By Marty Mulrooney
Alternative Magazine Online recently reviewed the novel We Are Here, describing it as “Yet another engrossing thriller from an author who remains a cut above the rest.” Following on from this review and with AMO’s four year anniversary just around the corner, I am proud to present an exclusive online interview with award-winning writer Michael Marshall!
Hello Mr Marshall, thank you for your time and welcome back to Alternative Magazine Online!
Thank you! I’m delighted to be back.
How have you been – and what have you been up to – since we last spoke in 2011?
Ooh, lots. Writing WE ARE HERE, and a lot of new short stories — after a long fallow period for short fiction, I seem to be getting back into my stride. Also critical (and time-consuming) was making the decision to move from London — where I’ve lived for twenty-five years — to live in Santa Cruz, in Northern California. That was a big big upheaval, as I’m sure you can imagine, and so I was glad to be able to get a new novel written in the meantime…
Your new book We Are Here was recently launched – what’s the book about?
Well, it’s a novel of suspense, so it’s hard to get too deeply into what it’s about without risking spoilers. But basically I think it’s about the way in which we may think we’re leaving childish things behind, yet may come discover they never went away: plus a look at the different ways in which our friendships and relationships — and in the age of the web, the very nature of these are changing — may cause our lives to be structured by people we don’t know, and who may not even be there. That’s mainly below the surface, however: the book starts with a couple of different groups of people coming to think that someone might be following them, in different ways… and gradually brings their stories together as it becomes clear that yes, they’re being followed, but it’s a stranger kind of following than they ever realised.
The book’s title sounds rather ominous – was this intentional? The story itself certainly contains elements of horror…
My books are always going to sit on the boundary between several different genres. Coming up with a good title is always tricky — trying to encapsulate a book’s story and nature without giving too much away, providing a hook that draws potential readers, but also hopefully sums up what may be a very large collection of words. But yes, it is a little ominous… for reasons that hopefully eventually become clear.
I love the front cover! It’s by far the best dust jacket design for a book that I’ve seen in a very long time. Did you have any input into this?
As always, I was consulted — but I can’t take any credit for it. I love it, and it’s certainly the best and most appropriate cover I’ve ever had… In a world where so many people are doing their reading digitally, I think you have to put extra work into making physical books into something special, and Orion have definitely succeeded with that.
Without giving too much away, the plot touches upon the idea of imaginary friends. Did you ever have an imaginary friend as a child?
I didn’t, no… but my son did for a few years, and that certainly contributed to some of the ideas and action in the book. It’s both fascinating and a great privilege to be part of the life of someone who’s just starting to make their way in the world… and a great way of being reminded how what we think of as ‘reality’ is not the only game in town.
You often hint at a world beyond the one we live in – do you believe in the supernatural?
Yes and no… but mainly yes. I’m not sure I believe in any specific example of the kind of phenomena that people cite as ‘supernatural’ — like ghosts, for example — but I certainly believe that reality is a lot broader and stranger than conventional science (and most fiction) gives it credit for. As I’ve observed before, perfectly normal and rational people put credence in superstitions, or the idea that they knew the phone was going to ring just before it did. When we’re freaked out in the dark, it’s not humans we’re afraid of, but it’s hard to put a name to what unnerves us. The world is strange. Books should reflect that.
In a recent blog post you said that “I wrote it because I had no choice. It made me do it.” Do you believe that stories can sometimes take on a life of their own?
Most definitely – and I think they should. Stories are much bigger than the minds they come from. I often find that some of the most interesting parts of novels come from banging two characters together and seeing what that makes them do… or putting two ideas next to each other and watching what happens when they bleed sideways into each other. Writing a novel takes a long time. If it didn’t have a life of its own, I’m not sure I’d have the patience. You want to be part of a process, not just someone writing things down.
As with many of your more recent novels, the story features several different ‘main’ characters. Who was your favourite character to write in this book, and why?
I always enjoy writing in the first person, and so John was perhaps the character that came easiest. But the reason I do that thing of switching from first to several other thirds is that I love trying to get into the heads of other and more minor characters, trying to make everyone seem credible and real. If I don’t feel that I can get a firm fix on a character, and enjoy writing them, they’ll get cut — so in the end I feel close to all of them, even if they only get a couple of lines or half a page.
As I’ve mentioned in previous interviews, you always do a fantastic job of capturing the true ‘essence’ of a location, in this case New York City. How accurate are the locations described when compared to the real city and what made New York the perfect setting for We Are Here?
The locations are as accurate as I could make them. I love NYC, and have spent quite a while walking its streets in the last five years. I firmly believe that the place where a book is set should function as a character in the narrative, that you should tell a story about a place, as well as about people. WE ARE HERE needed to be set primarily in an urban environment, and NYC felt right. It’s such a fascinating, energetic place, full of shadows and light and local legend — and it’s a place you have to take on its own terms, too. It’s not going to do you any favours: it is what it is, and you deal with it.
What’s the last book that you read?
I’m an inveterate re-reader, and I think the last book I finished was Bill Bryson’s MADE IN AMERICA, for something like the fourth time. I find the best of his stuff both fascinating and very relaxing at the end of a long day. I’m currently switching back and forth between Richard Ford’s new one — CANADA — and a non-fiction by Rebecca Solnit called A FIELD GUIDE TO GETTING LOST.
As you know The Straw Men is my favourite book – I loved the entire trilogy – and when we last spoke you mentioned that you had started to believe that you had ‘a strong enough idea for another full-on Straw Men book.’ Has there been any progress made with this idea?
Not material progress, no :-) I’m delighted that you enjoyed the books, and via Twitter and other means it’s becoming increasingly clear that quite a few people would like to know what happened next to those characters… and I would, too! The idea’s gestating slowly… and I hope it won’t be too long before it’s up on deck.
Does the BBC still have plans to turn The Intruders into a TV drama?
Yes, it does. The BBC in London spent a few years trying to find an approach they were happy with. In the end it didn’t quite land, but BBC Worldwide in LA have just taken over the option and from my conversations with them it sounds as though they’ve got a lot of enthusiasm for it and a strong take on the material. So watch this space… and keep your fingers crossed.
What’s next for you Mr Marshall?
This is quite a busy year, thankfully. WE ARE HERE is just out in the UK, and will be coming to the US in the fall. In between there’s the publication of a special project of mine called THE GIST (from Subterranean in May) and then a new short story collection titled EVERYTHING YOU NEED, from Earthling in July. Cemetery Dance are also due to bring out a 10th anniversary edition of THE STRAW MEN, with a long essay about the books by me. and various other bits and pieces. I’ve got some short stories coming out in other people’s anthologies, including the first ever written under the Michael Marshall name… and I’ve made a start on the next novel. With that and a few screenplay projects rumbling on, it’s going to be a busy year, and that’s great.
Thank you for your time. You’re my favourite author, so I’m always delighted whenever I get the opportunity to discuss your craft with you – I really enjoyed We Are Here and I can’t wait to read your next book!
Thank you, it’s been great talking to you :-)
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Michael Marshall (Author)
BOOK REVIEW – Killer Move by Michael Marshall
INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Michael Marshall (Author, Killer Move)
BOOK REVIEW – We Are Here by Michael Marshall