Since 2014, Jo Fletcher Books has been slowly but surely bringing back to print the entirety of Trevor Hoyle’s oeuvre, culminating in yesterday’s publication of a new edition of perhaps his best known work The Last Gasp. What fascinated me about this book, was that despite having been first published over thirty years ago, its themes and topics remain relevant. Not only that, but the author has been able to revise and update the text not once, but twice, reflecting the changes in what we known about climate change and how it is viewed between 1983 and 2016. I was glad to have the opportunity to ask Trevor some questions about this process and about The Last Gasp. I hope you find Trevor’s answers as interesting as I did.
Let’s start with the basics. For those who don’t know, who is Trevor Hoyle?
I’m from north-west England where I still live. Before becoming a writer I was an actor in theatre and TV, and then an advertising copywriter. Since the ‘seventies I’ve published over 20 works of fiction in different genres: suspense thrillers, science fiction, mainstream novels. I’ve also written radio drama for the BBC, and won the Radio Times Drama Award. Back in the ‘seventies I was involved in the BBC series Blake’s 7.
How would you introduce people to the future of The Last Gasp?
The novel takes a look thirty years ahead. What it portrays is a rather terrifying 21st century prophesy of the world running out of oxygen, which could actually happen if we carry on polluting the oceans and cutting down the rain forests as we are doing. Imagine what it would be like, as if living at 15,000 feet on the side of a mountain and literally gasping for breath – that’s what the future could hold for the human race, and hence the title.
This is the third edition of The Last Gasp, the first being published in 1983 and the second revised edition followed in 1990. Did you do any more revisions for this latest edition or is it the same text as it was in 1990?
The characters and theme and central plot haven’t changed. But the book has been extensively expanded and updated. There’s now an added focus on the military and big corporations using climate change as a means of controlling other nations and winning wars. Remember WMD? Well in the book the major powers are developing WCD — Weapons of Climate Degradation. Such a concept — that of deliberately destroying the planet — might seem fantastical. But we’ve lived with nuclear weapons for 70 years, and if employed they could wipe out the human race several times over. So using the climate as a weapon of war isn’t all that far-fetched.
In 1983 climate change and global warning had only been of concern to the public at large for about a decade and a half and attitudes to it were far different from what they are today. How have the changing views on climate change affected your own views and have they made you want to change things in the novel?
It’s almost funny in a ‘black humour’ sort of way how attitudes were completely different to climate change thirty years ago. When The Last Gasp first came out in America in 1983, a review in the Washington Post hailed it as ‘a landmark in the emerging field of eco-fiction.’ Yet when I went to New York to promote the book, there was zero interest from TV and radio channels and I didn’t get to do a single broadcast media interview. No one in America at the time was remotely interested in the environment. The nuclear threat from Russia was still the major fear. While I was there, a television film “The Day After”, about a nuclear strike in the mid-west, gripped the nation and took over the daily headlines.
Today, of course, the situation couldn’t be more different. You can’t open a newspaper or magazine, turn on the TV or radio without coming across stories about pollution, global warming and climate catastrophes happening right across the world. My own reaction to changing perceptions has been, I have to admit, one of pessimism. As I’ve said, although the scientific predictions in the book haven’t changed at all, the responses of the politicians and military leaders in the West to the deteriorating climate are deeply depressing. That’s why I had to introduce and emphasise these new plot strands of the devious methods the powerful will employ to keep control, no matter the cost — even at the expense of their own citizens.
Does it worry you that The Last Gasp’s topic is still so relevant today?
No. It terrifies me, frankly. You’d have thought that faced with such an existential threat to mankind, people of all nations would come together to curb this urge to self-destruction and rescue the situation. But instead we continue to squabble amongst ourselves like a bunch of spoilt brats.
One thing is certain. The next twenty to thirty years are crucial. What kind of legacy are we prepared to bequeath to our children and our grandchildren, and the descendants that follow? We could be selfish (which we are) and say, why should I care? I won’t be here. Or we could act as responsible, caring human beings and strive to do something to change it. It’s up to us to act before it’s too late.
Many of your works have leaned to the dystopian side, showing the reader a bleak future that we can only hope to avoid. What draws you to writing these types of narratives?
Without having myself psycho-analysed I can only speculate that it’s part and parcel of my personality, of how I view the world. I don’t consciously decide to predict a gloom-ridden future, it’s just what I see ahead when I look around at society. And of course dystopian futures are much more interesting and filled with dramatic potential than utopian ones, which to a novelist is a definite attraction.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Quantum physics, cosmology and most things relating to the life scientific. Though I have absolutely no academic training or pedigree as a scientist. Much of the SF I’ve written is inspired by quantum mechanics, so in a way these interests too are related to my professional writing.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
Apart from The Last Gasp (!) itself I think there’s going to be a whole raft of non-fiction books and newspaper stories about the looming threat of climate instability. Okay, it’s not the most cheering topic to recommend, but anyone concerned about the health of our planet and how it will affect future generations should be concerned and want to learn as much as they can.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Pretty haphazardly, I must confess. No system as such. I separate fiction from non-fiction. Oh and I keep the authors grouped together but that’s the only semblance of order.
Bio: Trevor Hoyle was born and lives in Lancashire. He worked as an actor, an advertising copywriter and a lecturer in Creative Writing before becoming a full-time writer, producing novels, short stories and plays.
You can find Trevor online at his website.