Saturday, 28 March 2015

Peter David, Superhero Saviour!

Marvel maestro, Peter David talks to Remy Dean about the changing perception of comics, from throwaway kidstuff to literary award-winning genre, from subculture geek fodder to surefire box-office ammunition, from experimental indie titles to supersafe superheroes...

Hulk and Spiderman are now super-huge superhero franchises. But if it was not for Peter David’s penmanship, Hulk and – to a lesser extent, perhaps – Spidey may not have been in the running to be re-invented as the big screen cash-cows we all know and love today. They were both ‘flagging’ series when Peter David got to write for them early in his comic career back in the 1980s… and on both counts his inventive story arcs re-vitalised the titles and attracted fresh readers to the marvellous world of Marvel. 


Peter David rapidly earned a reputation as being a prolific ‘writer of stuff’ (as he describes himself) and has remained a fan favourite, because he writes like a fan who can write - with knowledge, enthusiasm and sensitivity to the characters and the worlds they inhabit. He has a flair for making potentially ridiculous characters emotionally engaging, with real weaknesses to counterbalance their unreal strengths. Real world issues are often paralleled in in his stories and his characters have to deal with everyday problems as well as more Olympian conflicts…

Peter David - Comic Convention regular
(picture credit: Luigi Novi)
Having been a major proponent of the comic genre for a long time, you must have seen the industry - and perception of comics - change a great deal, from being ‘for the kids’ to becoming a respected literary form... What or when do you see as the ‘watershed’ for this change?

“My guess would be the rise of the direct market. Once upon a time, comics were only available in ‘mom and pop’ shops and 7/11s. The rise of the direct market and the development of comic book stores not only gave rise to an older audience, but gave them a place where they could congregate and interact with other fans. This caused the audience to skew older, and as that happened, publishers began seeking projects that would appeal to older readers. As a result of that audience growth, we got Maus, and Watchmen, and Dark Knight Returns - all the various projects that appealed to the 18 and up crowd.”

As you say, Art Spiegelman’s Maus was a ground-breaker in dealing with issues and 'heavy' subject matter in the comic format. What wider issues are important to you - what gets you 'fired up' - and how do you tackle them?

“Free speech is a particular sticking point. It particularly irritates me when people who proclaim that they are liberals try to censor others in the name of political correctness. I find that even more offensive than when conservatives do it. At least conservatives are honest. They declare, ‘We want to stop this talk because we find it offensive.’  Liberals say, ‘We want to stop this talk because we're worried other people will find it offensive.’ Which is crap:  the fact is that they feel the same way conservatives do, but they're being dishonest about it. I've written both comic book stories and also columns about it.”

OK, so my literary snob pal admits Maus is worthy and has ‘literary merit’, and I can get them to look at The Arrival, and Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, even From Hell… but superhero comics? Guys in leotards, big green freaks with massive muscles, men flying about wearing metal suits! How can I convince them to give that a try? (This question is asked with the healthy tone of British irony!)

“Well, I hear tell that some British guy wrote a book called Watchmen that a lot of people seem to like. And Frank Miller wrote Dark Knight. They could try those. Plus anything of mine."

Of course the scale and scope of the superhero universe is akin to the Greek Myths – from where some of the very first stories and heroes were born. I was recently watching a lecture-talk given by Stewart Lee where he talks about leaving comics behind with his childhood because he did not perceive them as ‘grown-up’ things to read, then rediscovering the format through coming across a story cycle of the Hulk written by you - respected by many as the finest Hulk stories since those of Stan Lee. Why did you want to write comics as an adult? 

“I wanted to write comic books as a kid and as a teen, so why wouldn't I want to write them as an adult?  It's like asking an astronaut, ‘Why did you become an astronaut?’  Why?  Because every kid wants to be an astronaut. Just like tons of kids want to make comic books their lives. It's just that some of us manage to do so …and some of us don't, and consequently show up on the Internet and bitch about the people who made it.”

I imagine you grew up reading comics in the second superhero revival of the 1960s… what is your earliest comic book memory and what was the first time a comic book really carried you off into another world?

“I first discovered comic books in my local barber shop, actually. They had the Harvey Comics for kids to read while we were waiting. That's where I first met Casper and Wendy. I knew so little about comic books that when Casper turned into dotted lines, I thought it was a participation thing where you were supposed to take a pencil and connect them - I had no clue that it meant he was invisible. My first superhero comics were Superman - Action Comics, and that extended from my love for the George Reeves Superman TV series. Every episode would end with the announcer saying, ‘Superman is based on the character appearing in Superman magazines.’  And I thought, ‘There are magazines?’ So I went to my local magazine store and sought them out.”

An old Superman story - from the 1960s
What do you think of the current explosion of the Superhero genre, and the huge-budget cinema adaptations?

“When I was a kid, it was all the stuff of fantasy. Hollywood FX couldn't possibly live up to the requirements of superhero films. I mean, hell, we went nuts with the - by today's standards - crummy flying effects in Superman. The growth of the genre has been amazing. The only downside is that the expectations have risen as well. You get films like Green Lantern which really weren't that bad and the fans hate them. Does nobody remember the DC live action TV shows from the seventies? Those were awful!”

Movies adapted from comics are currently the biggest genre – the sales of related titles must reflect this – from your point of view within it, how has the perception of the comics industry changed in the last couple of years?

“You proceed from a false premise:  the sales of the comics don't relate at all. Millions upon millions of people see movies. With a comic, these days if you're over 100,000 you're doing incredibly well. Yes, we get some PR boost, I suppose, but we're not selling millions of copies of Guardians of the Galaxy, no matter how well the movies do.”

Has this had any effect on the attitude of the comics publishing world? Has it pushed Marvel/DC superhero format to the forefront at the expense of indie and less mainstream comics? Or do you find the industry thrives throughout now as a result? In other words are publishers putting more money into the successful superhero genre and less into the new, cult and unusual ideas?

“Publishers put money into what sells. Untested and unusual ideas don't sell, at least not to Marvel readers. Heavily character driven stories don't sell. What sells for the most part are things tying into events. As much as readers may piss and moan about it, that's what they buy. Does that mean Marvel will never be experimental? Of course not. But the expectations for such projects are pretty low.”

What unlikely comic would you love to see given the blockbuster treatment?

Fallen Angel. But that's probably just me.”

Fallen Angel created by Peter David
with artist David Lopez
Fallen Angel is a character created and owned by you, and you have written a great many solo works, but the majority of your writing seems to be working with characters and scenarios devised by others – what do you enjoy about this challenge that keeps you coming back for more? 

