Future King, Grahame Greene as to a spooky tone and sinister atmosphere, and perhaps Ursula Le Guin as to someone who took and takes fantasy writing with utmost seriousness.
Did you know?
Gregory Maguire is married to painter Andy Newman.
Tags: arthur rackham, Brian Froud, Death Ray, Fairies, Fantasy, Fantasy art, Hensons, illustration, Interview, Jim Henson, Labyrinth, Muppets, Science fiction, The Dark Crystal, The Power of the Dark Crystal, The Storyteller
This interview with Brian Froud comes from 2007, when it was published in Death Ray 06.
This particular piece appeared in our “New Gods” profile slot. Unfortunately, the 2009 release date he gives at the end of the article for The Power of the Dark Crystal has come and gone, but I live in hope we’ll see it some day. You can read my review of the original The Dark Crystal here.
I interviewed a number of artists for Death Ray, and will be posting the articles here in due course. Hopefully, should I get permission from the artists, accompanied by some of their glorious illustrations.
Froud was a really nice chap to talk to (my rule of thumb is that artists and writers are great to speak with, actors less so), and yes, he really does see fairies…
The Goblin King
A quarter of a century ago, Muppet Master Jim Henson tracked down Brian Froud to provide art direction on The Dark Crystal. We talk to the master of faerie painting about this film, his artworks and his encounters with the other…
Brian Froud paints fairies. His pictures, influenced by the pre-Raphaelite movement, Arthur Rackham and Swedish artist John Bauer, are a mass of detail, of otherworldly faces peeking into the human world.
“I left college as a jobbing illustrator,” he says, “and did all sorts of things for about five years – magazines, book covers, and I got fed up with it. I used to have battles with art directors, until I discovered that any project that I art directed myself I would win awards for. As soon as I created my own things it just worked.”
Froud had always yearned to live in the countryside, so he upped sticks and headed to Devon. The folkloric book Faeries, produced in conjunction with artist Alan Lee (who lives in the same village) came out in 1977. He’s not looked back since.
“When I moved to the country, my response to nature was to paint fantastical creatures, fairies and trolls. It just haunts me, I’m fascinated. I can’t help it. I’ve a book coming out in America called Brian Froud’s World of Faerie. It’s thirty years of my work. It’s a journey through time – my earliest stuff up to the very latest. But it’s also a journey deeper into fairyland, as my art has become more about the spiritual aspects of fairies.”
This journey has taken to Froud to the edge of Faerie itself… The artist says he now sees the little folk. His good-natured tone becomes a little more self-conscious.
“It was just after finishing Good Fairies, Bad Fairies, I was on tour signing and I spontaneously started to see fairies.”
And these positive experiences generally?
“Erm, yes,” he says tentatively. A chuckle breaks his reticence. “Until the white van arrives!” He explains, “As an artist there are various techniques you use to get across an idea, but it has to contain an element of truth. And it’s fascinating to me that when I’m doodling in sketchbooks, I’m looking at these faces, getting them so I can say. ‘Yep, there’s something true there,’ rather than something I’ve made up.”
Ah, so he communicates with the fairies through his art…
“No, no. I am seeing them. Everyone says they want to see a fairy, and they want to see it with their eyes, you know, but you see it with an inner eye. They are psychic experiences. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I can’t make it happen, and it’s always a bit surprising… It’s hard – I paint fairies that feel right, but to paint fairies that look right is difficult. The experience involves so many other things.”
Wherever his art springs from, his appreciation of nature, his own imagination or through a communion with the world of Faerie, Froud’s pictures do have a glamour about them, and carry a lot of emotion for his fans.
“This could be self-delusion,” he says “but my sense of the ‘rightness’ of the pictures comes across from the response I get from people. It’s often about family, their mothers have given their books to them, and they’re going to give their books to their children, or that the books have helped them through terrible experiences, even abuse. The books have given them a safe world to flee into. I’m very humbled and proud that they’ve had such an effect on people.”
Froud’s also known as a conceptual designer on Hensons’ fantasy classics The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and The Storyteller, and for him these experiences remain a high point of his career. Jim Henson saw a picture of Froud’s on a book cover, and thought the artist would be perfect to help him bring to life an idea for a world he’d had. Froud jumped at the chance, and not only because he is a huge fan of the Muppets.
“I’d always wondered what it would be like if my art moved. I figured that traditional animation would not work, because my art doesn’t have depth to it, and so I’d actually thought, well maybe puppets is the way to add that depth.”
Ironically, after hiding himself away in the country, he was to spend much of the next five years in New York and London. But it had many benefits, not least that he met his wife Wendy, a puppeteer, at Hensons.
“Being in the Muppet workshop was like being in heaven. Colours, glue and fur and stuff! Jim and Frank [Oz] would come in and talk about the world, about the sort of creatures that might populate it.”
Froud oversaw every aspect of the design, drawing and sculpting on The Dark Crystal. Initially beginning with a small team, as the crew grew to 360 people, the lone artist had to learn to collaborate, the most satisfying part of the experience.
“It took five years of my life in the end. And I think that’s what makes The Dark Crystal unusual, we did literally build the whole world from the ground upwards. A whole world that had history, it had a religion, it had different animals. Jim was financing it himself until really quite late in the day. That gives it its freedom of expression. Nowadays everything is driven by accountants, I don’t think you’d ever get that freedom again. We made this film for ourselves, it caused confusion when people saw it – they wanted to know who it was for. But we though we didn’t really know, I think it affects everybody.”
This lack of a clear target audience and the release of ET meant that The Dark Crystal was a modest financial success. Froud and Henson’s next foray into fantasy, Labyrinth (1986), bombed. But both have gathered a large cult following, and Froud expresses amazement at the diversity of different editions he signs at events. Over the years a sequel to The Dark Crystal has been mooted, but it’s only recently that Froud was approached to design creatures for a second film in the series. He was initially less than taken with the idea.
“My first thought was ‘Why’? I’m always up for going on forwards, not going backwards. If we’re going to go back to this world, there’s got to be a reason. Talking to David Odell, who scripted the first, we came up with a reason. When we left this world it was paradise. Now we’re returning, something’s gone wrong; why? For me that’s the intriguing nub of the story. At the moment that’s in the script, but who knows what will happen! Anyway, I’ve done some designs for various creatures, Gelflings and things like that.”
Currently the film is going under the name of The Power of the Dark Crystal. Hensons literature reveals that a much older Jen and Kira, the heroes of the original, are rulers of the Castle of the Crystal. A fiery girl named Thurma from the centre of the planet (early development of The Dark Crystal featured underground civilisations, according to Froud) requests a shard of the crystal to revitalise the inner sun. The Gelflings refuse, so Thurma steals one, leading to the re-emergence of both Mystics and Skeksis.
“They’re still getting the final funding in place,” says Froud. “I spoke to Cheryl Henson at Comic-Con the other week. And she’s confident we’re talking about a 2009 release.”
Tags: Fat, Interview, Journalism, Red Dwarf, Rob Grant, SFX
A profile on another top creative guy I’ve interviewed a few times now. Meeting Rob was a very rare fanboy squee moment for me, as I try hard to maintain a shell of supercilious indifference towards celebrity, but I grew up on Red Dwarf, and was very excited. I’m glad to say we hit it off, and it’s always a pleasure to see him.
This interview was conducted on the publication of his novel, Fat, in 2006, for SFX 151. Read my review of it here.
Rob Grant Profile
Red Dwarf co-creator Rob Grant is feeling bullish, and there’s little that will get in the way of his iconoclastic ire. Right now his target is scientific orthodoxy, in his path the vast China shop of obesity and diet. His latest book, Fat, is a hilarious attack on the fatuous nature of statistics and how most of us swallow them whole. According to the near-future Fat, the only diet that works is the poor-quality brain food we scoff down every day, and the only thing it slims is the intellect.
Despite the tightly written nature of this eye-opening novel, its conception has the entertaining smack of low-grade charlatanry. Mr Grant made up this one on the spur of the moment, he confided in us.
