BACK IN 1977, author Peter Hill was commissioned to write a sequel to Terry Nation's original Survivors novel which had been published the previous year. Working on the manuscript for what became Genesis of a Hero, came with a great deal of creative freedom. But the publishers required that Hill use the pen name John Eyers - a decision which led to many years of confusion amongst Survivors' fans as to the true identity of the book's author.
In a new and exclusive interview, Hill describes his his approach to the writing the original novel and his decision to write Survivors: Salvation, a sequel to Genesis, published in 2021, 44 years after the publication of his first Survivors book.
How did you come to get the original commission for Genesis of a Hero?
I was commissioned to write Genesis of a Hero because I had already written a spin-off for the Thames Series Special Branch in 1976, I was known to the publishers and had a reasonable CV by that time. The connection with Heinemann, explains why I was asked to write the second spin-off book for Survivors. I was required to use a pen name as the publishers had already 'invested' in the name Peter Hill for a different series. So I simply used my middle two names. It was never my intention to 'hide'!
Had you seen the Survivors TV series when it was first broadcast in 1975? Was the show, and the work of writer Terry Nation, on your radar?
Yes I did see the Survivors series on TV. It was encouraging that such a show could get commissioned.
Was it a job that you were pleased to get? You were already an established scriptwriter for TV, did the novel fit with your own plans to develop a career as a novelist?
Who would not be happy to take up that commission! However, I always intended to have a dual career with frequent dips into both disciplines. The TV work paid the bills and gave me the freedom to work on books in between. In fact, I began work first in TV rather than the other way round.
As for being a novelist, I don't think I have ever been that - not a 'literary' one at any rate - rather a camp fire storyteller. In another life I might have been a shaman! I think a writer uses words to create images in the minds of others in much the way a painter uses paint.
I was required to use a pen name as the publishers had already invested in the name Peter Hill for a different series
Did the publisher give you any sense of how successful Terry Nation's Survivors novel had been? Presumably, the go-ahead for the follow-up novel was not in the original contract, and had to be based on sales?
The publisher did not pass on any details about the sales figures for the first book but I had to assume that it had been sufficiently successful to justify a second, since in my experience publishers are not known for their philanthropy!
How specific was the brief from the publisher – was it something detailed and prescriptive or much more open-ended?
As I recall, there was no specific brief. I had already read the first book and the publishers asked how I would handle the second if I was commissioned. The publishers wanted a new approach, a story that moved on from the original format. That was what I tried to provide. I told them what I thought could be done, which seemed to hit the right note. There was a lot of trust involved on all sides.
Did you immediately read Nation's novel? Did he make contact with you to offer advice or suggestion?
I was not required to clear the storyline with him. I spoke to Terry about my plans and he endorsed what I wanted to do. I next spoke to him when he called me after publication and thanked me. He was kind enough to say he was pleased with what I had done with the story.
Do you happen to know if Nation had originally intended to write the follow-up novel himself? He had taken on a huge writing commitment with the Blake's 7 TV series shortly after he completed his work on Survivors.
I got the impression that he was relieved not to have to write the second book. He was loaded down with work and I suspect he preferred to work in the TV format where he was so successful.
How did you approach the task of outlining your story? Did you have the option of following Greg, Jenny and the others' journey through France and down into the Mediterranean; or was it always the case that the story would remain UK based?
No-one gave an opinion as to whether the story should stay in the UK or not. I felt it should, to avoid the drama becoming diffuse and to keep the action tightly geographically controlled.
The publishers wanted a new approach, a story that moved on from the original format. That was what I tried to provide
The biggest decision was which characters to run with and that came down to which were the strongest characters and which had the greatest dramatic potential.
Was the title of the book part of the commission; or was that something left to you to pitch?
I have to plead guilty to being solely responsible for the title!
Were you required to ensure that your storyline did not intersect with the evolving on-screen world of Survivors? Was that off-limits, or was your approach so different that this was not a concern?
