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Black Static


William Meikle Interviewed

6th Jun, 2013

Author: Peter Tennant

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In the current issue of Black Static I review William Meikle's novella Clockwork Dolls (DarkFuse) and by way of a follow up to that I asked him to do an 'identikit interview', with half the questions posed by me and the remainder chosen at random from a 'crowd sourced' pool.

Here's the result:-

PT: Underpinning Clockwork Dolls is the idea that we can alter reality by the power of our wishes, by asking the universe for what we want, which strikes me as a secular interpretation of what the religious might call the power of positive prayer, substituting a benign Universe for God, or in more general terms karma. Would you agree with this interpretation? What thinking was behind the novella for you? How did it come about?

WM: Rather mundanely, it came from Noel Edmonds and John Lennon. Edmonds did an interview about the Ask the Cosmos thing on radio. I thought it was a load of old bollocks, but Lennon kept singing in my head, or rather, a single line - "Instant Karma's going to get you."  I wondered, "What if it could?" and the story formed very quickly after that.

It helped that I understood Dave, the protagonist, rather better than I perhaps should. I know his kind of drunken narcissistic anger only too well as I was that man in my late twenties, or someone very close to him.

PT: As a side issue to that, where do you stand on the subjects like free will vs. determinism and nature vs. nurture? Are we just 'clockwork dolls', or the chemical/biological equivalent, with our personalities and the choices we make dictated by this?

WM: I'm not a believer in either a God or a benign universe. I grew up Church of Scotland, R.E. at school, church and Sunday school on Sundays. It didn't take. I also have a scientific background with a degree in Biological Sciences that leads me to tend towards the "clockwork dolls" analogy of who we are being a complex function of genetics, biochemistry and nurture. 

But I have had encounters that I can only class as supernatural that have given me a curiosity as to how everything hangs together, and I've had a couple of precognitive dreams have led me to think more deeply about the nature of fate and time. I think a lot of that dichotomy came out in the story.

I wrote this in one of my books, and as a personal philosophy, it'll do for me:-

Life is an opportunity to create meaning by our actions and how we manage our way through the short part of infinity we're given to operate in. And once our life is finished, our atoms go back to forming other interesting configurations with those of other people, animals, plants and anything else that happens to be around, as we all roll along in one big, happy, ever changing, universe. Don't try to understand it-just enjoy the dancing.

Plus, I like the idea that some of my atoms will be around to see the death of Sol. That'll be cool.

PT: You've recently edited a charity anthology, The Unspoken, to raise money for cancer research. Can you tell us a little about how that came about, what motivated you? And why the title Unspoken? Do you feel that there's a taboo about discussion of cancer and even death itself?

WM: My Dad has cancer. More than one kind in fact. He's fighting hard, but cancer is a devious bugger. It hides, it lurks, and it pounces when you think it's down and defeated.

Cancer is a monster. I can't fight it for him. But as a writer and as an editor there is something I can do. I rallied up some friends, and friends of friends, and asked them for some stories. They responded brilliantly. We've put them together in a wee book. And now it's out there, earning money for cancer charities. I'm very proud of everyone involved.

As for the title - yes, there is a taboo in talking about cancer, and death. I remember it well as a child, watching my mum and aunts whisper, taking care that we, the children, were kept distanced from it, kept away from the horror, as if in fear it might somehow be contagious. Couple that with the reticence many people feel when talking about things that affect their bodies and there is definitely a lot left Unspoken.

PT: How did it feel to sit in the editor's chair? Did you have any problems with rejecting work from writer friends? Has it given you any insight into how editors work that will help when submitting your own work?

WM: It's not something I'll be rushing to do again. I found it stressful asking people for edits, and turning down people who wanted to play a part in it. Then there was the business end, with people missing deadlines, then publishers pulling out or going bust, sickness affecting some involved and just general hassle. It did indeed make me remember that editors have to cope with a lot in their jobs, and that anything we can do as writers to smooth the process is only going to help everyone in the long run.

PT: Who has had the biggest influence on your work and how?

WM: I've mostly got my mum to blame for regular library trips from a very early age. The main influences would have to be the reading and watching I did in the genre as a teenager in a small West Coast Scotland town in the late Sixties / 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, Ed McBain, Arthur C Clarke 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 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. I also love what is widely known as "weird shit". I've spent far too much time surfing and reading fortean, paranormal and cryptozoological websites. The cryptozoological stuff especially fascinates me, and provides a direct stimulus for a lot of my fiction.

PT: What software or devices do you use for writing?

WM: I have a laptop, MS-Word, a chair and a desk. That's about it. Some years back I wrote a lot on a Palm Pilot PDA while commuting between Glasgow and Fife, and I wrote a couple of novels and about twenty short stories that way, but it was too fiddly to keep up with when I didn't need to.

PT: Do you ever find aspects of the behaviour of a character you are writing about come through in your own behaviour or attitudes? E.g. if you wrote a very left or right wing character do you think that might temporarily affect your own politics?

WM: I can't say that's something that's ever happened to me. I'm able to compartmentalize my character's thoughts and motivations in a place that doesn't affect my own. Although I have scared myself several times while writing to the extent that I've had to get up and walk away, put on a light or some music.

PT: What can we expect to see from you in the near future? What work do you have in the pipeline?

WM: Deep breath first and... I've got a weird Western novel, The Ravine and a Sci-Fi novella, The Plasm coming from Dark Regions Press, a new horror novel, The Hole, and a new novella, Broken Sigil coming from DarkFuse (with two more novels and two more novellas to write for them as part of a six-book contract) and new shiny paperback editions of the Midnight Eye books coming (both from Seven Realms in the USA and in Portuguese language editions in Brazil).

I also have a weird Sherlock Holmes collection coming in limited edition hardcover and paperback from a new US imprint.

Alongside all of that I have numerous anthology appearances coming up, and I'm shipping a couple of collections around with various degrees of interest from publishers.

On the writing front itself, I'm just at the start of a new novel - inspired, in part, by a recent reading of Alan Garner's Elidor and featuring some Arthurian motifs in contemporary Edinburgh.




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