It was while enjoying the fruits of his last book, the hit Incompetence, that he was called up by his agent. Grant takes up the story. “‘Let’s have a discussion about your next book. You have a two book deal and your publishers are chomping at the bit,’ my agent said, which I forget immediately, as you do. I remembered a couple of days before we met, so I went out for a drink, and thought, ‘Fat’. And literally, that’s all I had, three letters. When I went to see him and said, ‘The book – it’s fat,’ his eyes lit up. Of course I had no idea what it was going to be about, so I was doing some bullshitting and serious back-peddling, saying ‘Well, it’s very early days yet, very early days.’ Besides this, I also said, ‘Please don’t tell anyone’. I mean, I needed time! So the next day I got a phone call from my editor, ‘Hey, we love ‘Fat’, we’ve got the cover people working, and marketing are going crazy’. And I’m thinking about my agent ‘You bastard, you’re fired for a start’. The next day it was on Amazon. I was stuck with it, so I got all these books out and started researching the subject.”
Grant found himself astonished. Not only was there a book in the idea (he was relieved) but that, “Almost everything we know about diet, obesity and body image and its relationship to disease and the heart is crapulous!”
Fat seeks to set the record straight, demolishing received wisdom and lampooning the way Cartesian method has been put off the straight and narrow track.
“Take salt. There is a lack of evidence in salt’s case that it’s harmful for you in any way,” he cites. “Any substance is poisonous if taken to absolute excess,” he counters, “even water will kill you. But that six grams a day stuff is nonsense. It annoys me when the same old opinions are trotted out and aren’t backed up by any kind of scientific evidence whatsoever. For the book, I had to learn how to read statistics, which was a lot of fun, let me tell you. Now when I see some kind of nonsensical health story on the BBC website like ‘Tea causes cancer’, I am sceptical. You never get the figures, you never get the important, salient details, and you rarely get pointed to the source report. I blame journalists. I think in journalism you can either thoroughly research every story and check it out or you can write down what somebody tells you. The pay’s the same.” [Note from 2012: I am afraid he is bang on the money there. And the pay's awful].
None taken, Mr G. We can also just make it up, by the way.
“And there are whole government policies based on some ineptly conducted survey. And I mean, some of the more controversial stuff I didn’t dare put in, but I’m sure I’m going to get a backlash anyway.”
If all this is making Grant sound angry, he is not. He is as considered as ever, though he is incredulous as to how some of the rubbish he has uncovered as rubbish gets accepted as fact. He is, however, developing an intolerance for morons as he ages, of which he seems to encounter more than his share. Still, they provide fuel for his books, which seem to be leaning towards his Spitting Image days; more satire than SF.
“I don’t know,” he says. “Satire is a dirty word. In show business they say ‘Satire is what closes on Saturdays’, but I suppose there’s an element of satire in all my stuff. I am getting more real worldy, the thing is I don’t try and write to order, I write what occurs to me and hope that some bugger buys it.”
Is that his ‘You’re not pigeonholing me, I’m an artist’ statement?
“Ha, no! The whole nanny state thing drives me to distraction, We’re all grown up, let us decide if we want to have 13 year olds in carseats for ourselves. It doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight, the opposition’s embracing it too. That’s what I’m looking at in ‘Fat’.”
And now the cycle has begun again. Fat is long written, this is Grant’s first interview, and his agent hangs on the bell again, waiting for the next precious three-letter pitch. So, what sacred cows are in the firing line?
“I’ve got a queue.” He almost growls, which turns to a chuckle. “But I’ll say that climatologists better watch out…”
Tags: Doctor Who, Interview, Joe Ahearne, Journalism, SFX, Ultraviolet, Vampires
Here’s an interview with Joe Ahearne about his great UK vampire TV series, Ultraviolet, which was about the only decent home-grown genre thing Britain produced in the 90s. When I did this interview in 2005, it was already old news and Ahearne had move on to Doctor Who, so this was, and still is, a retrospective. I’d actually interviewed him about it twice or so beforehand, and visited the set way back when I was a young cub-nerd reporter with even worse hair than I have now. But at least I had some, I suppose.
Originally published in SFX Special Edition 22.
The drought had lasted for a long, long time. We’d been holding our heads up for a promising cloud drifted over, only for it to deliver a feeble spattering of drops. The TV landscape was as dry of good genre programming as the Sahara is of Pimms.
