Monday, 14 May 2018

Trevor Hoyle - An Interview (Part One)

The versatile English author Trevor Hoyle was featured on SF Forward last year, with an introductory profile; afterwards, my friend Chris Scarfe, who grew up close to the Hoyle family in the Newhey area of Rochdale, kindly arranged for me to meet, and interview, the author. As an admirer of his work, it proved to be an absorbing and wide-ranging conversation, encompassing Trevor’s early career as an actor, television presenter and copy-writer, his influences from film and literature and his richly varied output. This feature covers several topics relating to science fiction – which represents only a portion of his published work – and is based on notes and a transcript of that conversation; the words are Trevor’s own. 

Part One

On science fiction authors: Philip K. Dick to me is the absolutely consummate science fiction writer, above any other. I used to read loads of science fiction in the fifties; they had four or five really good monthly magazines – Astounding Stories, Galaxy – with about eight, nine, ten new stories by all the greats, Philip K. Dick, Blish, they were nine pence each – nine old pence. I remember I used to buy them at Rochdale Market, so I devoured all the science fiction. I’ll tell you a writer I did like – E. C. Tubb, a British writer, whenever there was a story of his on the cover I went for that right away, and he wrote hundreds of stories.

On perceptions of science fiction: It’s still a bit of a ghetto. I’ve written less science fiction than mainstream fiction but when people ask ‘what do you write?’ I say ‘well I’ve written thrillers, mainstream novels, science fiction’, they immediately latch on to the SF. It’s polarised. The people who read what they call ‘proper fiction’ are still very snooty about it. They say ‘I never read science fiction’ or ‘I never go and watch science fiction movies’. So I ask them, ‘you mean you’ve never seen Alien?, you’ve never seen Blade Runner? Have you seen Frankenstein?’– that’s all science fiction. Because they think of science fiction as rockets and men in lurex pyjamas with ray guns. You know Philip K. Dick doesn’t have any of that, it’s all in here [the head] with Philip K. Dick.

On meeting Philip K. Dick: I took the family to California and before I left I was talking to a fiction editor called Nick Webb, and he said ‘Phil Dick lives in California, Santa Ana, why don’t you pay a call on him?’ … He gave me Philip K. Dick’s address but he didn’t have a phone number. So I thought, when I get to Los Angeles I’ll look in the book. I didn’t want to just turn up, I wanted to ring him and introduce myself first — say I’m a writer from the UK, we have the same editor and so on’ – but I couldn’t find any [number]. I went through directory enquiries, but no, he wasn’t listed. 

So I’m driving along, this balmy evening in the summertime – I’ve got the right road but where is 1049 (or whatever it was)? I pulled in to the kerb at some Spanish stucco-type buildings … and I’d stopped at exactly the right number on the five-mile-long bloody road. I went up to the, kind of Spanish grill-work, and there were about a dozen mailboxes with buttons you could thumb and an intercom. And there it was – Philip K. Dick – his name was right there along with the others. Before I pressed the button I thought, ‘I’ve got to get my act together here quickly, say who I am, mention Nick Webb’ (because that was the only connection between us). I press the button, I’m about to speak … and the gate clicks open automatically.

I didn’t say a word, I went through the gate and up to the first-floor apartment – it was C1, I can still remember the number – and the door’s slightly open. Now if you’ve read any Philip K. Dick, you’re in a Philip K. Dick story right away. I thought I’m going to freak out here in a minute, this is an hallucination. So I pushed the door open and walked in to this tiny apartment, a two-room apartment – living room, bedroom, tiny bathroom – and Phil K. Dick is sat on the sofa … on his knee he had an upturned cardboard box lid full of little pots of snuff, about 10 or 12, and he was trying these, trying to wean himself off whatever he was smoking, or cutting down on the smoking ... anyway he’s sitting there and of course he looks at me and thinks ‘who the f**k is this?’ This total bloody stranger’s just walked in. And I’m still shell shocked because I’ve walked straight into Philip K. Dick’s apartment, which is cramped and shabby, it really is. So then I introduce myself, stumble out that I’m a science fiction writer from England, we both have the same editor, blah, blah … and he kind of visibly relaxed and invited me to sit-down (in a rocking chair). The explanation for the door being open was that minutes later another science fiction writer arrived [K.W. Jeter]. When he heard the buzzer, Phil Dick must have thought ‘oh that must be Kevin’ – so I’d turned up at exactly the same point in time and space when his friend was due to arrive.

Anyway, we sat and chatted for two or three hours. During the course of the evening the phone rang, maybe two or three times, and Phil went in to the bedroom to answer it. Kevin Jeter, who was a bit younger than me, he’d say ‘oh that’s wife number three’ or ‘that’s the current girlfriend’, or whatever. They were after money, I gathered, because he was paying alimony to about two or three wives – he had several children, I believe. He wasn’t with anybody at the time, he was living alone in this apartment. So gradually I was brought up to date on who the latest phone call was from, that’s how the evening passed. Nothing remarkable really but it was still memorable. … the only thing I do remember talking about – I don’t think we talked about writing particularly, as I recall – was about money. Writers tend to do that, talk about contracts, advances, how much are you getting paid? And it came as a shock that I was getting more than him from Panther in the U.K. Phil was only getting about two or three thousand dollars advance from Ace Books, his main American publisher, ‘cause a lot of his stuff came out in paperback – again, it was the science fiction ghetto, you didn’t merit a hardback, hardbacks are for ‘proper’ books, you’re a pulp fiction writer. But I do remember thinking, ‘this guy is the best science fiction writer in the world and he’s not getting as much as I am!’

On Blade Runner: All the recognition comes later, because he died in 1982; the year I saw him was 1980 and he certainly didn’t mention to me that they were making a film of it [Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?] … he didn’t mention the option, I’d have remembered that. What happened of course is that Ridley Scott, another big Philip K. Dick fan, made the film and Philip Dick saw some very rough footage… he died before the film was finished but he did like the bits he saw. I’ve read an interview where he said ‘you’ve captured my vision exactly on screen, what I had in mind, that acid rain Los Angeles kind of thing’ so he did have an inkling that they were going to make a good film of it.

[Trevor has also related this meeting fictionally, both on his website and adapted for his short story ‘The 5-Sigma Certainty’ in the anthology Lemistry]

On the series Electric Dreams – and other Philip K. Dick adaptations: it’s sad because there are some good people behind it, like Bryan Cranston who is an executive producer, a brilliant actor. I had high hopes for it … I think adapting Philip K. Dick for the screen must be very hard – Ridley Scott did a brilliant job with Blade Runner but the stories are so off-the-wall … Cranston and the rest are trying their best but there’s something essential missing … it was made with the best intentions, they actually got some good actors, but it’s just not catching the essence of the man and his work.

On Blade Runner 2049: I don’t usually walk out of films; I was severely tempted this time, except the only thing that kept me in was the thought ‘what’s Harrison Ford going to be doing in this?’ He’s billed up under Ryan Gosling, and of course he doesn’t come in until three quarters of the way through and it’s two hours and fifty minutes or something... So I’m waiting [for Harrison Ford], I had to sit through the rest of the f***ing film, it’s awful, it really is, it’s so loud and it really batters your senses. I like Ryan Gosling, he’s okay, he’s an actor I can live with, but if I go and see a film, first of all I make sure I’m going to like it, I don’t go to see a film I’m going to hate, so I don’t walk out of films – but I was sorely tempted to walk out on that. 

On A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater: it’s faithful to the book… it’s done very cleverly, that kind of computerised grainy quality you get. I’ve never seen another film made that way, using the same process [rotoscope].

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