Tell me a little bit about your work. When did you start writing and why?
I grew up on a council estate in a town where you were either unemployed or working in the steelworks, and sometimes both. Many of the townspeople led hard, miserable lives of quiet and sometimes not so quiet desperation
When I was at school books and my guitar were all that kept me sane in a town that was going downhill fast. The local steelworks shut and unemployment was rife. The town suffered badly. I -could- have started writing about that, but why bother? All I had to do was walk outside and I'd get it slapped in my face. That horror was all too real.
So I took up my pen and wrote. At first it was song lyrics, designed (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me closer to girls.
I tried my hand at a few short stories but had no confidence in them and hid them away. And that was that for many years.
I didn't get the urge again until I was past thirty and trapped in a very boring job. My home town had continued to stagnate and, unless I wanted to spend my whole life drinking (something I was actively considering at the time), returning there wasn't an option.
But my brain needed something to do apart from write computer code, and fiction gave it what was required. That point, back more than twenty years ago now, was like switching on an engine, one that has been running steadily ever since.
Which genre do you most enjoy and which have you found most popular?
The answer to both questions is the same in recent years. I always come back to the Occult Detective.
Nowadays there is a plethora of detectives in both book and film who may seem to use the trappings of crime solvers, but get involved in the supernatural. William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel (the book that led to the movie Angel Heart) is a fine example, an expert blending of gumshoe and deviltry that is one of my favorite books. Likewise, in the movies, we have cops facing a demon in Denzel Washington's Fallen that plays like a police procedural taken to a very dark place.
My interest goes further back to the "gentleman detective" era where we have seekers of truth in Blackwood's John Silence Sherlock Holmes and William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, and, mixed in with that, a deep love of the American PI books and movies of the '40s and '50s.
I've written numerous stories set in the late Victorian / Early Edwardian era, for Sherlock Holmes, Carnacki, and Professor Challenger. I was raised on Doyle, Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson and I love that historical period they covered in their work. It's also the time period I've come to prefer for my own writing and I can see me settling in there for a long time to come.
My own occult Detective series character, Glasgow PI Derek Adams, is a modern day Bogart and Chandler fan, and it is the movies and Americana of that era where I find a lot of my inspiration for him, rather than in the older period of Holmes et al. He's turned up in three novels so far, THE AMULET, THE SIRENS and THE SKIN GAME, all out now in print and ebook at all the usual online stores.
There seems to be quite a burgeoning market for this kind of mixing of detection and supernatural, and I intend writing more... a lot more
How many genres have you written in?
Counts quickly... Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Crime, Western and Thriller. Plus the subgenres, like ghost stories, occult detectives, creature features, sword and sorcery etc. But I don't really think of them as being different. It's all adventure fiction for boys who've grown up, but stayed boys. Like me
What draws you to monsters?
Big beasties fascinate me.
Some of that fascination stems from early film viewing. I remember being taken to the cinema to see The Blob. I couldn't have been more than seven or eight, and it scared the crap out of me. The original incarnation of Kong has been with me since around the same time.
Similarly, I remember the BBC showing re-runs of classic creature features late on Friday nights, and THEM! in particular left a mark on my psyche.
I've also got a Biological Sciences degree, and even while watching said movies, I'm usually trying to figure out how the creature would actually work in nature -- what would it eat? How would it procreate? What effect would it have on the environment around it?
On top of that, I have an interest in cryptozoology, of creatures that live just out of sight of humankind, and of the myriad possibilities that nature, and man's dabbling with it, can throw up.
All of this means I can't avoid writing about the beasties, from Giant Crabs in CRUSTACEANS, to Yeti in BERSERKER and ABOMINABLE, man-eating seaweed in THE CREEPING KELP, Native Indian Wendigo in NIGHT OF THE WENDIGO and Giant Ants in GENERATIONS among others. There will be more to come.
What influences helped play a part in your writing?
It would have to be the reading I did in the genre as a teenager in a small West Coast Scotland town in the early-seventies, before Stephen King and James Herbert came along, that were most formative.
I graduated from Superman and Batman comics to books and I was a voracious reader of anything I could get my hands on; Alistair MacLean, Michael Moorcock, Nigel Tranter and Louis D'Amour all figured large. Pickings were thin for horror apart from the Pan Books of Horror and Dennis Wheatley, which I read with great relish. Then I found Lovecraft and things were never quite the same.
Mix that with TV watching of Thunderbirds, Doctor Who, the Man From Uncle, Lost in Space and the Time Tunnel, then later exposure on the BBC to the Universal monsters and Hammer vampires and you can see where it all came from. Oh, and Quatermass. Always Quatermass.
