Interview with Roderick Gordon
It’s a pleasure interviewing you for the first time after all these years of underground journey with the Tunnels series.
Hi Sirius, and it’s wonderful to be talking with you. I just want to say how much I appreciate all the time and effort you and your team have put into MT. I can become quite isolated as I write – not seeing anyone and keeping ridiculously irregular hours. On countless occasions, as I’ve taken a break from my work to go on the internet, I’ve spotted MT’s posts on Facebook and Twitter. It’s very uplifting and heartening because there are times when you feel so disconnected from your readers, but MT’s posts make me aware that someone out there cares about the series. And your site is easily the most active of all the Tunnels sites worldwide, and the Spanish readers are always really cool when they get in touch
First of all, how do you feel after writing the sixth and final instalment in the saga?
Very happy and very relieved that the story worked through to the end, but also incredibly sad, as if I’ve just said goodbye to some old friends who I’ll never see again. The books have taken quite a few years of my life and it’s strange to think that it’s over and that I now have to move on to something new. And rather frightening if I think about it too much.
Did you do anything special after typing the final dot of the book?
No, I went into the kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee! Then I went back to the computer and simply leant back in my chair with my eyes shut for around five minutes. I didn’t shout with joy or anything because it would have woken up my family. The reality is that the book wasn’t really finished even then; when I submit a first draft of a new book to Barry Cunningham, I know that I still have some distance to go with it because he needs to review it and give me his thoughts. Aside from the fact that he’s my publisher, Barry’s an inspired and inspiring editor and I couldn’t have done the series without his advice and input. This time around with Terminal, there were only a small number of changes (for once I didn’t have to cut the length because I always tend to write too much), and I think that it only really hit me that it was the end when Chicken House sent me a couple of advance copies of Terminal in the post and I could hold them in my hand.
Let’s continue with a question about the film project of Tunnels which is in development since many years ago. What are the recent updates?
The little I am told about its progress is confidential so there’s not much I can say other than it seems to be very much alive right now. And I still haven’t been given any idea of the timing for preproduction or when shooting is expected to kick off (or where it will be shot). I agree with you that the whole thing has taken an inordinate amount of time considering that RM [Relativity Media] bought the rights back in 2008. There have been moments when I’ve lost all hope that the film will ever get made, but I think there’s a very good chance that it will.
Have you been in touch with Mikael Håfström – the newly appointed director – or with any of the producers?
Barry and I talked about the possibility of meeting up with Mikael in the US in June this year so the three of us could have a proper discussion, but it never happened. I know Mikael must have been busy as his film “Escape Plan” is released in October. Although I had a couple of conversations with one of the producers in 2011, Barry is my only point of contact to find out what RM or the producers are doing. Probably better that way so I don’t continually pester them with questions.
Now another question that I personally more wanted to ask you and gradually people are wondering too. We know you spent much time in writing the books –especially with Deeper- but what about the co-author Brian Williams? What is his role in the novels?
Brian worked with me on The Highfield Mole in 2004, but afterwards wanted to get back to his art because he felt that he’d been neglecting it, so I took the series forward on my own. We talked briefly about a couple of scenes in T2, but I think that it’s only really appropriate for two or more people to work together if it’s a screenplay or something similar. I believe that to be effective and have real depth, a novel has to be one person’s vision and draw on his/her experience and emotions – what you pour into a story should be too personal for the writing to be shared with anyone else. I felt this as I started Deeper at the end of 2004 (although it was called “The Deeps” then). And that book was and remains very personal to me. Sophie, my wife, became ill during 2005 and the early part of 2006, and this was made worse because neither of us had jobs or were bringing any money in, so the financial pressure on us, with two small children to support, was immense. I felt as though I was heading straight towards a brick wall at high speed. And in order to survive that period, I cut myself off from the world as much as I was able, and immersed myself completely in Deeper – that book was a refuge from my life which I was finding difficult to cope at the time, and it probably shows in the story. What Sarah went through is how I was feeling – you try to do everything for the best reasons and none of it works – worse still you get shot down for it. When I look back at Deeper there are still scenes in it that I can’t read because I find them too upsetting. It will always be my favourite book of the series because I put so much into it. And fortunately life did get back to normal for Sophie and me afterwards.
When you started writing The Highfield Mole – the original story of Tunnels – did you know what the plot would through to the culmination of the series? How has it changed through the years?
When I was writing The Highfield Mole I did have an idea for a final scene but it quickly went out of the window. I dislike planning ahead in too much depth because the exciting thing about devising a plot is to have something happen that is diametrically opposite to what the reader expects. You need the flexibility that you can reach a point in the story and say to yourself “What if…” and experiment with something completely off the wall. And while that idea might feel completely crazy and unworkable at the time, as you take it forward and the rest of the story falls into place around it, it becomes less crazy. I love those moments.
