John Niven revels in a return to Stelfox, a character that says and does the very worst
- Lynsey May
- 21 September 2018
The novelist revisits one of his most iconic characters in Kill 'Em All, a sequel to 2008's rollicking and deliciously dark Kill Your Friends.
Steven Stelfox is back and he's worse than ever. The anti-hero of John Niven's influential Kill Your Friends returns in his latest book, Kill 'Em All, and age certainly hasn't mellowed him. We catch up with Niven ahead of his UK tour to chat changes to the music business, bad behaviour, the novelists' duty and more.
Has Stelfox been lurking in the background for all these years, waiting to fight his way back into the spotlight? Or was there something in particular that prompted his return?
It was exactly 10 years since the first novel was published, and almost exactly 20 years since it was set, 1997. So I liked the symmetry of that. I also liked the idea that every decade or so you could use the same character as a lens to look at the times we find ourselves in, rather like John Updike used Harry Angstrom in the rabbit novels. And it seemed to me that Steven Stelfox would have interesting, funny things to say about 2017, about Trump and Brexit. Because he'd be absolutely loving it, which is always more fun than preaching about how terrible things are.
The music industry has changed a lot in the last 20 years, do you reckon there have been any benefits for the artists or only for people in positions like Stelfox?
I think when it comes to something like digital streaming the benefits to the artists are going to take a good while longer to properly trickle through. Right now the music industry – the major labels – are experiencing a cash bonanza like they haven't seen since the 90s. In the new novel Stelfox is very much driven by the fear that he might have got out of the music industry too soon.
Stelfox revels in his delinquency and in bad behaviour in general, is it fun to write such an awful character?
I have to say – it is tremendous fun to have a character not only capable of thinking the very worst things, but of saying them and doing them.
How about Lucius Du Pre? He's a pretty intense character and I can't help thinking there's some basis in real life stars, is that the case?
Lucius was, shall we say, very much inspired by a famous pop star who died some years back and who loved children. Let's leave it at that.
Things have been so wild and unpleasant – in the music industry and beyond – in recent years, is it making writing harder?
On the contrary – I feel the novelist has a unique opportunity, not to say a duty, to make what they can out of the times we find ourselves in. Indeed I'd hope the very phrase 'wild and unpleasant' could be applied to most of my fiction.
John Niven is touring the UK throughout September and October, with dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow.