Recently, I started reading a book called The Hole. I’ve got to say, it gripped me from the first chapter. Talk about hooking your reader, this book grabbed me by the lapels and said, “I dare you not to read me. Needless to say, I decided to do some research on the author.

William Meikle has written over twenty-five novels over the years, and over 300 short stories. That’s what I call prolific. It’s also, kind of, what I aspire to be. With titles like The Crustaceans, Night of the Wendigo, Berserker, and The Creeping Kelp, I feel like I want to read every story this guy’s ever written.

William was kind of enough to answer a few questions for my blog. His words on writing and storytelling are invaluable to any young writer who might come across this blog. If that’s you then please take some time to visit Willie on Amazon, Facebook, his website, or connect with him on Twitter. And, whatever you do, buy his books and read them!

 

What’s a common mistake you see from writers just starting out?

Meikle: They don’t write enough. Or they spend a year on a single story, and then give up when it’s not immediately recognized as a masterpiece. You need to write, write, then write some more. It’s like getting an engine turning over. Once it warms up, it just keeps on running.

You’ve got to develop, to mis-quote Blackadder, a pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face, and just plough ahead. Get a thick skin when it comes to rejections, and be prepared to put your arse on your chair and put the work in, for however long it takes.

Writers write. Wannabee writers just wanna write.

 

When did you feel like you had become a “real” writer?

Meikle: It was in 2005. I managed to place a story, TOTAL MENTAL QUALITY in a big name Scottish science fiction anthology, NOVA SCOTIA. I went along to the launch and got to stand next to multiple award winning writers like Charlie Stross, Hal Duncan and Ken MacLeod.

That single moment was an epiphany, and taught me that I was capable of pushing a career higher than the small press in which I’d become established and rather stagnant. I’ve become a convert since then to the idea of aiming for the highest markets you can. There are more misses now, but the hits are so much more satisfying.

 

What time of day do you usually write?

Meikle: 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 write 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.

 

Do you write out full biographies for your characters?

Meikle: No. It’s all a big dancing jigsaw puzzle in my head. And I like it that way.

 

If you could travel back in time, to the beginning of your career, what’s the one tip you’d give yourself?

Meikle: Count your blessings. You might never reach the ultimate gold ring of fortune and glory and the big Hollywood deal, but take time to appreciate all of the publications you amass along the way.

 

What genre of fiction do you enjoy?

Meikle: 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 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.

 

Do you think that creative writers need to pursue a formal education, or can you learn the craft on your own?

Meikle: Well, I didn’t have any formal training, beyond school-level English. I have a scientific subject Honours degree, twenty five years of work experience, forty years of drinking experience and no formal writing training. It hasn’t stopped me from being a full time writer these past ten years now

 

Why do you write?

Meikle: 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

I think you have to have grown up with pulp to -get- it. A lot of writers have been told that pulp=bad plotting and that you have to have deep psychological insight in your work for it to be valid. They’ve also been told that pulp=bad writing, and they believe it. Whereas I remember the joy I got from early Moorcock, from Mickey Spillane and further back, A E Merritt and H Rider Haggard. I’d love to have a chance to write a Tarzan, John Carter, Allan Quartermain, Mike Hammer or Conan novel, whereas a lot of writers I know would sniff and turn their noses up at the very thought of it.

I write to escape. I haven’t managed it yet, but I’m working on it

 

What process did you go through to get your first work published?

Meikle: 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.

The first thing I wrote, a wee ghost story, DANCERS, 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.

 

Do you believe in inspiration?

Meikle: For me it’s mainly inspiration. I wouldn’t write at all if the ideas didn’t present themselves in my head. I find I get a lot of ideas clamouring for attention all at once. I write them down in a notebook that never leaves my side, and sometimes one of them gathers a bit more depth, and I get a clearer image. At this stage I find myself thinking about it almost constantly, until a plot, or an ending, clarifies itself.

Once I’ve written down where the story should be going it quietens down a bit. Then, if I find myself still thinking about it a couple of days later, I’ll probably start writing the actual story. At any given time I have about 20 ideas waiting for clarity, two or three of which might end up as finished works.

That’s the inspiration part. And that continues when I start putting the words on paper. I’ve tried writing outlines, both for short stories and novels, but I’ve never stuck to one yet. My fingers get a direct line to the muse and I continually find myself being surprised at the outcome. Thanks to South Park, I call them my “Oh shit, I’ve killed Kenny” moments, and when they happen, I know I’m doing the right thing.

There is also a certain amount of perspiration, especially in writing a novel. But I find if it feels too much like work, I’m heading in the wrong direction and it usually ends up in the recycle bin.

And, yes, there’s a certain degree of desperation in that I want to get better, to make the big sale, to see my name in lights, all that happy stuff. But I try not to think about that too much. 🙂

 

What did you do before you became a writer?

Meikle: I spent 25 years in IT, in London, Aberdeen and Edinburgh mainly, designing and implementing large scale computer systems for big banks, utility companies, the NHS and Scottish Government. Left the rat race behind in 2007, sold up in Scotland and came over to a small fishing town in Newfoundland for some peace and quiet, and full time writing.

 

What’s a common mistake you see from writers just starting out?

Meikle: They don’t write enough. Or they spend a year on a single story, and then give up when it’s not immediately recognized as a masterpiece. You need to write, write, then write some more. It’s like getting an engine turning over. Once it warms up, it just keeps on running.

You’ve got to develop, to mis-quote Blackadder, a pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face, and just plough ahead. Get a thick skin when it comes to rejections, and be prepared to put your arse on your chair and put the work in, for however long it takes.

Writers write. Wannabee writers just wanna write.

 

When did you feel like you had become a “real” writer?

Meikle: It was in 2005. I managed to place a story, TOTAL MENTAL QUALITY in a big name Scottish science fiction anthology, NOVA SCOTIA. I went along to the launch and got to stand next to multiple award winning writers like Charlie Stross, Hal Duncan and Ken MacLeod.

That single moment was an epiphany, and taught me that I was capable of pushing a career higher than the small press in which I’d become established and rather stagnant. I’ve become a convert since then to the idea of aiming for the highest markets you can. There are more misses now, but the hits are so much more satisfying.

 

What time of day do you usually write?

Meikle: 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 write 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.

 

Do you write out full biographies for your characters?

Meikle: No. It’s all a big dancing jigsaw puzzle in my head. And I like it that way.

 

If you could travel back in time, to the beginning of your career, what’s the one tip you’d give yourself?

Meikle: Count your blessings. You might never reach the ultimate gold ring of fortune and glory and the big Hollywood deal, but take time to appreciate all of the publications you amass along the way.

 

What genre of fiction do you enjoy?

Meikle: 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 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.

 

Do you think that creative writers need to pursue a formal education, or can you learn the craft on your own?

Meikle: Well, I didn’t have any formal training, beyond school-level English. I have a scientific subject Honours degree, twenty five years of work experience, forty years of drinking experience and no formal writing training. It hasn’t stopped me from being a full time writer these past ten years now

 

Why do you write?

Meikle: 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

I think you have to have grown up with pulp to -get- it. A lot of writers have been told that pulp=bad plotting and that you have to have deep psychological insight in your work for it to be valid. They’ve also been told that pulp=bad writing, and they believe it. Whereas I remember the joy I got from early Moorcock, from Mickey Spillane and further back, A E Merritt and H Rider Haggard. I’d love to have a chance to write a Tarzan, John Carter, Allan Quartermain, Mike Hammer or Conan novel, whereas a lot of writers I know would sniff and turn their noses up at the very thought of it.

I write to escape. I haven’t managed it yet, but I’m working on it

 

What process did you go through to get your first work published?

Meikle: 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.

The first thing I wrote, a wee ghost story, DANCERS, 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.

 
Do you believe in inspiration?

Meikle: For me it’s mainly inspiration. I wouldn’t write at all if the ideas didn’t present themselves in my head. I find I get a lot of ideas clamouring for attention all at once. I write them down in a notebook that never leaves my side, and sometimes one of them gathers a bit more depth, and I get a clearer image. At this stage I find myself thinking about it almost constantly, until a plot, or an ending, clarifies itself.

Once I’ve written down where the story should be going it quietens down a bit. Then, if I find myself still thinking about it a couple of days later, I’ll probably start writing the actual story. At any given time I have about 20 ideas waiting for clarity, two or three of which might end up as finished works.

That’s the inspiration part. And that continues when I start putting the words on paper. I’ve tried writing outlines, both for short stories and novels, but I’ve never stuck to one yet. My fingers get a direct line to the muse and I continually find myself being surprised at the outcome. Thanks to South Park, I call them my “Oh shit, I’ve killed Kenny” moments, and when they happen, I know I’m doing the right thing.

There is also a certain amount of perspiration, especially in writing a novel. But I find if it feels too much like work, I’m heading in the wrong direction and it usually ends up in the recycle bin.

And, yes, there’s a certain degree of desperation in that I want to get better, to make the big sale, to see my name in lights, all that happy stuff. But I try not to think about that too much. 🙂

 

What did you do before you became a writer?

Meikle: I spent 25 years in IT, in London, Aberdeen and Edinburgh mainly, designing and implementing large scale computer systems for big banks, utility companies, the NHS and Scottish Government. Left the rat race behind in 2007, sold up in Scotland and came over to a small fishing town in Newfoundland for some peace and quiet, and full time writing.