Over the year’s we had the pleasure to interview a number of authors and whilst there are some we’ve tackled with abandon, one or two always leave us wondering what we’re letting ourselves in for. Such is the case of Gary McMahon.
Not content with sharing the same initials as a dwarfen character with a penchant for wearing red in Saturday morning cartoons, we discovered quite a lot about him and above all else his wicked sense of humour.
Read on if you dare to discover about Humingbirds, Maynards Sports Mix and a predation for Manatees. Venger or rather Vengeance is his…
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Gary McMahon: I have an uneasy relationship with the actual act of writing. Often I wonder how I’d remain sane if I didn’t have this ability to get the stuff out of my head and onto the page; at other times I wish I could just be content sitting on my arse and watching TV every evening. A lot of people – strangely – seem to think that writing is easy. It isn’t. Writing is very demanding. But, yes, sometimes it does feel like a gift because there’s no better feeling than that of getting something right. But when it isn’t happening for you, when the words aren’t coming out right, it feels like an affliction.
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
GM: I honestly don’t think there was ever a moment of realisation for me. I never wanted to be a writer: I just wrote, and was quite surprised when I found out that not everyone did the same. So, for years afterwards I never told anyone that I wrote, and it was actually only when I was in my early thirties that I started giving out that information.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
GM: No, I don’t agree with that. I actually find short stories easy to write. They’re a snapshot of a mood or a moment; very tight, very focused. It’s the novels that I find difficult. The short stuff comes naturally. I actually write short stories while I’m working on a novel just to relax and de-stress. To take a break from the grind of producing all those words which create a novel...
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
GM: First, I would show them my nice, shiny gun...nah, I think I’d just tell them that I care about my characters, care about the craft of writing, and care about writing an engaging story. I care so much and so deeply that it makes my head hurt. Hopefully, before they ran away, they’d buy a copy.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
GM: This book is about life. And monsters. And damaged people. And Hummingbirds. This book is about all of us.
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
GM: Must-haves: Charles Bukowski, Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, Ray Bradbury, David Peace, James Ellroy, Raymond Carver, Poe, and about a hundred more.
Can’t-wait-fors: Ramsey Campbell, Graham Joyce, Conrad Williams, and about a twenty more.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your ideas develop as you write?
GM: To be honest, every project is different. With some novels I write down character notes and outline a couple of chapters in advance. With others, I just wing it and trust my brain to work everything out as I put the words on the page. But one thing is always true of my writing process: the story develops as it goes along, even if it is outlined in advance. Stories tend to come alive in that way, and they choose their own course.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
GM: I really don’t do much relaxing. There isn’t enough time. I suppose the closest thing I get is to sit down and watch a DVD late in the evening, when I try to wind down after a writing session.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
GM: I rape manatees. I also can’t resist Maynards Sports Mixtures and have been known to eat an entire pack in one sitting.
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
GM: I have no pets. Just a wife and a child. And a manatee.
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
GM: A character called Francis Boater, who’s a psychotic bouncer and debt collector in search of redemption. The bad guys are always the most fun to write – especially if you make them human, rather than just two-dimensional villains. Everyone’s potentially a bad guy, given the right set of circumstances.
FT: How similar to your principal protagonist are you?
GM: I suppose there are elements of every writer in each of the characters he creates, but for me those elements are very slight. My protagonists are often based on people I’ve known, though.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
GM: Writing is my obsession, so that takes up almost all of my spare time. I do enjoy keeping fit, though, and I watch films in the evening to wind down. I think my work is often cinematic, so there’s certainly an influence there.
FT: Where do you get your ideas from?
GM: I extract them from the pineal glands of young bloggers. Serious answer: everywhere. I don’t understand how not to get ideas for stories. Is there an Off button?
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
GM: I get blocked all the time, usually after I’ve finished a large project. So I just sit it out and wait for it to clear, and worry like crazy in the meantime that this time it might stay for good. It’s horrible; I get very miserable when I’m unable to write. I’m probably a nightmare to live with at those times.
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
GM: I write at night, when my family are in bed. I have a very understanding wife and son, and they back me 100% in what I do. That’s vital for a writer, I think. You can’t do this without the support of your loved ones. Not if you want to stay sane, stay married, and stay off the booze.
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
GM: I write in silence, but that’s mainly because whenever I do put music on I then get so involved with my writing that I forget to change the CD. I’ve learned that I probably prefer to write without music, even though I find music influences my work quite a bit. I like the tone and mood of Radiohead’s stuff, so often chase that tone in my prose.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
GM: Oh, I thought that once you got a book deal you’d be rich and famous and everything would be okay...the reality is, that’s when the real hard work begins. And the money’s shit.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
GM: For me, writing is catharsis. It gets all the stories and the voices and the strange ideas out of my head and onto the page, where they can’t do me any harm. It’s all about naming my fears and pinning the demons to the ground.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
GM: The next novel I have coming out is Dead Bad Things, from the lovely publisher Angry Robot. It’s the sequel to Pretty Little Dead Things, and I think it contains some of the best stuff I’ve ever done. I’ve taken a few narrative risks and I allowed my imagination to run wild...and the result is hopefully scary and sad and interesting.
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
GM: Facebook, Ramsey Campbell’s Message Board, Sunderland AFC, thetrainline.com and Amazon
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
GM: I once attended a series of writing classes – when I was in my mid-twenties, I think. I didn’t really get much from it, but the people were nice.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
GM: Easily, I’ve never really cared about what other people think and I’ve always written for me rather than go chasing an imaginary audience – I write what I like to read. I wrote for years without submitting my work to any markets, and once I started doing so I just took rejection and acceptance in my stride. It’s part of the game. If you can’t handle rejection, then don’t bother submitting.
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
GM: I really wouldn’t know. I don’t write for a living, and doubt I’ll ever be lucky enough to do so in these days of shrinking advances, tiny readerships and celebrity-dominated bookshelves. Writing is my second job, an additional income and a means of catharsis. Anything more than that is gravy.