Photograph: Mandi Peers/Codex Books
Martin Millar is a critically acclaimed Scottish author from Glasgow, now living in London. He is the author of such novels as Lonely Werewolf Girl, The Good Fairies of New York, and Suzy, Led Zeppelin and Me. He wrote the Thraxas series under the name of Martin Scott, and won the World Fantasy Award in 2000. His novels have been widely translated abroad.
Iulian: Give us a little bit of background on Martin Millar, the man behind the writer. How/where did you grow up, what was your upbringing and were there any particular influences in your life, especially ones that steered you towards your current self?
Martin: I grew up in Glasgow, or more accurately, a little town on the edge of Glasgow called Bishopbriggs. My father worked in a large cigarette factory and my mother was a shop assistant. I don’t remember any particular encouragements to write. My school was good at teaching literacy but not good at encouraging creativity. However, there were books around the house, and I did read quite a lot as a child. My brother had a large science fiction collection which I started reading while I was young. Growing up, I’d say I was more a fan of music than books.
How did you get involved with writing? Give us summary of your path.
I can’t really say why I wanted to write but I did feel creative from a young age. I used to play music though I was never very good at that. I wrote a few stories which I liked doing, though I had no particular idea of what I wanted to write. Also, I would have suffered some inhibitions about writing a whole novel, because my Scottish childhood and schooling was really not geared toward encouraging creativity. Quite the opposite at times. I left home at a young age and I was in London in 1977. I was very influenced by the Sex Pistols and punk rock in general. The Sex Pistols ethos of believing in your own talent, doing exactly what you want to do in artistic terms, and not relying on other people’s opinions greatly influenced me, and still does. The Sex Pistols gave me confidence to write, in a way that nothing else in my background would have. I didn’t feel particularly confident about it at first, but with punk rock, you could just have a go anyway. It still took a few years before I managed to write anything good, but I’d probably never have started without the Sex Pistols as an example.
In 2000 you have received the World Fantasy Award for best novel for Thraxas. First of all, tell us the history of Thraxas and what does it represent for you, and then tell us about what the award meant and how did it change your future?
I’ve written ten books about Thraxas by now. I write them under the name of Martin Scott but I’ve no idea why I ever used a pseudonym. I can’t remember why I thought that was a good idea.
I started writing Thraxas in the late 90s after I’d delivered my last novel to my publisher and there was quite a long gap before it was published. I wondered what I might do to earn some money. I’d always liked sword and sorcery, having read Michael Moorcock’s Elric books when I was at school, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, and also Lord of the Rings, back when that was rather an obscure work. I also liked Raymond Chandler. I thought a detective in a sword and sorcery world be a good idea. So I just started writing it. Probably I should have thought it through more. Nonetheless, it came out rather well. I did intend for it to be more noirish but that didn’t really happen, it ended up being funnier than I’d expected.
As for the World Fantasy Award, I was very pleased to win that. However, it didn’t have much effect on my life. Orbit, the UK publisher, did not manage to promote the books very successfully, and in fact it was almost a year after the award that Baen published them in the US, by which time any momentum had disappeared. Neither of these publishers were effective in promoting the books. These days, I publish Thraxas as ebooks, and I’m more successful doing that than Orbit or Baen ever were.
What do you consider to be the defining moment in your writing career, the moment when you knew this is what you will do for the rest of your life?
There was no such moment.
Let’s talk about the Kalix series for a bit. How did you start with this project and what were the inspirations for it? Second, being that it’s 2015 and we’ve seen endless books and TV shows tackling similar subjects, is this something you consider continuing or do you feel like the market is already saturated?
I really enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I wanted to write something with a similar tone. That’s really why they were sometimes classified as Young Adult books. I hadn’t intended that, and I didn’t do anything to moderate the content to make it suitable for young adults. They just sort of came out that way because I’d liked the general tone of Buffy.
I thought a young Scottish werewolf would be a good idea. There didn’t seem to be quite so many werewolf books around at the time-although there might have been for all I know, I’m not very well read in contemporary fiction. I liked the idea of a Scottish werewolf clan. I didn’t much like the idea of werewolves being uncontrollable savage beasts, so I mostly ignored that. My werewolves are usually intelligent, though capable of being savage, especially Kalix. I wrote three long books about Kalix. I get requests for a fourth and I may write another, but I had to write some other things first or my writing would have gone completely stale. However, I wouldn’t worry about the market being saturated. You should just write what you want to write, and not worry about the market.
Now a few things about Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me: you’ve mentioned in the past that this is really a memoire as most of the stuff is based on real events. How much of it is true? And how does music influence your writing overall?
It is sort of a memoir, as most of it is based on real events. I did go to that Led Zeppelin concert in Glasgow. I did know people like all the characters in the book, and most of the events happened at some time or other. However, I had no hesitation in re-arranging events, adding characters, merging real-life characters into fictional characters and so on, to make it a better story. Music had a big influence on my writing, as I said above, with the Sex Pistols.
In our issue #8, we’ve included a review for your most recent book, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies-tell us about this new novel. What was the inspiration and how do you feel about it?
I’ll start with a quote from the afterward I wrote for the book:
“I admire the ancient Athenians for many reasons. I like their architecture, their statues, their pottery and their writing. They had good armour too. I admire their bravery. They were responsible for repelling two huge invasions from the east, defeating the Persian Kings, Darius and Xerxes. Other Greek states helped in the wars but, in my not-to-be-relied-upon historical opinion, the Greek successes were mainly down to the Athenians. Mostly I admire them for inventing democracy. It was a new idea that all citizens should have a say in the running of their nation. It was a brilliant innovation, and a step forward for the world.”
I had wanted to write about Ancient Athens for a long time. I’d made several attempts before, but I wasn’t happy with they way these turned out, and I abandoned them after a few chapters. I love Aristophanes and the whole idea of the Athenian comic drama, and it occurred to me that this might be a better way of writing my book, making it revolve around Aristophanes and his plays. That was a good way of writing about Athens because his plays did take in everything about the city-state. He wrote about the politicians of the day, and also the general population, and he mixed it all up with appearances from Gods and mythical creatures. So in a way, even though his comedies are both un-naturalistic and farcical, the whole of real Athenian life appears there. When I started writing my book around Aristophanes’ play ‘Peace’-performed in 421 BC-it worked out much better than my previous attempts.
I was happy with the way it turned out. In keeping with Aristophanes’ plays, it concerns both a real life situation and some mythical interlopers. 421 BC was an important year for Athens. They were negotiating peace with Sparta after ten years of the ruinous Peloponnesian war. The peace conference is part of my book, but I mixed this actual history with appearances by an amazon and a water nymph, both sent to the city by the Goddess Athena. I also pre-resurrected Lux, giving an earlier existence to a character I wrote about in a contemporary novel about London, Lux the Poet. He worked out well as a young Athenian.
Do you have any works in progress? If so, can you tell us something about it?
I am working on something but I wouldn’t like to say anything about it. I think that talking about work in progress is a mistake. I find it odd today that people share their work on forums and writers groups and so on before it’s finished, and ask other writers for advice. If you talk about your ideas too much they’re liable to wither and you’ll lose energy before you’re even started. If you want to write, then just write, don’t waste time talking about it.
What is your advice for today’s young writers who are trying to break through this ever more difficult market?
Go away and leave me alone.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My new book is coming along quite well, though it’s still hasn’t passed the stage where it could go disastrously wrong, and be abandoned. Apart from that, Thraxas continues, and I have a few more books about him I need to write.
Dear Martin, thank you so much for participating in this interview and looking forward to reading your upcoming books!
Find below a selection of works by Martin Millar:
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