Tuesday, August 4, 2009

William Meikle Interview

with Steve Jensen for The Black Glove

Steve Jensen: Please give us a little background on yourself and your writing career.

William Meikle: I'm a late starter to the writing life.
I grew up reading comic books in the early 1960's (my favorites being Spiderman and Green Lantern), and reading pulpy fiction (Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, Sax Rohmer, A. E. Merritt, H P Lovecraft etc) . In the early 70's Hammer movies, Led Zeppelin, Stephen King and Michael Moorcock got hold of me and the die was cast. Also, my Gran was always telling stories, both fact and fiction, about the strangeness of life in Scotland. Those are the main things that shaped my love of the weird.
On the creative side I used to write song lyrics (mostly in unsuccessful attempts to get into girls' pants by singing and playing guitar.) I also wrote a few supernatural short stories around then, but didn't show them to anybody apart from a few friends that didn't understand them.
That was that for a long time. Uni, beer, more women, a job in IT and a marriage that almost immediately turned into a divorce later and I was suddenly in my 30s. The only creative outlet I'd had was as a Dungeon Master playing D&D (I'll get my coat.)
When that fizzled out I found I still had stories in my head that wanted to be told. But I was also a -serious- drinker. I was working long hours then hitting the pub most nights. Booze got in the way of any discipline I needed to write.
It took another wife to sort me out. Sue bought me a word processor and got me sober. Around 1991 I started to write the stories down and submit them to UK small press mags.
It's been a slow but steady progression from there. I'm now well into double figures in professional short story sales, have two movies under way this year from my scripts, and have hit double figures in novels in the small-press.

SJ: Why did you choose a writer's life, with all its uncertainties? Why didn't you become an accountant/doctor/lawyer?

WM: I didn't chose it, it chose me. The urge to write is more of a need, a similar addiction to the one I used to have for cigarettes and still have for beer.
I -nearly- became a scientist. I have a degree in Botany, specialising in the archaeological history that can be gleaned from studying peat bogs. But I couldn't get a grant for a PhD, then I followed a woman to London and ended up by accident more than design in a career in IT. I actually took it seriously for a while, but the need to write slowly welled up and subsumed it a few years back.
That, and the fact that I like to move around and not be tied to one place for any length of time has limited career opportunities a bit. According to my family I'm "away with the fairies" too often for anything else to hold my attention for long.

SJ: Perspiration, inspiration or desperation? What drives you?

WM: Mainly inspiration. I wouldn't write at all if the ideas didn't present themselves in my head. I find I get a lot of ideas clamouring for attention all at once. I write them down in a notebook that never leaves my side, and sometimes one of them gathers a bit more depth, and I get a clearer image. At this stage I find myself thinking about it almost constantly, until a plot, or an ending, clarifies itself. Once I've written down where the story should be going it quietens down a bit. Then, if I find myself still thinking about it a couple of days later, I'll probably start writing the actual story. At any given time I have about 20 ideas waiting for clarity, two or three of which might end up as finished works.
That's the inspiration part. And that continues when I start putting the words on paper. I've tried writing outlines, both for short stories and novels, but I've never stuck to one yet. My fingers get a direct line to the muse and I continually find myself being surprised at the outcome. Thanks to South Park, I call them my "Oh shit, I've killed Kenny" moments, and when they happen, I know I'm doing the right thing.
There is also a certain amount of perspiration, especially in writing a novel. But I find if it feels too much like work, I'm heading in the wrong direction and it usually ends up in the recycle bin.
And, yes, there's a certain degree of desperation in that I want to get better, to make the big sale, to see my name in lights, all that happy shit. But I try not to think about that too much. :)

SJ: Have you ever been close to giving up in despair?

WM: Several times. Early on, when my stories were getting rejected by small press mags, I nearly quit. Then, when I got my 1st bad review it hit me hard and I was on the verge of believing there was no point in trying any more. Fortunately, my skin is pretty thick. I quickly realised that to have any chance of a "career" I had to take rejection and criticism as part of the deal. I know many good writers who have folded rather than continue.
These days I don't get rejected so much, and the reviewers have got louder, both pro and anti, so I guess I'm finally doing something right. :)

SJ: What inspired you to write Island Life, and how does your Scottish background influence your fiction writing?

WM: The main inspiration came from Lovecraft's Deep Old Ones. Like some people are with spiders or creepy-crawlies, I am with pale things that lurk beneath. It stems from childhood nightmares and a mixture of Morlocks, Tolkein's goblins, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and HPL. Those all got mashed up in my mind and led to the creatures that rampage in Island Life. I threw in some references in the book to those inspirations as a way of paying homage.
The location actually came from a visit to a lighthouse on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. The lighthouse had a neolithic burial ground at its base. I lined up a camera shot to have standing stones in the foreground and the lighthouse in the background. Then I started to wonder who would live in the lighthouse and what was under the standing stones, and that's when the story began to run that turned into Island Life.
Most of my work has been set in Scotland, and a lot of it uses the history and folklore. There's just something about the misty landscapes and old buildings that speaks straight to my soul. (Bloody Celts... we get all sentimental at the least wee thing).
But I think it's the people that influence me most. Everybody in Scotland's got stories to tell, and once you get them going, you can't stop them. I love chatting to people, (usually in pubs) and finding out the -weird- shit they've experienced. My Glasgow PI, Derek Adams is mainly based on a bloke I met years ago in a bar in Partick, and quite a few of the characters that turn up and talk too much in my books can be found in real life in bars in Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews.