“Most of my solo projects are in novels. That's one of the advantages of having ties to various venues outside of comics. I have a great deal of fun contributing to the vast tapestry that is the Marvel universe. It's nice to be a party of something that is bigger than yourself."

What do you think are the positives and negatives of both working alone on a project and collaborating with others?

“The positive is that it's the purest form that your story can take. There's you, the reader, and the story and nothing else. So you get all the credit. The downside is that you also get all the blame. The advantage of collaboration is that, if you have a quality artist, that artist can elevate the story to something far beyond what you are capable of attaining on your own.

Writing novel-style fiction and writing for teleplays, video games and comic scripts must use very different ‘skill-sets’. How does your approach differ in these varied formats? And what aspects remain constant?

“It doesn't really involve different skill sets. It's like saying to someone who's working out, ‘Wow, first you lift the weights overhead and now you're pushing weights with your feet!  How do you do that?’  You're just using different muscles. The only difference is the format in which you're writing.”

Do you have an established writing method or ‘ritual’?

“I sit and work.”

Who did you learn from - who are your writerly heroes and heroines?

Stan Lee, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King...all of whom are now friends of mine.”

What comics are you currently enjoying, and would recommend?

“I like a lot of stuff that Marvel puts out. I also enjoyed Kick-Ass and I'm enjoying Jupiter's Legacy."

You are so prolific, so you may have to be selective here, but what up-coming Peter David projects can we look forward to in the near future?

“I'm working on some Star Trek: New Frontier novellas, so it's great to be back in that venue. I'm working on various miniseries for Marvel... I'm also working on a project with Colleen Doran..."

I often wind up an interview by asking for any ‘top tips’, in this case for the aspiring writer of comics, but you have already written an entire book on the subject! But please feel free to share any ‘in-a-nut-shell’ pearls of wisdom that have helped sustain you in your career…

 “Read more than you write... and read my book.”

- Thank you Peter David!

Peter David re-invents the Marvel Universe
For 2015, Peter David is re-inventing the Marvel Universe in his Secret Wars 2099 series for Marvel, re-working iconic Avengers characters again, such as Spiderman, Captain America… and it may all turn out to be a little Strange… (as in the Sorceress – that was almost an in joke, for the in-crowd)

Keep up with Peter David news at his official website.

...and find out about new titles at the Marvel website.

Peter David was talking with Remy Dean

Thursday, 12 March 2015

That interview with Malcolm Pryce


... but which title should we go with? 

'Aberystwyth Now' / 'The King of Aberystwyth' / 'Aber’s Greatest Hits'... 

In this  revealing, entertaining and exclusive interview for The Scrawl, Malcolm Pryce, author of the six Louie Knight novels to date - aka The Aberystwyth Books - talks with Jane Williams about how he writes such inventive and surprising stories... about how he has made the Welsh Seaside Noir genre his own... about ice cream, hearing voices, and being - certainly not 'bonkers', but perhaps - 'crackers'?

Malcolm Pryce - the 'Welsh Wizard of seaside-noir-meta-fiction... 
Did you really start writing the Aberystwyth books because you heard a disembodied voice tell you to? Because I believed it!

The disembodied voice helped give shape to a project that had been gestating for a while. I was staying with a girl in the Philippines, in a place so remote the Lonely Planet warned you not to go there. I didn’t realise this until later.

She lived in a stone-age village without electricity or running water, or even glass windows, and while we were there, a cyclone arrived, forcing us to remain for a week or so. News spread that there was an ‘Amerikano’ in the village and for the next few days groups of people from far and wide would arrive to stare at me. First they would hand over a present consisting of a cream cracker wrapped in newspaper. It’s quite hard eating cream crackers without butter or cheese, but of course since it’s a gift you have to do it. Then they would stare at me for hours on end, the monotony broken only when another group from even further afield would turn up with some more cream crackers. Being stared at in this fashion is what is known as White Torture, or no-touch-torture, devised by the Communist Chinese interrogators during the Korean War. It can break a man within hours and leave him in state of total spiritual collapse. I don’t think the Koreans used cream crackers though. That was the bit that broke my spirit and awoke the disembodied voice, the one that said the talismanic words, ‘It’s Aberystwyth Jim, but not as we know it.’ Sometimes I wonder if the Philippinos were really coming because they had heard there was a white man in the village who could eat dry cream crackers.

Do people - Welsh ones, or ‘foreigners’ - really take offence at how you talk about Aberystwyth… Because I for one think that your local references and colloquialisms are absolutely genius. One of my favourite examples of this is from your first book the reference you make to ‘Ffestiniog Chardonnay’. I think that you have to be a local to realise how funny that joke is. Oh, and also the quote about how, “Mrs Pugh from Ynyslas had once famously had a rent rebate because the bells (of Cantref y Gwaelod) had kept her awake all night” - there are a few ‘old dears’ that I know who would actually think that was a great idea.

If anything, I think that I can read a great deal of love and understanding about Welsh society, history and the strange characters (weirdos) that live here (I am including myself as one of the weirdos).

Apart from famously being arrested for sedition by the Mayor of Aberystwyth, I haven’t really been confronted by angry critics, not been confronted by any stone-throwing mobs or anything. You are quite right, the books are part love poem to Aberystwyth and homage to the lost ‘craptasticness’ of the British seaside holiday. They are not piss-takes at all in my view, there would be little point wasting the precious few years we get on this earth doing something that was nothing more than that. Instead, the characters, though they live in an absurd universe, are real, with real beating feeling hearts. Just like us. They take the world seriously and that gives it, in my view, a genuine emotional core.

Did where you wrote the books have an effect on your stories or plot lines?

Only in the limited sense that actually being in Aberystwyth is inimical to the task of writing about the place because it gets in the way. Clearly my version is a parallel universe version that attaches to the real one at various geographical locations like the Pier, or the famous Stryd-y-Popty, but floats free of it in other respects. The real one is a bit drab really and it is better to consult the version lying in the ‘rag-and-bone shop of the heart’, which I think is more faithful to the spirit - if not reality - of Aberystwyth.

...a 'love poem' to Aberystwyth
I think it was Hemingway who said you can only write about a place after you have left it. Draft one of Aberystwyth Mon Amour really was written on a cargo ship bound for South America (I was a fare paying passenger, one of three), and the rest were written in Bangkok, where I lived for seven years and scrivened from dawn to dusk, tirelessly chronicling the moral turpitude of the people of Aberystwyth.

