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.
On the possibility of his novel The Last Gasp being filmed: That’s been and gone… they renewed it for five or six years. They kept giving me money – not a lot of money, but it was a five thousand dollar option each time – so I thought, well if they do want to get it made, they’re not just going to throw money away, but year on year nothing ever came of it. What you need for a film project of course is either a big name director to attach to it, or a star; once that’s in place everything follows… if Ridley Scott wants to do it, then everything follows, but they couldn’t get anyone interested enough to act in it or direct it … I just took the money which amounted to quite a lot over five or six years and that was it.
On sf film: I think the best by far is Solaris. I was at Granada TV doing What’s On [a weekly regional arts and entertainment programme which Trevor wrote and presented, c. 1971-74] when Solaris came out and I went to see it and I was absolutely blown away, it really was one of those life-changing moments … I couldn’t understand the bloody thing, it just sucked me in... There’s a book of essays on science fiction films [Cinema Futura, 2010, edited by Mark Morris] – the editor wrote to me and said ‘do you want to pick a science fiction film and write about it?’ I said yeah, absolutely, if I can have Solaris … I wrote a critique of that – not a critique, it wasn’t academic. It was a tribute, a fan’s homage. I think the film’s better than the book by Stanisław Lem, who was a good writer. Tarkovsky [the director] took the book as a jumping-off point, and he did something magical with it – to me, that film gets nearer to imagining what an alien civilisation would really be like than any other cinematic portrayal…
On 2001: A Space Odyssey: 2001 was ground-breaking, it really was – you had to be around and at the right age to feel the effect, because up until then we’d been watching things like Destination Moon, which was not a bad film for 1950-something, but 2001 was absolutely ground-breaking. That was the major change really; up until then science fiction had been cheap and nasty B-films – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (actually that’s a fantastic film, cheaply made but still brilliant). It was in Cinerama, that’s where you have three projectors – you could actually see the blurred edges where the separate prints overlapped — they were supposed to be synchronized. In Manchester they had the Theatre Royal I think it was called; it was an old theatre converted into Cinerama, and I went to see it about five times in two weeks. The screen’s curved so you actually do get a 3D effect. It would be crude now but in 1970 when I saw it, 2001 gained tremendously from that presentation; not just watching the film but being immersed in it.
On The Invaders: That’s a great series – Roy Thinnes [the lead actor] was a good hero – the episodes were well-written, well-directed but didn’t fuss around; they just gave you a very simple story – well, it was the same story – invaders from another planet, but done with hardly any special effects. It was all achieved simply with reactions, you never saw anything…
On A Clockwork Orange: A ground-breaking book and film, certainly the film, again by Kubrick. I find A Clockwork Orange difficult to watch – I don’t mean I’m bored by it but uneasy, I think. Unsettled. Maybe that’s what it’s meant to do but I’m on edge all the time, and perhaps that’s what Kubrick wants you to feel. You come out of it thinking ‘I was hungry but I didn’t like the meal’.
On Blake’s 7: I went to a Blake’s 7 convention two years ago, first one I’d been to. I was the only writer there. There were lots of actors — Gareth Thomas, Blake, he was there, walking with a stick, he looked poorly. He’s dead now, which is no surprise at all. The fans who came knew far more about Blake’s 7 than I did. I’d written three books based on scripts, and I wrote a script for Series 4, and they were asking all kinds of arcane questions: ‘did such-and-such happen?’ and I had to say ‘ain’t got a clue, mate, I don’t know!’
My involvement came about through Nick Austin at Panther books ... I’d written the Q series for him, three books, and he rang me one day and said ‘there’s a new series coming up created by Terry Nation’ – the man who invented the Daleks, wrote for Doctor Who – ‘and they want a novelisation’. (I don’t know if I’d written any before, I’ve done about 15 novelisations [now], I did Ghostbusters! They found out at the last minute ‘cause it was a big hit in America, it was coming over here. They panicked and said ‘have we got a book?’ – no, they hadn’t so they had to get somebody to write it, and quick.) Nick Austin said ‘It’s called Blake’s 7, do you want to do it?’
You have to write these to a tight deadline – the book has to come out at the same time as the show, not weeks or months later… so I wrote the first Blake’s 7 novel and then I did two more, all for different publishers. I got to know Chris Boucher, the Script Editor at the BBC, and he said ‘have you got any ideas for the next series?’ So I submitted two or three outlines and he picked one, which became ‘Ultraworld’… there’s audio-books of the three novels [written by Trevor], read by Paul Darrow (Avon) and Jacqueline Pearce, who played Servalan…
On the scriptwriter’s involvement in filming: No [it’s not encouraged] – I went down to television centre when they were doing an episode in the studio, because in those days you had location work — done on film of course — and you had the studio recording, which was on tape. The alien planet in Blake’s 7 was always a quarry, the same quarry somewhere half an hour out of London, Beaconsfield, somewhere like that…
On fans of the series: Blake fans are so obsessive, far more than I was. I was never a big fan to be honest. I thought it was cardboardy, a bit cheesy, but it’s become almost a cult thing for a lot of people, as that convention proves. People were coming up, they had stuff of mine, facsimile scripts, and DVDs of my episode I’d never seen before. I said ‘where the hell did you get these?’, and they’d say ‘can you sign your name in the top right-hand corner’ – that exact spot, nowhere else.
There’s a funny thing — that is, amusing — about TV novelisations. By the time the books came out, while the show was on the air, of course I’d written them months before they were filmed, so sometimes I didn’t even know which actors were playing who because they hadn’t cast the minor parts. I added characterisation to all the characters in the books, otherwise you’re just transcribing the scripts. You have to make a book of it. I’d invent bits of dialogue to make linkages, so these weren’t actual changes, they were additions to make sense of it. But if the book didn’t follow the script word for word, and deviated ever so slightly, I got all kinds of crap from the fans. ‘This book is a travesty – the weapon V-914 didn’t appear in episode 3!’ And no, it didn’t, because I gave the weapon its name.
And the other thing of course: the script that I was working to was altered on the studio floor, because that’s what directors do, they say ‘that line of dialogue doesn’t work – we’ll either lose it, do it with a look, or re-write it’… I don’t know that, I’m at home, sat in my shed in Newhey writing, and they’re altering stuff in the studio and on location. The book is published by the time it’s edited [the programme], so it couldn’t be changed anyway – but these guys [the fans] are so fanatical they’re irate that you’ve changed it; I’ve read stuff online: ‘the book’s nothing like the show’ – well I took Terry Nation’s scripts and never changed a thing. I didn’t ‘invent’.
On Star Trek and Star Wars: The early Star Wars I thought were good. Star Trek – no, I never took to it, it was too much men in lurex pyjamas firing laser guns, which had never been my kind of science fiction anyway. I’ve always been more for the Philip K. Dick-type stuff… but when the first Star Wars came out, ‘cause again like 2001 and like Clockwork Orange, these are really seminal films that alter the landscape totally. I was writing my Q Series science fiction trilogy for Panther at the time and the local rep rang me up and said ‘there’s this new film coming out, a premiere in Manchester at the Odeon, do you want to come to it?’ I’d read something about the film, so I said ‘yes’ and I was really impressed. It was a press preview and there were lots of science fiction fans there and again, you’ve got to put it in the context of when it was, whatever year it was  and there’d been nothing as well done as that, technically. I mean now it’s passé, when you look at it. It’s like looking at 2001, looking at it now with our eyes and accustomed as we are to CGI, it can look a bit hammy, but you’ve got to think of people looking at it with 1970-eyes and put it in that context.