I first discovered Gareth Powell at the Sci Fi Weekender in March and sadly though, I didn’t get the chance to grab an interview with him there, mainly down to everyone having such busy schedules during the weekend, but I was hoping that I could catch up with him at a later date.
And so I have caught up with Gareth and now I proudly bring to you an interview with the man himself, please enjoy…
What inspired you to write your first book?
As a child, I was a voracious reader. My mother would take my siblings and I to the library each week, and we’d get a couple of books out. And, as it happened, our local library had a fine selection of science fiction novels, through which I steadily worked my way.
I’d always wanted to be a writer, from as far back as I can remember. In primary school, I used to make little ‘books’ by writing stories and stapling the pages together. Then later, I filled notebook after notebook with a long, rambling space opera.
It wasn’t until the turn of the Millennium that I made my first serious attempt to write a novel. I wrote in the evenings, and it took me two years to complete. I called it Silversands, and it was eventually published in 2010, by Pendragon Press. (It’s also now available as an ebook from Anarchy Books).
Silversands had a difficult birth, but it taught me a lot about writing at length. Since 2010, I have written three further novels, and I’m currently working on a fifth.
Do you have a specific writing style?
You tell me.
Seriously, I just try to write as clearly and fluidly as I can. I don’t aim for convoluted sentences or fancy description. I try to keep the story moving, using carefully picked details to suggest the scene and characters in the reader’s mind.
How did you come up with your lead characters?
With Ack-Ack Macaque, the name came first. I knew I needed a cartoon-like character for the story I wanted to write, and that name stuck. After that, it was a question of putting flesh on the bones. ‘Ack-Ack’ is a term for anti-aircraft fire, and ‘macaque’ indicated that he was a monkey… therefore he became a monkey fighter pilot with an eyepatch and two enormous guns.
In order to balance him, I created Victoria Valois, a former journalist who had much of her organic brain replaced with experimental ‘gel ware’ processors following a head injury, and now finds herself incapable of parsing written language. She is the investigative heart of the story, and the person who guides the monkey towards his targets.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
All my novels deal with the theme of identity, and what it means to be human. The three main characters in the Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy – the monkey, Victoria and the Prince of Wales – are all trying to come to terms with the knowledge that they are not the people they thought they were.
If there’s a message, I guess it’s that we are two people in this life: the person we’re born to be, and the person we choose to be.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I don’t think you can write a story without drawing your experiences and memories.
What books have most influenced your life most?
The books that had the most influence on my writing style have been Burning Chrome by William Gibson; To Have And Have Not by Ernest Hemingway; and The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Since I was seventeen, my favourite book has been On The Road by Jack Kerouac, but I don’t think of him as a mentor. Our styles are quite different.
What book are you reading now?
I have just finished re-reading J.G. Ballard’s memoir, Miracles of Life.
What are your current projects?
I am currently writing the third novel in the Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy. It’s called Macaque Attack, and will be published in January 2015. The second part, Hive Monkey, hits the shelves in January 2014.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
No, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, as far back as I can remember.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
From Hive Monkey (Solaris Books, Jan 2014):
With his hands gripping the railings, he looked down to the tidal mud at the foot of the harbour wall. He hadn’t slept in four days. Below him, the low tide had fallen back to reveal the rounded teeth of a collapsed jetty, its splintered planks protruding from the rippled mudflats like the fossilised remnants of some prehistoric lake village. Gulls bobbed on the sluggish swell; scraps of black seaweed lay strewn and tangled at the high water mark; and a late afternoon breeze ran a comb through the wiry grass. The pain of Marie’s loss, so abrupt and unfair, had terrified him. He couldn’t face up to it. Not knowing what else to do, and fearing he wasn’t strong enough to bear the grief, he’d taken all his hurt and packed it down inside, where he thought it couldn’t harm him. He couldn’t cope with it, so he buried it. He put it off. Over the following months, he wrapped his grief in protective layers of drug and alcohol abuse. Now, when he tried to remember her, he had difficulty picturing her face with any clarity, or remembering her smell, or the sound of her voice. He’d tried so hard to block out the pain that now he could hardly recall anything about her, and his attempts to spare himself the weight of her loss had only brought him closer to losing her.
The wind blew through him, leaving him empty. For a long time, he simply stood and stared at the water.
Then his SincPhone rang. On the fourth ring, he answered it.
“Will, it’s Max. How are you doing? I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
William looked back to the black and white airship, and the rippling reflection it cast over the muddy waters of the Severn. He felt set adrift, alone, and left behind. Now Marie was dead, there was nothing permanent in his life. Perhaps, if she’d lived, they might have had a family, maybe put down roots somewhere; but no. Home for him had been a succession of rented rooms, usually above shops of one sort or another; the walls an endless parade of peeling, painted magnolia; the utilitarian furniture pocked with the dents of a thousand small impacts, and pitted with the tiny smallpox circles of ancient cigarette burns.
“Great. Because we need to talk.”
William moved the phone from one ear to the other. Max was just about the last person he wanted to hear from.
“This is about the Mendelblatt book, isn’t it?” Lincoln Mendelblatt, the Jewish private eye, had been the hero of three of his previous novels.
“I’ve had Stella on the phone again this afternoon,” Max said. “She’s very unhappy. You’re almost a month overdue.”
William groaned inwardly. “Tell her it’s coming.”
“I did, and I think she bought it, for now. But listen, Will, I need those pages. And I need them, like, yesterday.”
A pair of gulls scuffled on the mud, their cries sharp and desolate.
“It’s nearly finished,” William lied. “I’m on the last chapter.”
“Really? You’re that close?”
“Sure. Look, it’s Friday afternoon. Give me the weekend, and I’ll get something over to you by the beginning of next week. Maybe Wednesday.”
There was a silence on the other end. Then, “You sound terrible, Will. Are you using again?”
The sun went behind a cloud.
“No.” William sniffed and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. It was a nervous reflex. “Not at all. Not for ages. I’m just a bit groggy today. A cold, that’s all.”
He heard Max sigh. “Just make sure that first draft hits my inbox by Wednesday morning, or we’re going to have words, you understand? Harsh words. You’re in the last chance saloon, buddy, and it’s high time to shit, or get off the–”
William opened his hand, and let the phone fall. It tumbled end-over-end and hit the water. A small splash, some ripples, and it was gone.
“Goodbye, Max.” Whisper your clichés to the drowned sailors and scuttling crabs at the bottom of the sea.
Who designed the covers?
The covers of the Macaque trilogy have been designed by the extremely talented Jake Murray. I think he’s really captured the essence of the character, and he was kind enough to write a guest post on my website detailing the steps he took to design the first cover, from initial sketches to finished painting. It’s a fascinating process.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
There seems to be a point around 20,000 words into every book where the confidence wavers and THE FEAR kicks in. At that point, you can’t see the wood for the trees, and can’t tell whether the book’s any good or not. All you can do is keep pressing on and trust that the story will take flight.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Finish first, edit second. Get the story down on the page before you start tinkering with it.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy the new book.
Thank you Gareth
If you would like to find out any more about Gareth’s work you can check out his website at www.garethlpowell.com and follow him on Twitter @garethlpowell and check out Solaris books at www.solarisbooks.com.