William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with twenty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in fifteen countries. He is the author of the ongoing Midnight Eye series and his current best seller is The Invasion, a sci/fi alien invasion tale with mass carnage, plucky survivors, and last minute rescues.
Q & A
Iulian: Tell us a few words about yourself—how did you grow up, any particular influences in your life, any strange (or overly normal) jobs you had before writing?
William: I grew up in a decaying industrial town in the West of Scotland south of Glasgow—it was a steelworking town, but when the works closed, unemployment became the main order of the day and the town stagnated. Books and a guitar were my armor against growing despair. I escaped by going to University in Glasgow, where I got a biological sciences degree, worked for a year cataloging a museum’s plant fossil collection, another year in an apple orchard researching fungal diseases on fruit, then fell into a career in IT that lasted 25 years.
My influences would have to be the reading I did in the genre as a teenager in the early-seventies, before Stephen King and James Herbert came along. I graduated from Superman and Batman comics to books and I was a voracious reader of anything I could get my hands on; Alistair MacLean, Michael Moorcock, Nigel Tranter and Louis D’Amour all figured large. Pickings were thin for horror apart from the Pan Books of Horror and Dennis Wheatley, which I read with great relish. Then I found Lovecraft and things were never quite the same.
Mix that with TV watching of Thunderbirds, Doctor Who, the Man From Uncle, Lost in Space and the Time Tunnel, then later exposure on the BBC to the Universal monsters and Hammer vampires and you can see where it all came from. Oh, and Quatermass. Always Quatermass.
I also have a deep love of old places, in particular menhirs and stone circles, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time travelling the UK and Europe just to visit archaeological remains.
How did you start writing? Was there a sudden epiphany or a slow process? What pushed you to writing and when did you know you were ready?
When the steelworks shut and employment got worse, I could have started writing about that, but why bother? All I had to do was walk outside and I’d get it slapped in my face. That horror was all too real. But I had an itch that needed scratching.
So I took up my pen and wrote. At first it was song lyrics, designed (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me closer to girls. I tried my hand at a few short stories but had no confidence in them and hid them away. And that was that for many years.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that it really took hold.
Back in the very early ’90s I had an idea for a story… I hadn’t written much of anything since the mid-70s at school, but this idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I had an image in my mind of an old man watching a young woman’s ghost. That image grew into a story, that story grew into other stories, and before I knew it I had an obsession in charge of my life.
So it all started with a little ghost story, “Dancers”; one that ended up winning a prize in a national ghost story competition, getting turned into a short movie, getting read on several radio stations, getting published in Greek, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew, and getting reprinted in The Weekly News in Scotland.
Since then I’ve sold over 300 short stories, including appearances in the likes of Nature and Daily Science Fiction among many others, and I’ve had 20 novels published in the horror and fantasy genre presses, with more coming over the next few years.
Did you take part in any workshops, critique groups, or otherwise writing communities, and if so, how did that process help your writing career?
Nope – I haven’t had any writing training whatsoever beyond English classes at school. I’m not much of a joiner and I hate how most groups turn quickly to cliques and power-struggles. I’m happier working away on my own.
What would you call the defining moment in your writing career, the moment when you knew you turned pro? What story, market, or anthology had a part in that?
It was in 2005. I managed to place a story, Total Mental Quality in a big name Scottish science fiction anthology, Nova Scotia. I went along to the launch and got to stand next to multiple award winning writers like Charlie Stross, Hal Duncan and Ken MacLeod. That single moment was an epiphany, and taught me that I was capable of pushing a career higher than the small press in which I’d become established and rather stagnant. I’ve become a convert since then to the idea of aiming for the highest markets you can. There are more misses now, but the hits are so much more satisfying.
You have an impressive amount of short stories published, and a lot of them in pro-markets. This means that you submit a lot and deal with many editors along the way. Without naming names, unless you want to, do you find working with editors difficult, helpful, annoying, etc? Any bad, or enlightening, experiences you’d like to mention?
I’ve been mostly lucky with editors and publications. The problems mostly arise when editors bite off more than they can chew. Grand promises are made that can’t be kept and the whole thing either folds with money being owed to everyone concerned, or the product is put out too fast and looks cheap and shoddy. The best editors play their cards close to their chest, never make promises they can’t deliver on, and quietly go about their business putting out a quality product. They’re the ones to seek out and develop relationships with.
You write speculative fiction (short and long), mostly fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Have you attempted to write other genres as well? What draws you to SF/F?
Counts quickly… I’ve written Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Crime, Western and Thriller. Plus the subgenres, like ghost stories, occult detectives, creature features, sword and sorcery etc. But I don’t really think of them as being different. It’s all adventure fiction for boys who’ve grown up, but stayed boys. Like me.
