William Miekle is a Scottish author who works largely in the horror, dark fantasy and urban fantasy realms. He recently launched an anthology project similar to the one I’ll be putting out later this year, where the profits will go towards cancer research. My own project is a mix of genres and authors, while William’s is straight-up horror with stories provided by some of the biggest names in the business. So I thought now was a good time to chat with an author I seem to share a lot of common interests with.
ANTHONY: The Unspoken is an anthology intended to raise funds for cancer research. How did the project come about?
WILLIAM: Cancer is a monster. I can’t fight it. But as a writer and as an editor there is something I can do. I rallied up some friends, and friends of friends, and asked them for some stories. They responded brilliantly. We’ve put them together in a wee book. And now it’s out there, earning money for cancer charities. I’m very proud of everyone involved.
ANTHONY: What’s your personal connection to cancer?
WILLIAM: My Dad has cancer. More than one kind in fact. He’s fighting hard, but cancer is a devious bugger. It hides, it lurks, and it pounces when you think it’s down and defeated.
It has been a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. I first came across it in the late Sixties. My Gran’s brother came back to town to die with his family. I was fascinated by this man, so thin as to be almost skeletal, wound in clothes that were many sizes too large for his frame, his skin so thin that I could see his blood moving… not pumping, for it had long since stopped moving enough to keep him alive long. He rarely spoke, just sat by the fire as if trying to soak up heat, his eyes frequently wet from tears, not of sadness, but of pain. He lasted for months in that condition until it finally took him and I knew then that cancer was a monster.
Since then it has taken others, both friends and family, a young mother with two pre-teen children, a cousin who was like a big brother to me, and a girl I never got to know for she was taken before her twentieth birthday. Other family members are still fighting. There’s my Dad, who meets it all with a good humour that is humbling, and my godmother who has battled bowel cancer into remission twice.
ANTHONY: Why call the anthology “The Unspoken?”
WILLIAM: There is a taboo in talking about cancer, and death. I remember it well as a child, watching my mum and aunts whisper, taking care that we, the children, were kept distanced from it, kept away from the horror, as if in fear it might somehow be contagious. Couple that with the reticence many people feel when talking about things that affect their bodies and there is definitely a lot left Unspoken.
ANTHONY: What authors are involved in the anthology, and did their personal experiences with cancer influence the stories they chose to tell?
WILLIAM: The lineup is stunning.
Ramsey Campbell – Introduction
Tim Lebbon – Just Breathe
Simon Kurt Unsworth – Photographs of Boden
Steven Savile & Steve Lockley – The Last Gift
John Shirley – Where the Market’s Hottest
Anna Taborska – Underbelly
Stephen James Price – Pages of Promises
Scott Nicholson – Heal Thyself
Stephen Laws – Harbinger
William Meikle – The Unfinished Basement
Nancy Kilpatrick – Alien Love
David Riley – A Girl, a Toad and a Cask
Barbie Wilde – Polyp
Johnny Mains – The Cure
Guy N Smith – The Big One
Pete Crowther – Cankerman
Steve Duffy – X for Henrietta
Gary McMahon – Bitter Soup
Cover art by Simon Marshall Jones
I know from private correspondence that each one has been touched in some way by cancer, whether it be personal, family or friends, but I’ll let their stories speak for them – the rest is a private matter for them to speak about if they wish to.
ANTHONY: Tell us about your story in the anthology.
WILLIAM: The Unfinished Basement is a cancer metaphor story – there’s several in the collection.
I write about monsters, and have been doing so for a long span of years. Just recently I’ve started thinking more about why and taking a harder look at my motivations. A look back at several recent things I’ve done was revealing. THE INVASION features an alien invasion that comes in the form of an organism from space that eats anything in its path, transforming it into something different and unnatural. My short story THE COLOUR THAT CAME TO CHISWICK features a colour out of space that gets into beer and, when consumed, eats the drinker away from the inside out. THE UNFI|N|ISHED BASEMENT features gross body changes and loss of identity, and even my current work in progress, ostensibly just a little creature feature disaster story, features genetic modification leading to crawling chaos. I may not have been consciously aware of it, but it’s obvious to me now that the Big C has been on my mind.
ANTHONY: You write short stories and novels. Does your writing process change at all from one format to the other?
WILLIAM: To me it’s all just writing. The story itself dictates its own length. The end format is just another method for me to deliver the story. I’ve been published in all lengths, in print, ebook, audio, and on film and I’ve read stories at storytelling evenings in a variety of bars. I’m sure when the time comes for media to get delivered straight into people’s brains that I’ll be ready with something to publish that way too.
ANTHONY: You also are known for writing stories with characters like Doyle’s Professor Challenger and Sherlock Holmes, Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos and Thomas Carnacki. What draws you to these classic (and somewhat public domain) characters over and over again?
WILLIAM: Nowadays there is a plethora of detectives in both book and film who may seem to use the trappings of crime solvers, but get involved in the supernatural. William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel (the book that led to the movie Angel Heart) is a fine example, an expert blending of gumshoe and deviltry that is one of my favorite books. Likewise, in the movies, we have cops facing a demon in Denzel Washington’s Fallen that plays like a police procedural taken to a very dark place.
My interest goes further back to the “gentleman detective” era where we have seekers of truth in Blackwood’s John Silence, Sherlock Holmes and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, and, mixed in with that, a deep love of the American PI books and movies of the ’40s and ’50s.
I’ve 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.
ANTHONY: You also have your own continuing series, like The Midnight Files. Tell us a little bit about them.
WILLIAM: I read widely, both in the crime and horror genres, but my crime fiction in particular keeps returning to older, pulpier, bases.
My series character, Glasgow PI Derek Adams, is a Bogart and Chandler fan, and it is the movies and Americana of the ’40s that I find a lot of my inspiration for him, rather than in the modern procedural.
That, and the old city, are the two main drivers for the Midnight Eye stories.
When I was a lad, back in the early 1960s, we lived in a town 20 miles south of Glasgow, and it was an adventure to the big city when I went with my family on shopping trips. Back then the city was a Victorian giant going slowly to seed.
It is often said that the British Empire was built in Glasgow on the banks of the river Clyde. Back when I was young, the shipyards were still going strong, and the city centre itself still held on to some of its past glories.
It was a warren of tall sandstone buildings and narrow streets, with Edwardian trams still running through them. The big stores still had pneumatic delivery systems for billing, every man wore a hat, collar and tie, and steam trains ran into grand vaulted railway stations filled with smoke.
To a young boy from the sticks it seemed like a grand place. It was only later that I learned about the knife gangs that terrorized the dance halls, and the serial killer, Bible John, who frequented the same dance floors, quoting scripture as he lured teenage girls to a violent end.
Fast forward fifteen years, and I was at University in the city, and getting an education into the real heart of the place. I learned about bars, and religious divides. Glasgow is split along tribal royalties. Back in the Victorian era, shiploads of Irishmen came to Glasgow for work. The protestants went to one side of the city, the catholics to the other. There they set up homes… and football teams.
Now these teams are the biggest sporting giants in Scotland, two behemoths that attract bigots like bees to honey. As a student I soon learned how to avoid giving away my religion in bars, and which ones to stay out of on match days.
Also by the time I was a student, a lot of the tall sandstone buildings had been pulled down to make way for tower blocks. Back then they were the new shiny future, taking the people out of the Victorian ghettos and into the present day.
Fast forward to the present day and there are all new ghettos. The tower blocks are ruled by drug gangs and pimps. Meanwhile there have been many attempts to gentrify the city centre, with designer shops being built in old warehouses, with docklands developments building expensive apartments where sailors used to get services from hard faced girls, and with shiny, trendy bars full of glossy expensively dressed bankers.
And underneath it all, the old Glasgow still lies, slumbering, a dreaming god waiting for the stars to be right again.
Derek Adams, The Midnight Eye, knows the ways of the old city. And, if truth be told, he prefers them to the new.
He’s turned up in three novels so far, THE AMULET, THE SIRENS and THE SKIN GAME, all out now in ebook at all the usual online stores and in shiny new paperback editions from Seven Realms Publishing in 2013.( All three books will also be appearing in Portuguese language editions in 2013/14.) The Amulet is available in audiobook at Audible.com, and there’s also a film company looking for funding to bring him to life, several short stories, and an anthology appearance in the forthcoming CTHULHU 2012 anthology from Mythos Books.
Derek has developed a life of his own, and I’m along for the ride.
ANTHONY: The e-book of The Unspoken has been available for a short while now. What’s the response to the book been like from readers?
WILLIAM: Slower than I hoped actually. Anyone who has read it has been very positive, but sales are sluggish. I’m hoping interviews like this one will help raise the profile.
ANTHONY: When will the print version of the anthology be available?
WILLIAM: It should be along later this year, funds permitting.
ANTHONY: Where does the money raised by the anthology go?
WILLIAM: The money is going to The Beatson Cancer Research Institute, an organization who have done a lot of tireless work in helping sufferers for many years – including my dad.
You can learn more about the Beatson Cancer Research Institute by visiting their website.