>An Interview With Gary McMahon
Hello folks today we have an interview with the rather damn fine UK author Gary McMahon
GNOF – Hi Gary, how are you? How did the signing in Waterstones go at the weekend?
Hi, Jim. It went well, thanks. My first ever bookshop signing, and I had a lot of fun.
GNOF – Could you give us a rundown of your writing career to date?
I’ve always written but I didn’t start to take it seriously until around 2003, when I met Gary Fry (a very fine writer and editor) and he convinced me to start sending my stories out to magazines and anthologies. I suppose I then built a reputation in the small press, through my short fiction and novellas, until I felt ready to tackle writing a novel. My debut novel Rain Dogs was published in the small press, but the books which followed – Hungry Hearts and Pretty Little Dead Things – are both mass market titles.
GNOF – You’ve made the leap from the small press to the mainstream press, how does it differ writing for say TTA Press, compared with Angry Robot Press?
I’ll be honest: the main difference is the money. The mass market offers proper advances to authors and they have more money to spend on marketing a book. Simple as that. Despite the wonderful talent working in the small press, there’s no money there whatsoever – most indie presses are run by one person on a very tight budget, whereas a mass market outfit can afford to employ proof readers and editors to help hone your work into the best possible shape prior to publication. So, basically, the real difference comes down to finances. The best small press editors are just as talented as their mass market counterparts.
GNOF – I often see your name mentioned along with those of Tim Lebbon and Conrad Williams, do you guys actually have much contact?
That’s hugely flattering. Tim and Conrad are both writers I’ve long admired, and to be grouped in with them is personally very gratifying. We meet up a couple of times a year, usually to get drunk together at conventions – I consider myself lucky to call them friends. Another good friend whose work I admired for years is Mark Morris. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I’m mixing with these guys. Fifteen years ago I was reading their work and using them as a benchmark; now I get to have a laugh with them.
GNOF – You know Mark Morris is an author I always forget about, is he still writing, it’s been a few years since I last read him?
Oh, yes, Mark’s still writing. Over the last few years he’s been working with the BBC – Dr Who novels and audio plays, and a Torchwood novel. Mark’s an amazing writer – his work has always had a huge influence on me.
GNOF – Pretty Little Dead Things got a great write up in the Guardian “Firmly in the front ranks of the new wave of British horror “. Are glowing reviews from more mainstream sources more satisfying than from the dirty shady realms of the genre reviews?
I think the only reason a good review from somewhere like The Guardian is more gratifying is because it’s in a mainstream publication. With genre reviews, it often feels like you’re preaching to the converted – you know the people reviewing your books are fans of the genre. To have someone who isn’t as involved with your specific genre say nice things about your work just feels that little bit more special, especially in such a high-profile venue.
GNOF – Why do you think that genre writing especially horror has such a hard time getting mainstream acceptance? Personally, I think horror is no different to any other form of writing, running the spectrum from fantastic to pure tosh.
I’d agree that horror is much the same as any other genre in terms of quality, but I think it’s a perception problem. People who claim not to read horror usually think the term means mad axe men and women in skimpy underwear having their faces slashed. When you delicately point out to them that something like Alice Seabold’s The Lovely Bones is a horror novel, it comes as something of a revelation. My wife doesn’t read horror, but she loves my stuff. I tend to use her as a barometer to try and judge how well a story might be received outside the genre.
GNOF – Who were your writing heroes growing up?
Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, James Herbert, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Jim Thompson, Charles Bukowski (who’s my favourite writer). Many others, a lot of whom don’t write in the genre.
GNOF – I’ve never read Charles Bukowski, (hangs head in shame), where should I start?
Pick up one of his short story collections, or the novel Factotum. Then catch up with everything he’s ever written.
GNOF – Are there any up and coming authors you admire?