So, to answer your question, I’ve always had outline ideas for scenes and events in the books moving through the series, but I didn’t quite know quite how I was going to get to them. Maybe I thrive on that level of uncertainty and need it to write effectively. But it’s also quite stressful and there have been many moments of sheer panic when I didn’t think that I could ever make the story work!
What is your routine when you write?
I’m always more awake and more alert at night. During my two decades in the City I had to be at my desk early in the morning and it took me several hours each day just to feel human again. I suppose I’m naturally nocturnal. So I like to write through the night when the phone doesn’t ring and the rest of the family are safely tucked away in their beds. I write in my study, although the times when I’m travelling – by plane, car, train – seem to produce those new ideas that come out of nowhere. It must be to do with the motion or something but that’s when I’ve had some great Eureka! moments. And I mostly use the internet for research when I need to check a point of detail, but it can be quite dangerous as it’s so easy to become distracted and burn several hours just pottering around.
Before knowing that Terminal would be the sixth and final book, there was the doubt about being seven in total. With Barry Cunningham -your editor- both decided to conclude the series in the sixth one. You agreed but afterwards you also expressed that you would have preferred to extend the end of the saga. Do you think there’s a possibility you might continue the story? (without spoilers about T6) How a seventh book would have affected the plot?
If you check through the books I often refer to the number seven – Dr Burrows in Deeper finds seven steps leading down into the Pore, the seven Brights, etc. I’d always planned to write seven books but Barry thought it better to keep the series tighter and draw it to a close on the sixth. I accepted this because I saw his point and that I needed to move on. But I’ve recently met with him to talk about the future and there may be other books related to the series, although another book to follow after Terminal isn’t on the agenda.
Although the story is finished, will you show some extra information about the underworld you created, the Styx and the characters? Perhaps some more “lost pages” (see http://www.tunnelsthebook.com/lost-pages)
Yes, I should, but it takes so much time to produce this additional material as I do it myself and I spend ages trying to perfect it. I used to produce special limited edition items to go with the series (you can see them on www.mathewandson.com), but realised my time was better spent writing, although Simon Wilkie of TunnelsDeeper.com did help out with some of the last ones. In the last couple of years it’s been wonderful to work with the German artist, Kirill Barybin, (the inspired artist who did the fantastic illustrations for Terminal). I’d love to cooperate with him on further Tunnels images and some other projects, but he’s at university in Berlin doing an art degree so I can’t really ask for more of his time.
Japan released the manga novel of Tunnels. Have you read it? Is it going to be released in English?
Barry did say that he was trying to pick up the rights for it after the Japanese publisher went into administration but I’m not sure where he got to on it. He mentioned that he might do a new edition in English. The Japanese publisher actually split T1 into three parts and produced two of the manga novels (I’ve read and got copies of both of them), but they never managed to release the last one. The novels are really good – of course the imagery isn’t quite as Brian or I saw it but they still work very well.
Now that the final instalment in the series is released in the UK, what are you going to do? Will you write more books? Some time ago you started a new novel that could lead to a new series. What can you tell us about it? Any plans to be published in the near future?
I have to admit I haven’t really sat down and written anything since the end of last year, but it’s time for me to start again. There’s a book that I finished before I started work on Terminal and maybe I rushed it because the story doesn’t pan out yet. I need to get back into it or write something completely new, and I do have several ideas I’m dying to try out (if I don’t my head will probably explode). So there’s nothing on the horizon for the immediate future, but I am going to write some more stories.
You know you have a lot of Spanish speaking fans and they are willing to meet you (see this Facebook’s page https://www.facebook.com/RoderickGordon.BrianWilliams). When Tunnels was released in Spain back in 2007, Brian and you came to Barcelona. Will you come back again and visit other cities and countries? Did the Spanish publishing house invited to another event?
That Facebook page is just great and I’d love to come – it’s all down to the Spanish publisher if they can arrange it!
Anything you want to share to our visitors – your readers?
I’d just like to thank them for reading the books and being such great supporters. I never ever dreamt I’d ever have one book published, let alone a series, so count myself extremely fortunate. I hope there might be an opportunity to meet them in the future – possibly at the film premiere?!
Thank you very much for answering this interview. I hope we could repeat the experience and next time include questions made by fans –tuneleros, as we call us- and focused on the books. Let’s start with this one… When is Will Burrows’ birthday? (never said in the books).
I really can’t remember! I’m sorry if that’s frustrating but I did have a date for it but it’s completely gone from my mind now. I’d have to go back and check the books to work it out again!