An Interview with China Miéville
by Gabriel Chouinard
China Miéville's urban worlds are dark, dreary, decayed... and utterly magical. From the grimy, seedy underbelly of London to the twisted and hauntingly beautiful landscape that is New Crobuzon, China has the distinct ability to transport his readers to other realms, and to take them on a journey of discovery. His work, I think, will ultimately transform the landscape of speculative fiction -- or Weird Fiction, as the author describes his work -- in much the same way as The Matrix transformed the choreography of fight scenes in cinema. There is, honestly, no other work quite like Perdido Street Station, his Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel. It truly is Weird Fiction.
China represents a new breed of fantasy writers. Strongly influenced by the British and American upstarts of the Sixties and Seventies, like Michael Moorcock, M. John Harrison and J.G. Ballard, China and his contemporaries approach fantastic literature with a mix of surreal artistic vision and gritty realism. Treating magic as if it were science, creature creation as biology, these writers weave tales that may not be possible, but are nonetheless thoroughly plausible. Here is true 'magic realism'.
As an author, China himself is rather fascinating, and the subject of some examination within the speculative fiction community. His exploits as an activist and politician (he ran for Parliament on the Socialist ticket) have been faithfully recorded. And yet, he is still a private and humble man. No flashy website. No cocky attitude. No self-glorification.
So I was quite thrilled when, after several months of trying, I was finally able to start asking him questions.
GC: You obviously take your politics quite seriously, from running for Parliament to being arrested at a protest; it's refreshing to find an author that is vocal in more than one arena. How did Parliament end up? I know you lost, but do you feel as though your voice was heard?
CM: We knew we wouldn't win - that was never ever going to happen. It was about putting an alternative view. The Labour Party has moved so far to the right, now, that people have been disenfranchised. There's no mainstream party to vote for if you want to stand against privatisation and big business. We stood - the Socialist Alliance - for similar strategic reasons that Nader and the Green Party stood in the US. With us standing, the electorate could vote to put people before profits. And yes, we put that on the agenda, we changed the argument, and people know who we are. The fight's beginning, not ending.
GC: Your politics spill over into your writing in interesting ways. For example (and I could be wrong here...), I think in particular the garuda's theft of choice crime is rather intriguing. Some could say that you're arguing for an individualist society, but I think that you're arguing against an overly individualized society. Are you secretly out to twist us all with your mad socialist view? (chuckle)
CM: Actually, what I was interested in was challenging the idea that 'the individual' is the preserve of the right wing. It's often argued that those of us on the left stand for society against the individual, and I wanted to say that that is a false opposition, and examine a society where the individual and society are mutually constituting, and where it's precisely a consciousness of being part of society that gives a strong importance to the individual. That's not to say I'm arguing 'for' or 'against' the garuda culture. I don't think that's my job, in a work of fiction.
GC: True, the job is always to tell a good story. But in the ol' cookie-cutter world of speculative fiction, it's still refreshing to see someone taking their politics seriously. Do you think that, at its best, speculative fiction is a commentary on the world around us? Or is it something else entirely?
CM: Yes, I think that speculative fiction, and all fiction, inevitably, is about the world around it. You can't write or read without society being in the chair with you. I think that you might as well know that, and use it to texture your fiction. Obviously that doesn't mean you have to accept - or even be conscious of - my politics, to read the story. That's why it's fiction.
GC: Alright, let's get serious. You've been hailed by critics and readers and writers across the board, lauded and praised and pampered. Surely you've been gifted with women and chocolates. How does it feel to be speculative fiction's equivalent of a pop star? Do you feel that all the hype detracts from the work at all?
CM: A pop star? Do you think? Wow.
Of course, the response to Perdido has absolutely blown me away. I have been incredibly, incredibly lucky, and I'm very conscious of that. I don't really know if the hype affects the way people read the work - certainly, people who don't like it don't seem to have any problem saying so, which is a good thing, however much the writer may not like it.
I feel incredibly honoured by the response - all I ever wanted to do was write Weird Fiction, and to get this kind of response has been extraordinary.
GC: Has the hype affected your writing of The Scar? Do you feel any excess pressure?
