William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with over twenty published novels and more than 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. He’s had a number of books published by Dark Regions Press, including, but not limited to: The Plasm, The Creeping Kelp, Carnacki: Heaven and Hell, and will have stories in the upcoming DRP anthologies Return of the Old Ones and Children of Gla’aki. A nicer guy, and a more prolific and talented writer, you’ll be hard pressed to find.
BMS – Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, Willie. I have been a fan of your work for years. Lord knows I’ve published enough of it in my anthologies. That said, I’m guessing there might be a person or two out there that has yet to discover you, so I hope that by them reading this they realize what they’ve been missing and make an effort to change that. So let’s start at the start.
Before authors began to write they were readers, so what were some of your earliest literary loves? Who inspired you and made you want to keep on reading?
WM – It would have to be the reading I did in the genre as a teenager in a small West Coast Scotland town in the early-seventies, before Stephen King and James Herbert came along, that were most formative.
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 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.
BMS – Do you have a favorite book? One you might have read multiple times? If so, what would that be?
WM – I’m a serial multiple reader — there’s many I’ve read a lot of times — I think either THE MALTESE FALCON or THE BIG SLEEP would win on countback—or maybe TREASURE ISLAND as I read that every couple of months as a kid.
As for the actual favorites… here’s five. Ask me tomorrow and you’ll get a different list
BMS – Was there always a love for the weird/horror/sci-fi genre that you would later write in, or did that come later?
WM – Remember, I started reading before there was such as thing as a Stephen King book — no James Herbert, Clive Barker or Peter Straub books either. But I did develop a love of the weird via a back door in from science fiction — I was always drawn to H G Wells’ creations, and Conan Doyle’s Challenger books — those, and Dennis Wheatley meant that there was already fertile ground there by the time I discovered Lovecraft. Through Lovecraft I got to people like Machen, Blackwood, Hodgson and James. I was also reading a lot of the new wave science fiction of the early ’70s that often contained horror elements – people like Moorcock, Zelazny, Delaney and Harlan Ellison. Then eventually King et al came along and the way was set for the time since then.
BMS – Do you recall when you first thought about writing your own stories? Was it a sudden epiphany, a gradual thing, or something else entirely?
WM – I grew up on a council estate in a town where you were either unemployed or working in the steelworks, and sometimes both. Many of the townspeople led hard, miserable lives of quiet and sometimes not so quiet desperation
When I was at school books and my guitar were all that kept me sane in a town that was going downhill fast. The local steelworks shut and unemployment was rife. The town suffered badly. 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.
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.
I didn’t get the urge again until I was past thirty and trapped in a very boring job. My home town had continued to stagnate and, unless I wanted to spend my whole life drinking (something I was actively considering at the time), returning there wasn’t an option.
But my brain needed something to do apart from write computer code, and fiction gave it what was required. Back in the 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.
BMS – What was your first sale and to what market?
WM – It was back in late 1992, my story AN EARLY FROST appeared in a UK small press magazine, XENOS. A lot of us back then had stories in it – it was one of the more regular publications and ran to an impressive number of issues. I ended up placing half a dozen stories there before it went the way of so many others. The story itself was a dark fantasy, featuring an abused kid, a winter night, and a wee frosty pal who shows him the ways of cold magic. Like many of my early stories, it was based heavily on childhood dreams and nightmares. I’ve still got a warm place in my heart for it, and it’s since appeared in several other magazines. DANCERS, that I mentioned in the previous question, wasn’t published till later (in ALL HALLOWS) but it did win 2nd prize in the WRITER’S NEWS annual competition in ’92, so I was off and shuffling about a bit.
BMS – When did you make the jump to fulltime, professional author? What gave you the confidence for such a daring leap, and have you ever regretted it?
WM – I made the jump in 2007 when a combination of circumstances meant I could quit the day job, emigrate and write full time over here in Newfoundland, but the confidence came a couple of years earlier. My first professional anthology sale came in 2005 after 13 years of lurking in the small press. I sold TOTAL QUALITY REPRODUCTION to NOVA SCOTIA, a Scottish science fiction anthology. I got to go to a mass signing at Blackwells in Edinburgh and stand alongside the likes of Charlie Stross, Ken MacLeod and Hal Duncan. That’s when I first thought, I can do this. I’ve since sold many short stories to high profile and pro rate paying markets, for the likes of Chaosium, Dark Regions, EDGE publishing and many more – all because that first one made me believe in myself.
BMS – What is the best thing about being a writer?
WM – For me it’s a couple of things — the act of creation itself, which always fascinates me, and then getting the physical product in my hands—especially seeing my stories in books alongside writers I admire. It’s a great rush.
BMS – What’s the worst thing about being a writer?
