NAW Interview with James Lovegrove

James Lovegrove

James Lovegrove is the author of nearly 40 acclaimed novels and books for children. Straight after graduating from Oxford with a degree in English Literature, James set himself the goal of getting a novel written and sold within two years. In the event, it took two months. The Hope was completed in six weeks and accepted by Macmillan a fortnight later.

Subsequent works have all been published to great acclaim. More recently James has produced the Pantheon series, a set of standalone military-SF adventures combining high-tech weaponry and ancient gods. The third of these, The Age Of Odin, made it onto the New York Times bestseller list, and it and all the others have been a huge sales success. He also reviews fiction for the Financial Times, specialising in the children’s, science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel genres, and is a regular and prolific contributor to Comic Heroes, a bimonthly magazine devoted to all things comics-related, for which he writes a column judging “criminally crappy comics”, among other things. Visit him here.

NAW- Tell us about your book, Age of Shiva. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it? 

Age Of Shiva is the seventh book in my Pantheon series (six novels, one collection of novellas) and continues the theme of ancient gods and modern man coming into conflict.  The pantheon that features in the novel is, of course, the Hindu pantheon – specifically the Dashavatara, the Ten Avatars of Vishnu.  I’ve reimagined them as comic book superheroes whose mission is to rid the world of demons and vampires, but there’s an awful lot more going on beneath the surface.  The main character is Zak Bramwell, a British comic book artist who is employed originally to design costumes for the Dashavatar heroes.  He gets drawn (no pun intended) into a complex conspiracy which sees the world brought to the brink of all-out war, with the contention between India and Pakistan over Kashmir as the flashpoint.  My initial inspiration for the story was an Amar Chitra Katha comic I once saw as a kid.  Someone brought one in to school, and I was fascinated by it.  The comics I was used to were Marvel titles, and here was something that looked just like one of those but was also completely, fascinatingly different.  I think that that association of Indian comics and American superheroes stayed with me all the years since and finally emerged as Age Of Shiva.

NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title? 

Shiva took three or four months to write. I average at least two novels a year, alongside my work as a fiction reviewer and assorted other commissions such as short stories. I’ve been a professional author for 26 years and after all that time I’ve become pretty good at turning out the pages at a fair lick. The title was easy, since the titles of all the novels in the Pantheon series begin Age Of…, followed by the name of the chief god in the relevant pantheon. The exceptions to that rule have been Age Of Aztec (since my publisher’s marketing department wouldn’t allow Age Of Quetzalcoatl – too long and unpronounceable) and Age Of Voodoo (since there is no head deity in the voodoo religion, unless you count God, capital G, Himself, and Age Of God would be a sucky title).

NAW- Tell us about the research you did for Age of Shiva. Were you interested in Hindu Gods before you began writing this book?

I knew very little about the Hindu gods before I started work on the book, so I researched them as thoroughly as I could before I even began plotting out the story. This is always the way with my Pantheon novels. I learn as much as I can about the gods and the mythology first, and this informs how the plot develops and what the overall tone of the novel is going to be like.  With Age Of Odin, for instance, I immersed myself in the Norse myths and quickly realised that I would be looking at an apocalyptic war story set against a backdrop of winter and snow. Age Of Zeus, by contrast, turned into a tale of dysfunctional families, because the Ancient Greek pantheon seems to me to be just that, a sprawling, brawling dysfunctional family with divine powers.

NAW- Tell us about the Pantheon series. How did the idea materialise?

Originally I was asked by Solaris, my publisher, to write an alternate history novel for them.  I put forward three ideas and the one they liked most (which luckily was the one I liked most too) was about a war-torn modern-day world where the Ancient Egyptian gods have carved up the planet among themselves and each now rules a separate continent.  The gods’ attributes set the tone for the region they rule, and their squabbles become human wars.  The working title was Hieroglyph, but this was soon changed to Age Of Ra.  Almost as soon as I finished it, Solaris asked if I’d like to do another.  Normally I’m against the idea of sequels, mostly because I have a very short attention span and like to try new things all the time.  However, it seemed to me I could do a second book that was similar yet different, using another pantheon.  That was Age Of Zeus.  The main joy of the series, for me, has been that it allows me to attempt something new every time while keeping the essential themes (modern humans in opposition to ancient gods) consistent throughout.

Age-of-Shiva_book cover

NAW- Tell us about your other works.

I’ve published over fifty books, including children’s stories, a Young Adult fantasy series and several short books for readers with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.  My early novels such as The Hope, Days and Provender Gleed are very much in the British-satirical mould of J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock and Iain Banks.  More recently I’ve written thrillers about a vampire-hunting policeman, in Redlaw, and I’m currently having a whale of time penning Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  I’m working on the third of those right now, The Thinking Engine.  They’re classic Holmes stories, using all the elements you’d expect from a Holmes story but with an added science fiction or fantasy twist.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

On top of my job, I have two young sons, and the demands of family life mean I have very little spare time.  I like to read as much as possible, of course, and I am a regular cinemagoer.  I also try and walk the dog every day.  We live right by the English Channel, and it’s great to get up on the cliffs and look out over the sea.  Whatever the weather, the view is always inspiring.  I wish I could say I travel to far-flung countries, am a kung fu expert, volunteer at a local soup kitchen, make sculpture, advise the prime minister on policy matters, enjoy BASE jumping and rock climbing – but that would be a lie.  I lead quite a sedate, quiet life, in fact.

NAW- Please name your favourite poets. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?

From an early age I liked the work of Philip Larkin.  He was a grumpy, curmudgeonly man who wrote poetry that expressed a peculiarly modern British outlook, part cynicism, part optimism.  I wrote a thesis on him at Oxford and have always felt a kinship with him.  Not with his political views, which were far to the right of mine, but with his sense of melancholy, his occasional lapses into despair and his very rare bursts of hope.

NAW-What are you currently reading?

A mix of things.  I usually have a novel or two, a couple of graphic novels and at least one magazine on the go all at once.  At the moment it’s Midnight In Europe by Alan Furst and The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Swamp Thing Collection #2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Letter 44 by Charles Soule, and the current issues of Empire and Private Eye.  See?  Short attention span.

NAW- What will you be working on next?

I’ve just started a new series of space-opera action adventure tales set in a future where there’s a cold war going on between humans and an artificial-intelligence race.  The first book is called World Of Fire, out next month, and it’s going to be followed up by World Of Water next year.  I’ve also just signed a contract to write a trilogy featuring Sherlock Holmes in conflict with monsters and elder gods from the H.P. Lovecraft mythos. Those will be coming out in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and I think I’m going to have huge fun with them.

NAW- Any advice for aspiring writers?

Read.  Write.  Keep reading.  Keep writing.

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