Adam Nevill Interview: Part I

Over the past seven years Adam Nevill has established himself as an authoritative voice of supernatural horror. His modern MR James inspired approach is instilled into three successful novels and a handful of short stories, including offerings in both Solaris’ The End of the Line and more recently, House of Fear. His latest novel, The Ritual, is a literary amalgamation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blair Witch Project.

In what is perhaps the nicest pub in the Notting Hill area, we had the opportunity to sit down with Adam, quaff a few real ales and speak about his terrifying great outdoors tome, the black metal scene, his current work-in-progress and the writing craft.

The second half of The Ritual revolves around the black metal band Blood Frenzy. How much research into the black metal scene did you carry out before writing the novel?

AN: The research into black metal was based on what I already knew from my personal interest in heavy metal and the amazing Lords of Chaos book. It’s an area I’m familiar with – I have visited Norway a few times and seen a lot of black metal bands at Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium.

When I was a teenager I listened to the likes of Celtic Frost, Bathory and Venom. Black metal developed from the early eighties grass roots to something much bigger in the nineties. Around that time, I remember Count Grishnackh [sole musician of notorious black metal act Burzum] appeared on the front cover of Kerrang with a bowie knife and studded knuckle-duster – the next issue he had killed someone. Now it’s massive on the continent, thousands of people turn up to watch the likes of Immortal and Triptykon.

“I often think horror and heavy metal are bedfellows, and yet how many writers are there out there that can write about it authentically and convincingly?”

Lords of Chaos details the ideology, philosophy and revolutionary politics of black metal. I learnt a lot from it, such as the way black metal has experimented with neo-fascism and pagan folk music. There’s a sinister, political aspect to it – including the revived interest in Quisling – that I used or exploited, for want of a better word. I often think horror and heavy metal are bedfellows, and yet how many writers are there out there that can write about it authentically and convincingly?

Some reviews of The Ritual have referred to death metal, this isn’t mentioned once in the book. I had to correct a couple of publications, including The Scotsman. The reviewer had made a gag of it as if I were geeky for pointing out there’s a difference between death and black metal – but the distinction is important!

Speaking of distinctions, the story is set in Sweden, but there are more Norwegian black metal bands referenced in The Ritual. Is this deliberate, and if so why?

AN: Blood Frenzy are on the run. They’ve skipped across the border from the North of Norway to the North of Sweden. In terms of Geography, I’ve been to Sweden quite a few times more recently, and I’m more familiar with it. The further north you go into the boreal forests – and the closer to the Arctic Circle – the smaller the differences are between the two.

Blood Frenzy took a dig at Dimmu Borgir for not being a ‘true’ metal band, yet they speak of Cradle of Filth without any jibes. Why did you choose to mock Dimmu over Cradle of Filth?

AN: Perhaps I shouldn’t have as I like Dimmu Borgir. It’s not my personal opinion, but it’s the sort of thing I would imagine extreme purists in the black metal world would say about a commercially successful band. They would hail Darkthrone, Emperor and Bathory as the gods of the scene. You always get purism in heavy metal – people prefer the early album even if it’s a badly produced piece of shit. For me, some of Mayhem’s earlier material is unlistenable because the production is so bad. I think a lot of it was intentionally rough and raw. Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth are big international bands now, so either fitted into that mindset.

The four university friends The Ritual follows are based in Birmingham. Did you choose the Birmingham location because of your own connections to the area?

AN: Yes, it’s familiar ground and the house they once lived in – in Stirchley – is one of my old addresses. It doesn’t have any special significance. It’s not unusual for men in different parts of the country to share a house together and form a life-long friendship, well, or so one of them thought…

There are both stretches of long, continuous dialogue and poetic description. How do you ensure you get the balance right?

AN: The answer is re-writing. There are ten versions of The Ritual on my computer. In fact there are some chapters that I cut out. Although I really liked the chapters, my inner reader said: this doesn’t feel right. It got to the point where they’d spent too long in the forest, so I cut some bits out. I’m going to publish the cut sections on my website as missing chapters.

You have to trust your inner reader, write a draft and then leave it. When you go back to it, ensure you look at it with fresh eyes. If you’re only able to write a couple of evenings a week, because of work and other commitments, every time you return to it, you often find that the voice has changed. A lot of the re-writing is about making the voice consistent throughout.

The book I’ve just finished is the first one I’ve been able to write full-time. I have been writing it for eleven months and it’s only needed six drafts, as opposed to seventeen [Apartment 16]. The first draft was written day-by-day consecutively – this meant the voices and tone were the same throughout.

When do you show your drafts to your first readers, how many do you have and do they always look at it before it’s sent to the publishers?

AN: I have four, and I usually show it them as soon as I’ve finished it. Apartment 16, Banquet for the Damned and most of The Ritual was written before I had a publisher. I wrote them on spec for myself. The next book (Last Days)  is my third with Pan Macmillan and the first I’ve written from scratch to a publisher’s deadline. The day I finished the fifth draft was the day I had to hand it in to my publisher, so the four readers received it at the same time as my editor. I always rely on an informed second, third, fourth and fifth pair of eyes. They all spot something that I haven’t seen before the reviewers on Amazon spot it – the one-star sticklers!

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