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An Interview with Richard Morgan
conducted by Sandy Auden

© Sandy Auden
Richard Morgan
Richard Morgan
Richard Morgan was an English language teacher at Strathclyde University. Thanks to the advance for film rights to Altered Carbon, he is now a full-time author living in Glasgow.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Woken Furies
SF Site Review: Market Forces
SF Site Review: Broken Angels
SF Site Review: Altered Carbon
SF Site Review: Altered Carbon

Woken Furies
Woken Furies
Market Forces
Market Forces
Broken Angels
Broken Angels
Altered Carbon
Altered Carbon
Richard Morgan's novels are deep, dark and violent. All four of his novels feature harsh futures and exceptional body counts, but they also hold seeds of hope and occasionally high moral standards. This continual balance of right and wrong is personified in Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs character, and there's the usual trail of blood and gore in the wake of our (anti?)hero in his latest adventure, Woken Furies.

The new book sees Kovacs returning home to Harlan's World, a water covered planet surrounded by Martian orbital platforms that shoot down anything above an altitude of 400 meters. He's on a journey of implacable retribution when he's blown off course into a maelstrom of political intrigue and technological mystery after a simple fight in a bar. Already on the run from gangsters and religious assassins, he soon discovers that someone has sent a far more dangerous adversary in pursuit -- a copy of himself.

Morgan creates a detailed backdrop to his action, full of historical and political texture. He also embeds the clues to his plot all through the story, to be slotted in later with some fresh information. With such an intricate construction, the first question to ask Morgan has to be: How do you achieve the multi-layered, lived-in planet affect in Woken Furies? Do you have a Kovacs 'bible' that gives you all the back history of the planets he has visited?

No, I don't. I'm appallingly inept with paperwork, so keeping character charts and background data the way some authors do would be counterproductive because I'd just end up losing it all. But also, to be honest, I don't think it would be that useful. I tend to create background detail as the need arises, the way you'd color features of a painting as they emerge on the canvas.

Sometimes, of course, that's helped by the fact that there are already background aspects from the two previous novels to pick up and use; and sometimes, believe me, it's hindered! A couple of times in Woken Furies, I was forced to do some substantial re-inventing because the backdrop I'd wanted to give just wasn't permissible, given already existing detail.

But as to the multi-layering, that just tends to build up as the novel develops. Detail branches out to detail and pretty soon you've got a coherent web, and then the new details start to suggest themselves at increasing speed because they've already got some kind of home to go to.

How many passes does it take you to complete a novel like Woken Furies?

It usually takes just one pass, plus some continuity work afterwards -- exact dates, details from character backdrop, that kind of thing. But that one pass is very, very slow and painstaking; there are some days when I'm lucky if I get ten lines done that I'm happy to keep.

What themes did you want explore as you were writing Woken Furies?

Initially, Woken Furies was going to be a book about the allure and pitfalls of revolutionary politics -- Kovacs as the cynical nihilist counter-pointed against the politically committed. Then, as I got to work on Kovacs's entry point into the book, it started also to be about the limits of revenge (something that gets a passing glance in Market Forces), the issue of okay, you've had your revenge -- now what? And since the vendetta Kovacs is pursuing is against fundamentalist religion, back we came to this basic issue of belief versus cynicism. In the end, I started to see that the book was really about hope versus despair, and the capacity to look to the future rather than clinging to the past -- which resulted in me writing an unexpectedly upbeat ending. Believe me, no-one was more surprised about that than me!

Did you feel the pressure of expectations when writing Woken Furies as you did with Broken Angels?

I honestly don't think I gave it that much thought. I was coming back to Kovacs after a break, remember, and was quite keen to get going. And from a technical point of view, experience (hopefully) means you're a better swimmer each time you hit the water.

So I just jumped in, ploughed up and down a bit until I had a sense of direction and then set off. Again, despite some obvious hallmarks of the Kovacs brand, Woken Furies was intended to be a slightly different type of novel to Altered Carbon or Broken Angels, so I didn't really have anything to stack directly up against.

What's the most enjoyable aspect of novel writing for you?

There comes a point in any novel under construction when you reach a critical mass -- characters suddenly have enough weight to start acting by and speaking for themselves, and the scenarios you've created start to coalesce into something that has its own internal logic. In real terms what this means is that you find you suddenly just know what a character will do or say next, or -- even more of a high, this -- you write it, look at it and think My God, that's exactly right! That's the way it would be.

I attained this a lot sooner with Broken Angels than I did with Altered Carbon, which meant that for most of the time it took me to write Broken Angels, I was on a solid creative rush.

For Woken Furies, I think it kicked in from about chapter twenty onward. Once Kovacs was on his way south to Newpest, I could feel a definite plot momentum and a gathering density of background. I wouldn't say it wrote itself from there on in, because there were still quite a few major plot twists to wrestle into shape, but it certainly felt like the train picking up speed. It's an awesome feeling and there's nothing chemical to touch it!

Talking of climactic moments, Kovacs -- like any red-blooded human male -- has a healthy sexual appetite, but how important are the sex scenes to the overall story?

Well, one of the defining tenets of noir is that characters are very often driven by sexual motives, and aside from being an obvious way to add intensity to a story, I think that's not so far off the truth of real life.

Certainly in Woken Furies the sex drives the narrative forward in terms of giving Kovacs motives (or at least part-motives) for what he does. He is an intensely female-focused man and it stands to reason that sex with some of those females would play a major role in defining his personal life.

Are you running through the Kama Sutra for your sex scenes, ticking several more off as you finish each novel?

No, I try to write scenes that are coherent given Kovacs' sexuality and predilections. Different partners obviously bring in variation, but I think most women can probably work out what kind of fuck Kovacs is, and he doesn't change his bedroom persona that much with time.

So when will we see Mr. Kovacs performing again?

I don't know if we'll ever see Kovacs again.

What?! Why not?

I feel I've written him pretty much to as good a conclusion as he's going to get, and I can't really see anywhere to take him from here that wouldn't be replica writing, which I don't like the idea of at all. Seems to work okay for a lot of crime writers, but I just can't do it. Unless I've got something fresh to say, I can't work up any enthusiasm for the project.

And anyway, I think you can only go to the well a certain number of times before the law of diminishing returns sets in. I wouldn't say there'll never be another Kovacs book because, as one of my American fans pointed out, in ten years I'll be a different man and so will Kovacs, and who knows what fresh perspectives that might throw up. But for the time being, I'm definitely taking the less is more line on this.

So what are you working on now? Who will we be meeting instead?

At the moment, I'm working on a near(ish) future detective(ish) novel called Black Man. Salients are genetic engineering and its social fallout, massive colonization programmes for Mars and the fracturing apart of the old geopolitical order. Into this comes a particularly gruesome series of murders and a quietly dangerous genetically modified man to take on the mantle of the detective. Expect strong political content, multiple, morally ambiguous character viewpoints, and rather less violence than in the Kovacs books, but perhaps rather more nastiness.

So, rest assured, even if there's no Kovacs fix coming up soon, there will at least be more Richard Morgan stories to enjoy...

Copyright © 2005 by Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.


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