Sunday, 29 December 2013

Pulp Heroes: Stuart Young

Stuart Young provided the story "Do Not Go Gently" for THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF PULP HEROES 2. Here he speaks of its inspiration, and Capt. WE Johns...
Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: what inspired your writing and when you began, and – if possible – of all of your published work could you tell me which your favourites are (and why)?
I started writing as a kid. I started submitting stories to the small press back in the ’90s. For some reason this has yet to bring me fame and fortune.
As for which of my stories are my favourites I suppose “The Mask Behind the Face” because it won a British Fantasy Award. Although on a less egotistical level it’s one of my favourites because it’s brilliant. (Wait, that was supposed to be less egotistical.) “Houses in Motion” is another favourite; it’s semi-autobiographical and so has a strong emotional resonance for me. And “Jarly and the Saga of the Snowball” was fun to do, partly because I got to play around with story structure and partly because I don’t get the chance to write comedy nearly often enough.
Do you have a favourite genre, or sub-genre? What exactly is it that attracts you?
I suppose my favourite genre is speculative fiction, assuming it’s being used as an umbrella term for SF, fantasy, horror, weird fiction etc. And I quite often add a dash of crime and comedy.
Some say Pulp is a genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
Style. My gut response attempt at describing Pulp is that it’s fast-moving, accessible and fun, but that doesn’t necessarily give an accurate picture. Writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Cornell Woolrich, HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber and Robert Bloch didn’t all write in the same style. The same goes for modern pulp writers such as Joe R Lansdale, Andrew Vachss, Stephen Hunter and James Ellroy. And let’s face it, no one’s going to refer to Lovecraft’s style as fast-moving, accessible and fun. Intense, maybe. Perhaps the best single word to sum up pulp is vivid.
What was the inspiration for “Do Not Go Gently”?
The impending deadline. I’d been working on another project that I only managed to complete the day before the Pulp Heroes 2 deadline ended, so I’d resigned myself to not actually submitting anything. Then I woke up with the inkling of an idea in my head and only got one day to get the story written. And then I realised this was the same day the clocks went forward…
Do you have a particular favourite author, or authors? What is it about their work which appeals to you?
For this particular story I went back to one of my childhood favourites, WE Johns, who created the aviator and adventurer, Biggles. When I originally created the character of John Blake about ten years ago for a one-off appearance I hadn’t actually read a lot of pulp so I just mixed a Biggles-style character into a John Carter of Mars type setting. The idea was to compare the reaction of an English gentleman with those of a Southern gentleman. For example, Blake, instead of taking the sight of a scantily clad alien princess in his stride, got all embarrassed and offered her his coat. Consequently the story ended up being something of a light hearted romp, which was quite fitting as some of the WW1 set Biggles stories have a comedic vein, with the pilots playing pranks on each other between the deadly dogfights. They read a little like PG Wodehouse taking a crack at adventure fiction – JEEVES AND THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS.
For “Do Not Go Gently” I decided to examine the grimmer side of the WW1 Biggles stories. The ones where Biggles would snap and engage in vengeance fuelled vendettas, where he couldn’t remember exactly when he fought the last six men he killed because the constant strain had distorted his sense of time, and where he ended the war as a bag of nerves with a drinking problem.
My protagonist Blake was also a WW1 veteran and adventurer so he would have seen more than his fair share of death. I thought it would be interesting to explore his reaction to all the carnage he had witnessed and dig into the darker side of his character that was only hinted at in his previous outing.
Outside writing, what else occupies your time (assuming you have any free time left)?
I fill out promotional questionnaires for publishers.
Is there any particular style of music – or musicians – which appeals to you?
