Interview with Dave Stone

This interview piece was conducted on November 6 1996.
As it appeared in Broadsword issue eleven

Many reviewers, perhaps too many reviewers compare Sky Pirates! to the stuff of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchet. Do you think this is a fair comparison? Is it unfair that your novels can't be thought of as your own but as someone just doing a Pratchet or Adams?

One of the appendices to SP! which I (perhaps mercifully) cut was written seriously and made just that point: it's impossible to write anything funny with an SF/Fantasy basis now without being automatically compared to the buggers. In fact, one of the hidden agendas of SP! itself was to deal with two bloated entities, who each in their different way have twisted an entire world around themselves. The appendix also noted how the shadow of Pratchett and Adams had all-but obscured the people doing funny stuff long before they came along - people like Harrison, Leiber and the late Bob Shaw - and it was started off when some brainless moron who couldn't read publication dates told me that he didn't like the Grey Mouser book I leant him 'cause it was a Pratchett rip-off.

Now don't get me wrong - Pratchett's work is sublime, and the man himself seems kind to small fluffy animals. It's Pratchett qua phenomenon I have a problem with. It's responsible for the countless witless knock-offs that can only result in a backlash, and you write in his shadow whether you want to or not. Case in point - funny footnotes, annotations and addenda have a long and noble history in fiction, and one of the points of SP! was to overload on stuff like that. The problem is, of course, that they're now a Pratchett trademark - and it's about as nonsensical a situation as copyrighting the letter 'e'.

Quite simply, I sweated blood over the footnotes - making damned sure that they were actual annotations rather than Pratchett-like stylistic flourishes. I even considered doing what the guy does in the Flashman books, numbering the annotations and listing 'em at the back. Rebecca talked me out of it, but on the whole I wish she hadn't - because people took one look at the footnotes, totally failed to grasp the fundamental difference, and just went 'Pratchett rip-off!' Bugger.

Incidentally, something like twelve years ago I was touting around the manuscript of my first ever book - a vaguely comedic SF adventure which I later strip-mined for my Armitage comic scripts. One guy was interested enough to ask for a rewrite and tried to put it out in conjunction with Gollancz. Nothing ever came of it.

The guy, though, was Colin Smythe, and this was just after he'd put out Pratchett's Colour of Magic and it was starting to become a success. There but for the grace of gods ...

Dave Stone is...? The image people have of you is a basically utter nut, probably brought on by too much speed or a genuine mental disorder. Where do you get the energy to write such incredibly bizare and twisted books?

I don't do drugs any more (stay tuned for my not-so-harrowing account of half-hearted heroin abuse if I ever get around to it) at least, nothing stronger than hash and the occasional E. As far as speed's concerned, I'm the sort of person who people try to buy the stuff off, 'cause I look like I'm on it even when I'm loaded with Mogadons. The last time I took it was when, for various reasons, I rattled off The Medusa Seed in ten days and no sleep - and reading it is like a descent into the madness of Hell.

The twistedness, I think, simply comes from a love of jokes - not just laughing at new ones, but enjoying the basic and inherent structure of old chestnuts like 'I say, I say, I say, my dog's got no skin'. Pretty much everything I write is structured like a long, involved joke, complete with punchline - in Wetworks the global conspiracy was run by Mickey Mouse, in Death and Diplomacy it was all the fault of Pinky and the Brain ...

Sitting down and writing, though, is like pulling teeth for me. I know people who spill out hundreds and hundreds of pages and then have to edit down, but I've never been able to do that. Every book has been this horrible slog of pushing up the word-count inch by inch, until I hit the minimum and go, sod it, that'll do - by minimum, of course, I mean the size that the work has to be rather than just what I've agreed on in the contract.

The result of all this is that when I put down an idea or an image it takes up as little space as possible, simply because I can't be arsed to write any more about it - so where someone else might have, say, one discrete idea per page, I'll have four or five, all probably going off on several disjointed tangents from each other. The end result is a kind of seething surface mess, something like what the Turkey City people called 'eyeball kicks'. Thing is, this incredible churning chaos isn't the result of any energy on my part, It's simply apathy ...