CM: Certainly, I've been very nervous about the response to The Scar. I have performance anxiety (like I'm sitting on a bed with a limp word-processor, muttering 'this has never happened to me before...'). I'm extremely pleased with, and proud of The Scar, but it's a very different book: it's more challenging to the reader - in what I hope is a good way. But yes, of course, when you've had such great reviews and so on, inevitably, you get nervous about the follow-up. I just hope people aren't expecting 'Perdido Street Station 2'.
GC: Going backwards, King Rat, your first novel, was basically the Pied Piper in London, E'ed up and slinking around to the beats of Drum-n-Bass. An intriguing twist, with reflections of the real world and real subculture. How did this book come about? Were you involved in the DnB scene at all?
CM: Originally I had been planning on writing a werewolf book, set in London, but the city kept looming larger and larger as I wrote, and the werewolfs sort of ebbed away. There was a character which had fascinated me since I saw him in a children's pantomime, called 'King Rat', and who I'd been playing with since that time - I have some old comics I drew featuring him, that sort of thing. I ended up plugging him into the story, which was already strongly featuring London's Drum-n-Bass scene, and it worked well.
I was involved in the DnB scene, primarily as a consumer, though I'd worked with a friend trying to put bits and pieces of music together. One day I hope I'll get a chance to get back to that.
GC: I particularly enjoyed your twisted, morose vision of London's underbelly. I've only been to London once before, but with every scene, the city came rushing vividly back... an admirable job! Tell me, what about London has made such an impression upon you? Why not Cairo, or any of the other cities you've lived in?
CM: With Perdido Street Station, there are other cities there, and Cairo was very much an influence, in fact. But it's quite true that London looms massively in my mental landscape. I was very self-consciously trying to write a book that was in the 'other London' tradition, of Thomas de Quincey, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Michael Moorcock and others.
I love cities in general, and there are different aspects to each one that I find inspiring and fascinating, but London seems pretty unique to me. The scale of it, the rich and poor living cheek by jowl, the fucked up mix of architecture. It's obvious why it's one of the great cities of literature.
GC: Now, Perdido Street Station is a completely different beastie. Less techno, more splatter. And brilliant, brilliant genre-hopping. You aren't a fan of pigeonholes, are you?
CM: Not much.
GC: I'd like to talk for a bit about blurring the lines between genres, as this is one of the lynchpins of the entire 'next wave movement' that I've been espousing about for so long. So... what is your work? Is it fantasy? Science fiction? Horror? Slipstream? Weird Fiction? Literature?
CM: I've always liked the term 'Weird Fiction', and that's what I think I write. I don't believe you can make a sharp distinction between SF and Fantasy or Horror. It's easy enough at the edges - Tolkien versus Asimov, say - but there is just so much work that blurs the supposedly rigid boundaries. What I love about the Weird Tales tradition - and why I call what I write Weird Fiction - is that it absolutely embraced that boundary blurring. Look at the most interesting writers around the early years of the century - David Lindsay, William Hope Hodgson, Lovecraft, Robert Chambers - is it SF? Fantasy? Horror? Lovecraft's monsters do magic, and they're horrific, but they're aliens from other dimensions. The writing exists where the three genres meet, and that's the most fecund kind of fantastic literature, for me.
GC: I've often said that speculative fiction is the literature of ideas. Unlike many authors, you pack your novels full of ideas -- big ones and small ones and wild ones and beautiful ones. You're holding to a certain tradition begun by people like Mervyn Peake, and carried on by Michael Moorcock, M John Harrison, Brian Aldiss and the rest. Was this a conscious decision? Did you sit down with the thought of "Hey, I'm not going to write a cookie-cutter Epic Tolkien Fantasy; I'm going to do the exact opposite of that!"?