I tend to like popular yet slightly offbeat stuff like Talking Heads, the Beastie Boys, Elvis Costello, Dr John and Nina Simone. Then I use those bands as a way of easing into listening to the less commercial stuff that formed the roots of their music – afrobeat, funk, jazz, Americana, blues, R&B, gospel and show tunes. Similarly, Johnny Cash, the O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? soundtrack and Aly Bain from THE TRANSATLANTIC SESSIONS have given me a starting point for listening to country, country rock, Celtic, folk and bluegrass. And I’m also trying to expand my knowledge of classical music; right now I’m at still that stage where everything I know about it comes from pop culture. You know, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is from Die Hard, Grieg’s Piano Concerto is from that Morecambe and Wise sketch…
What are you currently working on?
I’m finishing up editing DEMONS AND DEVILRY, an anthology of black magic stories for Hersham Horror featuring tales by Peter Mark May, John Llewellyn Probert, Thana Nivea, David Williamson and yours truly. It’s my first foray into editing so hopefully I haven’t screwed it up too badly.
I’m also working on a collection of novellas, tackling a cross-section of different horror sub-genres – a haunted house story, weird fiction, cosmic horror, etc. If all goes to plan it’ll be out next year.
And I’m working on a bunch of pieces for SPARKING NEURONES, the column I write for Matt Cardin at where I discuss films, books, comics, television and other matters of vital importance.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Pulp Heroes: Martin Gately

Martin is the author of "The Sons of Crystal City": a masked adventuter story for THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF PULP HEROES 2.
Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: what inspired your writing and when you began, and – if possible – of all of your published work could you tell me which your favourites are (and why)?
I suppose in a roundabout way my writing was inspired by Earl Hamner, the creator of THE WALTONS – I was heavily influenced at age seven or so by the fact that John-Boy wanted to be a writer. And by the fact that my grandmother assured me that my writing was as good as anything appearing on the kids’ page of the local paper … the inference being that there was therefore money to be made (which there was).
I attempted to enter the world of writing full time in my early twenties, and this is when I did the work of which I am most proud – on DC Thomson’s STARBLAZER comic. One of my STARBLAZER stories was illustrated by the great maestro of Argentine comic artists Quiqué Alcatena – a true genius. I had the pleasure of working with him on two further occasions; firstly on the ‘comics novella’ SHERWOOD JUNGLE which starred that well known King Features character The Phantom, and also on a one-off comic strip for Fortean Times called THE CRYPTID KID. This was obviously written in one of my more egomaniacal moments since the strip is hosted Rod Serling-style by a younger version of myself.
Do you have a favourite genre, or sub-genre? What exactly is it that attracts you?
My favourite genre to read is fantasy: Moorcock or Robert E Howard, with Lovecraftian horror running a close second. The attraction with fantasy is, of course, entering a fully realised world.
Fantasy is also what I write most easily. However, I have found that you don’t pick the genre, the genre picks you. I seem to have written a lot of detective fiction in the last few years, including two Sherlock Holmes stories.
Some say Pulp is a genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
It’s some sort of interlocking of both, I guess. The pulps of the 1930s covered many different genres: sport, detective, western, fantasy and SF. Pulp isn’t a comment or expectation on the quality of the writing – don’t forget that Tennessee Williams wrote for WEIRD TALES.  When I think of Pulp now, what first springs to mind are proto-super heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow. It’s possible to see the influence of those two characters on, say, the Fantastic Four and the Jedi from Star Wars. So Pulp has also been a platform on which other sub-genres (super-heroes and space opera) have been built. I suppose what Pulp was in reality was a colossal market for writers, and what we have now is just some vestigial temporal echo of that.
What was the inspiration for “The Sons of Crystal City”?
Well, it’s kind of an unabashed Green Hornet pastiche – I love the old GREEN HORNET TV show and in particular the performances of Van Williams and Bruce Lee. Sadly, there wasn’t a big budget Green Hornet movie in the 60s like there was for Batman (the fashion was for high camp and the Hornet was always played reasonably straight) but if there had been perhaps it might’ve resembled this story. The serious aspect to this tale is around the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. While my personal view is that internment was an utter disgrace, it is, arguably, comprehensible as a reflex action in the context of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Less understandable are the modern day apologists who say what fine places the relocation camps were, whilst taking umbrage at any suggestion that they were concentration camps.