WM – The solitude — you’re locked in your own head for a long, long, time if you’re doing any great amount of writing, and it has a way of distancing you from day to day living if you’re not careful. I have to make conscious efforts to interact with the world.
BMS – Could you tell us something of your writing process? Do you do it every day for a set amount of time? Do you have a preference as to the time of day when you write? Do you write in long-hand first and then type it out when you’re finished? Do you plot everything out in advance or have a more general outline and see where things take you? Has your process changed at all over the years? And yes, these are just examples, you don’t need to answer all of them.
WM – I work on weekdays and rest at the weekends unless my brain won’t let me. I generally start about noon, having spent the morning getting the chores / shopping / admin / pissing about on Facebook etc squared away. I sit at my laptop and type in bursts of about 300 words at a time punctuated with more visits over to Facebook and email and trips downstairs for coffee and biscuits. That goes on through the afternoon until teatime. After food I’m generally back at it for a couple more hours. I average, what with editing, deleting and rewriting, around 1300-1500 words a day. The day usually ends with us watching a movie or some old scifi series. I used to have regular breaks for guitar playing but that’s been curtailed quite a bit in recent years by the onset of a touch of arthritis in wrists and fingers. Luckily it’s not stopped me typing – yet.
As for outlining — I usually have one for longer work, but haven’t stuck to one yet as the characters and the plot takes over and does its own thing. Short stories are all done seat of the pants — I love doing them that way and it’s the only way that works for me.
BMS – If I had no idea who you were and asked you the dreaded question: “So what kind of stories do you write?” how would you answer that?
WM – Entertaining, pulpy, fast-paced, unpretentious fun. It’s the way I roll.
BMS – If I asked you for three stories or books that would give a reader who is unfamiliar with your work the best representation of what you as an author, what would those three be?
WM – My favorite short story is a hard one as there’s so many—over 300 published now and still counting — but I think my best work is in the Dark Regions collection, DARK MELODIES, a themed set of shorts linked by music, and dancing in dark places. When I started out, all I really wanted was a collection of my supernatural short stories in hardcover at a decent publisher. Short spooky fiction was, and still is, the form I think I prefer best for my writing, and although most of my success, such as it is, has come elsewhere, it is to the shorts I keep returning, and it’s there I want more than anything else to leave some kind of mark. So I was very, very happy to sell DARK MELODIES to Dark Regions Press back in 2011. I’ve since sold other collections, and had the Carnacki, Holmes and Challenger work also in hardcover – but that first one, containing stories in worlds of my own creation, is the one I think I’ll always be proudest of. It’s available now from Dark Regions Press and in all the usual online places in paperback and ebook — and limited edition hardcover if you can find one.
I think I nailed what I wanted to say most strongly in my novella TORMENTOR. I’ve had a love affair with the Isle of Skye for many years, had an idea in my head for a long time about a revenant spirit of rhythm that was tied to the history of a place, and I wanted to say some things about loss and creativity. The idea of getting those ideas together was percolating for years until I felt confident enough in my writing to do it justice, then, back in 2014, it all came in a rush. I think I got away with it.
Probably my favorite novel 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 Wyndham 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 in paperback and ebook — and limited edition hardcover if you can find one.
BMS – You have worked in many genres. Those that I know of would fall into the categories of horror, fantasy, science fiction, weird, and western. Am I missing any? Is there any genre/type of story you have yet to do but always wanted to?
WM – I’ve written horror, fantasy, science fiction, crime, westerns and thrillers. 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.
I have a plot in my head for a big fantasy epic — a bit like Game of Thrones in scope if not style. I keep meaning to get to it but something else always crops up. Maybe someday….
I also read a lot of British spy novels as a teenager — Len Deighton, John Le Carre et al — and I’d like to try one of them at some point.
BMS – You’ve been writing horror (and as stated above, many other genres) for more than a few years, how has that genre changed, as both a fan and creator, since the time you began writing until now?
WM – As a creator, when I started writing, almost exactly 25 years ago now, there was Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction. You knew where you were back then, with rigidly defined rules of doubt and uncertainty. Sure, there was some market fracturing – ghost story markets didn’t like to think of themselves as horror for example, but as a rule everybody knew where they were and writers knew where to try to fit their work, for the most part.
So I wrote – I wrote horror stories, fantasy stories and some science fiction and, for the most part, found homes for them in side-stapled A5 small press booklets that varied rather a lot in quality.
By the start of the new century that quality was improving markedly – markets became glossier, more assured, helped in no small means by the rise in sophistication of PCs, software and the WWW. And still I wrote, and I started selling to better paying markets, but I also started seeing something happen. With the rise of numbers of people online, and people actually talking to other people who shared their interests, markets started to fracture. We’d already had splatterpunk and slipstream but now we started to get steampunk, paranormal and urban fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, paranormal romance and all manner of other things that used to be classed as horror but were now something else.
