Interview with Alan Campbell July 2007

„If God is dead, we won’t all fall to pieces“

Scotsman Alan Campbell has been co-developing computer games like Grand Theft Auto, now his debut Fantasy novel „Scar Night“ profits from that experience. He has explained to us how his game background fits to the books themes of sin, morality, blood and salvation. Alan, what made you want to write „Scar Night“?

Alan Campbell: I love reading stories, so inevitably I wanted to write my own. When I found I had some spare time, I started writing. It began with a simple sentence, which turned into a scene, and then it just kept growing until I realized I had a long, complex story on my hands. You have a computer game background. How does it affect your writing?

Alan Campbell: I’m not sure if it has affected my writing as much as the process of writing. Since working on large computer game projects, I probably have more patience than I did when I was younger. Writing a book is a bit similar to developing a game because you build it up piece by piece, then go back constantly to „debug“. Could you imagine „Scar Night“ as a computer game?

Alan Campbell: Oh yes. Probably more of a sort of brooding, puzzle/adventure like Myst, rather than an action slaughterfest. (But then if any game developers are reading this, let me say that Scar Night would make the best action slaughterfest game in the whole world, ever, so you should get in touch with my agent immediately.) Which do you prefer: Mac or PC? Conviction or pragmatism?

Alan Campbell: I’ve no experience of Macs, so I guess PC. And pragmatism every time -- I believe that utterly, without the need for proof or evidence. Religion plays a central role in „Scar Night“; it’s about sin, salvation and eternal life. What inspired you to this somewhat mystic approach?

Alan Campbell: Deepgate seemed like a natural place to explore such ideas, simply because the city is suspended over an unknowable, possibly bottomless, abyss. For the inhabitants of Deepgate, heaven is closed whereas everybody goes to hell to become a ghost; angels are instrumentalized, yet diminishing: This expresses a very nihilistic view on religion and society. Do you – like Nietzsche – think that „God is dead“?

Alan Campbell: Since the Bible advocates human sacrifice, slavery and stoning people to death for blasphemy or adultery, it probably wasn’t the best set of moral guidelines to follow in the first place. Not literally, at any rate. But I think the vast majority of people already know what is right and what is wrong, so if God is dead, we won’t all fall to pieces. Devon is a classic mad scientist who has been mentally and physically crippled by his inventions and the way they are used. Did you have any bad experiences with science?

Alan Campbell: Not really. I once sniffed bromide fumes in my school chemistry lab, which made feel a bit woozy, but that’s about it. Science is a fine thing. Then again, I’m not sure I'd feel the same way if I lived near Chernobyl. Are the Spine modeled on the perfect soldier – emotionless, feeling no pain, killing without asking?

Alan Campbell: Tempered Spine have no conscience and are unable to question their orders, but that doesn’t make them more effective soldiers. Rachel hasn’t yet been tempered and can't do the things the other Adepts can do, yet her wits give her an advantage over her peer. You wrote in your blog that you’ve been to Budapest Did that influence Deepgate's creation?

Alan Campbell: While I loved Budapest, I think there’s more of Edinburgh in Deepgate. There’s a lot of Castle Ghormenghast, too.

Alan Campbell: Yep. I won’t argue. Ghormenghast had a huge impact on me when I was a student. I think I failed my Calculus exam because I couldn’t put that book down when I should have been studying. Then again, the fact that I was lousy at Calculus didn’t help much either. Would you want to live in Deepgate?

Alan Campbell: Only if I could have a garden. But given the high property prices in the Lilley and Bridgeview districts of the city, this would be unlikely to happen. I’d probably end up renting a place in the Workers Warrens, where I’d be miserable for a while. By the way: What are your favorite authors?

Alan Campbell: Other than Mervyn Peake, I love George R. R. Martin, Stephen Donaldson, and M. John Harrison among many others. Clark Ashton Smith's stories also resonated with me, with their rotting sepulchers, vampires and strange, Byzantine alien worlds -- marvelously weird stuff. Sometimes there’s some talk about a difference between Scottish and English SF/Fantasy. Is there really a different approach? Is „Scar Night“ a Scottish Fantasy?

Alan Campbell: I don’t think there's a different approach. Scar Night might feel Scottish at times because I can’t help but be influenced by my environment, the names of places, the urban landscape, even the way I hear language spoken around me. Anglo-American and Australian Fantasy has left the road Tolkien has paved. Where will it go to?

Alan Campbell: I honestly don’t know, but it will be a lot of fun finding out. When dragon riders use mobile phones to keep in touch, I’ll be happy. What do you think of German Fantasy?

Alan Campbell: Unfortunately I can’t speak German, so I’m not up to date with German fantasy. When I think of German fantasy, or at least Germanic fantasy, the Nibelungenlie leaps to mind. My music teacher at school played us a recording of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and explained the story to the class. I was probably too young to appreciate the music much, but I remember being enthralled by Siegfried and Brunnhilde, the gods, dwarves and giants. This was long before I’d started to read fantasy, so maybe it planted a seed. How high is your current reading stack and what’s on top of it?

Alan Campbell: My current reading stack fills a good portion of two rooms. Since I’ve been working on the next book, I haven’t read a lot of new fantasy. Instead, I’ve returned to a lot of old classics -- the ones I’ve reread so many times, I almost know them by heart. Maybe I’m afraid of stumbling across something in the new fantasy fiction which turns out to be similar to what I'm writing myself, whereas I know the old books aren’t going to influence me more than they already have. When can we expect the next Deepgate novel?

Alan Campbell: Early next year, I hope. Thank you for this interview, Alan!

Alan Campbell: Many thanks for asking me.

This interview was conducted by Frank Dudley