Other inspirations include … the anti-Japanese sentiment in one of the 1940s Batman movie serials, DR STRANGELOVE (of course!) and The Spider – I think somebody once said that in the world of the Spider, every day is like 9/11 – and that was certainly part of what I was aiming for; you are ‘behind the scenes’ on what just might turn out to be doomsday.
Do you have a particular favourite author, or authors? What is it about their work which appeals to you?
My favourite authors are Roger Zelazny and Philip José Farmer, in the sense that they are my writing heroes.   I think the Amber series stands out as an extraordinary work of imagination and originality. JACK OF SHADOWS is also excellent. Farmer’s fictional ‘biographies’ (DOC SAVAGE: HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE and TARZAN ALIVE) works are another high watermark for me. These are the books which inspired the whole Wold Newton Family concept and sub-culture. Farmer was an incredibly daring writer and books like A FEAST UNKNOWN and BLOWN still have the power to shock. Of his more straightforward novels, TIME’S LAST GIFT and THE GREEN ODYSSEY are two of my favourites.
Outside writing, what else occupies your time (assuming you have any free time left)?
My time is spent raising two children who seem to be far more intelligent and better adjusted than I ever was … I wouldn’t be surprised if they took over the World, or ruled the Galaxy as brother and sister, or something.
Is there any particular style of music – or musicians – which appeals to you?
Imagine the musical tastes of Alan Partridge, only slightly worse. I’ll make it easier for you: Geoff Love’s album STAR WARS AND OTHER DISCO GALACTIC THEMES is on my iPod. The videos I’ve most frequently posted to my FB page are probably I LOST MY HEART TO A STARSHIP TROOPER and the theme to the LOGAN’S RUN TV show (surely one of the most sublime pieces of music ever composed). Earlier in the week I was listening to some Perry Como.
When I am writing, I tend to listen to random movie soundtracks: Ron Grainer’s OMEGA MAN, Jerry Goldsmith, FIRST BLOOD, CAPRICORN ONE; John William’s DRACULA and JAWS 2 – these latter two are particularly good because I don’t know the movies that well, so there is no visual interference from them (i.e. I’m not reminded of what’s happening in the movie as I listen). The problem is that I can’t write in total silence, nor with anyone singing, nor with purely classical music.
What are you currently working on?
There are a few things I’ve worked on this year which I’ve mentally filed under ‘too good to be true’ so I won’t inadvertently curse them by mentioning them now… But, officially I can tell you that I’m writing a novel for Jean-Marc Lofficier’s Black Coat Press called THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA IN PERSIA. Jean-Marc also produces an excellent anthology series called TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN. I’ve had stories in the last couple of volumes and I’m just finishing off my submission for Volume 10 which again features the French public domain inspiration for Jonathan Creek: Joseph Rouletabille.

Pulp Heroes: Andrew Coulthard

Andrew wrote the stirring sword and sorcery tale, "Ula and the Black Book of Leng" for THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF PULP HEROES 2. Here he generously answers questions on it and other topics.
Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: what inspired your writing and when you began, and – if possible – of all of your published work could you tell me which your favourites are (and why)?
I’m a 47 year-old Brit who has been living in Sweden for the past 23 years. I’ve drawn, painted and written in one form or another since I was a kid, but have only tried to get my writing into print the past few years. I tend to see each tale as a highly distinct outing into a very specific alternative world. They are generally quite different and that makes them hard to compare.
Do you have a favourite genre, or sub-genre? What exactly is it that attracts you?
I suppose fantasy has always been my favourite genre with sci-fi as a close second. Different things have attracted me to them over the years. As a youth there was the possibility of escape from banality into fantastical worlds of limitless adventure. There was also the feeling of being able to overcome all odds and the sense of wonder and scale that great science fiction can bestow. I think that I’ve increasingly come to value fantastic settings because of their potential for demonstrating complex ideas.