I don’t tend to read that much horror these days, but I’m very fond of Stephen Bacon’s work. Tom Fletcher’s another terrific writer – he seems destined for great things, actually. Most of the other horror writers I admire – Conrad Williams, Simon Bestwick, Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Nicholas Royle, Michael Marshall Smith – are pretty much already established in the field.
GNOF – To those who have never read your work, and shame on you, what would you recommend as a starting point?
I’m going to have to say my current novel – Pretty Little Dead Things. And my latest short story collection, Pieces of Midnight, was published recently as a swanky limited edition by Ash Tree Press. As far as novellas go, copies of The Harm are still available from TTA Press.
GNOF – Pretty Little Dead Things has a pretty grim premise, what drew you to the more gritty, and downbeat side of horror?
Life. I grew up in a council house near a reasonably rough area, have had a lot of experience with not-very-nice people (and nice people, too), so I try to write about the people I’ve met and the things I’ve seen. Real life is grim as fuck for a lot of folk – why pretend otherwise?
GNOF – Hungry Hearts is a zombie novel, did you always want to write a zombie novel, and how did you make it different to all the other ones out there?
I’d never even thought about writing a zombie novel, and when I got the commission I’d not read any modern zombie fiction. I’ve always been a huge fan of zombie movies – and Romero is one of my favourite directors – so I decided to just ignore everything else that had been written in the sub-genre and do my own thing, tackling my own themes. I thought it was an ideal opportunity to just follow my muse. So I wrote a love story. That’s hopefully what separates my zombie novel from the pack – the fact that it’s a twisted love story, and it’s pretty damn bleak, too. The story is basically a metaphor for an extra marital affair. With zombies.
GNOF – You seem to have a slant towards short stories, is this deliberate or purely by chance?
I wrote short stories for years until I felt prepared to tackle a novel. It wasn’t a conscious choice, just the way my writing has slowly evolved. These days my slant is actually towards novels – all the ideas I have seem to demand a novel-length treatment.
GNOF – Which do you find harder to write?
These days I find novels easier than short stories – there’s more room to explore the world you’re creating in the longer form.
GNOF – Has the way in which you approach the writing process changed much throughout your career?
I approach every project differently. They each have their own demands. All I really try to do is make the current one better than the last. That’s my aim: to get better with every new novel or story I write.
GNOF – Does writing come easy to you?
The actual act of writing is something I find relatively easy – I mean; it’s hardly brain surgery, is it? I’ve trained myself to get “in the zone” as soon as I sit down at my desk. I do find self-editing very difficult, though – I see what should be there rather than what really is, so miss a lot of typos and the occasional clumsily-phrased sentence. I think I probably give my editors headaches…
GNOF – How difficult is it to hand the final manuscript for publishing?
It’s easy. By the time I’ve finished writing and editing a manuscript, I usually hate the thing. I’m always glad to hand it over to someone else and move on to the next thing.
GNOF – What do you do to relax?
I rarely relax – I’m a worrier, so relaxation is difficult for me. I have a day job and a family, so every spare minute I have is spent writing. There isn’t the time for much else. I do like to sit down late in the evening, after a session at the laptop, and watch a DVD. So, yeah, I suppose I watch films to relax.
GNOF – What can we expect from you in the future?
As much as I can possibly fit in… I’m currently writing a three-book series for Solaris Books, called The Concrete Grove. My agent is currently hitting publishers with a pitch for a modern ghost novel called The Quiet Room, and I have two novels (one a dark crime thriller, the other a SF/crime/Horror/monster story) at the synopsis stage, ready to outline so that I can start writing them whenever I get some breathing space. There’s also a pretty special US small press anthology coming out in April. Four writers, sixteen stories – and in this one, I get to appear alongside one of my absolute writing heroes, so I’m very excited about it. Later in the year, I have a story in the Conrad Williams-edited weird western anthology Gutshots, from PS Publishing.
Many thanks Gary, it has been a honour to do this.
Gary’s books are available where all good books are sold
His E-books can be found here