Which writers do you most admire?
A random Top Twenty would feature Charles Dickens, J.G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, William Faulkner, HH Munroe, EM Forster, Ira Levin, Virginia Woolf, Joyce Carol Oates, BS Johnson, Joe Haldeman, Peter Barnes, Alan Sillitoe, Keith Waterhouse, Tennessee Williams, David Nobbs, Evelyn Waugh, Joe Orton, Alan Bennett and Christopher Hibbert.
Do you still write horror stories?
You tell me. The most upsetting story I ever wrote was ‘Personal Space’, about a pensioner being imprisoned in her own home by drug addicts, but the idea came from a newspaper article with a far more horrific outcome than the one I provided.
Im certainly no fan of kitchen sink drama I like stories that soar into strangeness rather than ones that faithfully replicate the ordinariness of life.
What do you like and dislike about genre writing?
I love the stomach-drop you get from truly emotional books and films, but they need an intelligence behind them to provide a kick. I hated the porno-dumb violence of Kill Bill and Sin City, films aimed at 14 year-olds discovering erections, and I abhor the misanthropic streak of much post-modernist writing, but I love stories that create fatally flawed humans. I dont appreciate the ghettoisation of the genre, and many of the stories I consider to be horrific do not fit into easy horror categories. I think horror, like SF, has passed through its experimental golden period, and dont enjoy ‘comfortable mainstream horror fiction aimed at Goth girls and populated by vampires in black leather coats. This creates a problem for me, because I drift across the genre into other areas, and it confuses readers looking for a consistent backlist.
Whats your most biographical book?
Psychoville is the most overtly biographical (to the point where my parents took offense), but elements of my life are present in ‘Soho Black, which was written as catharsis, and ‘Calabash.
My biggest problem arises in the choice of subject matter, and how to balance real life with grand guignol. Im planning to write a much more biographical book one day.
Why do you often write stories in pairs or trios?
A number of readers and critics have mentioned this. Its to do with not getting all your ideas into one story, and being drawn to particular styles that are worth exploring further.
So you get bleak fairytales like the Britannica Castle stories, and exotica like ‘The Scorpion Jacket and ‘The Man Who Wound A Thousand Clocks, and dark comedies like ‘Looking For Bolivar and ‘Something For Your Monkey.
If you look for recurrent themes in my fiction youll find pairs and opposites, usually two characters complementing or cancelling each others personalities. This stems from my habit of creating warring forces within single characters and them splitting them into duos.
Whats your advice for first time writers?
Fiction means you can make stuff up.
Dont be ashamed of embarrassing yourself.
Romances need a moral dilemma.
Remember its fiction, not biography.
Ask yourself what the hero wants.
Think the unthinkable.
When you think it cant go further, go further.
Characters need to grow, and not repeat themselves.
Choice is a dilemma between irreconcilable goods or the lesser of two evils.
You dont always need to explain why people do things.
Crisis moments are better when theyre completely static.
Leave room for characters to breathe.
You have to love your hero.
Dialogue is not conversation.
Its better to do than to describe.
Believe what you write.
You dont have to write from experience.
Make sure that something always remains unknowable.
Would you like to see more film versions of your stories?
Of course. Who wouldnt want to see their work completely misunderstood and then circumcised by a Hollywood director with strange hair, a really high voice and a worldview based around himself?
Is writing hard work?
Writing can be an act of bravery. Many authors hide far behind the patina of the page, but for me writing requires a degree of honesty and the voicing of an opinion. Obviously, this places you at risk and potentially reduces your audience, although it never hurt any of the authors Ive listed as an influence.
Readers are intuitive; any of mine looking for a roman a clef should be able to spot that Im an urban democrat who believes in change and optimism and embracing difference, and has no interest in the Little-Middle-England mentality. That doesnt stop me from loving London and writing about the English with pride; you can keep Offenbach next to Rufus Wainwright on your playlist without conflict.
And it means you can write about fear without spreading it, even though the Daily Mail will hate you forever.