This shift was also reflected in the bookstores in the UK – previously, if you wanted horror, you went to the horror shelf and found King, Koontz, Herbert, Rice, sometimes Campbell, often Laymon, and, if you were lucky, the newer UK guys like Clark, Laws and Gallagher. But slowly, that too changed. Even before vampires started to sparkle the field was fracturing, with slashers and serial killers muscling their way in. And the paranormal romance field was growing. Horror as such started to fade into the background as the fractures grew wider.
Back in the writers market itself, the fractures were growing huge and there were now a dizzying field of places to choose to place your work- and more predators to beware of, all too willing to fleece writers of rights, time and anything else they could get for free. As for myself, I started to spot not just a horizontal stratification into diverse markets, but a vertical one in the type of markets. Even as avenues for mass market paperbacks started to fade away, so Ebooks came along, and audiobooks, graphic novels, and quality high end limited edition hardcovers. Niche markets started to specialize in niche delivery methods – and I started to get openings for my own work that hadn’t been there before.
Which brings us to where we are now. Horror is a fractured market of die hard horror fans of the old school, gore fiends, steampunkers, urban fantasists, dark fantasists, old weird, new weird, just plain weird, pulp, literary and uncle Tom Cobbley and all. Some writers fit into one and prosper, Others, like me, peck away at a variety of them. Mostly, there are far more opportunities now, but they are harder to find. Finding them is also a lesson in just how far the fracturing has gone, for it only takes a few clicks of a mouse to find yourself in the steamy forests of Bigfoot or Dinosaur porn. Or both.
I’ve been lucky to find several niches in different markets, both horizontal and vertical. I’ve been placing pastiche collections of stories for the likes of CARNACKI, SHERLOCK HOLMES and PROFESSOR CHALLENGER in high end limited edition hardcovers for Dark Regions and Dark Renaissance, I’ve been placing horror novels with specialist publishers like DarkFuse and supernatural novellas and short stories with Dark Regions, and I’ve been selling ebooks – rather a lot of ebooks – through several of the new small publishers who are taking full advantage of the digital revolution.
So here I am, twenty five years on, not quite a horror author anymore and somewhat adrift for lack of a label. I can’t exactly say what I am apart from a writer. But as long as there are niche markets out there for me to exploit, I guess I’m happy with that.
Onward and upward.
As a fan, I find it harder to find horror I want to read—especially in the long form. Too many zombie apocalypses, too many serial killers and too much gore. It might be that I’m getting too old for it — but I want terror—a cold breath on my neck in the dark, a creak on the floor, and the hint of something lurking just beyond my field of vision. There’s not enough of that around— although Adam Nevill is trying his best. He’s one of the real deal writers I go to now in long form—along with Gary McMahon and Sarah Pinborough. And Ramsey Campbell still astonishes me.
BMS – You and I did a little something together that will be coming out from Dark Regions Press soon. I’m talking about the anthology called Return of the Old Ones which has your story, “The Call of the Deep” in it. Can you tell us a little bit about that story, not only a teaser of what it is about, but how it came about?
WM – I think the end of our time on the planet is speeding toward us—we’re too stupid not to shit where we eat and whether its pollution, climate change or war doesn’t really matter—it’s coming. My story features one scenario—a flooded Britain—more Wyndham influences again, and a surge in the population of Deep Ones. A stand is being made at an air base where a last ditch attempt is being made to reverse the warming—an effort that has unforeseen consequences in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, where something has been sleeping—until now. Dr. Who fans will also spot several influences in there—particularly from one of the Pertwee series.
BMS – Can you share any info on what you’re working on now?
WM – I’m between books — letting the mind drift to see what’s coming next.
I’m at a place I haven’t been for some years – I have nothing I absolutely have to write to meet a deadline, and no contracts to fulfill.
It’s slightly scary, given that I’m a full time writer these days, but also, in a way, could turn out to be liberating.
I have a big ideas file and I’m not afraid to use it.
So is it going to be…
BMS – Any words of advice, or even warnings, you would like to give to beginning authors?
WM – Write, write, then write some more. It’s like getting an engine turning over. Once it warms up, it just keeps on running.
BMS – If I asked you to predict where you see the world of horror fiction in the next few years, what would your answer be?
WM – That’s a hard one—I’d like to see the weird have a resurgence in the mass market and not just in the small press — we need a break out book or writer to make that happen though, and I’m not sure who that might be. We’re due the coming of someone with a King like influence to take the genre by the scruff of the neck and back into the mainstream—I really hope it happens.
BMS – What is the best way for people to learn more about you and your work?
BMS – Thanks again, William, for the time today, and for all the wonderful stories you’ve given us.