There was no conversation about intersecting with the TV series. I think what I was proposing had an altogether harder edge and the approach was so different that this was not seen as issue by anyone concerned.
Were you aware that, following Nation's departure from the TV series at the close of series one, that the second series focused very much on the practicalities of survival and the life of a communal smallholding?
I watched the second TV series and was not convinced of the long term dramatic viability of stories centred around communal and small community survival. Therefore I chanced my arm and took a different approach in book two.
Nation's approached his Survivors' novel with a less than reverential approach to his original TV storylines – reinventing plots; changing the fate of characters; introducing new twists – and then set off in a completely new direction. Did you feel similarly 'unconstrained' in your own approach?
Once I was commissioned I had no restraints placed on me in terms of content. I think those concerned wanted a different approach and that was what I set out to provide.
How did you settle on the tone and themes of the book – how much to balance action and adventure against discussions about the challenges of survival?
I was convinced that not too long after such a disaster humankind would very soon revert to long established inter-personal and socio-political structures that had emerged over a long period of human evolution. Strong characters would emerge and seek to take control and conflict on a considerable scale would ultimately be inevitable. That determined the tone and themes of the book.
How long were you given to complete the manuscript?
I cannot remember how long I was given to write the book except that, as always, it was not long enough!
Was it fun to write, or a pressurised slog?
Despite the deadline, it was great fun to write and I enjoyed it immensely.
Were the publishers pleased with the manuscript you delivered? Was the copy-editing quick and light-of-touch or were things more involved than that?
As I recall, the copy editing amounted to not much more than correcting typos. So any errors in content or dramatic structure are mine.
Do you like Alwyn Turner's description of the novel as "a neglected gem of 1970s pulp fiction, an entertaining romp"?
May the Gods of his choice pour blessings on Alwyn's head for his generous description of the book!
Which elements of the novel are you most proud of?
I think it worked well as a piece of story telling.
Are there any aspects of the manuscript that you are less happy with, looking back?
No. It was the best I could have done at the time.
Would you agree that your novel is a very different sort of creative work both to Nation's prequel and to the established TV canon?
I would have to agree that it probably stands apart from the other work that was done around Terry Nation's series. Whether that is a good or bad thing is for others to say.
Terry Nation went to the trouble of calling me to thank me - and that was the best part
Did you get a sense from the publishers about how well the book was received and performed?
It's now too long ago to remember what the feedback from the publishers was but - what can I say? I was paid in full! And Terry went to the trouble of calling me to thank me and that was the best part.
I wonder what you thought of the publisher's selection of a 'seagull' image for the front cover of the hardback edition of Genesis of a Hero? It's always struck me as an incongruous choice, although I appreciate that authors have little say in such matters!
I had no say in the choice of the seagull. But I agree, the relevance of that image escapes me.
The end of the novel left open the door to a sequel - presumably by design! Was that something you were hopeful of bringing to fruition?
I have no idea how well the book performed. I had the impression at the time that things were going on in the background that I was not party to which may have contributed to there not being a third book.
I would have been happy to continue the story, and had left the door open to do that. However it was not to be - at least not for many decades!
Did you work on Genesis of a Hero and the Special Branch novels open doors for you career wise?
Because I had already begun a modest career in TV writing before taking on the two spin offs, I cannot honestly say they had any influence on my work opportunities afterwards.
Had you been thinking about writing a sequel to Genesis of a Hero for some time, or was this a relatively recent idea?
It returned to my thinking some years ago, prior to the advent of coronavirus, but it had to wait on the completion of the Evolution's Path series.
The sequel needed to retain the same focus on Peter Grant as the story's central protagonist
Was there any particular reason that the time felt right to do this now, or was it simply something that was long overdue?
I had begun work on it before the Corona pandemic struck, but the fact that there seemed to be a resurgence of interest in Genesis of a Hero as a result of the virus striking added a spur to my efforts.
