Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Author Interview! Gary McMahon

I reviewed 'The Concrete Grove' a couple of weeks ago; you can either click Here for the review or just take my word for it when I say that it's an exceptionally fine slice of horror fiction and you should read it if horror is your thing. Either's good :o)

Once I finished the book I found that I had some questions that I wanted to run past Gary; I also found that Gary is a very obliging fellow who was happy to answer whatever I threw at him. Thanks Gary!
Anyway, without further ado, here's what Gary had to say for himself...

‘The Concrete Grove’ is pretty intense in places, where did that leave you once you had finished writing the book? Did you need to take time to recharge your batteries or had you already thrown yourself into your next book?

I must admit, after finishing the novel I felt emotionally and mentally drained. Writing novels to a deadline really takes it out of me, and generally involves a lot of late nights and prolonged periods of insomnia because I only have the time to write at night. I tend to throw everything into my writing – I can’t just dip in and out of a project. Every writer is different, and that’s just the way I work. I take it all so bloody seriously, too, as if my life depended on it. I’m way too intense, so can never relax when I have a project on the go. Unfortunately, I always feel blocked for a little while whenever I finish writing a novel, and that’s cut into the time I have for the next one. So, yeah, I was knackered. Still am.

How do you know when you’ve just written something that will really unsettle your readers? Do you scare yourself with what you’ve written?

Usually, if I feel disturbed I tend to think that someone else who’s reading the thing might also be disturbed. There are a few scenes in The Concrete Grove, for example, where I felt genuinely ill at ease as I wrote them. But that’s my philosophy when it comes to writing horror fiction: if you write about your own fears, then hopefully other people out there will share those fears and the book will resonate with them. It’ll never get me an international bestseller, but if I’m lucky it might just win me a few loyal fans.

Horror fiction isn’t covered enough online, at least not on the blogs that I read. Which horror writers would you recommend to the readers here?

Ramsey Campbell is the best there is. Read him; read him now. Then read him again. King and Straub are masters. Other than these legends, my favourite horror writers tend to be people like Graham Joyce, Conrad Williams, Simon Bestwick – writers with a personal vision they are trying to communicate through their work. There are lots more I could mention, but I don’t want to use up my word count by listing names and then feel bad that I’ve missed someone off. Contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot of sensational work being done in the horror field. It’s just a matter of diving in and exploring what’s out there, and trying to avoid the bad stuff.

For the person who has never read any of your work, is ‘The Concrete Grove’ a good place to start or would you point them somewhere else first?

I’d say that either The Concrete Grove or Pretty Little Dead Things (my previous novel, published by Angry Robot) are the best place to start. They’re very different novels, but both are representative of where I’m at, and where I’m coming from and heading towards, with my work. I’m also very proud of my first mass market novel, Hungry Hearts (published by Abaddon Books back in 2009) – a nasty little zombie novel with a heart of stone.

You’ve said that the idea behind ‘The Concrete Grove’ has been with you for years but it’s only now that you’ve felt able to put it to paper. Did that idea end up evolving over time or is it essentially the same idea you had all those years ago?

To be honest, the story has changed and evolved so much that it’s now something completely different to how I first envisioned it when I was sixteen. The estate used to be called Wishwell, and was built over an ancient stone well. The location was originally going to be an area of concrete high-rises, and the story involved very 1980s themes, like joyriding and football hooliganism. I was never quite sure what the forces at work within the estate were meant to represent, but finally a couple of years ago I had an imaginative breakthrough and everything became a lot clearer. Oddly, the global recession helped focus my ideas about what it was I wanted to say, and I wrote a short story called “Owed” which became the heart of the first novel in the series.

I was probably having a bad day at the office but I couldn’t tell whether ‘The Concrete Grove’ was primarily fantasy or horror ;o) Do you see it as primarily one or the other? Or do you think that I’m making a meal of this and should just enjoy reading the book?

It’s both, fantasy and horror – also, there are elements of crime fiction thrown into the mix. And, yes, you should just read the book for what it is. In my mind, all these genres can blend and cross-pollinate. I have a very broad definition of the word “horror”, and I try not to let other people’s perceptions (or misconceptions) of the genre define what I write. It’s all horror to me.

‘The Concrete Grove’ offers up horror from both sides of the fence; the darkness that lives in us all versus the darkness that exists at the corner of our eye. As a reader, which source of horror scares you the most? As a writer, did you find yourself having to lend extra emphasis to the less scary source in order to make things more balanced?

I’ve always like the clash of internal and external forces – haunted people colliding with a haunted place. That’s where I’m most comfortable, exploring the emotional cracks and fissures caused by this kind of set-up. I’ve discovered that I’m also very comfortable writing about scumbag people – I love to examine horrible characters, and because of this the crime and social elements of the novel came easily. For me, as both a reader and a writer, I need my fictional horrors to be grounded in reality. It scares me more that way; I think the juxtaposition creates a lot of tension and anxiety in a story.

‘The Concrete Grove’ is the beginning of a trilogy but the blurb for ‘Silent Voices’ suggests something a little more standalone. Are there any connections to the first book, other than the Concrete Grove itself? Or is ‘Silent Voices’ the kind of book that you can jump straight into without having read the first book?

I’m writing these so that anyone can read each of the books as a stand-alone story, but you’ll certainly get more out of them by reading the novels in order. The stories are connected by the Grove estate, and specific characters have a bearing in all three books. I initially envisioned these three books as being structured like Jimmy McGovern’s brilliant television show The Street, where each week there was a different story about a resident on a particular street, and characters would flit in and out of each episode. Hopefully this method adds texture and richness to the project as a whole, but readers can take or leave these elements as they wish.

The cover art for ‘The Concrete Grove’ captures the atmosphere of the book perfectly. As the writer of the book, how much input did you get into the creation of that cover?

I’ve worked with the artist, Vincent Chong, on several projects in the past, so we have a great relationship, a kind of artistic simpatico. I was very involved with the cover – the basic image of the tower block with tree roots snaking around its base came from me and Vinny ran with it. We then batted ideas back and forth, and the image developed into what you see now. Vinny’s done the covers for all three books, and they’re exceptional...really breathtaking stuff. I just hope my prose lives up to his amazing artwork!

And finally, a flat has just become available on a housing estate where ghostly stuff happens on a daily basis and an encounter with the local loan shark could cost you far more than just the contents of your wallet. Would you recommend that flat to someone or would you tell them to go back and live with their parents until things pick up?

Ha! I’d recommend staying with Mum and Dad. A least you’ll get your washing and ironing done. And you won’t get blood on you.


Carmen Wing said...

Great interview :D Am just about to start this one. It's the human monsters that scare me most so am thinking this one will stay with me a while.

Definitely going to look out for Hungry Hearts too.

Sharon Stogner said...

damn good interview! You can tell you read and loved the book. It is surprising how generic interviews can be. I am trying to improve my "interviewing skills" for my blog. Thanks :)

I haven't read any of Gary's stuff yet, but I want to read Concrete Grove!