Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Trevor Hoyle?
I was born in Lancashire, where I still live. Early on I worked as an actor in television and theatre, and for a while I wrote and presented an arts and entertainment digest programme for Granada Television.
Since the mid-seventies, I’ve published more than 20 novels — mainstream, thrillers, science fiction — as well as many short stories (and even won the Transatlantic Review prize). I’ve also written for BBC Radio, winning the Radio Times Drama Award. Writing Randle’s Scandals, a radio play about rude Wigan comedian Frank Randle, was a real labour of love – for which Keith Clifford, the actor in the title role, won the Sony Award.
Your new novel, The Last Gasp, will be published by Jo Fletcher Books in April. It looks rather interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
The novel is a 21st-century prophesy of a world running out of oxygen. This isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. The way we’re mistreating the environment, pouring millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we’re creating our own disaster scenario which is threatening us all. The main character is a British marine biologist, Gavin Chase, and the story takes us from the present day to thirty years into the future, and depicts the very real possibility that we could be literally gasping for breath – hence the title.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I got drunk. Actually, my fiction editor at the time, Nick Austin, and I got drunk together, and we started throwing out wild ideas about possible future disasters, the more outlandish the better. Most were forgotten the next morning, but this one idea – a world devoid of breathable oxygen – stuck with me. So with Nick’s encouragement I started to research the subject and talked to many scientists, and for more than a year I just made notes. The story I came up with was to show how industrial pollution was killing off phytoplankton in the oceans (the tiny organisms which provide oxygen) and thus starving us of life.
The frightening thing is that since the first version came out in 1983, real-life disasters have started to copy those in the book. In 2011 Jo Fletcher asked me to update the novel (nobody in the original had a mobile phone, for instance, and the Cold War was still happening) and this is the new edition about to be published. Although the main plot and characters haven’t much changed, the book is still very different: we now find the various political powers starting to wage environmental war employing WCD: Weapons of Climate Degradation. I hope to God this is one idea that stays in the realms of fiction.
The Last Gasp (1983)
As to inspiration in general, ideas for a story can come from anywhere. You might overhear a conversation on a train, or spot somebody in a pub who looks intriguing, or have a disturbing dream you can’t shake off. Writers possess antennae which are always attuned to picking up signals which might lead to an idea that excites their curiosity.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
If by ‘genre fiction’ you mean science fiction, I started reading it aged about 11 or 12. I used to devour those monthly SF magazines – Analog, Galaxy, Amazing Stories – costing 1/3d (old money) with authors such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Sheckley, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick and E.C. Tubb.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Well, I’ve been a professional author for more than 40 years, so I guess it’s too late to try something different now. Being a full-time writer is rewarding, frustrating, maddening and ultimately very satisfying, and I feel extremely lucky to have done it, and earned a living, for most of my adult life. Publishing itself has changed beyond all recognition since when I started. If you want a 10-hour interview I could begin to elucidate…
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Every writer I know has a unique method of working. Of my own novels, some have been written in 3-4 months, others have taken four to five years. The Last Gasp, in its two incarnations, has probably consumed nearly ten years of my life. No matter how long you work at it, and however skilled and experienced you become, writing remains bloody hard graft.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I was about nine years old when I started writing my own stories. I also designed the covers, did the illustrations, wrote the blurb, put the price on the inner flap, and possibly wrote the reviews as well. I completed several full-length novels during my teens and early twenties that were never accepted, which I look back on as a valuable apprenticeship. My first published novel was an experimental work called The Relatively Constant Copywriter (a JFB eBook). Am I still fond of it? I suppose so, yes.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I don’t actually think in terms of genre fiction. In fact, I have always liked to bend or transgress the boundaries. One novel of mine, Mirrorman (also a JFB ebook) is a mixture of science fiction, historical, horror, suspense, with elements of fantasy thrown in for good measure. And The Last Gasp, though venturing thirty years into the future, is not strictly SF; if it must have a label, I’d prefer the term ‘speculative fiction’.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
There are half-a-dozen ideas swirling around that might come to something. One is a non-fiction project called The Quantum Writer that I’ve been toying with for ten years or more. I’d also like to write a novel set in the fifties about the emergence of rock ’n’ roll and the Teddy Boy culture of the period.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
The final part of Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. She was a wonderful writer whose skill I admire tremendously. I’m also reading a biography of John le Carré, who wrote The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, possibly the best modern spy story ever written. Next up is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I appeared as a Teddy Boy wrecking Florrie Lindley’s shop in episode 9 of Coronation Street.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Seeing The Last Gasp in the bestseller lists! And maybe a film offer? Looking further afield, I have to be honest and say the global situation ain’t looking too clever. Politically it’s a disaster area, and the deteriorating environment is a real concern. Sorry to be so gloomy, but I call it as I see it.
The Last Gasp is out in paperback this Thursday, published by Jo Fletcher Books. For more on Trevor Hoyle’s writing and novels, be sure to check out his website, his author page on Jo Fletcher Books, and follow him on Goodreads.