You must have gone back to re-read the text of Genesis pretty closely as part of your preparation. What things stood out to you as you revisited a story you had written more than 40 years ago?
It was obvious to me that the story had to be opened up and a cast of new characters employed to take the story forward and further develop the character of Peter Grant. The sequel needed to retain the same focus on him as the story's central protagonist, the incoming characters needed to carry some of the burdens of the plot advancement.
Did you try to emulate the writing style of the original book, or have you taken a different approach?
The style is similar but not identical, reflecting the time that has passed and what I perceive as changes in public taste.
How did you find the experience of returning to a world you last wrote about four decades ago? Was the experience in any way impacted upon by the context of the Covid pandemic?
It was like slipping on an old glove. It was not at all influenced by Covid.
Wanting to avoid any spoilers about the story, are you able to say - in general terms - what you think readers will be most excited about, or intrigued about, in Survivors: Salvation?
I hope readers will become engaged with the existential perils of the new characters and I think it opens up whole new themes to explore, while still maintaining an interest in what may happen to Peter.
Strong characters would emerge and seek to take control and conflict would ultimately be inevitable
It may be an unfair question, but what would you hope that Terry Nation would have thought of Survivors: Salvation?
As I mentioned, Terry rang me for a chat after the publication of Genesis of a Hero and was very happy with the direction I had taken. So I have every reason to suppose he would endorse Salvation were he still with us.
Survivors: Salvation benefits from a visually striking cover image: a picture of a solitary figure stood in front of an all-consuming inferno. What led you to that choice?
My editor and I both thought it was very effective and resonated with the story, which references a fiery holocaust both at the beginning and the end.
If readers respond positively to Survivors: Salvation would you consider writing more stories set in this world; or do you feel that you leave things with a definitive sense of closure?
Nothing is impossible. The way has obviously been left open to continue the story, but old age and general decrepitude may play a part in whether or not I go ahead with it!
How has your writing career evolved and changed in the intervening decades since the publication of Genesis of a Hero?
Since that time I worked mainly in TV with occasional time out to write the Staunton and Windsor and Allan Dice books.
Can you introduce and describe some of your most recent work? Will fans of Genesis of a Hero find any hints or echoes of that earlier work in what you're writing today?
We emigrated to New Zealand in 1981 and I continued working in TV there. However, recently I have returned to book-writing. I now indulge in my life-long interest in 'future fiction'. The result is a new series very much in the Survivors' genre. It is called Evolution's Path and the first book, Killing Tomorrow is available as an eBook on Amazon. Another virus, another time, another modern exploration of the Survivors theme.
I am about to give birth to the second book in the series, The Ladies Game, which will be published as an Amazon Kindle eBook this year. It is the sort of thing that Terry Nation's fans might enjoy.
Peter Hill was interviewed by Rich Cross in January 2015 and March 2021
Peter Hill served as a detective in the Metropolitan Police Force, working at New Scotland Yard, the Company Fraud Department, and the C1 murder investigation department, rising to the rank of Detective Inspector. Leaving the force, aged thirty-two, he took up a new career as a writer, publishing six books under his own name: The Hunters, The Liars, The Enthusiast, The Savages, The Fanatics and The Washermen.
Hill also began work as at television scriptwriter, penning episodes for many series including Callan, The Sweeney, Public Eye and Crown Court.
Relocating to New Zealand, Hill continued to work as a writer, producer and script editor for many years. Now retired, Hill has more recently refocused his attention on his work as an author - reproducing new editions of earlier works and penning new and original titles.
Read this site's review of Survivors: Salvation.
Cite this web page
Cross, R. (2021). 'Interview with author Peter Hill,' [online] Survivors: A World Away, 03 April. Available at: https://www.survivors-mad-dog.org.uk/a-world-away/interview_with_author_peter_hill.php. Accessed on: 28 February 2024.
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