– Without giving anything away, what can you tell potential readers about TWELVE?
A team of Russian soldiers recruit twelve Wallachian mercenaries to help kick Napoleon out of their country. One of the Russians, Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, becomes increasingly suspicious of the behaviour and methods of his knew comrades, and eventually comes to the gruesome realization that the Twelve are vampires. I’ve seen a few reviews that think this is a twist, but I never really expected anyone to approach the book without knowing it was about vampires, so I don’t think readers should be too surprised. In the end it turns out that the Wallachians aren’t too fussy about whether their victims are Russians or French and Aleksei makes it his duty to destroy them. It’s at that point that things start to get complicated, and he discovers that in one of the Wallachians, Iuda, he may have met his match.
Of course, looking at it from another angle, what it’s really about, just like Buffy and Dracula itself, is friendship. And I don’t mean that in the sense that that is what all stories are about – I’m being quite specific. Nobody has any friends in Thirteen Years Later or The Third Section. They’re more about family.
Also, it’s an allegory for how the Mujahedeen transformed into Al-Qaeda. Seriously; though the idea did get a little lost along the way, so you really have to look for it.
– Although TWELVE turned out to be a bestseller in the UK, it seemed to take quite a while for the book to find a home in North America. Do you think that TWELVE being another vampire book worked against your finding an American publisher?
I’m not sure it really took too long to be picked up in the USA – not compared with the three years it took to find a publisher in the UK. As to whether it being a vampire novel caused a delay, what can you do? TWELVE is what it is (it is its own special creation).
– How happy are you to have joined Lou Anders and the Pyr family?
Lou is great – extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic. There’s been a lot of communication between us concerning the cover and marketing and so forth, second only to the dialogue I have with my UK editor, Simon Taylor.
– Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?
Once I was happy with the text I started sending it directly to publishers (reasoning, wrongly, that it would be easier to get over the single hurdle of being accepted by a publisher than having to face being accepted first by an agent and then by a publisher). All the feedback that wasn’t cursory was pretty positive in terms of the content, but at the time publishers couldn’t really find much of a place for horror. Peter Lavery at Macmillan was particularly enthusiastic and suggested I contact John Jarrold as a literary agent. John managed to get it seen by more publishers, but still without a bite.
After that I wrote a couple of non-supernatural novels, neither of which has sold, but then the market for horror began to pick up and about three years after first submitting it, John retried a few publishers and Transworld, who had liked it the first time, finally picked it up. Even that was just a start rather than a finish, with quite a bit of rewriting being done before the final version came out. There’s even one tiny rewrite between the trade and mass market editions in the UK. A signed copy for the first person who spots it.
– THIRTEEN YEARS LATER has been out for several months on your side of the Atlantic. How well-received has it been compared to TWELVE?
In terms of the quality of reviews and other feedback, I’d say THIRTEEN YEARS LATER has been received slightly better than TWELVE. Of those reviews that have specifically mentioned it, I’ve only seen one that preferred the first book, and several the new one. On the other hand, the reviews have been coming in more slowly for THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, which maybe down simply to the fact that there is more interest in a new author and a new series. Also the closure of Borders in the UK has probably had an effect – they put a lot of promotion into TWELVE when it first came out.
– Speaking of vampires, what do you think your books offer that other such novels don’t?
I’m not sure that there’s anything absolutely unique in my novels, though compared with contemporary novels they probably have a unique combination of elements. In many ways, I’ve deliberately tried to be very old-fashioned. I suppose one thing that is a little different is that TWELVE particularly isn’t really about vampires, as people will see, particularly towards the end. It’s about war and a soldier’s relationship with his comrades. The vampires are introduced to give Aleksei the realization that there might be an enemy more serious than the French.
– The difficulty for you as a writer is that your books also have a rich historical tapestry behind them. How much background research have you had to do before you write each one?
There’s a huge amount of research, and I love doing it – both from books and on actual visits. It can almost become a distraction. I’m often asked about the amount of research I’ve done into vampires, and the answer to that is relatively little, because I’m having so much fun looking at the history. And with the history there’s a right and wrong, whereas with vampires I’m free to make them my own. The hard part of the research is eventually forcing myself to stop and start writing and make use of what I’ve discovered.
– How long had you been developing the ideas for the series before you began with TWELVE?
I initially wrote TWELVE without any thought to there being a series. The ideas for it all came fairly quickly from the point I’d come up with Russian Napoleonic vampires, though many of the more general concepts had probably been knocking around in my head. In researching TWELVE I discovered that many of the Russian veterans of 1812 became Decembrists in 1825, and then it was easy to see the historical line to the revolutions of 1917. The fact that I have vampires means that I can have a character whose life spans that entire period, which gives me a wonderful way to personalize history.