CM: It was conscious. Not that I wrote the book solely to be contrary, though. What I mean is that the aesthetic that always fascinated me in fantastic art is the surreal, the macabre, the grotesque, and I wanted to focus on that, rather than the consolatory aesthetic of post-Tolkien fantasy, which mollycoddles the reader, and acts as comfort food. So yeah, I tried to write the kind of book I love, and in the process, I was kind of oppositional. So for example I set Perdido in a city, and an industrial city to boot, because I get sick of fantasy being set in a neverneverland of Feudalism Lite. I decided to have a fantasy set during a reign of brutal urban capitalism. And similarly, I tried to move away from the racial essentialism of fantasy - in a lot of 'traditional' fantasy, if someone describes a goblin, say, as evil and stupid, they're telling the truth. In my world - as in the real world - they're probably being racist.
The attempt to subvert an epic structure, with fucked-up heroes and ambiguity and so on is just part of the whole project of problematising the form of fantastic literature. So I guess yes, it's an oppositional book, but it's not a manifesto: it's a story designed to make you want to know what happens next.
GC: "Fucked-up heroes" perhaps, but would you go so far as to describe your characters as 'anti-heroes', as I've seen bandied about on the net? I just can't bring myself to think of your characters as anything other than 'realistic people'....
CM: Well, hopefully they're realistic, but I think they're probably all somewhat larger than life. I don't have a particular problem with that - it is a novel, after all. As long as you try to make them as believable as possible.
GC: You also approach your writing with the eye of an artist. You conjure visuals with the sweeping palette of a master painter. Were you influenced by artists as well as writers? Anyone in particular?
CM: The artists that inspire me more than any others are the Surrealists. The books contain various references to them, particularly to Max Ernst, who is a constant inspiration to me. Other artists whose work is very important to me include Yves Tanguy, Wilfredo Lam, Basquiat, and masses of others, including a lot of comic artists. I could list them, but it might get a bit dull...
GC: I've read that you've actually drawn many of the creatures that populate Perdido Street Station. Is there any chance that these drawings will ever be seen? Perhaps a chapbook of illustrations...?
CM: Certainly, I'd love to, but I'm not in any particular hurry. I'll definitely do something like that sometime, but only when I've the time to do it exactly as I want.
GC: You've drawn upon your anthropology background quite a bit in Perdido Street Station. The urban setting, the creatures brought in from various cultures... All done with the mastery and deep understanding of an anthropologist. Is this what drives you to write? Or would you say that anthropology is an outgrowth of your desire to write about various cultures? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
CM: Originally when I went to university, I went to study English Literature, but I found it horribly solipsistic, so I quite quickly changed to do anthropology. I'm not for a moment scorning literary theory - I get quite frustrated when authors or fans get sniffy about academia, and start accusing people of 'reading too much into things' - as far as I'm concerned, authorial intention is of very strictly limited value. But for me, the studying of literature in isolation was frustrating. So I changed to the social sciences, and that was no looking back. It's not a chicken/egg question - my interest in social theory and world politics and cultures is its own end, and my desire to write weird fiction is also its own end. Obviously they bleed into each other, but it's not a question of one coming first - they're both there, and mutually constitute each other.
GC: And, again, the urban setting; this time, New Crobuzon and its intricate society of hundreds of species. You've come up with a very distinctive setting that is sure to live on for a long time, like Middle-earth and Gormenghast... you must plan on writing in this milieu for a long time, as it's still ripe for plunder.
CM: Well that's extremely kind of you - the idea of New Crobuzon enduring as a fantastic setting is the most exciting thing that I can imagine. I certainly intend to come back to New Crobuzon - I have the history, the geography and politics, worked out in some detail. I see no limit to the number of novels or short stories that I might set there. It's a world I'm still really into - and I mean world, not city. I'm not restricted to New Crobuzon itself.
GC: The horrific aspect of your writing is very visceral, very distinct, particularly in your depiction of those ultimate slaves, the Remades. Did you watch too many David Cronenberg and Clive Barker movies as a child? You view them with a certain detachment, as if you were a scientist examining some specimen...
CM: Is there such a thing as too many Cronenberg films...? I love him and always have. The aim with writing visceral horror is to show it in all its unpleasantness without leering or sadistically glorying in it. The detachment is an attempt to square that circle. To be honest, I think it's almost impossible to escape the fetishism of violence when you depict it, but you just have to avoid wallowing in it.