Some say Pulp is a genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
I don’t really come down on either side. To me “Pulp” is a concept that is still developing and whose meaning is therefore refreshingly elastic. The term has certainly grown beyond its original reference to the low quality paper used in cheap short story collections of the 1930s. If Pulp is a genre it includes many sub-genres: detective, western, sword and sorcery, sci-fi and horror. But Pulp tales of all denominations tend to be colourful, fast-paced, laconic and full of action and so there is clearly a classic pulp style too.
What was the inspiration for “Ula and the Black Book of Leng”?
In my youth I was great fan of Robert E Howard and particularly of his Conan stories. In this story I wanted to pull together references to the pulp works I grew up with, and also to other influences that have been important to me, but which might at first seem at odds.
Howard made Conan his noble barbarian and gave him imaginary prehistoric Celtic origins. Ula is a name that can be found in a number of different cultural contexts, but I selected it because of its Gaelic meaning: Sea Jewel. She comes from the far north but plies the seas; a noble barbarian and, I like to think, every bit as hot-blooded, daring and courageous as her literary predecessors.
In the course of the story there are also, I think, echoes of my love of Ursula Le Guinn’s EARTHSEA books and of Coleridge’s ANCIENT MARINER.
Some of my favourite Howard stories contained Lovecraftian elements and of course those who know Lovecraft will already have encountered Leng in various settings. But THE BLACK BOOK OF LENG YEN, to use the black book’s full title, is also the name of a real book of apocalyptic Buddhist writings referenced in the SECRET OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER - THE LENG YEN CHING.
Do you have a particular favourite author, or authors? What is it about their work which appeals to you?
I’m an eclectic reader and would find it hard to pick out a specific favourite author. With regard to fantasy and SF I’ve already mentioned Howard and Le Guinn, but have also very much enjoyed Iain Banks (with and without the “M”), David Gemmell, Robert Holdstock, Peter F Hamilton and many of the classic SF and fantasy authors: Alan Garner, CS Lewis, Tolkien, Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe… 
Outside writing, what else occupies your time (assuming you have any free time left)?
I have a family which keeps me busy and in my spare time I like hiking in the forests and mountains. As for my day-job, I run a training company in Stockholm that provides Business Communication and English services.
Is there any particular style of music – or musicians – which appeals to you?
An eclectic listener too, I like all kinds of music: symphonic and early music, ambient electronic music, rock music and even dance music (particularly when jogging, cycling or working out).
What are you currently working on?
I am currently writing a fantasy novel called RUTHGHER’S CONCEIT set in the same world as Ula’s adventures.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Pulp Heroes: Robert Iveniuk

Robert contributed the alien police-procedural story "The Law of Mars" to THE ALCHEMY PRESS BOOK OF PULP HEROES 2.
Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: what inspired your writing and when you began, and – if possible – of all of your published work could you tell me which your favourites are (and why)?
As a child, I suffered from asthma and my peers tended to view me as a pudgy punching bag until my mid-teens. During those times, television and comic books served as respite from the agony of reality. Time wore on, and one day I decided to tell my own tales. In the beginning, I thought I could hash it out as a comic creator, but I was always better at planning the stories than drawing them. Upon devouring Neil Gaiman’s NEVERWHERE and the story-heavy PC game PLANESCAPE: TORMENT, I decided that I had to be a writer.
Many years later (some would say too many), my first short story was published. Since then, four of my short stories have been published, I’ve written the screenplays for a short film and the pilot for an unreleased webseries, and I have been brought on as a regular contributor to the lifestyle and entertainment e-zine BlogTO. It’s hard for me to pick a favourite among my works; these are practically my children, after all. That said, there are a couple I wish I could redo, but I’d rather keep their names to myself.
Do you have a favourite genre, or sub-genre? What exactly is it that attracts you?
I grew up with fantasy and science fiction, but I’m also a fan of detective/spy fiction and horror. Mysteries intrigue me, and I find settings to be enchanting. When I travel, I tend to take a thousand photographs of buildings and neighbourhoods, because I love seeing how people live. As such, any story that drops me in an unfamiliar world, imagined or real, is welcome on my bookshelf.
