Please note: This interview took place by email in the summer of 2009, to promote the hardback release of Courage And Honour, the fifth book in the Ultramarines series.
What inspires you as a writer? Like most writers, I take inspiration from all around me; books, movies, comics, real life and everything in-between. There’s no one place I go to for inspiration, I kind of let it happen naturally in the course of the day. It can be the smallest thing that gets my mind going, from a misheard remark to a sudden random thought that occurs at an odd moment. It’s like I have a bunch of thoughts that collide in my mind and emerge battered from the impact in new and surprising shapes. Some of them are just battered, but others come out in ways I hadn’t expected, and I let them simmer for a while before trying to give it some kind of shape on a page. A lot of these are just one-line notes in my pad, while others are more fleshed out. Some you’ll see later on in novels, others you might not, but it’s reassuring to know that I’ve plenty of ideas yet to fully flesh out.
Where do you write? I have a couple of places I write. The main one is the office in the house I share with my girlfriend. It’s a tiny box room with one wall lined with books and CDs, and a monster desk that fills a corner of the room, which, unsurprisingly, is also filled with books and papers arranged around me. It’s not a bad place to write, as I have my music and reference material to hand and I have a decent sized window to give me some natural light. In my first six months of being a full time freelancer, I quickly realised that I couldn’t spend all my time there, as I was beginning to go a bit stir crazy stuck in the house all day, divorced from human contact and only spending time with the characters in my books. So, about twice a week, I head into Nottingham to a small teashop in the city centre. The staff are friendly, there’s a nice buzz of creativity there – as it’s situated in the heart of Nottingham’s creative community – and the pervasive smell of tea and coffee is the lubricant to my writerly gears. And they do nice cookies too, which is reason enough to go.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Stick at it and don’t expect to be brilliant straight out of the gate. Like any career, writing is a skill that improves the more you do it. It takes time to develop the mental muscles you need to feel when you’re on the right path with characters, plot and setting. It’s a cliché, but the best writers are the best readers, so anyone who wants to be a writer should be an avid reader of anything he or she can get their hands on. Read lots and then write lots. Find time to write every day, even if only for half an hour, just so you can keep your hand in and learn what’s working and what isn’t. Keep doing that over and over. Read your stuff with a critical eye and get people you trust to give you an honest opinion to read it. Take their feedback (which is an art in itself) and learn from it. Go back to your writing and learn from your mistakes. Writing is a passion for a writer, and if you’re not sure if you want to be a writer, then you probably shouldn’t embark on that course. Writers write because they have to, though the discussion on why that should be is a thesis in itself…
What are you working on at the moment? At the moment I’m working on Empire, book two of the Sigmar trilogy, which forms part of the Black Library’s Time of Legends series. The first book did very well and focussed on the parts of Sigmar’s life already fairly well known to the readers. This book takes readers to areas of this great hero’s life that they don’t know so well. It’s been great fun to write and there’s lots of stuff in there that’s going to tie into the next book and lots that will surprise a lot of people too.
What was the last good book that you read? The last good book I read was the last book I read, Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box. Ageing rock star, Judas Coyne, collects macabre items of ghoulish curiosity, but gets more than he bargained for when he buys a dead man’s suit over the Internet and is haunted by its last owner. I liked that the story set its stall out early and made the haunting the focus of the narrative as opposed to gradually dispensing clues as to what’s going on, though there’s a nice, skewed twist too. Good, creepy fun and well worth a read.
Check out Graham’s website: www.graham-mcneill.com
Interview conducted by Andy Jamieson, Editor