Cast your mind back to 1998. We were nearing the end of the decade, a decade that had furnished us with the unambitious Goodnight Sweetheart, the cheap and cheerful BUGS, and the diabolical Crime Traveller. Doctor Who was long dead, the BBC refusing to bring it back. Producers who dared poke their heads above the parapets to tout SF fare shirked from calling it such, it was the genre that dared not speak its name. “We don’t do big-budget fantastical television very well, best leave it to the Americans,” many programme makers said. The BBC’s hugely expensive Invasion Earth had just aired. At £1 million an episode, and with less than stellar ratings, it seemed they were right. The flop of the Doctor Who pilot two years earlier hadn’t helped. It was the time of the cosy, clichéd Sunday night drama with vets, cops, nurses and farmers falling over each other in 1950s Yorkshire. That time looked set to last forever.
But then came a show that proved you could do decent telefantasy on a British budget and not have it look like it was made of milk bottle tops. It took a perennial horror theme, that of vampires, and put a new spin on it, a spin that would soon be echoed by the likes of Buffy and Blade. That show was Ultraviolet.
“I wrote it because I am very interested in television with a strong visual element,” says writer-director Joe Ahearne, arguably one of the hottest properties on the now revived UK genre scene. “I was always more interested in being a director than a writer, but I wrote it simply because there was nothing like that out there at the time. It was the kind of thing I wanted to direct.”
Ahearne, a softly spoken chap who often breaks into a gentle laugh as he speaks, had been working on a short film with actors Siobhan Redmond and Neil Pearson, then stars of cop drama Between the Lines. They put him in touch with John Heyman and Tony Garnette of World Productions, producers of the series. He submitted a draft of a vampire show of about four pages, and they were interested. Rather than make his show right off, they offered him a gig working on the second series of This Life. The lad who’d wanted to be a director had so impressed them with his writing that he found himself penning two episodes, and he got his wish, flexing his directorial muscles, being behind the camera on three. Once he’d proven himself on that though, the greenlight was ignited, and Ultraviolet moved into production for Channel 4.
“That was my big break rather, than Ultraviolet. Even though I wrote and directed the whole of Ultraviolet. This life was bigger, it was more in the public conscience,” he says.
This Life star Jack Davenport, who played the slightly priggish Miles, was paired with Susannah Harker as part of a secret government department tasked with hunting down the undead (interestingly, in real life Harker is descended from the man who inspired Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula). In the show Davenport’s character, Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield, is pitched from normal life of blissful ignorance into a terrifying world where vampires are real when his best friend, Jack Beresford, disappears on the night before his wedding. These bloodsuckers weren’t the languid fops we were used to, quaffing blood like absinthe, but predators in snappy suits who had coexisted with humanity for centuries, only, as the show slowly, terrifyingly revealed, we were making so much of a balls-up of the planet that they’d decided to and boot Homo Sapiens from the driving seat.
The series’ great innovation came in taking it all terribly, terribly seriously. The guys hunting the vampires were grim-faced pros who had severed all ties with their previous lives to hunt down the creatures who had, naturally, done them some wrong. The vampires themselves were dangerous businessmen pursuing a hostile corporate takeover of Planet Earth Inc. The board was set, but it wasn’t the vampires that Ahearne focussed on, but their pawns.
“We found that once you’ve worked out how these people hunt vampires, there isn’t much mileage figuring out who is a vampire and who isn’t, they can find out with their gadgets. As we developed the stories from episode one we decided it was much more interesting to look at the contested characters; the humans helping the vampires.”
These ranged from folk who didn’t want to age – like the man whose mother had Alzheimer’s – to members of the team itself. In a great twist, it transpired Michael’s new boss, Father Pearse Harman (Philip Quast) was dying, and he is offered the vampire’s kiss. In this way Ahearne tackled several fairly weighty issues – from global warming to paedophilia – without ever over-relying on the vampires themselves. In fact, the word “vampire” is never once uttered throughout the show, the creatures of the night simply being referred to as “Code 5’s”. V for vampire, V for five in Roman numerals. The show is littered with similar clevernesses.