What is your characterisation of the seventh Doctor? In SP! appears at first we see this flamboyant larger than life MANIC fool, but it's not until the end do we see this alien monster. A second reading of SP! gives the impression that this alien creature was always there hiding beneath the clown. In DD that alienness is stressed even more, to the point where we are ripping out our eyes . Is he the fool? Is he the dark doctor? is he an alien with a facade or is any of this genuine?

My perception of the Doctor is quite simply that he is an alien life-form. Trees and insects are our cousins and brothers compared to him. He (and other Time Lords for that matter) are so utterly outside what we can conceive of as possible that our brains are forced to come up with the nearest available equivalent and paste it over - in the Doctor's case a little guy in a hat. Cartmel said pretty much the same in Warhead, I think.

The point is that the Doctor is benign, and he maintains this facade whenever possible out of simple decency. I think he exists in several extra dimensions, that the guy we see is merely the visible projection of himself into dimensions with which we can cope - and that he uses it like a kind of glove puppet to interact with the people around it. If you imagine something like a Muppet compared to the man with the hand up its backside out of shot, it explains in one fell swoop the manic and slightly ridiculous little clown with the vaster, less knowable and sometimes rather frightening presence behind it.

Death and Diplomacy is a far less flamboyant and energetic novel than Sky Pirates! however the jokes are more clearly pointed to it's targets such as Coca-Cola. Where does Burning Heart and Ship of Fools fit in here. Can we expect something different again with BH and SoF?

If people expect Burning Heart to be light, they're going to get a bit of a shock. It has humour in it, but of the gallows variety. I was trying for something bleak - and then I read the proofs and realised just how harrowing and soul destroying it really was. Be warned: the wrong people die and their bodies are defiled.

Ship of Fools, on the other hand, is going to be a hoot.

What is Burning Heart all about?

It's about 250 pages. Hahahahahahaha! Oh dear me. I do apologise.

It's basically about the Church and State, in the generic sense of the words - no actual Baby Jesus bashing. It's about how belief-systems and power-structures dehumanise people, kill their souls and twist their every good intention into atrocity. It's about abuse and loss, and how that makes the abused into monsters.

It's also got Peri running around in a leather catsuit and has a penguin in it. Fnerk.

You are at the moment writing a Benny NA, is the approach you take to writing a Benny NA different to writing a Doctor NA? Is writing a Benny book as interesting as writing a DW book?

None of my Who stuff has exactly been continuity-led - but it's always there in the back of the mind when one writes, like a lead balloon in the backbrain, and that comes through in the subliminal sense. The nice thing about doing the Benny book is that we're inventing an entirely new continuity - it frees you up a hell of a lot to know that people are now going to be pointing at other people's stuff and going 'You can't do that! On page 245 of Ship of Fools Dave said ...'

The really interesting thing is some of the stuff that's coming off the Internet. I tend to use a lot of found objects in my stuff, and in this case I went on Usenet and asked people if they wanted to be horribly murdered and how. The result is that I now have enough ways of killing people for about three books, most of them in *incredibly* horrible ways that no sane man could dream up in a thousand years, and several of them set to music. There are some really sick puppies out there ...

Are you interested in writing an eighth Doctor book in the BBC range? If you did, what do you see in the eighth Doctor you would like to write about?

I've actually got a story called The Dying Fall - it's the final part of this trilogy that I'm always on about and it seems just right for the eighth Doctor. Thing is, I think I'd need one hell of a lot more clout than I've got at the moment to get it past a Who editor - without giving the game away, it's weird, and weird in a completely different way from Sky Pirates. Possibly it'll have to wait until I start publishing original fiction.

I have to admit that I quite like the eighth Doctor - he's a kind of 'By criminy, it's time to save the world and I'm just the chap to do it!' guy. I can see him in the sort of simple, fun adventures that would appeal to kids who couldn't care less about the history of the show [tm] - and that's just the sort of people any new attempt at resurrection should be aimed at.

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