Edition 5: Interview with Gary McMahon
In edition 4 we were pleased to have published Gary McMahon’s short story,Toy, a compelling story about what is fashionable. In this review we are pleased to have Gary under the spotlight with some probing questions by Editor-in-Chief of SQ Mag, Sophie Yorkston. GH
SQ: What sparked your love of the horror and supernatural?
GMc: I’m really not sure. According to my mother, even as a small child I was drawn to the macabre. She tells a story about pushing me through a local market in my pram and letting me choose a poster for my room from a stall selling books, comics, posters, etc…apparently, I chose something with a man riding a giant spider and stabbing it in the eye with a spear. I actually remember that image. She didn’t let me have the poster.
SQ: Your writing has been compared to your countryman, Clive Barker. What do you think of this comparison?
GMc: I’m flattered, of course, but I don’t really see the comparison. Barker’s work is colourful and sensual, whereas as mine is much grittier and down-at-heel. Barker’s obsessed with monsters, but I’m obsessed with the monstrous facets of humanity.
SQ: Your writing speaks a lot of those in desperate situations in the UK. Do you think that the current socioeconomic climate makes people more afraid and more likely to satisfy that by reading horror?
GMc: I think a lot of people are absolutely terrified by the current socioeconomic climate. These are very scary times – almost apocalyptic in many ways. I think that explains a lot of the current demand for zombie and apocalypse novels, but I’m not sure it’s spread to the rest of the horror genre, certainly not in terms of sales.
SQ: Where do you think sexuality fits into novels, and why do you think many readers find it hard to deal with?
GMc: In horror, we’re preoccupied with human emotions, human actions and interactions, so of course sex is a big part of that. Do readers really find it hard to deal with? I know I don’t.
SQ: You’ve said before that you like to challenge yourself. How do you pick your challenges and how do you think this makes you a better writer?
GMc: I certainly do enjoy challenging myself, pushing myself to see what happens. For example, I wrote a zombie novel without using the word “zombie” and in the Concrete Grove books the challenge was to make hummingbirds scary. These things simply occur to me as I work on a book or a story. It’s nothing that’s planned. Just a bit of fun, I suppose.
SQ: How does being a partner and a father influence you as a writer?
GMc: Since becoming a dad, it seems that everything I write touches upon the theme of losing a child, or having a child harmed. It’s terrifying being a parent. My work tends to focus a lot on dysfunctional relationships, broken families, damaged partners, messed-up love stories. Thankfully I have a very happy marriage, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining the worst.
SQ: What has been your favourite type of story to write to date? And which genre is your favourite to read?
GMc: I enjoy writing the character stuff. Gore doesn’t really interest me, and I tend to steer clear of traditional monsters because I can’t shift the idea that fundamentally they’re a bit silly. I read a lot of crime fiction, and also unclassifiable stuff – writing that isn’t really categorised by a single genre. I love to read anything dark, anything honest, anything that engages my emotions and my intellect.
SQ: How do you battle the dreaded writer’s block?
GMc: I suffer badly from writer’s block, usually just after I finish a novel. I’ve realised now that it’s simply part of the process, and I use the down time from writing to think about writing. My friend Tim Lebbon once told me that not writing is just part of the writing process, and that stuck with me. It helped a lot.
SQ: What do you feel was your breakthrough that marked you as a professional writer?
GMc: That would probably have to be Hungry Hearts, my first mass market novel (published by Abaddon Books).
SQ: Do you have any writers or writers groups who you share ideas with or do you work mostly on your own?
GMc: No, I work pretty much on my own. I’m not one for reading circles or writing groups. I’m greedy with my work; I like to keep it close to my chest until it’s ready to send out to a publisher. I do occasionally send a good writer friend of mine things to read, but that’s mainly for feedback on plotting, timeline, continuity…things like that.
SQ: Do you have any hints for our readers on moving from short stories to full-length novel narrative?
GMc: Just go for it. If you feel ready, write that novel. The only way to find out if you can do it is to do it. Have no fear. It isn’t brain surgery or rocket science, it’s just putting words down on a page.
SQ: You have said that you do not really spend much time on social media, but you maintain your blog. What role does this fulfil in your life and in your professional presence as a writer?
Recently I realised that I was spending too much time on Facebook, and that I’d stopped finding it amusing. I’ve taken a step back – I still use the site, but not as much, and in a slightly different way. There’s so much negative stuff on Facebook that I’m trying to use my account for positive things if I can: talking about books and films I’ve enjoyed, recommending the work of writers I like. I like to maintain the blog. It’s somewhere for me to write about the stuff that goes on inside, and the nuts and bolts of the creative process. You won’t find any “lolcats” on my site, but you might find a personal insight into part of the writing process.
Gary McMahon’s short fiction has been reprinted in both THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR and THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY & HORROR. He is the acclaimed author of the novels Rain Dogs, Hungry Hearts, Pretty Little Dead Things, Dead Bad Things and the trilogy. He lives with his family in Yorkshire, trains in Shotokan karate, and likes running in the rain.