Ultraviolet’s use of intermediary human characters foreshadowed the later Blade film series, as it also did in its use of hi-tech vampire bashing gadgets. The members of Ultraviolet used carbon dum-dum bullets (wood, with little crosses on the tips) and alicin spray (derived from garlic). Even better, Ahearne took the idea that vampires couldn’t be seen in mirrors and extended it to modern technology – the vampire hunters carried video detectors on their guns which enabled them to determine who was a vampire and who was not. The vampires also could not be heard over electronic devices. It was so original, and the show had a substantial impact on the way vampires were represented on film and television.
“I don’t know if it really was that big an influence,” says Ahearne. “It came out here before Buffy and Blade, so it was before people had seen that kind of thing, seen vampires treated in that kind of way, though David Goyer did cite the show as an influence, which was very gratifying to hear!”
The show parts company with these American imports there. Whereas Blade and Buffy both rely on special effects, Ultraviolet deliberately avoided the use of them, having just a few in each episode.
“The trouble is, they cost so much,” says Ahearne. “Even something as seemingly straightforward as car chase takes time and money to do. When you’re shooting six hours of TV on a short timescale, you just can’t do it, even though Ultraviolet was an expensive series. I think that’s one of the big advantages of writing my own stuff, though I sometimes prefer to film someone else’s, it lets you know exactly what you can achieve from the outset. You’re not going to sit there and write ‘insert action sequence’ if you know from directing that it won’t be possible under the constraints of a TV schedule. And I think it’s the same with CG. Obviously now you can do a lot more than you could even seven years ago, but that takes time. If you give people weeks and loads of cash then they’ll come up with something really amazing, but often they don’t have that luxury so you end up with something that, well, still looks like a rubber monster!”
It may have been done for purely pragmatic reasons, but Ahearne’s reluctance to go the route of the big bang means that Ultraviolet has not become dated, something Ahearne points out happen to many older shows (he once said Blake’s 7, respected at the time, now looks like “A joke”, for example). In fact Ultraviolet still looks fresh, primarily due to Ahearne’s directorial style and his clever use of dusk and dawn light. However, this was something that made it all a little bit difficult.
“Shooting TV is not like making a film. You can’t go back and do it again if the light’s not right, and that’s another thing we had to take into account when writing the episodes. Originally the show was going to be about a vampire detective, but then I realised that it would all have to be night shoots, and that is hard. Even Ultraviolet, which we shot large parts of during the day, was logistically complicated. It was very hard work, especially directing all six episodes. That’s not something you usually do on a series like that, so it was very tiring.”
Nevertheless, as the series’ placing here demonstrates, it was all worth it. Sadly, despite its success, Channel 4 did not commission a sequel to the story. “I don’t know why,” says Ahearne, “it was one of the most successful dramas in its timeslot. Maybe they just weren’t interested. But I’m just very happy it came in the top ten here. I wasn’t aware that it had much of a life after it was shown. I mean, it’s not like Doctor Who, so I’m glad it’s still got a following.”
Its success was noted on the other side of the Atlantic. Following a route that was to become all-too familiar in following years, Ultraviolet was snapped up by the Americans to be turned into a slick, fast-paced vampire show.
“I think there was only a pilot,” he says. “I wasn’t involved in it at all. What happened was the company, World Productions, who made it sold the rights. They took Idris Elba [who played Vaughn Rice, one of Michael’s colleagues] from the British version, so there was a presence there, and I think they used quite a lot of my material for the first couple of scripts. But the problem is that I wrote Ultraviolet as a series – actually, I prefer miniseries, because if it were a series, with only six episodes, it wouldn’t have been regarded as very successful!” he laughs. “But I’d done what I wanted to do with it. If you make a series in America, it has to be able to run for five or six years, you’ve got to come up with something that can really run and run and run, because it is only when it gets into syndication that it makes its money. The thing I did wasn’t designed to do that, so I think the American version was designed as a sexy vampire soap. No criticism there,” he says, honestly meaning it, “because you have to make something that will run, and there wasn’t enough story material in mine for that. I don’t know why it didn’t work, but it didn’t.”
