It’s been two days since the release of Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove, (you can check out my spoiler free review here) and today I’m excited to share with you a Q&A I did with the main himself about his experiences writing his newest release.
First off let me say, I absolutely loved The Magnificent Nine, it completely took me back to the days of watching Firefly on SyFy, the show had such a particular feel and quality to it that I think you’ve really managed to capture. One of the things that, I think really helped was your use of language, a really unique aspect in the show and one that I think you’ve managed to embody brilliantly in your writing for this book. How did you find getting into that particular style? Not just the use of signature words from the show such as ruttin, shiny and gorram but the inclusion of the chinese phrases and the way the words flow in such a way that makes it instantly recognisable to a lot of fans.
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much .At the risk of sounding cocky, I found
it fairly easy getting into the Firefly idiom. That’s because I’ve watched every episode
and the movie at least three times, and because I love the show. The dialogue is this
delightful mix of the florid and the earthy. I was already used to writing Victorian-style
dialogue from my Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so all I had to do was add some Western-
movie grit to that. It all flowed from there. Honestly, The Magnificent Nine was perhaps
the most fun I’ve ever had with a novel. I polished off the first draft in about four
weeks. It was paid fan-fiction, basically.
Do you have a favourite Chinese curse word or phrase from the series or that you used in your book and did you get to make up any of your own?
While writing the book I put out a distress call on social media, and luckily a Chinese-
speaking Facebook friend, Yen Ooi, came to my rescue. She gamely helped me with
translating several fairly obscene phrases that I came up with, most memorably “beat
me with a wet and soft sheep cock”. From the existing Firefly pinyin lexicon, I think my
favourite is “Holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews”, which crops up in “Our
Although the language is a big help in giving your book the same feel as the show on which its based another thing that struck me was just how well you captured the feel of each of the characters, did you do anything in particular to find the actions and voices of these characters and their rhythm among themselves and each other?
The characters were so well-sketched and clearly defined in the show that it wasn’t hard
re-creating them on the page. The trick was staying true to the way the writers and
actors portrayed them, while at the same time using the techniques of the novel, such as
interior monologue, to flesh them out that little bit more. The one person I was least
certain about, to begin with, was River. Over the course of the series she changes a great
deal, swinging between wide-eyed moon-calf and hyper-intelligent kill bot, and I found
her hard to get a fix on. I was completely unsure about writing her, and I couldn’t quite
believe it when my editor told me I’d actually got her nailed. Hell of a relief.
Is there a particular member of the crew of Serenity you relate to the most?
Probably Wash. He wisecracks to hide his insecurities, like I do, but when it’s called for,
he gets down to the job and is utterly competent, as I hope I am. He’s also got a
gorgeous, tough-as-nails wife who takes no bullshit, and so do I.
Did having the opportunity to write The Magnificent Nine and it’s predecessor Big Damn Hero change the way you felt about any of the characters?
I’d always looked at Mal as a good guy to the core, but when I was re-watching the
show in preparation for writing the novels, I realised he’s pretty hardcore ruthless. He’s
more embittered than he lets on, which emerges in flashes here and there, such as in
“Ariel” when he nearly throws Jayne out of the airlock. You threaten what’s his, and no
matter who you are, you’d better expect reprisals. I think it’s Nathan Fillion’s charm
that’s deceptive here. He makes Mal wonderfully easy-going and you might think that’s
all there is to him, but there are moments when Fillion allows glimmers of the steeliness
beneath to show through. It’s a terrifically well-rounded performance.
In this book you really dig down into Jaynes emotions which are often only hinted at in the show and personally I enjoyed this closer look into a character that at first glance could have easily been written off someone who doesn’t really give much of a care about anyone but himself, your story really highlights what we see glimpses of in the show, how did it feel really getting down into all of that and what made you decide to do so?
I think Jayne gets stereotyped as the big dumb guy who likes to shoot guns. I thought
it’d be fun to up the stakes for him and give him something to care about, so in The
Magnificent Nine he reconnects with an old flame and discovers that their affair may
have had unintended consequences. Perhaps against his own better judgement, Jayne
learns to step up and do the right thing, even though this comes at a cost. Can’t say any
more than that because of, y’know, spoilers.
