Paul Hoffman | SCORN

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Novelist Paul Hoffman is a former BBFC Censor and is best known for The Left Hand of God series, a fantasy series with strong religious themes. His debut novel The Wisdom of Crocodiles was turned into the 1998 vampire movie starring Jude Law. We caught up with him to find out more about his latest book, Scorn.

STARBURST: What’s the elevator pitch for Scorn?

Paul Hoffman: After an accident at the Large Hadron Collider, a scientist suffering from a deep depression caused by his brutal Catholic upbringing is transformed into a witty, articulate, madcap, murderous werewolf. After confronting and then eating the priests from his past he becomes ever more ambitious and turns his attention to the Archbishop of Westminster, Tony Blair and the unfortunate corgis of Queen Elizabeth. Finally, he challenges the Pope himself. But the meeting between Holy Father and werewolf ends in the most astonishing revelation in the history.

How would you describe it to an elderly relative?

“Well, Uncle Seamus, it’s a bit like Midsomer Murders.”

Why werewolves?

Zombies are inarticulate and have bad skin; Dracula is an aristocrat who’s never done a day’s work in his life, but werewolves have jobs requiring the ingenuity and analytical skills needed to enter on a long campaign of interpersonal and intellectual terror.

What’s the obsession with things that go bump in the night?

We’re all afraid of things that go bump in the night. but I’m more interested in what it would be like to be the creature doing the bumping!

How does it compare to The Left Hand of God series?

Oddly enough, unlike Scorn, The Left hand of God trilogy is a fantasy series without any fantasy. But I’m reasonably sure that anyone who’s followed the series will be at home with the book. It shares many of the same ideas and characters who are intelligent but keep making mistakes, goodies and baddies alike.

How is writing a film script different from a novel?

At one level, it depends on the kind of novelist. If you can’t write dialogue or think visually (and a great many novels don’t necessarily require either) then it’s likely to be a bewildering experience. I stopped writing scripts not because I didn’t love doing it but because each film I wrote ended up being more badly made than the one before. And most film scripts never get made no matter who’s behind them. A script I worked on for Francis Ford Coppola with the then A-lister Sharon Stone has never seen the light of day. As a generalisation, the difference between film scripts and novels (for professional writers) is that novels get published in the way you intended them to be read, and film scripts are hardly ever made and even if they are they’re unlikely to bear much resemblance to what you’ve written.

Do you have a cinematic take on Scorn?

I certainly could write a script that would work but for those reasons, I’m not going to. The difficulty of coming up with a workable film is that while half of it would be easy  because there’s so much action, there are a great many scenes where the Werewolf is arguing at length with the people he’s about to eat. The final confrontation with the pope is long and complicated. This would make financiers nervous. But it can be done. Consider the long dialogue exchanges in Tarantino movies. I see dialogue as a form of action.

On the other hand, I’m now working with a leading computer games company to create a game version of Scorn called Angry Priests. This is an ‘Eat ‘Em Up’ in which Catholic priests and nuns chase and punish people for crimes against the Holy Ghost, eating meat on Fridays, and going on Grindr. Victims can earn points for good deeds such as recycling, being vegetarian, not throwing things at the blind, and exchange them for the protection of a cleric-eating werewolf

Has working for the BBFC skewed your view of media? If not, why not?

Unquestionably. But exactly how is too long to go into here. Let me plug my own work and point anyone interested in this question to my second novel The Golden Age of Censorship. In effect, everybody is now going through the experiences of the small number of privileged people at the BBFC in the book set in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I’ve still seen things that most people never will, but not many. Everyone has virtually free access to almost every kind of violence and pornography so I can’t begin to see what purpose the BBFC serves anymore beyond consumer advice. What happens to the censors in the Golden Age is that they become hyped up by watching too many films - everything in their personal lives becomes a near-hysterical drama. I think this is what’s happening to everyone else now.

What’s next?

I’ve just finished the fourth book in The Left Hand of God trilogy. It’s set twenty years later with Thomas Cale on the run. Faced with execution, he’s blackmailed into attempting to assassinate charismatic politician John of Boston when he comes to visit Dallas in the United Estates.

What’s your dream project?

Sorry to be smug, but as long as you’re prepared to take the risk of always writing what you please then isn’t that always the dream project?

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Try to be born as a Quaker.

How has Tolkien changed your life?

Depends on which Tolkien you’re talking about. The great man’s daughter-in-law, Faith Tolkien, was a teacher at the new school I went to when the appalling Catholic boarding school (identical to the one in Scorn) closed down. I was by then a deeply angry 16-year-old without any academic qualifications. She was endlessly patient with my bad and scornful temper and gradually dragged me back from the precipice.  She shocked and appalled the other teachers at the school by deciding I should take the entrance exam for Oxford.  It was just as well that I passed as no other university would even interview me because my academic record was so terrible. One day, I might write about my experiences there - working title: A Yob at Oxford.

Scorn by Paul Hoffman is out now, published by Red Opera, £7.99 paperback.

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