If I was an A Level English teacher (the aspirational musings of a dyslexic potter), I would ask my class about possible recurrent themes within your books. The main themes that I have picked up on is ‘identity’ and self-reinvention.

Discus (tee hee) Discuss...

To be honest, I’m probably not the person best placed to answer questions like this. Some time ago now, I started getting emails from students at Cardiff university asking similar sorts of questions. It seemed there was a course on detective fiction being run there and my books were on it. I was quite surprised to discover this but, having always longed for an academic qualification after my name, I decided to enrol on the course incognito, thinking it should be fairly easy to get a qualification for expertise in my own books. But nothing could have been further from the truth, I did very poorly.
In order not to arouse suspicion I was quite hostile in my criticism of Malcolm Pryce, I called him ‘an unoriginal jejune chancer’. This made me deeply unpopular among the other students on the course because, of course, Malcolm Pryce was some sort of god for these kids. They said, ‘You wouldn’t say that if Malcolm Pryce was here now!’ It was a very lonely time. How I longed to tell them who I was!

I remember describing in one essay how Malcolm Pryce had developed a taste very early on for jam and cheese sandwiches and his grandparents, on seeing this, had taken him aside and pointed vaguely west saying, ‘Yonder is a great town called Aberystwyth where the people eat jam and cheese sandwiches all day.’ Later, when he went to live there his heart was broken to discover they had lied, so this provided the theme of betrayal that runs through his work. Or so I thought. But the tutor told me my theory was a silly fabrication. The irony is, it’s actually true.

How do you write your books? Does it involve lengthy planning and mapping out? Do you use sticky labels with words like aliens, ventriloquists, stovepipe hats, what the butler saw ‘snuff’ movies, Patagonia, vampires… Where do your stories and plot lines start? Oh, and how do you keep them ‘tame’ - not ‘tame’ as in passive and easy, but tame as in not running around in the jungle covered in your own scat and howling at the moon, people fleeing in horror, tame.

I think it was Flaubert, or someone like that, who said you should be neat and ordered in your daily life so you can be bonkers in  your work - I’m quoting from memory. I subscribe to that view. There is no madness visible at all in my working method. I don’t scribble things on notes and stick them on the fridge. I don’t mutter to myself. I wash. Igor doesn’t turn up at 3 a.m. with a plate of bread and water, saying. ‘You must eat, Doktor!’ I just sit and ponder for months on end, write down notes but never have to refer to them again. The act of writing them down somehow fixes them in the memory. During the course of the ‘thinking up’ stage, a world develops. Then one day, like a mariner too long from the sea, I will wake up and know it is time to go down to 'the harbour’… and start the real writing. That takes about six months.

I write about five or six drafts and throw away about seventy percent of the early ones. People wouldn’t believe how much manual toil is involved. It’s like moving a beach with a spoon. But it’s all quite calm. I like the idea that by closing the laptop lid it all disappears for the night like toys put back in the cupboard. In Bangkok, once, I did put index cards on the wall, and I was quite taken aback at how subliminally disturbing this turned out to be, after I had ‘switched off’ for the day.  I was living in a studio apartment - so living and writing in the same space, but even though I did not look at the cards, they had an insistent presence that bugged me. I’m pretty sure the reason is, even when you stop writing for the day, your unconscious is still at work on the project and it resents the intrusion, it needs time to do its work in peace.

The Aberystwyth adventures of Louie Knight continue...
As a quick explanation: my nickname was ‘Calamity’ when I was a little girl, because I loved Doris Day, I was a flamin’ liability, oh and my name is Jane. So, how did you decide on the characters of Louie Knight and Calamity Jane - was it THAT voice again?

I didn't decide on anything, I just wrote and it all emerged, like a face in an old-fashioned photographic developing bath -I know that image is no longer current, but I can’t think of a better one. I never sit down and create characters the way all the books on creative writing say you are supposed to: I don’t fill out lengthy forms answering specific biographical details. I couldn't tell you what any of my characters were doing on their fifth birthday. They usually emerge from the dialogue, as soon as they start talking they either become someone or nothing happens and they don’t get invited back.

When Louie went to the Pier at the start of Aberystwyth Mon Amour, I am pretty certain I had no idea who he was going to meet there, but he met Calamity and the dialogue between them just happened, and in the process he acquired a sidekick, but it was never planned or intended. It’s all like that. If anything, I don’t create characters, I grow them. How such a thing can happen is a mystery but I am comfortable with it being a mystery.

Talking is a mystery too – no one can explain how it can be possible to hold an intelligent conversation in real time, on the fly, without preparation or premeditation. It’s amazing, even very stupid people can do it. If you ever stop to wonder about that it is baffling. Where do the words come from? Clearly there is a team of homunculi inside the brain choosing the right ones, but how do they know what to say? To see just how beautiful the mystery is, consider this. I recently noticed something about Marty, Louie’s schoolmate with TB, who, as you know, had the note from his Ma rejected and was sent off to die on a cross-country run in a blizzard. I noticed last week, 15 years after I wrote the first book, that if you add the letter ‘R’ to his name you get martyr. And that, of course, is quite clearly his symbolic function in the books. I know for sure that I did not choose the name with that in mind, in fact I have occasionally wondered what made me choose that name. Why Marty and not, say, Martin?  I don’t believe for one second it is accidental. It’s the homunculi. You have to hand it to them.

Are any of your characters, other than Herod Jenkins, based on real people that you know?

No, except, of course, Louie is me…

Are you this funny - book funny - in real life? Please try not to disappoint me, she says, oh and answer honestly, you can ‘call a friend’.

I was going to answer this with a true story about a man who found my humour so wearisome he tried to maroon me on the Pacific atoll of Suvarow, but then I thought, ‘See! That’s exactly what comedy is about, you are using it as a device to avoid the painful truths of this world’.

So here’s the serious answer: On a good day, probably yes, but the days are not always good, are they? In fact, I have spent a good many of them in the past seven years in the arms of that savage god known anaemically as depression - we really need a better name, like ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death Syndrome’.

This seems to be a very common experience of people who write funny things. Wikipedia has a whole page devoted to them. There are various neurological explanations for this: the similarity between creativity, comedy and, well, madness. But you don’t really have to go that far, you just need to cast a dispassionate glance at the universe. As the old Yiddish saying goes, ‘if God lived on Earth they would break his windows’.