GC: Now then, like every writer, you're the product of your influences. The patterns of your upbringing are barely visible dancing beneath the surface of your prose. So let's talk for a bit about influences. Obviously, Peake and Moorcock and M J Harrison... Ballard and Kafka and Pynchon... but what else is there that people don't readily see? Are there any obscure influences that you'd like to share?
CM: This is a brilliant question. You're quite right to point out the obvious ones, to which we can add William Hope Hodgson, Lovecraft, Mary Gentle, Gene Wolfe, and others. But you're right, the interesting question is who isn't obvious.
The main one is a Zimbabwean writer called Dambudzo Marechera - sadly dead. He wrote a handful of obscure, brilliant novels and a load of poems. He's a messy and difficult writer, but the way he wrestles with language and makes it intense and strange is quite astonishing. He's influenced by the Beats, and the Surrealists, and he uses the fantastic in a way quite at odds with the African tradition of folk tales - he's a Modernist.
Other 'hidden influences' include the Surrealist writers, the superb Polish fantasist Stefan Grabinski, a pair of young black British writers who call themselves 'Two Fingers' and 'James T. Kirk' (really), who wrote a brilliant book called Junglist, which was an abiding influence. Want more?
GC: Oh yes! Feel free! I think that people need to seek out these lesser-known works, in order to fully appreciate world literature.
CM: Well, some of these are probably 'lesser-known', where others are very famous, but not necessarily obvious influences on me.
Michael de Larrabeiti for the Borribles trilogy. Bruno Schulz. Charlotte Bronté for Jane Eyre (one of my all-time top ten books). Jane Gaskell for Strange Evil. Russell Hoban's The Mouse and his Child. And there are many writers who've lodged themselves indelibly in my head on the strength of one short story - E.L.White for Lukundoo. Julio Cortazar for House Taken Over. Scott Bradfield, most particularly for The Secret Life of Houses.
GC: I know that you're familiar with Dislocated Fictions and the concept of the 'next wave'. (You've even recommended it, which is the coolest thing in the world!) So let's talk about this movement for a bit. Are things getting better for speculative fiction? Are we finally pulling ourselves out of the shitheap that we've been languishing in for decades?
CM: I like being considered part of a movement...
But I feel kind of unqualified to comment on this, which I hope doesn't seem too pusillanimous. Thing is, although SF has always been my passion, I was never a 'fan', in the sense that I wasn't au fait with 'the scene'. Only in the last couple of years I've started trying to keep more of an eye on it. I knew about the New Wave and knew how important it was and how great I loved the stuff. I've also always known that a lot of what was published as SF sucked, but I'd be lying if I claimed to have had a strong sense that SF was in crisis over the last 10 years.
Although I'll admit that Cyberpunk never really happened for me - I found most of it a bit drab, so I knew that a lot of 'modern' SF wasn't up my street - till recently.
GC: You've been a party to the massive "movement mailings" that danced around for a while. It was quite interesting to see the "it's a movement, but not a movement -- I don't work well as part of a group", etc... and yet, there's an undeniable sense that there's something in the air. What do you think? What's that electrical charge in the air?
CM: I think if anything it's a good thing that like most movements (certainly like the SF 'New Wave'), we had 'movementness' thrust upon us - we never signed up to anything. Which is not a jibe, and doesn't invalidate the idea of the 'Next Wave' - I certainly don't think that writers and artists are always most conscious of which other people's works resonate most interestingly with their own. If someone looking realises that the idea of a movement is a useful one, then cool. Considering something a movement is about making connections that may or may not be visible to those directly involved.
I'm not sure quite what's up... but yeah, something seems to be.
GC: One of the key elements of the next wave is the treatment of magic as a sort of technology. That is, viewing magic as having rules and laws and physics. You do this admirably throughout your work. What draws you to this sort of gritty realism? Whatever happened to "fantasy is escapist fiction for kids"?
CM: The problem with magic is when it's used as a Deus Ex Machina. If you establish magic as a kind of science, with rules, then you can't do that. Mind you, not that you need to have 'technological magic' to make non-escapist fantasy. Swift, Bulgakov, et al.
Even the most escapist fantasy, like Tolkien - It may be escapist, but it can't escape. Fiction that thinks it's escapist is among the most intensely ideological there is, because it denies that it's actually about reality, in a mediated way. That's why I prefer fantasy that's hard-headed about its relationship with reality. Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter has to be one of the most devastating recent versions of this.
GC: Recently I called Mike Moorcock a "mythographer" as a sort of one-off... but you know, I realized the word works to describe that certain subset of fantasy writers like yourself, Gentle, etc. What do you think? Are we tapping into unexplored myths and mapping them out? Some subconscious territory that people are just now beginning to examine? Basically, what is your view of the 'philosophy of fantasy'?
CM: This is way too big a question. I've only just vaguely begun to try to formalise a philosophy of fantasy, and frankly, who knows? But on the question of myth, I'm actually not someone who believes that mythic structure is intrinsic to fantasy. I certainly don't consider myself to be uncovering hidden myths, or mapping new ones. I think that mythic structure can be something of a millstone. Obviously, there are brilliant works like Sandman, which is clearly mythological, but I think that what's so good about that is the way he undermines the mythic structure, and problematises it (like some of the gender issues). For the most part, the surrealist tradition of dreamlike juxtaposition of images, of 'convulsive beauty' (a term coined by Isidore Ducasse), which is what I'm most interested in, is in opposition to mythical structure. Myth is all about uncovering hidden meaning under the fantastic images, meaning that was already there. Surrealism is about creating meaning through the active process of wrestling with language and images. In the way it involves the reader, it's a highly democratic and creative tradition - a fucking radical one. That's why I'm uncomfortable with the idea that myth is in some way fundamental to fantasy.
Having said all of which, this is not absolute or prescriptive. King Rat obviously plays very directly with mythic structure. I think mythic ideas are ones that fantasists can choose to use, but aren't the be-all and end-all of what we do.
GC: Ten years ago, I doubt that your novels would have been published in the US. I think that it's amazing that Americans are finally realizing that there is something else out there beyond the Star Wars and Star Trek mythos that may actually exhibit some sense of individuality and creativity. Is it that way in England as well? Or are folks across the pond more receptive to fantastic literature?
CM: There's a massive explosion of excitement about the genre in Britain at the moment, and people are talking about a British SF renaissance. The thing is, that that's not at all to say that there wasn't great stuff being put out during those times - a renaissance is less about a sudden change in the stuff being put out than to do with a change in the cultural milieu in which it's received. There's a bunch of fantastic SF being put out of Britain right now, by people who've been writing since the New Wave, writers who started in the 80s and early 90s, as well as newer names. Paul McAuley, Justina Robson, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Stephen Baxter, M. John Harrison, and others, we're all conscious that something is happening.
Of course all the exaggerated distinctions between British and American SF won't hold water - but at the same time, there does (very generally speaking) seem to be something about the British experience which lends itself to being somewhat more introspective, more sociologically minded. I suspect it may have something to do with being a post-imperial power. I'm immensely proud of the British SF tradition.
GC: I actually just recently discovered Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Wow! And I thought you wrote some fucked-up, mind-blowing stuff! Jon is one of the best of the bunch that I've read recently.
Well, we know that fantastic fiction can exist shoulder-to-shoulder with 'mainstream' fiction as pure literature. But do you think that it will ever be widely accepted as such? Do you think the average business executive will ever feel comfortable openly reading something like Peake, along with Forbes?
CM: Frankly I sort of doubt it. (And I couldn't give a tinker's cuss what business executives are reading). As a general rule, I suspect that the prejudice against the fantastic aesthetic is so strong that we'll remain marginalised by 'literary fiction' for a long time yet. Instead, what'll happen is that fantastic tropes will filter more and more into the 'mainstream', and all the while they'll deny that what they're doing is 'SF', or fantasy, or whatever. We have a good gauge of that in Britain - the Booker Prize, which is nominally a prize for 'literary fiction'. The day that M. John Harrison makes the Booker shortlist, that's the day we're getting the recognition we deserve. And it won't be any time soon.
