Gary McMahon is an English horror writer. He has published numerous short stories in various magazines and publications, short stories collections such as “Dirty Prayers” and “How to Make Monsters” (which I reviewed here), edited two others, “Brutal Spirits” and “We Fade the Grey”, novellas and a novel, “Rain Dogs”. This year Gary McMahon is nominated for the 2009 British Fantasy Awards in 4 categories: "Rain Dogs" (Best Novel), "How to Make Monsters" (Best Collection), "We Fade the Grey" (Best Anthology) and "Heads" from "We Fade the Grey" (Best Novella).
Mihai (Dark Wolf): Gary, thank you for the opportunity of this interview.
What determined you to start writing? Why in the horror genre?
Gary McMahon: As far as I can remember I’ve always written in some capacity or other – even as a child I would scribble stuff down on bits of paper. To me, in my strange messed-up logic, nothing is real unless it’s written down – which means that I’m a lunatic for lists. God, I love lists: I surround myself with little yellow Post-its. I didn’t actually start composing narratives until I was about 12 or 13, and they were always dark. As for the second part of the question, everyone asks that and the only reason I can give is that I can’t write anything else. Horror is everywhere – just look in the newspapers and on the TV news. The world is horror; people are horror… and I write about people. I write about the world I live in.
Mihai (Dark Wolf): You said, and I quote: “It has always been my belief that horror fiction has the potential to be the most serious type of literature of all…” Do you believe that this type of literature is underappreciated? What can be achieved through the horror genre?
Gary McMahon: I think horror literature is certainly underappreciated by the mainstream literary crowd, and I also think that a large part of genre readership undervalues the potential of horror literature by clamouring for the same old tropes over and over again. The range of metaphors and imagery available to horror writers makes the genre the ideal place to examine…well, the messiness of life. The stuff that’s so terrible it can only be touched in terms of the techniques of weird fiction: the truth behind the lies. It’s taken me a long time to accept the fact that true originality goes unnoticed while mediocrity takes all the headlines. But, hey, that’s life. The trick is to keep digging and hopefully you might unearth something of value.
Mihai (Dark Wolf): What are the writers that inspired you as an author? Do you have a work that made you say: I should write like this?
Gary McMahon: The writers who inspire me are an eclectic bunch (quite a few being non-genre): Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Charles Bukowski, Robert Aickman, Harlan Ellison, William Burroughs, John Steinbeck, George Orwell, Jim Thompson, Joel Lane, Shane Meadows’ screenplays, and more recently the novels of Cormac McCarthy and David Peace. A novel that changed the way I look at fiction, and made me think “I wish I wrote like that” was “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson. I used to carry a copy about with me, in my back pocket, and read passages whenever I had a moment to spare. The economy of language, the insight, the poetry of sadness, the beauty, the ache of human existence: It’s all there, in those pages.
M(DW): Your works so far consist mainly in short story. Why the focus on the shorter fiction? Do you consider yourself unprepared for the longer fiction?
GM: Well, I’ve now written two novels and am almost finished my third, so I think I’ve officially graduated to the longer form. I always found short stories easy and novels unbelievably daunting. I’m not sure why, but the sheer word count of a novel would scare the crap out of me – how could I sustain the passion, the rage, the voice for so many words? I think I’ve left that fear behind me now, and have learned to just let the novel come alive as you write it, then trust in the rewrite.
M(DW): From all your short stories with which one are you satisfied by the final result? Do you think that one of your works isn’t as accomplished as the others?
GM: I have a story scheduled to appear in an anthology called Strange Tales III, from Tartarus Press, and I think it’s the best I’ve ever written. It’s called “The Good Light People” and does everything I wanted it to do. I guess that’s the one I’d like to be remembered for, if I am even remembered at all by anyone other than my debtors. As for a story that is less accomplished… you can take your pick from most of my early short fiction. I learned how to write by writing and I’ve always been very prolific. Unfortunately some of that stuff got published. Thankfully, most of it has now sunk without a trace.
M(DW): One of your short stories that I liked is “Constance Craving” and there the main character is Thomas Usher. I know that you plan to publish a collection of stories featuring Thomas Usher, “To Usher the Dead”. Do you plan to write a novel or novels featuring your character Thomas Usher? Would you like to turn Thomas Usher in a hero in the style of Harry Dresden, Felix Castor, Joe Pitt or other such characters?