How much time did you spend researching your six books?

None whatsoever, I just make everything up. It’s quicker and safer because you can’t get it wrong.

You have broadened my knowledge of Wales - I thought that you were making Hughesovka up. I knew a little about Patagonia and the Welsh connection, but I had no idea how seriously this ‘Welsh Promised Land’ was taken. Also, all of your classical allusions boggle my brain - it’s all Greek to me, boom boom! Were you born with this stuff in your head or have you a team of researchers helping you out?

I think over the years I have read very eclectically, and stored a lot of strange material in the rag-and-bone shop of my heart. The team of homunculi who work there have a very good retrieval system. If I read something on prairie voles seven years ago and it would be useful they automatically retrieve it. I think that is the essence of creativity.

Have we seen the last of Aberystwyth from you? …and if not do you envisage Louie’s adventures coming to a climactic conclusion?

No definitely not, I have some good ideas in the pipeline, and have no intention to end the series. Nor will I do anything dramatic and climactic with the characters. It would feel like a cheap trick and a sort of betrayal. I’m quite fond of them and, in a sense, have the power to halt time for them, so they can live on in a permanent state of reasonable contentment.

Why doesn't Louie ‘get the girl?’

Because, like his creator, he dedicates his life to a higher calling; he is a knight in (tarnished) armour for the secular age. All private detectives fulfil this function. They sacrifice themselves for the common good and must, alas, forego the comforts of the hearth.  Marlowe never gets the girl. Nor does Rick in Casablanca. It’s the paradigm. I didn’t realise this when I began writing the series, but it quickly became instinctively evident to me. It means that poor old Myfanwy always has things going wrong for her. I think she’s in a sanatorium in Switzerland at the moment, having lost her singing voice.

...and finally. do you like ice cream?

I’m not nuts about it, it’s just OK. I used to resent the way adults automatically expected me as a kid to be crazy about it and willing to be bribed by its promise. But, of course, in my books the ice cream dispensed by Sospan is not really ice cream, it’s the Sacrament.

- Thank you Mr Malcolm Pryce!

Malcolm Pryce was talking with Jane Williams

You can learn more about the six Aberystwth novels, so far, at the official Malcolm Pryce website.

Go to the Malcolm Pryce author page at amazon to read reviews and purchase his books, including:

the new book by Malcolm Pryce - published today!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Len Deighton – In Spy Ring Writer

As 2014 draws to a close, Kim Vertue talks to Len Deighton about his long and successful writing career and, amongst other things, his 1969 film Oh! What a Lovely War and its screenings and stagings this year to mark the centenary of the First World War. 

The long career of Len Deighton holds some surprises: he was a pioneering food columnist and is a respected chef, he enjoyed success with an earlier career as a sought-after illustrator and graphic designer, he is an accomplished modern historian and researcher, a film-producer, dramatist and novelist… probably most widely known for his debut novel, The Ipcress File, made into the iconic film starring Michael Caine as British spy, Harry Palmer – the 'working class James Bond’.

Len Deighton photograph courtesy of Jonathan Clowes
Len Deighton was born in a London workhouse in 1928.  His mother was a cook and his father a chauffeur.  As Len grew up, his father would let him play truant from school so long as he read - which he did, voraciously, at Marylebone public library, developing passions for art and history.

He joined RAF special operations as a photographer, an experience that would later provide primary research for some of his books. After the war he followed one of his passions and studied at the Royal College of Art.  He would work as a chef to supplement his income and this confirmed his lifelong interest in good food.  When he graduated he had a successful career as a graphic artist, designed posters for the London underground and book covers which included the first UK edition of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

First UK edition of Kerouac's On The Road,
with cover art by Len Deighton
Here his love of literature and visual art went hand-in-hand. Has this partnership remained in his creative approach? Does art inspire aspects of his writing, and does he continue to sketch as well as write?  

“Not as much as I would like,” he admits, “Drawing is so difficult and so rewarding, but I don't set aside time for it. I can never find enough time in any day to do all the things I enjoy. But yes, I can't write a scene without having it visually in my mind, even if that vision is of my own creation. I studied art full-time for six years and art, rather than literature, is the basis of all my outlook.”

The Ipcress File was his first novel, published in 1962 and an instant best seller. The film of the book made a star of Michael Caine and is still classic cold war 1960s London chic (if such a genre exists). He helped persuade the director to allow Michael Caine to wear glasses on screen which created a new brand of masculine cool. He showed Michael Caine how to make an omelette for the scene in the film when Harry Palmer first has a chance to woo his female colleague. The conversation between Harry Palmer and his boss while he is shopping in the supermarket is a great insight into how food was regarded in post war Britain and Harry Palmer as a new working class ‘foodie’ hero must have helped pave the way for Heston Blumenthal!

The Ipcress File was followed by Horse Under Water (the only one of the quartet to not be adapted for cinema), Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain - the film version starring Michael Caine was directed by Ken Russell... apparently he really did have Michael Caine leaping onto an iceberg in that  iconic fur hat.

Michael Caine stars in the Harry Palmer cinematic trilogy
As well as the ‘Harry Palmer’ novels, Len Deighton has written two Bernard Samson trilogies; Game Set and Match and Hook Line and Sinker - mainly set in the London and Berlin of the 1980s - which were also bestsellers and adapted into a TV series. When a writer invents convincing, fully-fleshed-out characters, they often contain parts of that writer’s personality, or if they did not, perhaps parts of their personality stays with their creator. Is there much of Len Deighton in the characters of ‘Harry Palmer’ and ‘Bernard Samson’?

This is something he has considered before, “I say no: but my wife, my sons and my friends say, ‘yes’.”

Len Deighton giving Michael Caine some cooking tips
on the set during the filming of The Ipcress File
The film of The Ipcress File launched Michael Caine as a new style of spy hero onto our screens and celebrated sixties London. The spy who had remained nameless in the books became 'Harry Palmer' - a 'new man' - working class with no airs and graces, but also intelligent and cultured, confident enough in his good looks to make a statement with his spectacles, a bon vivant who could win the hearts of women with his sensitivity and prowess in the kitchen. Len Deighton now lives far away, in both time and place, from that London and when he visits from his home in sunny Southern California he admits, “I find England almost unrecognisable from the days when I lived in Soho. Perhaps I have lived abroad too long.”

A theme of communication and the lack of it pervades particularly the Samson books, and it is the essential romance of Bernard that he perseveres despite the difficulties he faces.  Do such characters ever ‘talk back’, asking for a reprieve from the conflicts Deighton decides to fling at them?

