WRITER: TREVOR HOYLE
Trevor Hoyle worked as an actor, an advertising copywriter and a lecturer in creative writing before becoming a full-time writer, mainly of novels and short stories. His published fiction includes “Relatively Constant Copywriter”, “Rule of Night”, “The Man Who Travelled On Motorways”, “Vail” and “Blind Needle.” “The Last Gasp”, which was a Doubleday Book Club Selection in the US, is now under option in Hollywood. He has written three Blake’s 7 books and the Season C episode “Ultraworld.”
Find out more about Trevor at his website: http://www.trevorhoyle.com
This interview was conducted by Mark Oliver and was first published in Issue 5 of Scorpio Attack, 2008.
SA: How did your involvement with Blake’s 7 come about?
TH: My fiction editor, Nick Austin, who commissioned me to write the Q series, asked me if I’d like to do a novelisation of a new BBC science fiction series created by Terry Nation. Nick was editor at Sphere Books at the time, and as the money was good I said yes.
SA: Your first Blake’s 7 novel was a novelisation of the first four episodes of the show. At the time you came to write it, were these episodes “in the can” so that you could watch them, or were you reliant on the scripts for reference?
TH: After I’d agreed to do the book, Terry Nation rang me to discuss the early episodes which he was still writing (he’d finished the first two as I recall) and as I’d by then published several SF novels he asked for some advice on the scientific/technical background to the show which he wasn’t confident about. In particular he didn’t know what type of spaceship and propulsion unit Blake and his crew should have. I suggested a couple of things and we discussed ion-drives and plasma thrusters and so on, but in the end I said it was probably better either not to specify the hardware at all or to keep it fairly vague, which is what he did.
In the novels most of the “scientific” jargon in exposition (not dialogue) is my invention because that wasn’t Terry’s strong suit, which he freely admitted. In fact he made one or two howlers which I had to correct – in one episode when someone is ejected into space he had them screaming, until I pointed out that space is a vacuum and sound waves don’t travel. Terry fed the scripts through to me in first draft so I could get on with the book, but they’d only just started casting it (I think Gareth Thomas had been cast but none of the others) and so it made describing the characters difficult because no one knew which actors would play them. I had to add descriptive touches later on as I was sent photographs of the cast. Television production often works right up to the week (or even the day) before transmission whereas publishing schedules work months in advance. This was in the days before computers so the final edited manuscript had to be delivered to the publisher before the episodes were recorded so the book could be printed, bound, etc and distributed. As you may know, changes are made in the studio on the day of recording by which time the actual book is sitting in a warehouse somewhere.
SA: The first episode of Blake’s 7, The Way Back, underwent considerable changes in the scripting process. Did this affect you and your novel in any way?
TH: That all depends on whether the changes were made before or after the publishing deadline. If they were made afterwards it was too late to change anything because the book was with the printer’s.
SA: Were you aware that the book was sold in secondary schools pupils as part of the regular monthly book club purchases and became the “book of the Month” in many of them?
TH: No. This is news to me. It's lovely to hear that!
SA: The novel was sufficiently popular that it led to an immediate follow up title “Project Avalon” which novelized five more scripts Seek-Locate-Destroy, Duel, Project Avalon, Deliverance (in a heavily truncated form) and Orac. Why did you decide to significantly excise much of the script of Deliverance?
TH: I can’t remember doing so. If it happened it was for one of two reasons. Either the script was heavily altered after the publishing deadline (see above) or the publisher decided to make the book shorter due to cost factors (publishers are wont to do this on occasion) but I personally wouldn’t have made cuts to the original script – I never deviated by a single word from any script I was working on.
SA: How did you come to write the third season script “Ultraworld?”
TH: I’d worked with script editor Chris Boucher on some aspects of the novels and he asked me to contribute to the series.
SA: Were you aware that the opening episode of season two “Redemption” had a similar premise?
TH: No idea. If it had been that similar I think Chris would have pointed it out.
SA: The production of your script seemed to have been afforded a higher effects budget than was customary. Can you shed any light on this?
TH: Not sure the budget was any different actually. I did ask for a dozen or so “Ultra” aliens but they could afford only three. Small planet, Ultraworld.
SA: Were you happy with how your script translated from script to screen?
