The second part of our interview with author Rebecca Levene. In the first installment, we discussed writing for shared worlds, the secrets of the Afterblight and introducing alien life into Emmerdale.
Anno Mortis. Romans - tigers - chariot chases - zombies.
Simultaneously one of the best-researched and outright campiest books I read all year. How did this come about?
Thanks. I think. When I heard about Tomes of the Dead, my very first thought was “Brilliant – I can do Roman zombies!’. Really, what’s not to love? I’ve been a huge fan of I, Claudiussince I was a teenager – in fact, I recently went on a pilgrimage to Robert Graves’ house on Mallorca. And it was childhood reading of a collection of retold Greek Myths called The God Beneath The Sea by Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen which first got me interested in fantasy as a genre.
The classical world is full of such great characters, too – especially Caligula, who I challenge you not to write in a camp way. Aside from the whole raising-armies-of-the-dead thing, everything I say about him in the book is true, including – reportedly – the fact that he tried to make his horse a consul. He was bananas, but also kind of tragic, always in the shadow of his beloved father, Germanicus, and genuinely devastated by the death of his sister.
Many of the other characters in Anno Mortis were real – which actually presented a problem when I wanted to kill some of them off, but couldn’t because they’d go on to become Claudius’s chief of staff, or whatever. And I absolutely adore Petronius. He wrote the world’s first novel – and it’s completely filthy. What a star.
What was the editing process like for something like this? Do Abaddon send little notes back, "a little too educational" or "needz moar tigerz"?
We tend to discuss the need for more zombie tigers before the book’s actually begun. Once it’s written, Jon – or now Jenni – sends back detailed notes on a line-by-line basis. They’re both fantastic – and I’m not just saying that to get them to commission me more, though let’s be honest, it can’t hurt.
What can you tell us about Cold Warriors (2010 release)? Occult spies chasing down apocalyptic artifacts... it sounds fantastic.
Cold Warriors is the first in a new series created and written by me for Abaddon, called The Infernal Game. It’s coming out in May next year, and it’s best described as a cross between The Bourne Identity and The Omen. Here’s the blurb:
‘You died 20 years ago. Welcome back.’
At the peak of the Cold War, the British secret service formed the Hermetic Division, an agency charged with using supernatural means to defend the nation. Its primary mission: to find the mysterious Ragnarok artefacts, said to have the power to end the world.
Tomas Len was the Hermetic Division’s most senior agent, until he volunteered to take part in a dangerous voodoo ceremony. Morgan Hewitt is a young assassin who has an unnatural affinity for death, which strikes everyone he cares about.
Together, they’re sent on the trail of a corrupt Russian oligarch rumoured to be selling one of the Ragnarok artefacts. The journey will take them across Europe and into the darkest reaches of the occult. And it will uncover the terrible secret that has shaped both their lives…
The second book is currently called Ghost Dance and scheduled for August, I think. There should also be a third book, as long as I can come up with an outline Jon’s happy with.
And, finally, amongst your (many) non-geeky books and TV writing, you've slipped in a Beginner's Guide to Poker. Are you any good?
No, I’m rubbish. I know how to play poker well, but I can’t do it because I’m incapable of remembering cards or calculating odds. More importantly, I have about as good a poker face as Wile E Coyote. Really, I might as well hold up a placard saying “Yikes!” every time I’m dealt a bad hand.
Your fantasy poker fivesome?
Ooh. Well, it would have to include Johnny Moss and Nick the Greek, who played the first poker world tournament against each other – even though they’d wipe the floor with me. Then I’d pick Petronius, just for the chance to meet him. Jennifer Tilly, because from Bride of Chucky to poker champion – how cool is that? And finally Ian Fleming. His books are horribly misogynistic and racist, but it’s the closest you could get to playing poker with James Bond.
Thank you very much.