“This leads to an ever-present question for all writers. Do we control the characters or do they control us? My feeling is that the characters cannot be made to do something we need for the story but that no reader will believe. At the same time, they must act within the needs of the plot and overall structure. Characters must surprise the reader with their behaviour but not test the reader's credulity. It's what the economists call the 'snake in a tunnel' - they wriggle but they can't break away.

“I will admit that writing of, thinking of, and living with the same characters day and night for nine books - or ten books counting Winter - was undeniably disturbing at times. That's why I wrote other books, with other locales, between some of the Bernard Samson books. I was afraid I might go nuts.”

Bernard’s descriptions of Berlin and his childhood there read like a love letter to the place – how important are the locales and personal experience of them to Deighton’s stories and writing process?

“I like Berlin and Berliners too. The city and its history is deeply embedded into Bernard's mind and he takes Berlin with him wherever he goes. All through the Samson books I had to describe things and places not as I saw them, but as he did.”

Game, Set and Match
In addition to the many spy novels Len Deighton has written he has crafted unique histories of the Second World War – including Fighter and Bomber. His work was highly acclaimed by historian A J P Taylor.  Bomber was dramatised for BBC Radio in 1995 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World war. The adaptation was narrated by Tom Baker and the action reported as if in ‘real time’ over one weekend within Radio 4’s schedule. It was repeated more recently in 2011 on Radio 4 Extra and it is available as an adapted audiobook on CD.

With his books becoming best-sellers, garnering critical credibility and being validated by historians, is there a single piece of writing that he sees as his greatest achievement, one that he is particularly proud of or holds any particular personal meaning?

This is a challenging question for him, “Dissatisfaction is the springboard that makes a writer end one book and begin another vowing that it will be better. Goodbye Mickey Mouse, about American fighter pilots in World War Two is one of the few books that came out exactly the way I envisaged and planned."
One of Len Deighton's personal favourites
"As for pride - I see it as a sin, but when I completed the last book of the Bernard Samson series it represented well over a decade of work and I was pleased and satisfied to have completed the massive task I had set myself back when I started Berlin Game.

Dissatisfaction can drive a writer… Does Deighton have any other advice to writers starting out?

“Every book is different and every writer is different. My advice to anyone starting to write fiction books is to be ready to devote a great deal of time to it. Write every day, even if its notes and research. I have never completed a book in less than a year and most took longer than that. If you are waking up at four o'clock in the morning wondering if it’s all going wrong, it's probably all going well.

“I have found meetings and dinner party chat drastically interrupts my writing progress, so I have over the years become a recluse - or so I am told. For a fiction book: get the research done beforehand - especially listen to the speech patterns of the sort of people you plan to write about - and don't stop to go off on a research trip. Skip forward and keep writing. John Masters taught me this and I have found it a valuable rule.”

Len Deighton also wrote the screenplay for Oh! What a Lovely War, which uses popular songs of the time interspersed with facts about the First World War to movingly portray the plight of the ‘poor bloody infantry’ at the hands of the upper classes.  The film was shot on Brighton pier, involved an impressive cast including Dirk Bogarde, John Mills, John Gieguld, Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave… and was directed by the late Richard Attenborough.  In a recent interview for Radio Times, Sir David Attenborough said this was his favourite film of those his brother Richard directed. “I think probably the most imaginative film he made as a director was Oh! What a Lovely War.  Shadowlands was a very powerful film, but Oh! What a Lovely War was out there on its own – no cinema film that I know of had anything like the bravura and the energy and the invention as he put into that.”

Oh! what a Lovely War was shown earlier this year by the BBC as part of the centenary events for the First World War and Joan Littlewood’s landmark production also returned to the stage in the spring. Instead of ‘celebrating’ war, the plight of the men who had to follow orders is movingly portrayed. Does Len Deighton have faith in human nature to learn from the carnage of the First World War and the atrocities of the Second?  His established role as historian seems very important in this process.

“My father fought in the First World War trenches and was wounded and gassed to an extent that the War Office told his mother was 'severe'. He recovered - or so the Pensions Dept told him - and worked hard all his life… and I never heard him complain. The other day on TV, I watched a history professor telling us that the sacrifice of a million lives in World War One was worthwhile! I was appalled. Appalled too that he didn't know that the total casualties were far, far higher."

Sing along... Oh! What a lovely War
“I added an initial sequence to my Oh! What a Lovely War screenplay to show how the war began. I researched this energetically and decided that World War One could have been - and should have been - avoided. I later asked both A J P Taylor and Bertrand Russell their opinion. They both told me that they believed that the war could have been avoided. Of course few, if any, of the politicians and generals who started it thought it would be more than a sharp engagement over by Christmas.

“It was the writer and critic Julian Symons who told me that I was the only person he knew who loved machines - he didn't say ‘better than people’ and I appreciate that - and suggested that I should write a book about this feeling. 'Machines fighting a war without humans?' I said frivolously and, along with other influences, his remark prompted Bomber.

“I had flown in Lancaster bombers and Mosquito fighters when I was an RAF photographer so I had some background. In Central London in 1940-41 I was under German bombing every night for three months, followed by V1 missiles and V2 rockets. I knew what the air war was like. Perhaps Bomber was not the right title, because much of the story is devoted to the Germans - fighter pilots, radar operators and civilians - I spent months in Germany getting all those details right.”

Len Deighton can count Lemmy amongst his fans, who has said that the Motorhead track, Bomber, was inspired by reading the book! Bomber was later followed by Fighter

First edition cover of Bomber,
featuring detail from a painting by Turner
“When I wrote Fighter, one critic was outraged that I had included the words of the Germans we were fighting. That was the cloud-cuckoo land so many were still living in. I am not a pacifist by any means but killing people you have never met is not something to be done thoughtlessly.”

The ‘cold war’ spy thriller, An Expensive Place to Die, takes its title from an Oscar Wilde quote. After being involved with writing for the screen for Oh! What a Lovely War and overseeing the screen adaptations of many more of his novels, does this mean that Deighton still admires Wilde as a dramatist?  

“Yes, Wilde's writing endures. When very young, I learnt the Reading Goal poem by heart. Wilde's skill as a dramatist is masterful. Writing for the stage is entirely different to writing for the screen or writing fiction books. I once said that a screenplay writer is to a novelist what a taxidermist is to a lion tamer. Perhaps I was hasty in that judgement but it was prompted by the fact that few screenplays are the work of one writer - whereas many, stage plays are - and so screenplays are usually a compromise. For this reason, I made sure that I was the sole producer of the Oh! What a Lovely War movie, and made sure it was shot exactly to conform to my screenplay.”