TH: Within the confines and restrictions of television, yes. You have to make huge compromises between the writer’s vision and what appears on screen. I know they decided to dumb down the various riddles that Vila is feeding Orac to make them suitable to a popular audience – they were taken from a child’s joke book I believe.
SA: Were you aware that on its first showing in the US, the death throes of the Brain were deemed to be too gruesome and they were cut prior to transmission?
TH: No, really! Doesn’t surprise me though. American mainstream TV is a joke.
SA: The first book was published by Sphere Books, “Project Avalon” by Arrow and “Scorpio Attack” by BBC Books. Why the changes in publisher?
TH: Presumably Sphere didn’t pick up the option or Arrow made a better offer – outside my influence or expertise. BBC Books contacted me to write “Scorpio Attack a few years later and I wasn’t party to the publishing decisions that led to the gap. I was always asked to write the Blake’s 7 novelisations; I novelised the scripts I was asked to, I had no say in what was selected. Writers aren’t in the loop on these matters. Publishing executives work in their own mysterious way.
SA: In 1983 you wrote “The Last Gasp” and seven years later a revised edition was published in the UK. Can you tell us the basic premise of the book?
TH: The Last Gasp was published both in the US and the UK in 1983 and a revised version in the UK in 1990. Nick Austin, who had commissioned the book originally, thought it deserved to be re-published in 1990 and asked me to update it, which I did. The idea behind the book was that due to man-made pollution of the oceans and forests the oxygen in the air would become depleted, leading to catastrophic results for humankind. I spent 3 years researching and writing the novel, which was hailed as a “landmark” in eco fiction by the Washington Post – but in early eighties America the media weren’t interested in stories about the environment and global warming etc. I know this to be a fact because I went to the States to publicise it and didn’t get a single TV or radio interview in 3 weeks from New York to Los Angeles. (Incidentally Terry Nation was living in LA at the time and asked me to send him a copy of The Last Gasp which of course I was pleased to do.)
SA: “The Last Gasp” is currently under option by a Hollywood Production Company. What can you tell us about this?
TH: The novel has been optioned 3 times by Hollywood production companies and I’ve been told that filming could begin later this year – though I won’t hold my breath waiting for it to begin. Movies are like that.
SA: Your next novel was the critically acclaimed black comedy “Vail” set in a futuristic Britain. In the cold war atmosphere that prevailed in Thatcherite Britain at the time, future scenarios tended not to be upbeat, but in many ways yours was particularly doom laden. Was your novel a reaction to the political climate at the time?
TH: Absolutely. I hated Thatcher and everything she stood for. I think she destroyed the soul and spirit of this country and I will never forgive her for it. Yes the book was doom laden, as you say, but many readers found it wonderfully funny too – black humour taken to the extreme. I like “Vail” very much (and I am very critical of other novels I’ve written) and it comes as near as dammit to the novel I had in mind when I planned it, which is not often the case.
SA: Of your many radio plays, “Gigo”, a comedy drama where the hero becomes increasing ‘obsessed’ with acausal connections in life, won the Radio Times drama award for best play. How did such an original concept for the play come to you?
TH: To be honest I haven’t a clue. It must have stemmed from my fascination with quantum mechanics, which I’ve studied in a lay fashion for over 30 years – in fact the Q trilogy in the seventies was inspired by this too. The fact about GIGO (stands for Garbage In Garbage Out, by the way) is that radio is the perfect medium to present such ideas in a dramatic fashion – you can suggest so much that excites the visual imagination on radio which wouldn’t work at all on TV or film. I don’t think the cast (which included the excellent Alun Armstrong) had a clue what it was about, but that didn’t matter, they didn’t need to.
SA: What can you tell us about what you writing right now?
TH: I have another radio play (MindScape) already written, which I’m waiting to hear if the BBC will take it. The big problem with radio drama is that you have only one market – and if it’s turned down by them you have nowhere else to go. I have a novel I’m working on about a neo-fascist takeover of Britain in the not-too-distant future (kingdom of darkness) using the internet as Goebbels used the press. This has been causing me all sorts of problems and I should buckle down to it and write the damn thing before the reality comes to pass, which it will do all too quickly.
There are other ideas floating around – a film screenplay about a girl stalking a French movie star, and there’s a collection of short stories I’d like to publish. And there’s a trilogy of novels set in the fifties (The Rock n’ Roll Diaries) which is my era.
Thank you Trevor.
Find out more about Ultraworld by following the link: