Interviewed by Terry Grimwood
The name Gary McMahon is becoming increasingly familiar in the hallowed world of the Independent Press. With an Honorable Mention for his story in Nemonymous, the D-Press chapbook Breaking Hearts, an appearance in the intriguing Poes Progeny anthology and a steady stream of publication successes, it was time for him to turn to the big one, the novel. Rough Cut was the result. Gary is a writer who explores the darker regions of the human psyche and, for me, possesses the rare gift of finding the poignant in the horrific. By the way, he hales from The North, that area beyond Kings Lynn into which we southern sissies seldom venture and speak of only in hushed tones
TG: The dedication in Rough Cut mentions "closure". It is obviously personal but how much can you explain about that?
GM: Well, my parents divorced when I was very young - about eight years old - and this affected me very deeply as a child. In fact, all through my adult life I've had issues because of not having a father around when I most needed one. My father died suddenly several years ago from a heart attack, no doubt caused by his heavy drinking and bad diet. He was only fifty years old. So, not only did he abandon me but he also took away any chance of a reunion - or of redemption in my eyes - through his selfish lifestyle choices. Writing Rough Cut became like therapy due to the themes of identity and reflection - Jude's search for his father and himself mirrored my own lifelong challenge to be my own man, a separate entity from the shadow cast by my father's absence. It's always been my greatest fear that I'd turn into him. My aim with Rough Cut was to wrap up all of this intensely person stuff in a real page-turner of a story. Hopefully, I succeeded--although only a reader can be the true judge of that.
TG: The narrator is an interesting and fully rounded personality. Clichéd question I know, but how much of you does he contain?
GM: This is an interesting one. After reading the story, my wife claimed that it was like peeling back the top of my head and looking inside - the cinematic motifs, the parental issues, the uneasy relationships, are all my own. However, Jude is very different from me. He doesn't have my temper for a start, and he's probably a lot more likeable than I am... :-)
TG: (Id like to butt in here and say that Ive met Gary and found him extremely likeable!) How important is PLACE in your writing?
GM: Geographical locations are very important to me in my work - I've never written about a place I haven't visited, to taste the hidden flavours and smell the secret smells. A sense of psychological place is even more important: each of my characters must have their own identity and exist in their own space, and be more than ciphers.
TG: Is Rough Cut your first novel, published or unpublished? If not, what is your longest published work to date?
GM: Rough Cut was my first real attempt at writing anything over 10,000 words. It just poured out of me with very little coaxing.
TG: When, and why, did you start writing?
GM: You know, I can't even remember. I started writing when I was very young, just to get the ideas out of my head. The written word has always been talismanic to me, and I can't get a grip on anything unless it's written down. I'm a compulsive list-maker, and have many notebooks filled with scribbled story ideas, titles and concepts.
TG: When, and what, was your first success?
GM: Define "success". My first published story was in a magazine called Nasty Piece of Work . I stopped submitting shortly after that, and only when I encountered Gary Fry in, I think it was 2002, did I start again, after he urged me to do so. I think the most important publication I've had a story in was Acquainted with the Night , the Ash Tree Press anthology that won the World Fantasy Award last year. I was so damn proud of that one.
TG: Is all your writing dark, or are there Gary M romances hidden between the covers of past issues of Womans Weekly ? Why the dark side?
GM: How long have you got? :-)
Everything I write is dark; I cannot write anything else - believe me, I've tried. I like to think that in my writing I'm exploring a body of themes, and my stories are meant as a sort of primal scream against the world. I write about things that anger me, move me, frustrate me. I don't think I've ever written something just for fun. I've been told that my work "aches", and that's music to my ears.
TG: How do you view the Independent Press? As a force in its own right or a means to gain recognition before moving on into the mainstream?
GM: The Independent Press is, quite simply, the only place to buy books. Mainstream publishing houses put out safe fiction that they can shift in large units, and I can honestly say that I rarely buy books from high street stores - my first port of call is always the Internet, and publishers like Pendragon Press , Crowswing Books, Earthling Press, etc. I'd like to think that you can build up a head of steam in the small press which helps you on to the next level - Tim Lebbon did it, after all, and he's one of the best in the business. There's a hell of a lot of good writing going on in the small press; and most of it pisses on the product released by the so-called big boys.
TG: Okay then, because it fascinates me, favourite book, music and films and what are their influence on you and your work?
GM: Book: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, A Child Across the Sky by Jonathan Carroll, and anything by Ramsey Campbell.
Music: Radiohead, Beethoven, David Gray, Nirvana and Johnny Cash.
Film: Scorsese's Taxi Driver , most of Ingmar Bergman's stuff and Carpenter's The Thing . I also love a lot of Asian cinema - films like Ringu, Kairo and Lady Vengeance .
I'm hugely influenced by both music and film, sometimes to the point that I'll strive to capture the feel of a certain piece of music or scene from a favourite film when I write. Also, writers like Ramsey Campbell, Joel Lane, Gary A Braunbeck, Gary Fry, John Probert, Jim Thompson and Stephen King are a constant influence.
TG: How do you write? Do you plan meticulously, have a rough framework, or make it up as you go along?
GM: How do I write? Like a fucking madman! Seriously, I utilise a sort of white-heat technique, where everything comes as a hot cognition. It means that sometimes I can write 5,000 words a night whereas other times I can't get a single word down on the page. Rough Cut was written over the course of an intense two or three week period (I can't believe I did it so fast), only writing at night when the family were asleep. I didn't sleep very much at all during the entire intense process. The initial draft came in at 20,000 words, then I added another 15,000 when I revisited the piece. I think I fell ill for a few days when I finally finished the second draft, burned out by the beast!
Check out Terrys review of Garys Rough Cut in our Review Section here
Rough Cut is available from Pendragon Press
A collection of Garys short stories, Dirty Prayers , will be available from Gray Friar Press shortly
Authors website at www.garymcmahon.com
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