Over such a prolonged and consistent career, how has the approach to writing and his writing routine changed? How do Deighton’s approaches to fiction and non-fiction differ?

“I have always planned - and sometimes abandoned - my outlines, and extended drafts, for books. My non-fiction works, such as, Fighter, Blitzkrieg, Blood Tears and Folly - and also the historical fiction works Bomber and Winter - required travel and talking to participants. Fiction cannot be done to such a specific schedule and its looser plan requires discipline enough to toss away days of work when writing has gone in the wrong direction."

Many writers learn their craft by reading… are there any ‘stand-out’ favourites in terms of works or authors?

“Yes…” he considers, “I admire and enjoy the works of many authors and I frequently turn again to books I have enjoyed. I hesitate to name one from so many. Writing a book of fiction is a very demanding task and I see most fiction books in terms of the way the elements have been tackled - plot structure and the way it interacts with pushing the narrative along, dialogue and characterisation. Additionally, I read many non-fiction books.”

The many non-fiction books penned by Len Deighton include three influential cook books. He was home-taught the basic techniques by his mother, who was a professional cook, and then learnt ‘on the job’ after being given a chance in the kitchens for the Festival of Britain where he had started as a cleaner… In 1965 his book Où Est le Garlic (recently revised and re-published as Len Deighton’s French Cooking for Men) attracted favourable attention when it was published to coincide with the rising sales of his spy novels. The following year, Len Deighton’s Action Cookbook showcased the graphic ‘cookstrips’ he did for the Observer in the days before food journalism had really been invented. 

These infographic style recipe recaps, are great for quick reference and are to be re-launched in the Observer Food Monthly through 2015, starting in January. He also wrote a book to guide chefs and home cooks through and his basic course in French cookery and this also used his signature ‘cookstrips’ - well illustrated infographics that contain sound sources of knowledge to the novice and more experienced cook alike. The really observant may spot some of these pinned to the wall in Harry Palmer’s kitchen in the film version of The Ipcress File - still more informative than the current plethora of ‘eye candy’ recipe books launched every Christmas!

cook-strip!
Deighton’s cook books are entertaining and clear, a great way to demystify cooking… does he have a favourite dish to cook or enjoy?

“Very lightly cooked new-laid eggs, in any shape or form, make a wonderful dish and, since I am choosy about unsalted butter and we make our own wholemeal bread, I am simple in my tastes. But I admire and appreciate skilled cooking especially French dishes.

What other chefs or food writers would he recommend?

“I admire the chefs who have devoted their working lives to cooking and who have worked in the great restaurants. The books and words of such men as Pierre Koffmann, Anton Mosimann, the Roux brothers, Anton Edelmann, Paul Bocuse, the Troisgros brothers... and others of the same dedication… are inspiring. To understand what I most believe, read, the autobiography of Jaques Pepin - from whom I was privileged to have some lessons. It's a gripping book.”

Finally, is there a particular ingredient or gadget that is essential in the Deighton kitchen?

“I have a kitchen crammed with gadgets few of which (apart from the dishwasher) are much used. Two or three high quality kitchen knives are all one needs. I prefer old- fashioned carbon knives rather than stainless steel ones. Oh yes, I almost forgot - my electric knife sharpener - Chef's Choice 3-blade position model - is an essential for me.”

Len, Lights, Action!
As you can see Len Deighton is pretty cool - an inspiration on how to avoid being pigeonholed, to follow what interests you or makes you passionate, and to have a perennial, compassionate regard for humanity which is at the heart of any good writer.

Thank you, Mr Len Deighton!


- Len Deighton was talking with Kim Vertue

There is a full bibliography and plenty more info at the Deighton Dossier - a comprehensive fan-run website

Oh! What a Lovely War is discussed in this episode of Radio 3’s Night Waves (BBC iPlayer)

Lots of Len Deighton books available from amazon.co.uk...

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

All Lit Up Down Under – a chat about words with Dave Graney

With Australia taking a third Man-Booker Prize this year, writer-musician Dave Graney talks to Remy Dean about creative culture, writers' festivals and the mythic quality often found in word-wielding of an Australian origin...

Oz...

The Great Southern Land...

Australia, to me, has long been a place existing only in imagination... a British Romantic idyll of vast empty wild spaces, dwarfed only by the human soul.

From the early films of Peter Weir, I expect ancient bewildering magic or prophetic apocalyptic visions of awesome natural forces. Through films like Encounter at Ravensgate and Razorback, I get the poetically lit isolation and strange, sudden brutality. Dust and close-cropped hair. In Man of Flowers, and other films of Paul Cox - aching poignancy and poeticism spilling out from the sensitive hearts of wise fools across the fountained parklands or shifting sandscapes. The loss, wide open roads and estuary beds of 'The Triffids', the long-gone childhoods, cattle and cane fields of the 'Go-Betweens'... 'Hunters and Collectors' loading their long wide loads with deals and memories that thunder from ghost town to run-down suburbs. Bone-pointing, the shout that kills, kangaroo meat, road warriors, lake monsters, autistic organists, ghost ships sailing on empty seas to the land of the dreaming… Kylie Minogue in denim dungarees with a ‘designer’ smudge of sump oil across her cheek... or was it Vegemite?


Dave Graney drives us through his mythic landscape, whistling
I first interviewed Dave Graney more than twenty years ago, when he had recently finished with the hugely influential combo, ‘The Moodists’, and was exploring new musical territories with his bands, ‘The White Buffalos’ and ‘The Coral Snakes’. And, being the nicest guy in rock’n’roll, he has kept in touch and I have interviewed him several times since, most recently for the Brought to Book section of The Scrawl. Over those two decades, he established himself as a prime-time celebrity, was crowned ‘king of pop’, became the housewives’ favourite and now, with two books brimming with his own distinctive writer’s voice, is fast establishing himself as a leading light of the antipodean literary scene, a song-writer and author who has inhabited and helped to build that grand mythic landscape that is so far away, yet has touched me so often.

I have never been to Australia, but at times I have lived there. I know the real Australia is a different place. So, where does all this rich, myth-building imagery come from? What inspired these writers to create such uniquely rich and ‘cinematic’ visions? What marks the Asutralian literary scene apart from others? Who better to ask than Dave Graney?

