>Interview with Iain Mckinnon
Hi Iain, how are things with you?
Things are see-sawing highs and lows but that’s life.
What made you want to become a writer and which other author has influenced your writing more than any other?
I guess like most young men I wanted to be film star or a musician. But I’m ugly and can’t play an instrument so the next in line for creative arts was writer. I found writing to be therapeutic and I had some heart felt encouragement from a close friend at the time so I stuck with it. My influences? Well that’s complicated. On the whole I hate reading. Most books / authors bore me. There are hundreds of books I’ve read the first two pages of and thrown away. I don’t know if you can blame my pickyness on my dyslexia but I won’t waste time trying to struggle thorough a book I’m not enjoying. So I guess my writing style has been influenced more by what I don’t like than what I like. I try to write a fast paced book that draws you in and keeps you hooked because that’s what I like to read. I’ve been blown away by how some authors do that. I was amazed by how Anthony Burgess got so much detail into such a short book and how he managed to tell an intelligent story through the eyes of such a thug. But my favourite book of all time is Frank Herberts Dune. I must of have read that book a dozen times now. The intricacy of the narrative the scope of the back story. The thing is just beguiling. I’m obviously influenced by the books I love but I wouldn’t say I try to mimic their style, I’d do a disservice to the authors and my readers if I tried. But I guess my biggest influence are ones from my personal life. The people who love and support me and the people I’ve loved and lost.
Being dyslexic myself, I know how much of a hindrance it can be, how much of an impact has it been on your writing?
A tremendous impact. I’m told reading may books are like watching a film. I give the reader a very vivid scene in a minimum amount of description. I think that has a lot to do with my dyslexic brain, getting from A-B as efficiently as possible. I also think my dyslexia is an advantage when planning a novel. Dyslexics have better spatial acuity than most people, we visualise things better and can plan in three dimensions so I think it all helps.
So I do think my unique writing style is a direct result of my dyslexia.
The problem comes when an editor tries to polish up my writing. Although I consciously understand the difference between things like “there” and “their” I don’t communicate in that level of detail. I write the word as I would say it, some times it’s “there” sometimes it’s “their”. In my mind they sound the same, they are same and I use both seemingly at random. The same’s true will all homophones. My proof readers and editors have a very hard time of it and there a few that have slipped through into print. But I’m not too fussed about that as long as it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the read.
So why horror, and in particular zombies?
First off I’m not a horror writer. I have a feeling I will be saying that for the rest of my career. I’m a Sci-Fi writer. Domain Of The Dead to me is based on the Sci-Fi premise of a devastating infection taking hold, an infection that turns people into flesh eating zombies. The horror comes from the situation but the situation comes from Sci-Fi. Or at least that’s what I believe. I’ve never enjoyed horror novels other than zombie ones but even then the biggest horror is the collapse of civilisation more so than the menace of the undead. Zombies were the only horror creature that ever put me on edge. I found them more believable than vampires, werewolf, the blob, aliens or any other B movie terror. The relentlessness of the walking dead, the swelling of their ranks and the disintegration of our lives. That frightened me. One of the most powerful reasons for writing Domain Of The Dead was to show the feasibility of such a threat, hence the details about the contagion.
Can you tell us how you went about getting your Début novel Domain of the Dead (DOTD) published?
I’d been trying to get my first novel published for years with no success. When I finished writing Domain Of The Dead zombies were still riding a crest after the success of the remake of Dawn Of The Dead. On past experience I thought the craze would be over before I found a publisher so I decided to self publish instead. Once it was out I e-mailed all my favourite zombie writers and introduced myself. I asked if they would read my book and give me a review or a quote to stick on my website. As it was Travis Adkins loved it. Apparently I made him physically gag while he was reading it. Well Travis passed the book to his publisher and they liked it so much they offered me a contract.
The cover art work for DOTD is rather striking, how much input did you have on the design and choice of illustrator?
The cover was done by a very talented artist called Craig Paton. I met Craig on line when I was promoting the Print-on-demand version of my book. He was a big zombie fan too and had produced some fantastic works of art. When Permuted Press offered me the contract I asked if a friend of mine could submit a draft for the front cover. Permuted said yes and Craig was offered the job. Because Craig and I are friends the design evolved with input from both of us. He’s posted up part of the process on his web page http://www.craigpaton.com/ I can recommend a look. One of the most important stipulations was that the cover had to be light because all the zombie books at the time had very dark foreboding covers and I wanted something the eye was drawn to on the shelf. Now if you look at zombie novels the covers they are starting to trend more towards Craig’s design.