GC: Sort of related -- do you think it's possible to instruct the general masses to use their imagination? Are we ever going to be able to teach those masses that it's OK to go hunting dragons, as it were; to indulge in what is widely perceived as a "childish" subset of literature?
CM: I don't think the 'masses' have problems using their imaginations. I think the marginalisation of Weird Fiction is much more to do with the literary establishment than the mass of readers. One of the most popular writers in Britain is Iain Banks, a hugely creative and subversive writer of fantastic fiction. SF is hugely popular. Terry Pratchett is hugely popular. It's not the mass of readers who are sectarian against us - it's 'literary readers', I reckon.
GC: Actually, Matt Stover mentioned that the entire sf community should collectively bow down and kiss J. K. Rowling's feet for Harry Potter. What do you think? Legitimate observation?
CM: Hmmm. Well, if the Harry Potter phenomenon led to literary types opening up to fantastic fiction, then yeah, that would be good, but I doubt it will. They just read them in the special 'adult' covers, and don't look at anything else. Anyway, I'm highly sus of the idea - I've read the first two Harry Potter books, and I dislike them intensely. I have no argument with J. K. Rowling personally - she may be very nice. But I find the books drab and pedestrianly written, and deeply unoriginal. And whatever her own politics, I find the politics embedded in the books incredibly reactionary.
GC: So, what are you reading these days? Comics? Big fat textbooks?
CM: Until I finish my Ph.D. I'm reading very very little fiction - I can't really concentrate. I'm working through Paul McAuley's (brilliant) Fairyland at a glacial pace. Jeff VanderMeer's The Exchange. I'm reading several theoretical books that I doubt would interest anyone reading this column. And I continue my ongoing love affair with comics. I'm finally catching up with Preacher, which I've been meaning to read for a long time. I'm enjoying it. It's very addictive.
My 'To Be Read' pile is currently huge, and tottering, and I'm eager to get down to it (October, I reckon).
GC: I know you've said before that you illustrate comic books, so I know that you have the same love for them that I have. What do you think the chances are that comics will lose the stigma of being superheroes for adolescent boys? Will comics ever become less marginalized, as fantasy and science fiction are now becoming less marginalized?
CM: I really don't know. My tastes in comics tended towards the post-punk art stuff, like the artists published in Raw: David Sandlin, Chris Ware, Charles Burns, people like that. That's not to say that I don't really enjoy people in garish tights beating each other up, but that was never my first comic love. I suspect that comics will always be somewhat marginalised because of the pulp history, but they'll chink through the wall. Preacher just got made book of the week in the Guardian, a very respected newspaper over here.
There is a problem with comics, I think, which is that those of us who love them are maybe a bit too catholic with our tastes - there's not enough discernment. Some of the stuff which is held up as 'classic', I think, is actually pretty unimpressive.
GC: So, you don't like things like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns? Are you familiar with Warren Ellis? I'd count Warren and Grant Morrison as two of the few remaining genius writers working in mainstream comics....
CM: Well, those are interesting examples, which illustrates what I'm talking about - they're the Modern Canon, and there's great stuff and overrated stuff in there. I think Warren Ellis is bloody great. I adore Planetary, I love Transmetropolitan (though it's not exactly subtle...). Brilliant, creative stuff. But I have problems with Grant Morrison. I absolutely loved his early stuff - I thought Zenith, which was in 2000AD years ago, was superb, and genuinely subversive. And I really enjoyed bits of Animal Man (though the ending annoyed me - nowhere near as original or subversive as it seems to think) and Doom Patrol. But I don't like his JLA stuff, and I'm not massively into The Invisibles. Partly it's because his vein of mysticism irritates me, like most New Age bullshit, but mostly it's because I think he's becoming clichéd - it's a new set of clichés from old school comics, but clichés nonetheless. Like, the whole thing with The Invisibles - Chaos equals Good/Creative/Life-affirming, Order equals Bad/Deadening/Fascist etc. He's been making the same arguments since the mid-80s, and these days those ideas are pretty trite. And I'm not saying I disagree - clearly his scepticism towards power is something I'm very sympathetic to - I'm just saying that whether or not it's true, it's not exactly a radical claim. It's the kind of moral you find in Robin Williams films, so if you want to pitch yourself as a 'subversive' artist, then you might want to try to do something a bit more interesting with the ideas. Like in Zenith, when he was making many of the same claims (15 years ago!), he had a superb character who was fighting with the 'goodies', but who was a Conservative MP. Morrison wrote him brilliantly, and he was way the best character, because he undermined the readers' expectations.
