Regular visitors to the Book Zone will know that I am a huge fan of the Hell's Underground series by Alan Gibbons. If you have not yet read my reviews of these books you can find them here and here - in my opinion it is the best YA horror series around at the moment. I recently approached Nina Douglas at Orion Books to see if Alan would be interested in taking part in an interview for this blog and he very kindly consented. Thank you Alan for taking the time to answer my questions.
How would you describe the Hell’s Underground series to a potential reader?
Hell’s Underground is a time travel adventure into the dark side of London’s past- its fantastical demon horrors and its true life human ones.
What inspired you to write the series?
I have always loved horror stories, especially the great British Gothic tradition. The immediate trigger was a documentary on the enduring fascination with the Jack the Ripper story.
With Paul Rector having travelled back through three different time periods so far how do you go about carrying out what must be an enormous amount of research?
To be honest the research usually comes first. I have always loved history so all I have to do is freshen up a little bit.
Of the time periods Paul Rector has visited so far which is your favourite?
It has got to be the misty backstreets of late Victorian London.
London features very heavily in the series. What is the appeal of this city and its history to you?
It is the concentration of the City and the East End. Much of the history I describe is accessible to the modern reader by just walking a couple of square miles.
Which of Paul’s Rector ancestors is your favourite?
I think it was Harry Rector, the British traitor-fascist. A thoroughly bad egg!
Why do you think young people find the horror genre so appealing?
It is a way of challenging our deepest, most primal fears. Everybody loves a good monster.
There are some pretty brutal scenes in the Hell’s Underground books. How do you gauge the right level of violence in your writing?
This is really hard. The first thing is that I want to scare my readers not make them uncomfortable. I find violence in fiction repugnant when it doesn’t have consequences. With the special exception of Israel Lazarus, when my characters die they stay dead. I also try to set it in a framework where the reader would find it hard to empathise with the bad guys. I depict violence to abhor it.
Are you a fan of horror literature? Do you have any favourites?
Definitely. I love Stephen King. In many of his novels women and children overcome brutal male power. I love Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stephenson, which is incredibly modern in its psychological power. Finally there is Shirley L Jackson’s magnificent The Haunting of Hill House.
What books/authors did you read when you were younger?
My childhood favourites were Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis, Bows Against the Barons by Geoffrey Trease, Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner and the Bobbsey Twins series.
What made you start writing for children and young adults? Do you read many books for this age group yourself?
I was a teacher and it just seemed to fit. I am a huge fan of other children’s authors such as Malorie Blackman, Robert Swindells, Robert Westall, Michael Rosen, Roald Dahl, Robert Cormier, Marcus Sedgwick, Bali Rai, Beverley Naidoo, Jamilia Gavin and oh so many more.
Do you have any ideas as to how we can get boys reading for enjoyment?
I think we just have to show them the fantastic range of books for boys. Few lads can resist Robert Muchamore, Darren Shan, Tom Palmer, Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz.
I know that Witch Breed has only just been released but can you give us any hints as to what we can expect from the next book in the series? What time period will it be set in?
It is set in Roman Britain and the reader will discover where King Lud comes from.
Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of this blog?
There will be a year’s wait for the next book. I wanted to do a book about the war on terror. It is topical so I am completing An Act of Love before I tie up all the loose ends in the Hell’s Underground series. Sorry?