“I love to collect small print run books of Australian poetry. Especially from the 1970s which was a great period of cultural awakening here. Some great poetic heroes from that time, lived out heroic, doomed junkie lives. One called Michael Dransfield, from Canberra - his poems about being a junkie are full of drama and poise. A woman called Vicki Viidikas also wrote wonderful poems of bohemian travels as a young woman through Melbourne and India. A young guy in Melbourne in the early 1970s called Charles Buckmaster - he apparently appeared on the scene, talking of the place he came from, Gruyere… We used to go for drives outside Melbourne looking for it and that is how we ended up where we live now!

“To me, his poetry is interesting for its self-mythologising. My favourite poet would be Robert Grey, an amazing writer from Northern New South Wales. He published a memoir called The Country I Came Through Last. In a way, it earthed all his writing for me. Before that, it was all hovering and suspended. When he fleshed it out with dates and times and his parents’ lives, it was exciting to follow it with flashes from his poetry I'd known, but it kind of took some of the power away.”

Richard Flannegan won this year’s Booker Prize (as Dave correctly predicted) and is the third Australian to do so. This indicates that there really is something special about, at least some writers, who emerge from the scene there. Is there anything apparent in the Australian culture that may be blamed for the abundance of creative talent and the distinctive poetic voices of its writers?

“Australia’s a pretty brutal country and artists are either cossetted by each other in their little scenes or ridiculed in the wider community.

“There was a famous incident just after the second world war called ‘the Ern Malley Affair’. A modernist magazine was launched called The Angry Penguins. Taken from a line in a Max Harris poem referring to men in tuxedos looking like, ‘angry penguins of the night’. Max was born in the same town I grew up in and was a very interesting character. To see his picture from the time, he looks like something from the early 1980s music scene.”

Max Harris, he was angry with penguins.
…the ‘Ern Malley Affair’?

“Two young poets, both in the army, played a prank where they faked a letter from a woman in the country, saying she'd discovered these poems written by her late brother, an itinerant farm labourer. Max Harris and the painter Sidney Nolan, who ran the magazine, announced the arrival of this poetic voice all over the next issue of Angry Penguins. The two hoaxers stood up and basked in the infamy their outrageous trick. They were James McCauley and Harold Stewart, both staunchly anti-modernist. The story reached the front pages of the daily papers, the only time poetry has ever done so. Instead of retreating, Max and Sidney taunted the hoaxers that, in putting on the mask of 'Ern Malley', they had created a true surrealist Australian poetic voice!

“The hoax knocked all the stuffing out of Max Harris, though he continued to publish some books - of which I have a few. McCauley was a great poet too, more in a pre-modernist style. His epic Captain Quiros's Journey is amazing. He ran a conservative journal called Quadrant, financed by the CIA, which still publishes… Stewart lived in Japan from 1966 to 1995, writing a single long poem!

[ There is an official Ern Malley website. ]

"I refer to a Max Harris poem called, Upon Throwing A Copy Of The New Satesman From The Window Whilst Driving Along The Coorong, in a song from my 2014 record, 'Fearful Wiggings' called Country Roads, Unwinding.



"Personally, I find Australian writers, hit me harder than any others. When they're good. Of course, there's a strain of international cafe bite sized bullshit that probably hogs more of the scene. Easy to ignore!

"I love the poet Les Murray, the historian Henry Reynolds, who was the first to begin writing the history of Australia from the indigenous perspective. He began by asking people to consider aboriginal people seeing ships coming into Sydney cove rather than through the eyes of the sailors cruising in. Simple but very powerful."

Recently, Dave has been appearing regularly on discussion panels at literary conventions. What were his observations at these literary festivals and what did he talk about at them?

“I put out a memoir in 2011, 1001 Australian Nights, through a small publishing house called Affirm Press and it was a very enjoyable experience. Each city is Australia has a Writers Festival and I did most of them over a two year period.

“I felt like an outsider - like a character doing a  cameo scene. I didn't feel encumbered with any notion of ‘career’ type networking or anything. Perth is the most isolated place in the world, let alone Australia - the festival there was lovely. All the writers stayed at the same hotel and travelled to and from a distant university in an old bus. It was like being back at school, but sharing the bus with the brains of the country.

“The Brisbane one was great, I met an Indian writer called Jeet Thayil, who was up for the Booker Prize that same year. He had a great novel about the dope scene in 1970s Bombay. Byron Bay was lovely, of course. It’s a beautiful place. In general, there was a depressing feeling that all writers had to be more like performers so you saw people having to ‘flick the switch to vaudeville’. I craved something serious, mostly.

“In Melbourne I had to do a session chaired by an Australian writer-musician with two other musicians. One was a Canadian who'd written a book about homeless world soccer, called Home and Away. In Australia there is a famous soap opera of the same name. Nobody told him. He read fictional letters he had written to Canada’s biggest musical icon, Gordon Lightfoot. It would have had a great impact - in Canada.

“The American was skinny and young and had his shirt open to his waist and wore a bandana. His name was Simone Felice. I enjoyed his book more than his music. I asked him where he was from. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I come from a place called Woodstock - they had a festival there once...’ I said, ‘oh yeah.... what sort of music do you like?’ He looked at me and said , ‘I really like a guy called Neil Young...’

“The audience ate up everything he said and read from his book. He was totally authentic to them. The other three - myself included - paddled as hard as we could but failed to get off the ground, really. Australian audiences are toughest to their own. Always have been and always will be. We don't really believe in ourselves much.

“In general, I like the festivals. It doesn't seem like any kind of work to me.”

I have enjoyed the way many Australian singer-songwriters use landscape as a metaphor for emotions and memory - they externalise the internal - and this is something I find really effective. It can be very evocative and poignant. I am probably thinking of a lot of the bands I was listening to in my formative years, yourself included, 'Triffids', 'Go-Betweens', 'Apartments', Nick Cave, etc.,. This seemed to be a characteristic of many Australian creatives - why do you think this is?

"I find that stuff a bit corny. 'The Triffids' had great impact with that geographical colouring. A great unit as a band. Lovely people. Peter Milton Walsh from the 'Apartments' is a great songwriter. He's probably much more literary than me. I get emails from him that are amazing! Nick created his own world and is a fantastic performer.

