10 years since the release of his cult novel Kill Your Friends, John Niven brings the return of the murderous misogynist that is Steven Stelfox. Expect even more mania, manipulation and maybe even murder in this addictive sequel from the acclaimed author.
After the immense success of Kill Your Friends, are you nervous about the response of its sequel?
You get nervous with every book because you’re putting yourself out there and saying “here’s my take on the world.” You’re setting yourself up to be judged, whether you publish novels or make movies or make records. It’s always a scary business but with a sequel specifically, obviously you don’t want to be the guy making Blues Brothers 2000, you don’t want to tarnish something good that’s gone before. So, writing a sequel to a much beloved novel does bring its own set of anxieties.
How does Stelfox differ in Kill Em All compared to Kill Your Friends?
He’s changed in some of the ways people change between their twenties and forties. Hangovers are now a 3-day affair so he barely parties or does drugs anymore. He still drinks and he says in the book “if you have to stop drinking, (go to rehab), then you’re a loser.” He’s more measured and calculating but I guess the thing that’s different is that he’s worth 200 million having made a fortune along the way. The first book saw him in the trenches of the music business, dealing with constantly trying to sign bands and get ahead of the game, whereas now he’s in a position where he floats above the game a little bit, because to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t qualified, I was no longer the guy to write that book in the trenches of the music business because I’m far removed from that myself now both in terms of age and life experience, so you try to position the characters so you can come at the story from an angle you’re comfortable with.
Kill Your Friends was based around the Britpop era, so there were lots of mentions of what was being released at the time, eg Oasis and Radiohead etc. do you focus on the cultural references of today in Kill em All?
There’s a wee bit less nitty gritty specific music stuff because Stelfox is now very removed from all that, he’s not concerned with what new bands are playing in London tonight, he’s more concerned with are Universal going to buy Warner Brothers? His concerns are much more at the top end of the playing field. With the political thing – I knew very much that I wanted the book to take place in real time, from roughly Trump’s inauguration through to that summer. I was very conscious of trying to make the fictional story track exactly to that, what happened at that time in the real world.
Stelfox leads a much cleaner, healthier existence now than in Kill Your Friends, do you think his vice has slightly changed in the fact he is now greedier with wealth and success?
He’s greedier for wealth and success. You know the saying that you never know how poor you are until you start making some money, because once you start making money, suddenly you set yourself in the world of people who have a lot of money. There’s a moment early on in the novel where he’s in the Caribbean thinking that he’s the King on his yacht but David Geffen’s yacht is docked next to his and blocks out the sun and he thinks to himself, “this is how fucking poor I am.” But he’s not poor by any stretch of the imagination! It’s that idea that there’s always a bigger fish. Take someone like Donald Trump who’s the ultimate, with the idea that you can never be rich enough: you can’t have enough sky scrapers, you can’t have enough jets and I think that with these people – Stelfox like Trump, there’s a terrible emptiness at the centre of them like nothing is ever going to fulfil them.
Are some of the characters in both novels an exaggeration of actual music industry professionals?
Very few cases are based exactly on somebody from real life. You take the characteristics of a few different people and fuse them together, but funnily enough when the first novel came out, a friend of mine from the music industry said “it’s funny, a lot of people are going to think that you’re exaggerating” and what he meant was (not the murders), but the kind of mentality that the books depict. The mentality of greed and success and it’s not enough that I succeed but that other people fail. It’s a very viscous mentality and I think it’s very true and I think that’s what people respond to, that shocking honesty.
You mentioned that Kill Em All is going to be a lot more grotesque than Kill Your Friends. Can you explain how?
I meet a lot of readers who say to me, “I can’t believe how horrific Stelfox is, yet I still find myself rooting for him or occasionally agreeing with him.” One of the ways you get that sympathy is by putting Stelfox in the company of characters who are even worse and in this instance it’s Lucius Du Pre, the popstar who’s career he’s trying to save. Lucius is terrible, he’s literally a paedophile so it’s like, what’s the only thing that can make Stelfox look better? Putting him next to a paedophile obviously!
Kill Your Friends was adapted into a film. Have there been talks of the sequel being made into a film too?
There’s been a couple of enquiries already but the book’s not even out until October. The money’s always nice, I’ll say that, but you don’t have a lot of control over it, even when you write the scripts yourself. But if a bad movie gets made out of one of your books, it shouldn’t damage the book. You can’t say, “I didn’t like that movie so I’m not reading that author again”. The book survives and it’s its own thing.
What can we expect from your conversation with Sali Hughes? Will there be spoilers etc?
Well Sali is a mate and also a fantastic writer in her own right. She’s also incredibly funny company, so I’d happily go and watch Sali Hughes talk for an hour without me getting involved. I keep meaning to get crap interviewers to make me look better, so I should’ve asked some idiot rather than Sali.
Do you think that now, in a world of Trump and Brexit was the perfect time to bring back Stelfox?
It very much felt like the best time to bring them back. We’re living in such a crazy period at the moment and there’s a really dull, boring novel to be written about that, from the point of view of somebody who’s horrified and outraged about it, which most of us are. It’s much more of a fun way to look at it from the point of view of someone who loves it, who thinks it’s all fantastic, immediately to me that’s more appealing.