Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Guy Adams?
There are creatures at the depths of Earth’s oceans that exist alone in the darkness. If they stray too close to the light they explode, their bodies having developed in this isolated, salty world. Instead, they float, thoughts adrift in whatever imaginations they possess. Subsisting on whatever floats their way.
Guy Adams is like that, only with more cats.
I also write comics, mainly for 2000AD but also including Goldtiger, a book about a fictional newspaper comic strip that I co-created with Jimmy Broxton.
At the moment I’m mainly writing audio dramas for Big Finish because who wouldn’t want to put words into a Tom Baker or Sir Derek Jacobi?
Your new series of novellas, The Change, will be published by Solaris in July. It looks rather fabulous: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
With typical English shyness, and self-deprecation probably. Luckily The Change books are rather more confident than me and would soon swagger about, blowing their own trumpet like the very worst party boors.
The idea is simple: Early one morning, terrible, godlike creatures appeared in our skies. Anyone who saw them died, and when they left, a few minutes later, the world had been changed by their presence, becoming a far more dangerous, surreal and unpredictable place.
The books tell the stories of various people who are now trying to survive there.
Out of the six books, two each are set in London and New York (ongoing adventures with the same cast of characters) the other two are one-off tales set in other cities, Tokyo and Paris.
Should the series continue – and that’s certainly my plan – the format would stay the same, ongoing adventures in New York and London with little side-steps to other cities.
What inspired you to write the series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
A lot of the thinking stems from my thoughts about pschogeography. I love the idea that not only do we put our stamp on our environment but that it puts its stamp on us too. Cities soak up the history that happens in them. Events staining and contaminating every brick of the buildings, every inch of its roads and alleyways. The Change is about what happens when all that seeps back out.
What if cities could go mad?
So, everything my heroes face is rooted in the history and culture of their environment. The first London book takes place, for the most part, on the M25 motorway that loops around the city and a strange, horrible amalgamation of engine and body parts that’s made its home there.
The first New York book imagines a Coney Island that’s infested with the ghosts of amusement parks long gone.
The Paris book features The Impressionists, men made from paint, who have taken over the Louvre.
My imagination has always inclined towards that weird combination of the grotesque and the beautiful, so I wanted to do a series of stories where I could really let rip. Adventures with the brakes off.
I also wanted to experiment with form a bit. Moving away from the novel to build an even bigger canvas, episodic adventures that look more to the structure of TV or the nigh-infinite paper worlds of comic books. While there are links between the books they also operate in a degree of isolation, the New York books have a different tone to the London ones, the one-offs are different again.
Perhaps the best analogy is that I want to build the strangest building my imagination can conceive and each of these books is one more brick.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I genuinely can’t think of a time when I didn’t seek my entertainment from the weird. As a kid I started off with Doctor Who and comic books (both of which I still love today and, rather wonderfully, now earning a living from). My love of those meant that whenever I picked up a book I would soon put it down again if it had no fantasy element of some kind. To me, a book that showed ‘real life’ was missing a trick. You turned to fiction to experience things the real world couldn’t offer. Who goes on holiday to the town where they already live?
Alan Garner was an early touchstone, not the first genre novelist I read but the first that I was completely swept away by.
As you get older you start to recognize that an author’s ‘voice’ is what you’re really there for, not just a plot featuring monsters, but truthfully I’m still a fantasist at heart.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
This is an interesting one because writers aren’t supposed to moan about their job. Creatives get squinted at when they sigh and admit they’ve had a horrible day/week/whatever… It’s natural to a degree, we’re working a gig that many others aspire to. We’re seen as millionaires tutting over a molehill in our golf course.
And yet… Life’s not like that is it really? It’s still a job and one that comes with all the usual pressures, judgments, difficulties… Being creative to order can be extremely draining and very few writers are so affluent that they don’t have to keep the words coming, thicker and faster than they would like.
A friend of mine took a straw poll online recently asking people whether they enjoyed writing, the results were pretty clear: those who relied on it for their livelihoods had distinctly mixed feelings – often admitting to actually hating the writing part – whereas those who wrote as a hobby loved every tapped out word (as well they should, what sort of masochist would indulge in a hobby they hate?).
The initial dreaming is always fun, the ideas, the exploration of those ideas. The actual heavy-lifting, the word counts, the deadlines, the revisions, that’s just a job and there’s many a time I’d like nothing more than to punch the computer and run out into the sun. But I don’t. And I can’t, because this is my job and I like being able to live in a house and feed cats and family.
Publishing industry? Full of the most adorable people trying to balance creativity with cold hard cash. Every publisher is a business, every business is a compromise. I’ve done big money projects with big publishers, exercises in playing the game, working with sales and trying to come up with a product that will sell. That’s what businesses do, sell product. If that product has artistic merit – and many do of course – then that’s fine and good but you don’t keep corporations afloat without staring at the bottom line rather than the poetry. I enjoy the challenge of that but it doesn’t always feel like art.