Some say Pulp is a genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
I’d have to say it’s a style. Remember, pulp magazines themselves were so called because they were printed on cheap paper. This alone is very indicative of not only the era, but also the part of the world that birthed them.
Consider Japanese animé (bear with me). Many people have argued that animé is a genre, but every series covers anything from sports drama and culinary comedies to epic fantasy yarns and space operas. What separates it from other animated works is the look and feel, the cultural sensibilities and fragments of history that go into bringing such stories to life. Much the same could also be said about noir, and how it has evolved and integrated into different genres.
In the traditional sense, we’ve seen pulp revived in the Indiana Jones films and in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, but those fall under fantasy or science fiction. Yet, it is their voice that is pulp, the same sensationalized mood that had peddled so many stories for decades. Hell, HP Lovecraft was a pulp author, and what exactly does Cthulhu have in common with Doc Savage?
What was the inspiration for “The Law of Mars”?
After finishing my last story for The Alchemy Press, the meta-fictional drama “House Name”, I decided to tell a story that would perhaps fit more in line with a Pulp Heroes anthology. Originally, I was working on one which focused on the forefathers of the costumed vigilante movement, but it got too big for its britches. It’s on hold until I can find a way to scale it down. Save a space for PULP HEROES 3, Mike.
It was around this time that I was reading the first three books in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series. Half-way through PRINCESS OF MARS, I couldn’t help but notice how phenomenally macho it all was. John Carter solves most of his problems by punching a thing, and then being elected God Emperor of Punching the Thing minutes later. Coupled with the fact that every woman on Mars is after Carter’s sweaty earthman bod, and it began to smell of wish-fulfilment. By the end of THE GODS OF MARS, gears in my head turned and a question arose:
How would Barsoom look a hundred years later?
Imagine if Earth learned they weren’t alone in the universe, and found ways to reach the worlds beyond. What if it wasn’t just Mars that was inhabited, but also Venus like in the Carson Napier novels? Would that mean Jupiter had its own intelligent species, or Mercury, or Neptune? Now imagine these races crossing the galaxy and eventually establishing a united solar system. Think of how wonderful and terrifying it would be. Then, I asked myself what a police force would look like in a world like this. And then “The Law of Mars” was born.
Oh, and I removed the whole “Mars’ gravity makes you superhuman” angle because that always struck me as convenient. Plus, it didn’t fit with the CSI: BARSOOM concept I’m going for.
Do you have a particular favourite author, or authors? What is it about their work which appeals to you?
Well, that’s a list and a half.
I’m a huge fan of HG Wells’ symbolism, China Miéville’s terrifying imagination, Raymond Chandler’s distressingly charming cynicism, and the sense of dread William Hope Hodgson evokes. Plus, Neil Gaiman’s charm – even in his darkest stories – is infectious, and there will always be room in my heart for Terry Pratchett’s wit and Haruki Murakami’s complex mind. Honourable mentions go to Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Ivan Turgenev, and Thomas King. And as a comic geek, I also can’t go five seconds without praising Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Sam Kieth, Grant Morrison, or Mike Mignola in some capacity, so there’s that.
Of the pulp fiction fare, I enjoy Robert E Howard’s Conan, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op, and Maxwell Grant’s The Shadow most of all. I’ve read some Doc Savage, Avenger, and Fu Manchu novels, and they’re intriguing reads (Fu Manchu is a laugh and a half), but they don’t strike me in the way the others do. They lack the unfettered psychosis of Lamont Cranston, the Cimmerian Freebooter’s brutish demeanour, and the Op’s casual disregard for human life.
Outside writing, what else occupies your time (assuming you have any free time left)?
I tend to live simply. My free time is divided up between seeing friends, drawing, reading, long walks, video games, getting lost in the information vortex that is the internet, and saving up for travelling. Outside of that, I work in the not-for-profit sector, something Canada’s current Prime Minister doesn’t quite support, and so the rest of my time gets spent looking for full-time employment.
Is there any particular style of music – or musicians – which appeals to you?