DOTD was published by Permuted Press was it a conscious decision to go with a publisher that specialised in zombie fiction? Do you think they have more specialised knowledge in how to market your book than a more general horror publishing house?
It wasn’t a conscious decision to seek out a “zombie” publishing house. The subject matter just made that more appealing. I did get an offer from another publishing house but again they were a horror orientated company too. I went for Permuted as I felt they had the most to offer me. Not financially more from the postion of ethos. I enjoyed the type of books they put out and the authors in their stable and I felt I’d be at home with them. It’s an instinct I’m pleased to say has been right and I’m proud to part of the Permuted fold.
Do you think an author should write for himself or for his fans?
If you try and please others you’ll fail in my opinion. It comes over as constructed, false or soulless. But fans are the most important aspect of being a writer. There’s no point being published if people don’t read you’re work. I’ve been lucky with Domain Of The Dead as I’ve picked up a whole bunch of really great fans. Just before I started writing Remains of The Dead I wrote a letter to half a dozen of my biggest fans and said I’m writing a sequel to Domain Of The Dead were there any aspects of the world I’d created you’d want to see fleshed out in more detail? I wasn’t asking for ideas for the next book (I had that plotted out already) I wanted to know if I could quench the reader’s thirst for some of the intimations I’d made in Domain Of The Dead. I know myself I’ll often read a book and want to know more about a aspect so I took that opportunity with Remains of The Dead. I’ve also done a few little things to include the fans. I ran a competition last month to have one of the characters in Remains Of The Dead find a DVD suggested by a fan.
Has growing up in Scotland influenced your writing style?
It has, some of the language I use is Scots. For example I use the word “Dreep” in Remains Of The Dead but I use words where they’re needed, I’m not writing a zombie version of Trainspotting. Other than that I don’t think my Scots up bringing has had a particular effect. I think my fans see me more as a British writer because the book is written in English spelling rather than American. I’ve been criticised for my grammar by some people. When it comes to spelling mistakes I put my hand up and say sure it’s my mistake. With the dyslexic homophones creep in to easily. But when I’ve pinned people down on the grammar it usually turns out to be my dialogue or a quirk of being Scottish. With dialogue I try to write what sounds natural – which is not always correct grammar. But I do sometimes employ a more Germanic sentence structure (like in Scots) to heighten tension. I have purposefully tried not to place Domain or Remains in any specific location. I used place names that were common to both North America and the UK. I wanted people to read the books and think the events could take place in their town not some far away foreign land.
Can you give us some insight into your writing day, do you have any interesting quirks?
I don’t really have any quirks or superstitions about writing. I go for long walks to give myself time to think, but I know a lot of writers who do. I often take my lap top to soft play and write away while my wee boy runs around daft. I try to set and meet targets as it gives me a sense of accomplishment and makes the daunting task of writing a novel a little easier to face. I think the only quirk I have is writing the word “spong”. Sometimes when I’m in full flow I hit a point where I know there is a word to describe what’s happening but I can’t conjure it to mind that instant. Rather than breaking the momentum I write “spong” and bash on. When I’ve finished I come back to “spong” and have a think as to what the right word was.
In your opinion what are the most important elements of good writing?
I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to answer that. Personally I like fast flowing books that treat the reader with a bit of intelligence. I hope I do the same.
As a new author what do think of the current state of health of the horror genre?
I have no idea. People buy horror novels but the few I’ve read sent me to sleep. I read a couple of horrors books to get an idea of how pace and suspense were developed. I read some big names and I honestly didn’t have a single scare. Friends of mine have told me how they’ve had nightmares for weeks but other than zombies I’ve never been a fan of horror.
I guess my attitude to horror was summed up when the Blair Witch Project hit the screens. After the film my friends were discussing what they would have done when someone asked me how I would have escaped. I replied “I think you forget which side I’d be on”.
The one thing I do know is we’ve never lived in a better time for zombie novels. Sometimes I worry that the market will become saturated but then I read something fantastic, like Moody or Porter, or Reicht, or Brooks, or Adkin, or Greatshell, or… well the list goes on.
I personally, like reading novels set in locations I know, would you ever consider writing a novel based in your home town, just so you could kill off someone who has gotten on your nerves.
No I don’t think I’d do a Rankin and write about a well know location. Lots of locations have their own narrative built up through the centuries Edinburgh being a case in point. Some authors play to that but not me.
In Domain Of The Dead and Remains Of The Dead I’m ambiguous. I use names that you’re familiar with but won’t taint your picture. I want to employ the reader to fill in the locations to believe they know them. By being unspecific with some details and bone crunchingly clear with others I feel I can draw the reader in more.
I have a degree in psychology and I’m a qualified Neural Linguistics Programming practitioner so I know the value of language and setting scenes to pique the reader’s engagement.
I hope all that translates to the page and ultimately the reader’s mind.
As for killing of people who got on my nerves… every zombie is someone I bear an ill will to. The ones I describe in detail, although nameless I hope the people they’re based on read the description and think “Funny that sounds like me,”.
What do you like to do when not writing?
I enjoy a good game of paintball. I’ve been playing and marshalling for over 20 years now and still love it. I also take the less energetic option and sit and play computer games, preferably with my friends at a LAN party. I enjoy meditation and I sometimes run a night class at my local high school. But above all I love raspberrying my wee boy’s tummy.
What do your friends and family think of your writing?
I think on the whole they’re amazed. I’m dyslexic and I didn’t do well at school. Writing a novel is the antithesis to dyslexia. For years writing was a hobby, a pipe dream but since I’ve been signed up with Permuted they’ve been pleased and very excited by my success.
One question I like to ask everyone I interview, if there is one novel you could rewrite what would it be and how would you change it.
There isn’t one. Writing is a very personal thing. A novel is a reflection of an authors very essence. To tamper with that would be sacrosanct. And anyway I have to much on my hands trying to re-write my own to get the best out of them.
If you could clear the copyright on any character, or world what would it be?
I guess I’m already doing that. I loved Romero’s early zombie films but I’ve been exceptionally disappointed by the latter ones. Domain Of The Dead and Remains of the dead (obvious from the titles) are my attempt to pull back the traditional unintelligent shambling menace back from the modern comical absurdity.
As well as writing horror novels, you have also branched out in film making, can you give us some insight on how this came about?
I had an idea for a zombie short at uni and thought it would be an easy thing to film it. The result was The Dead Walk. You can catch a version of it on youtube. From that people asked when I was filming a feature. I wrote an out line for a zombie film but thought I’d never get the enough money to film it. That out line became Domain Of The Dead. Filming The Dead Walk introduced me to a whole new discipline and a few of the people involved were inspired enough by their experience that they too started making their own films. Over the years I’ve mainly helped with other people’s scripts and in production. I got talking to David Moody back in November last year, he’d loved The Dead Walk and wanted to do something to promote his up and coming work so I produced a piece with him (which is unfortunately languishing in copyright hell). It was on the strength of that that Remy Porter asked me to produce a book trailer for Dead Beat. I’m good at the organisational part of filming and of course scripting and narrative but I also have a fantastic crew of people who do all the other aspects, a great director with Bryan, great cameraman with Simon and technical wizard in Gavin. The four of us have a fantastic synergy together.
Why do you think that zombies have their definitive movies in the original Romero films, yet there doesn’t seem to be one for vampires, mummies, werewolves?
I guess because Romero invented the zombie. That’s a glib answer, after all the Haitian or Voodoo zombie had been in the collective consciousness since the 1920s and of course Romero was actually filming a vampire film – all be it a corrupted one based on I am Legend.
Night Of The Living Dead is the genesis of the Zombie. Although his zombies don’t acquire their attributes until later films notably Zombie 2 and Dawn Of The Dead.
But then again the vampire and the werewolves have their defining films too, just they’re almost a hundred years old now and there has been a lot more time for their portrayals to evolve. I mean these days you have the runners/shamblers argument. I can see the zombie genre diverging. Maybe one day we’ll have a zombie True Blood or Twilight? I hope not.
Are you able to tell us about some up coming projects?
The big project for me just now is Remains Of The Dead. Getting my latest novel finished and into print. I’m keen to see my writing career progress and it will be good to give my fans the next chunk of zombie horror they been so eagerly waiting for. I have a completed Sci-Fi (From The Torment of Dreams) ready to go but its a bit out of Permuted’s field so there’s no option as yet on that one. I also have an occult thriller I’ve plotted and made a start on.
There’s talk of filming Domain Of The Dead, Remy Porter has written a first draft of the script but until we can get some funding that’s a long way off. As I mentioned before there’s a collaboration with David Moody sitting in the wings. I’m hopeful that will get unleashed soon as it’s work I’m very proud of.
Which do you prefer, and which is the most satisfying?
Filming is quicker but more stressful but writing is more controllable. I guess at the moment its writing novels where my passion lies.
Thanks for taking the time Iain, I’ve really enjoyed doing this one.
It’s always a pleasure doing an interview. It’s kind of like being on the psychiatrist couch but the shrink is really interested in what you have to say not in just prescribing you some pills to stop you having those thoughts.