What made you decide to write books?
I didn’t chose writing, 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. It’s always been there, in the background. I wrote short stories at school, and dabbled a couple of times over the years, but it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that it really took hold.
Back in the very early ’90s I had an idea for a story… I hadn’t written much of anything since the mid-70s at school, but this idea wouldn’t leave me alone. 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.
Since then I’ve sold over 300 short stories, including appearances in the likes of NATURE and THE WEEKLY NEWS among many others, and I’ve had 25 novels published in the horror and fantasy genre presses in the USA, with more coming over the next few years.
What was the inspiration for your books?
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 also love what is widely known as “weird shit”. I’ve 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.
How do you create your characters?
A lot of my characters are based on people I’ve met either through work, or in a variety of pubs in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I love listening to people telling stories, and a lot of what I hear from them goes into the mill to be ground around then turned into something that’s usually a bit weirder than the original.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
The biggest influences on my particular style of writing would have to be the reading I did as a teenager in Kilbirnie in the West of Scotland in the early-seventies, before Stephen King and James Herbert came along. I graduated from Superman and Batman comics to books and I was a voracious reader of anything I could get my hands on; Conan Doyle, 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 H P Lovecraft and things were never quite the same.
If you have a publisher, what has it been like working with them?
My experiences with a variety of publishers have mostly very positive. There’s been one or two hiccups along the way, but all of my current publishers are professional, hard working, and keen to get books in front of readers, which is what it’s all about. The main problem I had in the past was with companies who were looking to make a quick buck rather than publish books. They learned the hard way that the industry isn’t too kind to that way of thinking.
If you have an agent, what has it been like working with them?
I don’t have an agent.
I’ve never really had one.
I get asked, why don’t you want to work with an agent? The answer is, it’s not I don’t want to – it’s that they don’t want to.
I’ve queried, and queried, and queried over the years, even signed with one once, for about two months before he quit the business. But no matter what I’ve sent them, be it my WATCHERS fantasy series, my sci-fi book THE INVASION, any number of horror novels, or my VIKINGS vs YETI book, BERSERKER, the answer is always about the same.
“We like your writing, but we don’t think we can sell it in today’s market.”
So I’ve sold every novel I’ve done myself, to independent genre presses, and I’ve done my own deals for audiobooks, foreign rights, etc when the chance comes up. It would be nice to have somebody else handle all that stuff for me – and maybe try to get more books into more languages, sell film rights- all that fortune and glory stuff – I’ll admit that much, but all in all, I’ve done pretty well with my small press publications.
But I wonder – I’ll always wonder – could one of these twenty plus books have gone mass market if somebody had just noticed? My pro short story sales tell me that my work can cut it in the wider market place – so why not the novels?
I try not to think about that too much though, for that way lies madness.
So fortune and glory elude me, but I make enough to keep the wolf from the door.
That’ll do for me. Mostly.
What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?
The main one was getting all the different writers’ voices clear in my head so that the stories didn’t all sound as if it was me that wrote them. Trying to think like, say, Leo Tolstoy, was a challenge in itself. Doyle was easier, as I”ve written many Sherlock Holes stories, but even there I went in a different direction for his tale to the club, choosing instead an Inspector Lestrade story.
So there was that, then trying to imitate the inimitable, like Wilde’s distinctive touches, or James’ way with a sentence.
I may have been overambitious, and I worry that I’ve overreached what little talent I have, but when the idea came to me, I knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t write it.
What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain number of words each day?
I try for 1400-1500 words a day, and mostly hit it. I write full time at home, with a view over a lovely Atlantic coast bay and few interruptions so it’s not a hard schedule to keep to. And it builds up to a lot of words over days, weeks and months.
How do you cope with writer’s block?
I don’t get it. Truthfully, it’s never been much of a problem. Music sorts me out and keeps the flow going if I slow.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
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.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks, etc)?
As a Scotsman, and a West Coast one at that, I drink. Beer usually, and good single malt Scottish whisky when I can afford it, but I don’t need it to write. Coffee is a must though. Black, strong and plenty of it.
Music I also need, and a wide variety of it, from classical to early blues, jazz to heavy metal, folk and country and singer songwriters form all across the board. I have the headphones on almost all day while I’m working.
What do you like to read?
I cover a lot of bases in my reading, from the classics to crime, thrillers, fantasy, horror and science fiction with forays into westerns every so often. I’ve just finished a read through of all of Tim Power’s books which has made me feel inadequate in my own writing compared to his stylish brilliance.
What plans do you have in your writing future?
I don’t know how long I have left, I’ll be 60 in January, and will have written 30 novels by then, and over 400 short stories. But there’s always something to strive for, like the elusive mass market deal, the luxury yacht and the Hollywood movie deal,that kind of thing.
But in reality, I’ll plod along; I’m contracted for a few more books in 2018, then the future is wide open, and I”m not sure yet what I’ll be filling it with.
But there will be words. Many of them. There are always words.
If you could live in any genre, what would it be and why?
I’ve always fancied living in Hobbiton, drinking in the Green Dragon, smoking pipeweed and singing the old songs with Gandalf and the lads. That’ll do for me.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My work is almost all about the struggle of the dark against the light.
The time and place, and the way it plays out is in some ways secondary to that. And when you’re dealing with archetypes like I am in THE GHOST CLUB, there’s only so many to go around, and it’s not surprising that the same concepts of death and betrayal, love and loss, turn up wherever, and whenever, the story is placed.
In my case, it’s mostly comes out as pulp. Big beasties, swordplay, sorcery, ghosts, guns, aliens, werewolves, vampires, eldritch things from beyond and slime. Lots of slime
I think you have to have grown up with pulp to -get- it. A lot of writers have been told that pulp=bad plotting and that you have to have deep psychological insight in your work for it to be valid. They’ve also been told that pulp=bad writing, and they believe it. Whereas I remember the joy I got from early Moorcock, from Mickey Spillane and further back, A E Merritt and H Rider Haggard. I’d love to have a chance to write a Tarzan, John Carter, Allan Quartermain, Mike Hammer or Conan novel, whereas a lot of writers I know would sniff and turn their noses up at the very thought of it.
I write to escape. I haven’t managed it yet, but I’m working on it
What is the hardest part of being an author?
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 “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 stuff. But I try not to think about that too much. 🙂
What advice would you give to those thinking about writing a book?
Write, write, then write some more. It’s like getting an engine turning over. Once it warms up, it just keeps on running.