“My records over the last decade have been more personal. I was just very influenced by the language in the post punk scene. Bands like 'Wire', 'Public Image Limeted' and 'The Fal'l and 'Pere Ubu'. It was a brief and very interesting period.  I've also recently been much more into the musical side of it. I love to play guitar. Shoot me! I play bass with 'Harry Howard and the N D E' too. Also in a hip hop duo, 'Wam and Daz'.”

For some of your EPKs, you ventured into little films - not to mention your brief cameos for Neighbours and some imdb surprises - is this an area you would like to get more into?

“Film is tough! We did a soundtrack for a comedy called Bad Eggs, in 2003, and absolutely loved doing that. I loved being a part of a big machine. More please!”

In terms of prose on a page, what books can we expect from you in the near future? Will you venture into pure fiction, or keep it, at least loosely, 'biographical'?

“I am trying a longer piece. It's painful. I like the thrill of steering very close between fiction and not so much...”

'The MistLY' … 'Fearful Wiggings' - you change the name of your band projects almost with each album - please tell us a bit about your recent releases and how they differ whilst remaining indelibly stamped with your personality?

Dave Graney and Clare Moore
“I've played with Clare Moore all the way from 'The Moodists'. We had some success here in Australia with 'The Coral Snakes' in the 1990s. Since then, have had very little support or contact with what thinks it is ‘the industry’.

“Everything we do is very self-generated. We put out an album pretty much every year. We have been such a constant we have NO nostalgic power at all. Our activities having stretched across decades. All the albums we have done, since 'The Moodists', have been of a very high quality. So we have also never ‘returned to form’!

“The 2014 album is 'Fearful Wiggings' and is the second to be credited a s a ‘solo’ album - Clare is on it a lot on vibes. I did most of it, and recorded the vocals at Lisa Gerard’s studio (Dead Can Dance). The 2013 CD was Clare’s band 'The Dames' which was mixed by Barry Adamson in the UK
.
“The 2012 album was the best pop-rock recording of my band called, You’ve Been In My Mind. Previous to that we'd done Knock Yourself Out, which was the first ‘solo’ album, a lyrical explosion and filthy R’n’B pealer. Before that - apart from a couple of remix/re-recordings albums - was one called We Wuz Curious in 2007. It was an R’n’B masterpiece! In my humble opinion. Probably twenty albums before that....”

…and we’re looking forward to the next twenty! Yet again, thank you Dave Graney!


You can read an archive Scrawl interview with Dave Graney here... 
(PDF from newsstand edition)...

Info on all things Dave and Clare related can be found at The Dave Graney Show official website.


- Dave Graney was talking with Remy Dean

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Graham Masterton - Brought to Book

What was the most recent novel you read and thoroughly enjoyed?

I was given a copy of The Process by the late Bryon Gysin in a restaurant in Covent Garden in 1970, which I am still very slowly reading. He was not only the laziest man I ever knew, but he was a really wonderful writer. Who else could say that box of matches “chuckled”?

Unfortunately. I do not have the time or the inclination to read any other fiction. If I were a chef I wouldn’t spend all evening cooking, and it’s the same with writing. I am highly critical of my own writing but that means that I can’t read anybody else’s fiction without tearing it to pieces. I have never read anything by Stephen King or J K Rowling or indeed any other contemporary fiction writer. I regret it very much, because I used to love reading fiction, but it’s like a professional magician watching some other magician’s stage show -- knowing exactly how it’s done and spotting all the fumbles and all the mistakes.

Breakfast with Graham Masterton... photographed for
Golden Grahams' recent 'famous Grahams campaign'
( courtesy grahammasterton.co.uk )
What was the first book you can remember reading that really left an impression on you?

Treasure Island. I still think that’s a great book for boys, Jim lad.

Do you have a favourite book, one that you have re-read a few times?

I like Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days in America which I dip into now and again. It has some harrowing descriptions of the American Civil War but also some passages describing nature which are highly evocative.

What have been the influences and formative experiences that made Masterton into a writer of dark fiction?

Edgar Allan Poe mainly, who I read voraciously when I was a boy. Nelson Algren and Herman Wouk, both of whom were excellent at ultra-realistic characterisation and settings. At the age of about 15, I became very interested in the American Beat writers like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac and their complete fearlessness in writing what they felt, which is how I got to know William Burroughs among others. Don’t talk to me about Allen Ginsberg, though, he was a prat.

Film poster for The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
featuring iconic graphic design by Saul Bass
Who have been your favourite authors, and what have you learnt from them?

I previously mentioned those hard-boiled American authors like Nelson Algren, who write The Man With The Golden Arm and A Walk On The Wild Side. Also Herman Wouk who wrote The Caine Mutiny. I learned from them to make the characters lead the story, even when it makes the story tragic or awkward or uncomfortable. The reversal of one’s antipathy towards Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny is absolutely masterly and is an object lesson in how to control a reader’s feelings. The Man With The Golden Arm is gritty and tough and makes you root for its hero but despair of him, both at the same time. Another writer I used to like a lot was Len Deighton, but when I read his books... I could always tell when he was growing hungry.

Do you have a writing ritual, regimen or a tried and tested process?

I get up, I have a cup of horseshoe coffee, which was what the railroad workers of America used to call their coffee because it was so strong you could float a horseshoe in it. Then I start writing, even if I don’t feel like it. That was why I said it’s my job. I was trained as a newspaper reporter and newspaper reporters can’t have so-called writer’s block.

Do you listen to music whilst you write, if so how do you think it affects the writing?

I never listen to music while I write, although I know that a lot of writers do. I have always compared writing with singing, and so it is vital create your own rhythm, A book should be like a song – you absorb it without even realising that you’re reading it, and so I will balance and re-balance a sentence again and again until it has that effect. Having music in the background would interfere with that process.

After a long-running writing career, do you have any advice or ‘words of wisdom’ for the aspiring young writer of imaginative fiction?

Don’t copy – either style or themes. Be yourself. When I published The Manitou there were no novels on the market at all about Native American mythology which is one of the reasons it was so successful. Because it had raised awareness of Native American culture, Sitting Bull’s grand-daughter bought me lunch at The Russian Tea Rooms in New York and presented me with a framed picture of her grandfather.

So forget about vampires and zombies and werewolves...create some terror that’s entirely yours.

The Manitou - an original work of dark fiction!
STOP PRESS: Taken for Dead, the fourth in the Katie Maguire crime-thriller series is just out, this week!

Read the  earlier Scrawl interview with Graham Masterton here.

For more info and updates, check out the official Graham Masterton website.


Thank you Graham!


- Graham Masterton was talking to Remy Dean