Watchmen and Dark Knight? I love Alan Moore. I really enjoyed Watchmen, though I preferred Swamp Thing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta. Dark Knight...? Hmmm. I have huge issues with Frank Miller. I did enjoy Dark Knight, but let's not beat about the bush - the underlying idea is that people are sheep, who need Strong Shepherds. This is a bit fascist - or at the very least unpleasantly Nietzschean. It's all about the Will To Power Triumphing Over Chaos. And there's a similar kind of aesthetic in Ronin, and in a lot of his stuff. I don't think it's any coincidence that in Martha Washington Goes To War he cites as his biggest influence the unpleasant old right wing bullshit-monger Ayn Rand. I think Frank Miller is sharp, and a skilful writer, whose work leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
GC: It's interesting that you aim for the surrealistic artists. Daniel Clowes? One of my favorite comics is "Ed the Happy Clown", which was part of Yummy Fur... What about Paul Pope? Like his work? I can see you grooving on THB and Heavy Liquid.
CM: Yeah, I like Daniel Clowes, Love Chester Brown, and Ed The Happy Clown. It's those kind of surrealist/arts/punk crossover stuff that I like most. Compilations like Raw, Drawn and Quarterly, Snake Eyes.
GC: With The Scar, you'll be returning to the world of Perdido Street Station. What's the book about? Will there be any returning characters from Perdido in there?
CM: All I'll say is that there are riffs on the earlier book, so that if you haven't read PSS, it doesn't matter, and you'll be able to read The Scar fine, but if you have read it, you'll get certain references and resonances. I'm trying to build up layers, like textures, with each book or short story set in that world.
GC: Anything you can tell us about the story, without giving too much away? Come on, China, give me an exclusive here, you stodgy bastard! *grin*
CM: Sorry. You're going to get nowhere with this... It's not too long to wait, now, anyway.
GC: So, what's next after The Scar? Have you made plans that far in advance? Or will you just give up writing after you get your Ph.D.?
CM: Hell no! I have at least two more books and three short stories carefully planned. I intend to keep writing Weird Fiction as long as people keep wanting to read my stuff.
GC: What about the actual craft of writing? What sort of schedule do you keep? I can't imagine running for Parliament and writing novels at once. Are you a fast writer like Moorcock?
CM: I'm reasonably disciplined. I have to be, because otherwise I couldn't juggle projects. At the moment, when I'm trying to finish my Ph.D., I give myself a couple of months now and then to work on the writing, and I have to keep to a good six or more hours a day working on it. I try to get 2000 words a day out - obviously I don't always achieve that, but that's generally the aim. Obviously, I have to do a lot of editing on those words. I think that's a reasonably good average, but my god, not in Moorcock's league.
GC: And finally, because it's almost a prerequisite of doing an interview with a writer -- what kind of advice do you have for young folks that want to grow up to be a writer? Any tips, tricks, realities that you want to share? And don't give us the standard old crap... give some real insight, my friend!
CM: I don't really know what the standard crap is, so I'm not sure what to say... So I apologise if this is a cliché. I'd say that the most important thing is don't sit and wait for inspiration - inspiration isn't some abstract thing that'll just come out of nowhere. The most important thing is to get the words out. Keep focusing on getting a certain number of words done every day. If they're shit, that doesn't matter, you can improve them later. Obviously you need some good ideas, but writing is a craft, and the more you practice, the better you get.
Don't be snotty about being edited. You should be open-minded about changing your stuff if friends or editors tell you it needs changing. They're not automatically right, obviously, but once you've written something you're so close to it, there's a very good chance you're the last person who knows what should be done to it. There are some brilliant writers whose work would be way improved if they'd just let themselves be edited.
And once you've written something, don't just send it to publishers. Get an agent. GET AN AGENT.
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