I have a deep love of old places, in particular menhirs and stone circles, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time travelling the UK and Europe just to visit archaeological remains. I’ve also spent far too much time surfing and reading fortean, paranormal and cryptozoological websites. The cryptozoological stuff especially fascinates me, and provides a direct stimulus for a lot of my fiction.
Of all the characters in your stories, which is your favorite?
My series character, Glasgow PI Derek Adams, is a Bogart and Chandler fan, and it is the movies and Americana of the '40s that I find a lot of my inspiration for him, rather than in the modern procedural.
That, and the old city, are the two main drivers for the Midnight Eye stories.
When I was a lad, back in the early 1960s, we lived in a town 20 miles south of Glasgow, and it was an adventure to the big city when I went with my family on shopping trips. Back then the city was a Victorian giant going slowly to seed. Back when I was young, the shipyards were still going strong, and the city centre itself still held on to some of its past glories.
It was a warren of tall sandstone buildings and narrow streets, with Edwardian trams still running through them. The big stores still had pneumatic delivery systems for billing, every man wore a hat, collar and tie, and steam trains ran into grand vaulted railway stations filled with smoke.
Fast forward to the present day. The tower blocks are ruled by drug gangs and pimps. Meanwhile there have been many attempts to gentrify the city centre, with designer shops being built in old warehouses, with docklands developments building expensive apartments where sailors used to get services from hard faced girls, and with shiny, trendy bars full of glossy expensively dressed bankers. And underneath it all, the old Glasgow still lies, slumbering, a dreaming god waiting for the stars to be right again.
Derek Adams, The Midnight Eye, knows the ways of the old city. And, if truth be told, he prefers them to the new.
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. Derek 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.
He's turned up in three novels and six short stories so far, THE AMULET, THE SIRENS and THE SKIN GAME, all out now in ebook at all the usual online stores and in shiny new paperback editions from Seven Realms Publishing.( All three books will also be appearing in Portuguese language editions.) The Amulet and The Sirens are also available in audiobook at Audible.com, and there's a film company looking for funding to bring him to life.
Derek has developed a life of his own, and I'm along for the ride.
Do you have any techniques for writing?
For me it's 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 "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 stuff. But I try not to think about that too much. :)
How do you view good and evil?
I'm not a believer in either a God or a benign universe. I grew up Church of Scotland, R.E. at school, church and Sunday school on Sundays. It didn't take. I also have a scientific background with a degree in Biological Sciences that leads me to tend towards the "clockwork dolls" analogy of who we are being a complex function of genetics, biochemistry and nurture.
But I have had encounters that I can only class as supernatural that have given me a curiosity as to how everything hangs together, and I've had a couple of precognitive dreams have led me to think more deeply about the nature of fate and time.
I wrote this in one of my books, and as a personal philosophy, it'll do for me:-
"Life is an opportunity to create meaning by our actions and how we manage our way through the short part of infinity we're given to operate in. And once our life is finished, our atoms go back to forming other interesting configurations with those of other people, animals, plants and anything else that happens to be around, as we all roll along in one big, happy, ever changing, universe. Don't try to understand it-just enjoy the dancing."
So, to stop rambling and get back to the question - I believe good and evil are human constructs, a personal choice we all make. Whether we end up getting punished or rewarded for those choices is something we'll all find out sooner or later.
How did you get your first break as a writer?
Back in the very early '90s I had an idea for a story. I had an image in my mind of an old man watching a young woman's ghost. That image grew into a story, that story grew into other stories, and before I knew it I had an obsession in charge of my life.
So it all started with a little ghost story, "Dancers"; one that ended up winning a prize in a national ghost story competition, getting turned into a short movie, getting read on several radio stations, getting published in Greek, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew, and getting reprinted in The Weekly News in Scotland.
What are your all time favorite books?
Tarzan is the second novel I remember reading. (The first was Treasure Island, so I was already well on the way to the land of adventure even then.) I quickly read everything of Burroughs I could find. Then I devoured Wells, Dumas, 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 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. Leave to marinate for fifty years and what do you get?
A psyche with a deep love of the weird in its most basic forms, and the urge to beat up monsters.
As for the actual favorites... here's five. Ask me tomorrow and you'll get a different list :-)
Falling Angel – William Hjortsberg The House on the Borderlands – William Hope Hodgson The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett Mythago Wood - Robert Holdstock Ghost Story – Peter Straub
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