Just as I tend to enjoy different genres of fiction, I also enjoy all kinds of music. Hitting shuffle on my Winamp playlist (MP3 players are for squares, daddy-o) will summon up just about anything. Some personal favourites for my ears, and also my imagination, include Garbage, Rob Zombie, The Black Angels, The Protomen, Dakota Star, Altan Urag, K-Os, Lordi, and Gnarls Barkley. I also adore instrumentals, so much of what I listen to comes from television, film, and game soundtracks.
What are you currently working on?
What am I not? My final-until-further-notice contribution to the Pulp Heroes series, “Legacy”, is in the works, as I said, so that I’ll be ready for Book 3, should it emerge. Beyond that, I’m sitting on fifteen unpublished short stories, three-and-a-half novels, and a slew of ideas for comics, video games, movies, and TV series that I’m fighting to get accepted somewhere. Being a writer’s a long and hard road to take, but I’ve made it this far already, so why stop now?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Pulp Heroes: Ian Hunter

Writer, editor and poet Ian Hunter answers questions on his influences, his musical tastes, and the genesis of the character The Wraith who appears in “The Monster of Gorgon” in The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2.
Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: what inspired your writing and when you began, and – if possible – of all of your published work could you tell me which your favourites are (and why)?
I suppose I began writing because of a variety of reasons – being an only child, having an over-active imagination, growing up in the 1960s and being exposed to all of Gerry Anderson’s “Supermarionation” antics, and Doctor Who, of course, and American comics, lots of American comics. I probably started writing seriously in my twenties, and my favourites of my own work are my children’s novels – The Dark Knight’s Blade (written because of my love of the film A Chinese Ghost Story), then Lipstick Lass (written because my children were into Captain Underpants and The Powerpuff Girls at the time) and The Magic Mousehole (because it’s just barking), although I do like it when a story gets long-listed for an award, or it actually wins an award or a prize, or gets an honourable mention in a year’s best, or someone who really knows me and my writing says that’s the best thing you’ve ever written, which has happened a couple of times.
Do you have a favourite genre, or sub-genre? What exactly is it that attracts you?
I review for Interzone and Concatenation so I get sent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels to review, and sometimes you gets “genre-ed out” and it’s good to read something different. I grew up reading Enid Blyton – the Famous Five and the Secret Seven books - then Alfred Hitchcock and the 3 Investigators books, then moved on to Tarzan and James Bond, before finding Michael Moorcock and James Herbert. Stephen King was a huge influence on my reading because of his book Danse Macabre as I tried to read all of the books he highlighted as being important to the genre by the likes Bradbury, Straub, etc; and because I was a huge King fan I bought Kirby McCauley’s Dark Forces which included “The Mist”, which was a real eye-opener as that was the first time I had encountered Ramsay Campbell, and Dennis Etchison and Charlie Grant, and Manly Wade Wellman and Lisa Tuttle and Joyce Carol Oates, and many others. Personally, I think it would have been a tragedy if I had never read that anthology and been exposed to all those writers.
Some say Pulp is a genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
I’ll sit on the fence and say both. I think it was an important genre in the past and embraced many sub-genres, and the first Pulp Heroes anthology and probably this second one will show how wide the pulp genre is, from laconic, hard-bitten private eyes to shadowy vigilantes to off-world and weird-world adventures. I do think it is a style as well – the dialogue, the descriptions, the action, but also the weird array of characters and locations play their part. Maybe Jonathan Green’s Ulysses Quicksilver series continues the pulp tradition and Guy Adams' recent The Good, the Bad and the Dammed does the same – maybe, or maybe I’m doing them both a disservice but I think as a reader if you pick up these titles you are in for a rollicking good time.
What was the inspiration for “The Monster of Gorgon”?
I’ve been writing a novel about the Wraith and the East Nuked of Fife and the Thrownaway for a while now, which chronicles Darroch’s transformation into the Wraith and culminates with his awful revenge on the townspeople, and it really is awful, but I’ve been working on a series of spin-off stories because there are other stories – who is behind Darroch’s transformation, the dreadful Dr. Carstairs, what happened to Emma, and tales of the steam rigs and adventures in other parts of The Nuked and beyond, so there will probably be more stand-along stories to come.