Tarzan is the second novel I remember reading. (The first was Treasure Island, so I was already well on the way to the land of adventure even then.) I quickly read everything of Burroughs I could find. Then I devoured Wells, Dumas, Verne and Haggard. I moved on to Conan Doyle before I was twelve, and Professor Challenger’s adventures in spiritualism led me, almost directly, to Dennis Wheatley, Algernon Blackwood, and then on to Lovecraft. Then Stephen King came along.
There’s a separate but related thread of a deep love of detective novels running parallel to this, as Conan Doyle also gave me Holmes, then I moved on to Christie, Chandler, Hammett, Ross MacDonald and Ed McBain, reading everything by them I could find.
Mix all that lot together, add a hefty slug of heroic fantasy from Howard, Leiber and Moorcock, a sprinkle of fast moving Scottish thrillers from John Buchan and Alistair MacLean, and a final pinch of piratical swashbuckling. Leave to marinate for fifty years and what do you get?
A psyche with a deep love of the weird in its most basic forms, and the urge to beat up monsters. And in my case, it comes out in writing that’s almost all pulp. Big beasties, swordplay, sorcery, ghosts, guns, aliens, werewolves, vampires, eldritch things from beyond and slime. Lots of slime.
I think you have to have grown up with pulp to get it. A lot of writers have been told that pulp equals bad plotting and that you have to have deep psychological insight in your work for it to be valid. They’ve also been told that pulp equals bad writing, and they believe it. Whereas I remember the joy I got from early Moorcock, from Mickey Spillane and further back, A E Merritt and H Rider Haggard. I’d love to have a chance to write a Tarzan, John Carter, Allan Quartermain, Mike Hammer or Conan novel, whereas a lot of writers I know would sniff and turn their noses up at the very thought of it.
I write to escape. I haven’t managed it yet, but I’m working on it.
You are active in social media, on Facebook, especially. How important is social networking to the modern writer and what do you get out of it?
It’s important to me, as I live in a remote corner of Eastern Newfoundland, so the opportunities to interact one to one with people in the business are limited. Social media lets me talk to editors, publishers and other writers without leaving my desk. I can’t remember life without it—actually, I can—it involved scores of brown envelopes, expensive printer ribbon, reams of paper and a huge postage bill. Thankfully those days are long gone.
If you were to choose one favorite novel and one favorite short story from your own works, which one would it be? Related to that, for people who haven’t read your works yet – what would be the best place to start getting to know your world?
Probably my favorite book, (available now in Limited edition hardcover, paperback and ebook) is The Creeping Kelp. It’s a synthesis of many of the points of this interview. It’s a cautionary tale of what man is doing to the environment. A WW2 experiment resurfaces; a Shoggoth fragment meets some bits of jellyfish and some seaweed and together they decide they like plastic. They like it so much that they start to seek it out, and grow, and spread… and build.
It’s a homage to several things. There’s more than a touch of Lovecraft obviously, given that I’ve appropriated the Shoggoths, but there’s also a lot of John Whyndham in there. I wanted to do a big-scale, Britain-in-peril novel for a while. The title came to me one day and I knew immediately that there was a story to be told there. There’s also a bit of Quatermass in there too—the old “British scientists screw up” genre has been with me for a long time and it’s also something else I’ve always wanted to do. Here it is. It’s available now from Dark Regions Press and in all the usual online places.
As for short stories—Abominable is my homage to Boy’s own adventure stories, set during Mallory’s ascent of Everest, and is about the beastie that beat him to it. It was a lot of fun, and I think encapsulates a lot of what I’m about as a writer. It’s available as a stand alone ebook from all the usual places.
As a writer who went through the process and succeeded, what is your advice for young writers, trying to break-through?
Firstly, develop a thick skin. Rejection is part and parcel of a writer’s life, and the sooner you learn to deal with it and move on, the less frustrated you will be. Other than that, write, write, then write some more. It’s like getting an engine turning over. Once it warms up, it just keeps on running.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve got several works in the pipeline. I’ve just signed a new 3 book deal with DarkFuse that will mean I have 7 novels and 4 novellas in total out from them by 2018. I’ve also signed a contract for 3 more weird Sherlock Holmes novellas from Dark Renaissance, and I have several other story collections lined up in the UK small presses.
Busy, busy, busy. Just the way I like it.
As for what I do when I’m not writing… I’ve been playing guitar badly since 1973 and I use it as my relaxation when not writing. I also spend a fair bit of time outdoors rambling with my wife in the wilds of Newfoundland. And I love beer. I love movies and watch at least one a day. I also spend far too much time online reading about Fortean subjects. I’m a sucker for stories of alien grays, bigfoot, lake monsters and all manner of weird shit.
Thanks for having me on.
And thank you, William, for being here. Good luck with your projects!
To Follow William Meikle, see the links on William’s author page.
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