You’ve written over a number of genres over the years and for different age groups, how does writing a tie in novel for a series like Firefly differ from that and how did you get into it?
About four years ago I told my then-editor at Titan, Miranda Jewess, that I’d be
interested in tie-in work but only if it was Firefly. Titan didn’t even have the licence
then, but a couple of years later they did, and Miranda remembered what I’d said and
got in touch. I jumped at the chance. I like a challenge, and I also like to get things right,
so I re-immersed myself in the ’Verse and got reacquainted with the characters and the
tech, and then decided I would really lean into the Western-movie elements of the show.
I was excited because I’d never done anything like this before, neither a tie-in nor a
Western (other than a Western-inflected short story, “The Black Rider”, in the
anthology Gutshot). I had, however, had some experience with writing in other authors’
voices through my Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft pastiches. It was really just a case of letting my love for Firefly show through and giving my fellow Browncoats what they
Were there any particular rules of guidelines aside from the obvious when you were creating the story? If so could you tell me a little about these? Did they restrict you very much? Did you have to change anything in particular to accommodate them?
I submitted three story outlines for consideration, and Titan and the licensor together
decided which one they would like to see as a novel. So, from the outset, I was writing to
order, but still the guidelines were fairly loose. Once I’d written the book, it was up to
editorial to say what they thought worked and what didn’t, and I rewrote accordingly.
There wasn’t too much of that, in the event. Mostly it was a case of a line of dialogue
here and there not sounding quite right and needing to be honed, or a few instances of
character interaction which didn’t ring true. Any changes were minor. I felt that, even
if it wasn’t expressly stated, I was being asked just to have fun in this fictional world
and do the best job I could.
Thank you for your answers, as a last question I would love to know if you have a favourite episode of the Firefly and why?
It’s not so much a favourite episode as a favourite moment. It’s in “War Stories” when
Niska is torturing Mal and Wash at his skyplex. Zoë strides in, and Niska thinks he’s
being terribly clever and mean by inviting her to choose one of them to save, and before
he’s even finished talking, Zoë just points at Wash and goes “Him”. It’s perfect. You’re
expecting her to agonise over the choice. So’s Niska. But she doesn’t. She rescues her
husband because (a) he’s her husband and (b) she knows Mal can hold up better under
torture than Wash can. It’s both emotionally and logically the correct choice, and it
shows both how pragmatic and at the same time how loving Zoë is.
James was born on Christmas Eve 1965 and, having dabbled in writing at school, first took to it seriously while at university. A short story of his won a college competition. The prize was £15, and it had cost £18 to get the story professionally typed. This taught him a hard but necessary lesson in the harsh economic realities of a literary career.
Straight after graduating from Oxford with a degree in English Literature, James set himself the goal of getting a novel written and sold within two years. In the event, it took two months. The Hope was completed in six weeks and accepted by Macmillan a fortnight later. The seed for the idea for the novel — a world in microcosm on an ocean liner — was planted during a cross-Channel ferry journey.
James blew his modest advance for The Hope on a round-the-world trip which took him to, among other places, Thailand. His experiences there, particularly what he witnessed of the sex industry in Bangkok, provided much of the inspiration for The Foreigners.
Subsequent works have all been published to great acclaim. These include Untied Kingdom, Worldstorm, Provender Gleed and the back-to-back double-novella Gig. Many of his early books are being reissued by Solaris Books in a series of compendium volumes entitled The James Lovegrove Collection, beginning in late 2014. United Kingdom was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, while “Carry The Moon In My Pocket”, a short story, won Japan’s Seiun Award in 2011 for Best Foreign Short Story. It and other stories by James, more than 40 in total, have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies over the years, and most have been gathered in two collections, Imagined Slights and Diversifications.
More recently, James has moved into the Firefly ‘Verse, writing tie-in fiction based on the much-missed TV series (and its follow-up movie). His first Firefly novel is Big Damn Hero (based on a story outline by Nancy Holder). His second is The Magnificent Nine.
In addition, James reviews fiction for the Financial Times, specialising in the children’s, science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel genres, and was a regular and prolific contributor to Comic Heroes, a glossy magazine devoted to all things comics-related, until its regrettable demise in 2014.