Do you have a particular favourite author, or authors? What is it about their work which appeals to you?
My two favourite writers are Joyce Carol Oates, and William Kotzwinkle. Kotzwinkle is perhaps better known (if he is known at all) for writing novel adaptations of films like E.T. and Superman 3, but he has written some of the funniest books I’ve ever read, like The Midnight Examiner or The Bear Went Over the Mountain, or really different works like The Fan Man, Doctor Rat, and even Fata Morgana which reads almost like a detective novel, with a wonderful twist at the end. He also writes the Walter, the Farting Dog series, but, sadly, doesn’t write enough these days. Oates on the other hand is a literary chameleon and incredibly prolific. I’ve been lucky to hear her talk and read at the Edinburgh Book Festival a couple of times. She can write anything, and does, and many of her novels are a reaction to events and circumstances in America, although she has won a couple of Stokers for her short story collections and her magnificent horror novel Zombie (which isn’t about your traditional flesh-eating zombies at all). I thought Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad was a brilliant read a couple of years ago, because of what she was doing to the narrative, and combining what might be a whole series of short stories into a circular novel (rather like the circularity of Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam and Alice Hoffman’s (one of my other favourite writers) The Ice Queen), and recently Zadie Smith was doing some interesting things with the form of the novel in  NW – the way she handled dialogue tags, a chapter as a concrete poem, using lists. I like it when people try the unconventional.
Outside writing, what else occupies your time (assuming you have any free time left)?
I used to be more sporty – tennis, golf, badminton, squash, but as I’ve got older those have fallen away slightly, so I suppose its the usual stuff, like walking the dog, and photography (and taking too many pictures while walking the dog). I edit a little magazine called Unspoken Water so I’m always looking for unusual, spooky-ish places that would make a good cover picture and fortunately where I live there are lots of out of the way family graveyards and abandoned buildings. Other things would include going to concerts and movies, and collecting boxed sets of DVDs and not watching most of them.
Is there any particular style of music – or musicians – which appeals to you?
I like anything – really. Every year I go Download, the big heavy metal festival at Castle Donnington and when it is raining hard and it’s a mud bath I wonder what I am doing there and vow “never again”, but still come back the next year for more. I do like folk, and Americana, and the like. In Glasgow at the start of the year there is the big “Celtic Connections” festival which is a must, but my major music love is jazz, and it’s all Phil Collins’ fault. When I was younger I was into bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and the “proggers” – Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, and Collins also played drums in a “jazz-rock” fusion band called Brand X, then at an influential age I heard him hosting a Radio 1 star special and practically all the stuff he played – Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Weather Report, Pat Matheny, King Crimson – I went out and bought. But he also played some of the major jazz drummers like Billy Cobham and Tony Williams (the greatest jazz drummer ever, I think, who played drums for Miles when he was a teenager) and I was hooked. I really am a frustrated jazz drummer and I think if you were into bands which had great musicians, especially the “proggers”, for me, the logical thing, was to move into jazz where the musicianship is also great, but a bit looser. I’ve gone to jazz festivals all around the world, and would see people like Miles Davis two days in a row; I even went to see Miles twice in one day in London. It’s the only type of music where I sit or stand with a silly grin on my face, because I’m enjoying myself so much.
What are you currently working on?
Too much, probably. Lots of short stories, some concerning a vampire character of mine called Roam Belanger, and other stand alone stories. I’m very guilty of chasing markets, but it does mean that you get some stories finished. Recently, I’ve been on holiday and writing poems. I wish I could write more but they come in fits and starts. I’ve also been writing various children’s novel and adult novels concerning houses with secrets and teenagers in a post apocalyptic world and others based on Scottish folklore and legends like Tam Lin and Tam o’Shanter.


Really happy to announce my short story "All I Ever See" has been accepted for Stephen Jones' forthcoming anthology The Mammo...