SJ: Which books have influenced your thinking, and your writing, more than any other? And whose writing style do you aspire to equal?

WM: My early reading somehow all tended to gravitate in similar directions, with comics leading me into pulp and to finding Tarzan. Tarzan is the second novel I remember reading. I quickly read everything of Burroughs I could find. Then I devoured Wells, Verne and Haggard.
I moved on to Conan Doyle before I was twelve, and Professor Challenger’s adventures in spiritualism led me, almost directly, to Dennis Wheatley, Algernon Blackwood, and then on to Lovecraft. Then Stephen King came along.
There’s a separate but related thread of a deep love of detective novels running parallel to this, as Conan Doyle also gave me Holmes, then I moved on to Christie, Chandler, Hammett, Ross MacDonald and Ed McBain, reading everything by them I could find.
Mix all that lot together, add a dash of ZULU, a hefty slug of heroic fantasy from Howard, Leiber and Moorcock, a sprinkle of fast moving Scottish thrillers from John Buchan and Alistair MacLean, and a final pinch of piratical swashbuckling.
That's what influenced my writing.
What influenced my thinking is a different matter. I've read widely in mythology, psychology, ancient history, archaeology, anthroplogy and also stuff out on the fringes of parapsychology, ufology and cyptozoology. If pressed, the one thing that has touched me most as a 'truism' is Jung's theory of mythical archetypes in the collective subconscious and how they affect the way the human mind has developed and will develop.
Which brings me around to writing style. I've tried writing in other writers' styles, but it comes across as stilted and overwritten. I just have to go with what I've got: a pulpy style that lets me tell a convincing story.

SJ: What’s the story behind your next novel, Berserker?

WM: Vikings vs Yeti. What more needs to be said? :)
I've always wanted to write an old school fast-moving pulpy adventure. This is it.
Neil Jackson of Ghostwriter Publications and I were kicking about ideas. He said "You know what would be cool? Vikings vs Yeti." A couple of hours later I had almost the full novel in my head.
And it came out onto paper nearly as fast. Two youths on their first Viking have to contend with a gang of angry Yeti in Nothern Russia. Mayhem ensues and heroics save the day. The most fun I've had with my trousers on.

SJ: Are there any contemporary authors you particularly admire?

WM: A great many, a lot of whom make me weep with envy. Michael Marshall Smith, Tim Lebbon and Conrad Williams, all of whom I shared space with in the small press in the '90s, have all gone on to great things. I'm particularly a fan of Lebbon.. I think he's going to go on to be -huge-, and good luck to him.

SJ: What are your future writing plans?

WM: It's been quite a year on the writing front. I'll struggle to better it.
Firstly Black Death Books produced a very sweet omnibus edition of my Watchers trilogy.
On the novel side I sold:

- The Midnight Eye Files: The Skin Game, a new Derek Adams Glasgow PI novel to Black Death Books
- Island Life, the hardcover reprint of my 1st novel to Ghostwriter Publications,
- Berserker, the Vikings vs Yeti short novel to Ghostwriter Publications
- The Valley, a cowboy in a Lost World short novel to Ghostwriter Publications.

Ghostwriter Publications will also be publishing an anthology of 20 of my stories, Flower of Scotland, along with audio-book and e-book versions of all the above mentioned titles.

Also on the short story front, I have stories in several forthcoming anthologies:

- Cthulhu Unbound 2, from Permuted Press with a Jane Austen meets the Deep Old Ones story
- Gaslight Grotesque, from Edge Publishing with Sherlock Holmes facing a necromancer in Edinburgh
- Cthulhu 2012, from Mythos Books with a new Midnight Eye File

There's also 3 more short stories coming in the UK newspaper The Weekly News, and one in the South African horror mag, Something Wicked

On the screenplay front:

- Fir3storm Industries in South Africa are in production of my script The 5 and are planning to show it in Cannes next year
- Dark Window Films in London and Ireland are in pre-production of The Midnight Eye: The Amulet
- And I'm in talks with a filmmaker in Florida for him to make The CopyCat Murders

I'm still trying to sell two novels that are out doing the rounds:

- Hunters Dock: Ice Zombies take Manhatttan
- The Concordances of the Red Serpent: a thriller based around alchemy and Scottish history

And I'm working on the final tidy-up of a 'Killer Crabs' novel for Ghostwriter Publications

Next up will be, I think, The Creeping Kelp, an Amicus / Hammer style nautical horror novel. Genetic engineering creates a rampant, man-eating, weed. That's all I know about it at the moment, but it's brewing.

I also have ideas for various projects including, among others, a Lovecraftian space opera, a 'Crusaders vs Minotaurs' Harryhausen-style romp, and a zombie novel set in Glasgow. Whether any come to fruition, we'll have to wait and see.

William Meikle was speaking to Steve Jensen.

Visit William's website

Purchase Island Life