Then you have smaller publishers like Solaris where the game is entirely different. Solaris do not publish books that will be delivered to supermarkets on shipping pallets. This is not to demean them in anyway – quite the opposite as I hope is clear – these are canny people keeping the lights on and filling the world with good stories. People who love the art of it all. It will always be a different experience. Solaris have let me tell stories others never would. I’d work with them forever.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Oh I’m just a slogger. I work seven days a week and just run at it. The Change books required a fair amount of reading and map studying but generally that’s something I do on the hoof. You run at your story and then when you hit a misty patch where practical knowledge is limiting your ability to continue, then you down keyboard and get learning.
It’s all about throwing yourself at the story and exploring as you go.
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 have no idea when I first started writing for fun. It’s something that’s just always been there. Exercise books filled with badly-drawn comic books, blue-biro short stories (then black ink because it looked nicer, wet black ink looks like art, blue biro looks like a shopping list).
I was bought a typewriter when I was in my teens, I used it to start lots of things I’d never finish. Then a word processor, with its tiny flip-up screen; like spying on your own story through a letterbox. Floppy discs full of ambition.
I trained as an actor initially and my writing was effectively reduced to the occasional script once I started working. I toured a comedy sketch show and wrote a lot of scripts for that (on a PC by now, obviously, having started to list The Writing Machines of Yore I feel I have to continue). I barely touched prose though, I was busy and all my artistic itches were being scratched.
When I gave up on acting I went back to writing because I couldn’t not be fantasizing. If I couldn’t do it on a stage I’d do it on paper. It was never something I intended to pursue as a career though. In fact, I fell into that when a friend and I pitched ourselves to a TV company as publishers. We were running a small press – for fun really – and while they weren’t interested in us as publishers, they liked our ideas so we were hired as writer and designer respectively and we ended up doing books about the TV show Life On Mars. From there, being between jobs, it became a matter of necessity to keep trying to get more work in order to earn a living. Before I knew it I’d become a writer. It wasn’t a big moment, there was no weighty decision, just – as is my way – running forward and trying to keep my head above water.
I now realize I could never really have been anything else.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I don’t read enough modern work to judge at the moment really, which is a failing I know. But, The Change aside, I sort of turned my back on prose a couple of years ago, moving more into the audio work and comics. I needed a break, a change of scenery. I’d written eight novels in the space of two years and was feeling suffocated by it. My reading habits changed along with my working habits. I guess I’m on holiday for a bit.
I read a lot of comics – always did – but as far as prose is concerned my reading habits have been weird. Lots of Doctor Who books – again, natural given how much that’s become a part of my working life, I’m someone that needs to drown themselves in the world and the voice of what I’m doing. I’ve also been wandering through the wonderful world of vintage crime. I’ve always loved Agatha Christie and recently finished working my way through her entire back catalogue. Then there’s Margery Allingham; Dorothy Sayers; Sax Rohmer (I KNOW but there’s still pleasure there even if you do keep barking your shins on his racism), Dennis Wheatley (ditto). Over the Atlantic, I’ve recently fallen in love with Ed McBain.
I’m also – slowly, because it’s precious – working my way through Wodehouse. The literary equivalent of a gin and tonic on a freshly cut lawn.
It’s not that I’ve turned my back on fantasy and horror, I’m just so busy with my current work projects that every book I pick up is either linked to it or a cosy, beautiful holiday from it.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Right now I have a ghostwriting gig with a sickening deadline, a short story, about fifteen hours of audio drama and ongoing script work for Hope, the comic series I do with Jimmy Broxton for 2000AD. That’s my summer. My pipeline is clogged.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Non-fiction wise I’m working through Doctor Who: The Complete History which is a huge part-work covering the production history of the TV series. It took me a long time to be able to grab back issues of it because I live in Spain and it’s not sold over here but I’m almost up to date now. It’s not for everyone, but I’m finding that nothing relaxes me more after a silly day of tapping than a large drink and pages of minutiae about people dreaming up alien worlds in ancient recording studios.
I have the omnibus edition of DC comics’ Silver Age Doom Patrol comics on the way to me so I’ll certainly be dipping into that when it arrives. Absurd, wild comics, beautiful art, imagination unfettered.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith. It’s just pure bliss and a gateway drug because the man can’t write a bad book. Bastard.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I receive no kickback financially for the amount of times I tell people to read Michael Marshall Smith. Also, due to food poisoning, I once nearly defecated myself while being trapped in a lift with Clive Barker, a hero of mine. Thankfully, all he knows is that he once spent a very uncomfortable time sharing a lift with someone in cold sweats who grinned at him like a maniac.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
A day off.
Guy Adams’s The Change is published by Solaris on July 13th, 2017.