In the run up to the publication of forthcoming Alchemy Press books we will be posting short interviews with the contributors. Up first, William Meikle whose contribution, “The Penge Terror” will feature in The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2 (questions set by the editor Mike Chinn):
Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: what inspired your writing and when you began, and – if possible – of all of your published work could you tell me which your favourites are (and why)?
I’m Willie Meikle, 55, Scottish, now living in Canada. 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 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 writing computer code, and fiction gave it what was required. That point, back more than twenty years ago now, was like switching on an engine, one that has been running steadily ever since.
I’ve recently written numerous stories set in the late Victorian / Early Edwardian era, for Sherlock Holmes, Carnacki, and Professor Challenger. I was raised on Doyle, Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson and I love that historical period they covered in their work. It’s also the time period I’ve come to prefer for my own writing and I can see me settling in there for a long time to come. There’s more Holmes, more Carnacki and more Challenger to come. There seems to be quite a burgeoning market for this kind of mixing of detection and supernatural, and I intend writing more … maybe even a lot more.
Do you have a favourite genre or sub-genre? What exactly is it that attracts you?
I’ve written horror, fantasy, science fiction, crime, westerns and thrillers. Plus the sub-genres, 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.
It’s all about the struggle of the dark against the light. The time and place, and the way it plays out is, in some ways, secondary to that. And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there’s only so many to go around, and it’s not surprising that the same concepts of death and betrayal, love and loss, turn up wherever, and whenever, the story is placed.
And in my case, it’s almost all pulp. Big beasties, swordplay, sorcery, ghosts, guns, aliens, werewolves, vampires, eldritch things from beyond and slime. Lots of slime
Some say Pulp is a genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
It’s a stylistic choice for me – fast moving, entertaining stories to help people escape and go somewhere for an adventure for a while. Tarzan is the second novel I remember reading. (The first was Treasure Island, so I was already well on the way to the land of adventure even then.) I quickly read everything of Burroughs I could find. Then I devoured Wells, Dumas, Verne and Haggard. I moved on to Conan Doyle before I was twelve, and Professor Challenger’s adventures in spiritualism led me, almost directly, to Dennis Wheatley, Algernon Blackwood, and then on to Lovecraft. Then Stephen King came along.
There’s a separate but related thread of a deep love of detective novels running parallel to this, as Conan Doyle also gave me Holmes, then I moved on to Christie, Chandler, Hammett, Ross MacDonald and Ed McBain, reading everything by them I could find. Mix all that lot together, add a dash of Zulu, a hefty slug of heroic fantasy from Howard, Leiber, Gemmell and Moorcock, a sprinkle of fast moving Scottish thrillers from John Buchan and Alistair MacLean, and a final pinch of piratical swashbuckling. Leave to marinate for fifty years and what do you get?
A psyche with a deep love of the weird in its most basic forms, and the urge to beat the shit out of monsters. That’s what pulp means to me.
What was the inspiration for “The Penge Terror”?
A couple of things – I used to live in Penge back in the ‘80s and remembered a couple of the old pubs. I also wanted to write a Quatermass story, but that’s off limits. Challenger however is very much Quatermass’ older brother in terms of influence, and he’s a character that has always spoken to me. I also wanted to do a very British alien first contact story – and here it is.
Do you have a particular favourite author, or authors? What is it about their work which appeals to you?
This is a constantly changing list as the years go by. At one time it was Lovecraft then everybody else, but my tastes have evolved. I still find myself going back to an older time in much of my reading: William Hope Hodgson, MR James, Arthur Conan Doyle and A Merritt all figure large. Of the more modern writers, Ramsey Campbell has been a constant for many years, Stephen King to a lesser extent although I still read everything he publishes, just a bit less enthusiastically than I used to. I wish Clive Barker would return to full-blown horror as I loved his earlier work. Outside horror, David Gemmell’s fluid style always drew me in, and I’ve been a Moorcock fan since I first discovered him in around 1971.Of the new batch, Gary McMahon impresses me greatly. He’s turning out a body that’s remarkably entertaining while at the same time bleak as hell, work that speaks to me.
Outside writing, what else occupies your time (assuming you have any free time left)?
I’ve been playing guitar badly since 1973, and doing rather better at drinking beer for about the same length of time. I live in a remote part of Canada and love wandering the countryside and shorelines. I also spend far too much time on Fortean websites – cryptozoology especially interests me, and provides direct input to a lot of my work.
Is there any particular style of music – or musicians – which appeals to you?
I’m a singer-songwriter in another lifetime, and I have a deep love of people with respect for that craft – Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, John Martyn, Nick Lowe, Nick Cave, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Dylan, Springsteen, et al are what’s on rotation most of the time. The Blues are for when I’m chilling out, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf and Elmore James in particular. And Zeppelin for when I need some noise.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently half-way though a novel for Darkfuse (my third book of a six book deal for them). This one’s a dark fantasy set in Edinburgh and parts unknown, and features cops, beer, a serial killer, a giant black swam, a portal to another place, more beer and plenty of murder and mayhem.
Thank you, William Meikle.