With no sequel forthcoming, Ahearne later went on to direct another genre treat, the sophisticated and quite scary Strange. Starring the curly headed (and surprisingly non-Welsh, after his turn in BBC2’s Coupling) Richard Coyle as a sort of ex-priestly demon-hunting Doctor Who, Strange, written by Andrew Marshall, ripped up the carpets of reality to show us all the paranormal nasties lurking beneath. Ahearne, with his dual-stranded career as writer/ director now ell-established, brought a lot to the six episodes as director.
“Because I write, when I’m directing someone else’s work, I don’t mess around with it. Although many TV companies like to put writer/directors to work on scripts that they haven’t written, I always try and respect what someone else has written, I think if they wrote something then that’s what they meant, they don’t want you to go and change it.” The show marked a bit of a departure for him, as he had been primarily a comedy writer, working on a string of BBC hits, from bizarre 1980’s laugh-fest The Kenny Everett Television Show to the wryly amusing 2point4 Children. “He is a really funny guy,” says Ahearne. Somehow, it’s hard to imagine the creator of the George Cole vehicle Dad penning a show about demons, but pen it he did and it worked well. There was to be no second season for this series either.
“Strange was different to Ultraviolet,” says Ahearne. “Again it was a very expensive show, but I don’t think it was quite as successful. It was a bit more exposed than Ultraviolet, the BBC put it out at 9.00 – prime time, so it had more to prove. Ultraviolet was always going to be a bit culty going out when it did. But it’s very difficult to decide where to pitch your show, what slot it fits into.” Indeed, perhaps this lack of an easy pigeonhole may explain why there was a lengthy gap between the initial pilot and the series.
Right now Ahearne is prepping for his next big project - Double Life, a film starring Christopher Eccleston, late of Doctor Who fame. Produced by Sophie Belhetchet, who got Ultraviolet on screen, it is a story of obsessive love with an SF twist.
“It’s difficult to describe what it is without giving too much of the plot away,” says Ahearne. “And I don’t want to do that. We’re at too early a stage. But it does have SF elements to it. It’s more about love and relationships really, but I think I will probably look at it and describe it as a genre piece,” he says, explaining his caginess, but Ahearne is not being trying to divert us, nor is he trying to cast wide the net of appeal. It’s not a case of “It’s post-apocalyptic fiction, not science-fiction”, as the producer of The Last Train said to SFX. This is not a man who is afraid of genre labels. “It’s just that it’s one of those dramas where the SF doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the story so you don’t really want to describe it as such. We will, be able to talk about it in more detail in a few weeks, but not right now.”
The film starts shooting in Budapest later this year, set for a theatrical release in 2006. We’ll just have to see how SF the flick will be, but if one thing is certain, Joe Ahearne – the man who helped end the genre drought on British television – will not disappoint us.
Ahearne on Doctor Who
“I was really happy to get the job on Doctor Who,” Ahearne says. Something everyone who worked on it felt, no doubt, as rumour has it people were very keen to be involved. “I don’t know what to say about it without saying the same old thing, there’s only so much you can say about working on a TV show where everyone’s happy to be there and working hard. It was a bit of a reunion for me, actually, as the production designer on Ultraviolet, John Bellington, worked on Doctor Who. I had a similar problem with him too! He made such a good job of the incarceration chamber on Ultraviolet that I was always disappointed I’d not set more scenes in there, but by the time I saw it it was too late to change the script. It was the same with the TARDIS, the set was amazing, and huge, and I thought it a shame there weren’t more bits in my episodes in it. But you can’t dictate to the characters where they’re going to go, they go where the story needs them to be,” he says. He is full of praise for the cast and crew. “Russell T Davies got a great team together, and Christopher Eccleston is such a great actor, that I don’t think they could have done it any better than they did.”
But it wasn’t all roses, at first, Ahearne was only booked for a couple of episodes, but in the end did six – “Bad Wolf”, “Boom Town”, “Dalek”, “Father’s Day”, and “The Parting of the Ways”. All the really cool ones, you might think, but Ahearne points out a problem with it. “When you do that many episodes, it takes a lot of time. They did all of it in Cardiff, pre-production, post-production, everything. It took nine months, which meant I had to move there, basically, so it was hard being away from home so long. But,” he says, and you can hear the smile in his voice, “I don’t think for a man like me, who’s interested in visual spectacle, you could have better job than directing episodes of Doctor Who where he’s fighting the Daleks.”