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

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