Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction by Neil Snowdon
IN MANY WAYS, WHAT YOU HOLD IN YOUR HANDS IS A DREAM, coalesced out of passion and goodwill.
Passion for a writer not given his due is perhaps the fiercest passion in fandom, and the greatest motivator for critics. Certainly it was mine when I conceived this book and pitched it to the contributors. Passion for the work, and a sense of injustice, of incredulity, that a man who created so much, who changed lives and opened minds, should have so little written about him; should seem so little known.
Quite apart from his achievements as a storyteller and a dramatist, he is ground zero for the development of the televisual drama as a powerful medium in its own right. Not an approximation of theatre or the poor cousin of cinema, but a medium that could take the best of it’s narrative forebears—the intimacy of theatre, the visual drive of cinematic storytelling, the length, breadth and depth of the novel—to create something new. Not the ‘lean in and listen’ safety of Radio (which no matter its content will always approximate the tale around the fireside of old) but something that projected its light into your living room. That broke into your home and embraced or assaulted you, something that was—in a way—the fire itself. Lean in close and look into the flames…but not too close, or you might get burned. That was what Nigel Kneale offered. There is nothing passive about his writing. Nothing ‘cosy’. He wants to make you think and feel.
And he does just that. In spades…
It says an awful lot, I think, about how much Kneale’s work means to the contributors herein (how deeply he made them think and feel) that they stepped up to write for this collection so willingly. That each of these immensely talented writers would throw their lot in with a newbie editor without a second word. Indeed, in some cases, they came knocking at my virtual door, asking to come in.
I was overwhelmed by the response of the writers you will find between these pages. Humbled and thrilled in equal measure. And the work that they’ve put in is staggering.
If you’re new to Nigel Kneale, I hope this sends you straight to his work (run, don’t walk, to your viewing device of choice). I hope it helps contextualise the work too. Not that it needs it: the ideas, the characters and the situations are as potent and as urgent as ever they were. But methods of production change. In some cases they have dated, and I know that can be an obstacle. For those who find such elements an issue, I hope the passion of the writers will help you past it. That the context the writers provide— anecdotally, historically, critically—will help unlock the modes of making, scrape away the tarnish of accreted years to expose the thrumming primal core within: Kneale’s writing. His ideas.
For those of you who know Kneale’s work, and come to this as fans, I hope you feel we’ve done him justice. Gone some way to correct the imbalance. However you come to this book, know this: it’s just the beginning. We are not done with Nigel Kneale. We have not covered all his work. In an effort to properly embrace the passion and fervour of my contributors, I did not force them into a scheme to cover every title or every topic. I let their passion guide them. That was always foremost in my mind. With luck, there’ll be a Volume 2 to follow, because there’s more to tell. And besides, the amount of people who—having gotten wind of the project—came forward and asked if the could be involved, has been thrilling to me. And not a little touching. Nigel’s work means so much, to so many people, to practitioners within his field and beyond. He has inspired writers, film-makers, musicians, doctors, scientists…there’s a great deal more to come. I hope that you’ll come with us too.
This book is about the Work. The Legacy of an incredible talent and a unique mind. But I’d like to say a word or two about Kneale ‘The Man’.
There’s a common misconception that he was ‘Difficult’. ‘Curmudgeonly’, ‘Cantankerous’, ‘Misanthropic’ even.
I don’t buy it.
This is a man who was at the peak of his field. In television, he created his field. And he knew it.
I don’t think he was arrogant, and he wasn’t a show off (he was too British for that). But he knew how good he was, and his standards were high. And he didn’t mince words about anything he saw as failing to meet those standards. He set the bar high, for himself and for others.
Interference from people (film and television executives) who were less experienced and less talented, must have frustrated him. Indeed, at times, I’m sure infuriated him. Certainly, I think that was the case with HALLOWEEN III, with which he was forever associated despite removing his name (at cost to himself) from the film. Because the changes that were made fell below the standards he held to his work and his name.
Unfortunately, for contemporary readers, because John Carpenter remains (rightly) a popular figure among film fans today, I think that particular bad experience overshadows everything else. Kneale’s name and work is so little known in pop culture circles, that this is the example that comes up again and again…‘he wasn’t happy with what they did to his script’, ‘he wasn’t nice about the final film’, ‘he didn’t get along with Carpenter’. All of which is true. He did not like what was done to his original script. And as a result he removed himself from the production and his name from the credits (losing any residual payments he might have received for his involvement with the film in the process). It’s also true that he disliked the final film…and let’s face it he was not alone. But having removed himself from what he saw as inferior work, his name stuck. I can’t think of a review or an article that doesn’t mention him. And I think the more that went on, the more annoyed he got and the less kind he became about the film. Because this fly in his ear just wouldn’t go away.
This image of Nigel Kneale pervades internet culture, and that’s a shame. Because as a man and as a writer, Kneale was SO much more…
I’ve read people talk about Kneale as a misanthropic writer, but I don’t read the work that way at all. He is a deeply humane writer. Concerned with human drama as well as big ideas. Indeed, all his big ideas are profoundly linked to what it means to be human.
If, as they say, drama is conflict, then Kneale’s dramas deal with the conflict of what most afflicts us not only as people, but as a society, and as a species. They may seem pessimistic, and there is often an ambiguity to them, a queasy uncertainty…but there is always hope. The potential to overcome our worst aspects is always present. Literally, as in the Quatermass stories, or implicitly, as if by showing our worst, by confronting us with our fears and foibles and failures, Kneale is offering a warning. A plea…must we be like this!?
Kneale is a profoundly emotive writer, his ideas are never divorced from emotion. He makes us feel the idea (its implication, its meaning for us as people), not just think about it.
It seems to me that, in his combination of the emotive and the intellectual, Kneale not only demonstrates what great drama can do at its best, but what we as thinking, feeling beings can be…
Humane, emotive and intellectual in equal measure. These are the things that typify Nigel Kneale and his writing. These are the things that cracked my head wide open when I first saw QUATERMASS AND THE PIT at roughly 9 years old.
I’m not usually an advocate for violence, but I hope he does it to you too.