– How have you found developing the series after TWELVE? What did you want to achieve in THIRTEEN YEARS LATER that you hadn’t in TWELVE?
The hardest bit about developing the rest of the series has been choosing which historical events to focus on – in the sense that I’m spoilt for choice. 1825 and the Decembrist uprising was essential, and then the Crimean war was reasonably obvious, because of the British involvement. The end point is clearly 1917, but there was so much going on around then that I’m going to have to force myself to be specific. Book four is the one that’s been moving around most. Originally I was going to set it in Wallachia in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, but now I’m more inclined to cover the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Maybe I’ll find a way to include both.
I’m not sure that I felt there was anything left unachieved in TWELVE; different books are about different things. That was a story about invasion, friendship and faith; THIRTEEN YEARS LATER is about revolution and resurrection; THE THIRD SECTION is about industrialization and parents and children.
– What can you tell us about the third volume? Any tentative title or release date yet?
It’s called THE THIRD SECTION, which was the usual name for The Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery – the secret police under Nicholas I. It scheduled for release in the UK in March 2011 (and, it seems, is currently ranked 634,788th in Amazon UK sales). It begins with Dmitry Alekseevich, Aleksei’s son, fighting the French and British in the Crimea, while Tamara Valentinovna, whom we met as a child in THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, travels to Moscow to take up her new job with the Third Section. It’s hard to say too much without spoiling THIRTEEN YEARS LATER.
– We understand the fifth book will probably take place in the First World War. Have you thought about going any further ahead? Can we, for example, envisage vampires in the Cold War?
I think one has to stop somewhere, and for me 1917 is historically, as well as in the books, the end of a story that began in 1812. I’m not saying I’d never do Cold War vampires, but it would be another story.
– I’m sure Simon and Lou have already spoken to you about this, but what are the odds of a future Danilov installment featuring a dumbass female protagonist caught in a love triangle with a skinny emo vampire and a burly good-looking werewolf?
Clearly you’ve been sneaking in and reading my notes. I do move with the times. THE THIRD SECTION does have human on vampire action and a love triangle, but nothing is ever quite as it seems. No werewolves though. That’s just over-egging the pudding. It’ll Abbott and Costello next.
– More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what’s being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?
Yes, I keep an eye on it and yes, it is a distraction. But it’s irresistible if people are talking about you.
– Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?
In TWELVE, probably Dmitry Fetyukovich. He’s the character who sits on the moral cusp, and so is the one who with whom it was harder to guess which way he’ll go. Major characters do tend to have their personality dictated somewhat by plot needs, so often it’s minor characters who are surprising; Natalia Borisovna, for example. In THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, Raisa Styepanovna appears for only a few pages, but becomes one of the main characters in THE THIRD SECTION.
– You also have an interest in music: you have co-written musicals. Can we expect some of this background to appear later in the series: set at a Russian Opera or concert, for example?
Dmitry Alekseevich grows up to be a talented pianist, which is an on-going theme. It’s fun as a kind of historical sub-plot to be going through such a hugely important century in terms of the development of music. In TWELVE Aleksei mentions seeing Beethoven’s Fidelio soon after it was first written. At the time of THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, Chopin was just being recognized as a prodigy and by THE THIRD SECTION he was dead. There are scenes set at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in both books 2 and 3, and indeed in TWELVE – at least on the site of it; it was burned down at the time.
– I absolutely love the Paul Young covers for both TWELVE and THIRTEEN YEARS LATER and I’m thrilled that Lou Anders elected to go for them for the US edition. Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the covers that grace your books?
I love the covers as well and I hope we can manage to maintain the theme all the way through the quintet. Having said that, I don’t want that desire to influence what I write. I think covers can be viewed with rather too much of a belief in their precise reference to the plot, rather than just giving an overall feel for the book. For example, I read a comment from someone online saying that they felt the fact that the big figure from the cover of TWELVE is repeated on the cover of THIRTEEN YEARS LATER gave away the fact that the villain, Iuda, is going to reappear in that book. For my part, I’ve never been under the impression that that figure was Iuda. It certainly doesn’t match his description. My guess is that, if it’s anyone in particular, it’s Aleksei. I’ll have to ask Paul what he thinks.
Paul’s cover has been taken up in almost every other country that TWELVE has been published in. Only Rizzoli in Italy has gone for something completely of its own, which nice not least for the benefit of just seeing something new.
– Anything you wish to add?
That’s the first interview I’ve done in ages without a question about the rats. Good job too – they were thinking about getting their own agent.