GM: Thank you – that’s a cheeky little story, I think. The previously mentioned “The Good Light People” is actually an Usher story, and the novel I’m almost finished is about that very character – it’s called “Pretty Little Dead Things” and I’m hoping that a certain mass market publisher will pick it up for publication (fingers crossed!) I love Thomas Usher. He’s a typical McMahon protagonist: passionate, misguided, filled with fear and rage and lost in a world he doesn’t quite understand. I have plans for at least one more Usher novel, and I’m sure the short tales will keep on coming until Usher decides to stop talking to me.
M(DW): Your first novel, “Rain Dogs” was published last year by Humdrumming in a limited edition of 200 signed copies, but since then the publishers ceased its existence. Would you like to see your novel available to a wider audience?
GM: Watch this space. A mass market publisher currently has Rain Dogs under consideration, and I’m hopeful (always, always hopeful) that something will happen soon. I still have a couple of boxes of the rather beautiful Humdrumming limited edition, and am hoping they might be worth something when I’m old and trying to live of a rubbish state pension…
M(DW): This year you will publish a new novel, “Hungry Hearts”, in the Abaddon Books series, “Tomes of the Dead”. Can you reveal a bit about your novel, please? Being an established series did you have to work in specific terms or did you have room for improvisation as well?
GM: “Hungry Hearts” is part of Abaddon’s Tomes of the Dead series, and my only brief from the publisher was to write a zombie novel. The editor, Jon Oliver, actually told me that he wanted me to write a proper, gritty horror novel, that I should just let rip and go for it, so that’s exactly what I did: zombies, McMahon style. A zombie love story! Expect rage, love, beauty, revulsion, and hopefully some pathos. I’m really pleased with what I managed to do with the novel, and despite the fact that it’s basically a work-for-hire assignment, the story is as personal as something I’d write on spec and I sweated blood on the thing. I was lucky that Abaddon gave me that kind of freedom – they’re a great company to work for, and I hope to work for them again.
M(DW): Many of your works benefit from the illustrations of Vincent Chong on the cover and I’ve seen you are very satisfied with the cover artwork. How important do you consider to be the cover for a novel? Would you like to work with another artist in the future?
GM: I’ve been a fan of Vinny’s work for a long time, and to have him create covers for me has been a dream. He’s a wonderful man and a talented artist. I’d happily work with him for the rest of my life. I’ve been very lucky with the covers for all of my books, and I do believe that covers are important – particularly in the independent press. There are so many books out there that a great cover can make yours stand out from the pack.
M(DW): One of the moments of recognition of your writings so far is the presence in “The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 19 & 20”. How did you feel when your short stories were selected for these anthologies? Did it bring more confidence in your talent?
GM: Again, this was something of a dream come true. I’ve always read The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, and to have a story in there was unbelievable. To be selected twice was breathtaking – and it made me think that perhaps the first time wasn’t just a fluke. I’ve always doubted my own abilities (despite possessing a bit of a cocky demeanour, which is of course a mask), so something like this really gives you a boost.
M(DW): Also as recognition you have been nominated for the British Fantasy Awards on different categories. Is this a turning point in your career? How did these nominations change your career?
GM: I’m not sure about a turning point – every book I’ve had published has been nominated for a BFS award, but I’m yet to win. It’s just nice to be nominated, really, nice to know that people are reading and enjoying your work. Four nominations in one year are very gratifying, of course, but I’m not expecting to win any of the categories.
M(DW): Is the winning of awards a goal for a writer? Do you dream someday to win a certain literary award?
GM: I know of a lot of writers who are desperate to win awards, but personally I’m torn on the subject of awards. I know that’s easy to say when you haven’t won one, but I’ll say it even if I do. For me, it’s all about the work, and what an award really means to me is that a writer reached some kind of audience – and that, of course, is the goal of any writer: to be read. So, basically, all winning an award would mean to me is that people have read my work and been moved enough by it to vote. That in itself is far better than any actual award.
M(DW): The horror genre has a massive movie industry as well. Would you like to see your works turned into a movie in the future?
GM: Jesus, I’d love someone to film something of mine – I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I’m a huge film buff, so that would be the pinnacle for me. I have silly dreams about my favourite directors filming my stuff: Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Michael Haneke, Shane Meadows. I’d die happy, I really would, if anything of mine made it to the screen – even if it was a crap film!
M(DW): What will you publish next and what are your future plans?
GM: The next thing – apart from a few anthologies I have stories in – is “Pieces of Midnight”, a collection of supernatural stories from Ash Tree Press. A double-novella collection called “Different Skins” is also due out sometime from Screaming Dreams. Then it’s probably “To Usher the Dead”, from Pendragon Press in 2010. Hopefully after that it could be “Pretty Little Dead Things”, if the publisher who wants to see the manuscript likes what I send them.
Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.
Thank you. It’s been fun!