Ian R MacLeod: Describe
your writing process. Do you go through lots of drafts? Do you write
quickly? Do you go back and revise, or push on and go back when you've
got a whole thing finished?
Martin Sketchley: I've always had a tendency
to polish my drafts as I write. This results in me cutting quite a lot
of quite shiny material! It's a habit I'm trying to get out of. With
the next book I want to get a first draft down quite quickly then polish
it later. I only really feel comfortable when I've got enough text for
a book, even if a lot of it's got to change.
If an idea comes to me as I go along I'll type a brief note in case
I forget it, then come back to it. Similarly, I won't spend ten minutes
trying to think of exactly the right word to use; if I can't come up
with it I'll stick in a couple of question marks and come back to it
later. Initially I just want to get the gist of what I'm trying to say
on the page.
I know you've been a musician. Are there any parallels?
MS: Although both are creative processes I'd say there are more contrasts
than parallels. As a musician you get an instant reaction from an audience
to what you're doing, and in a band you have other people to work off,
to react to, in real time. There's none of that with writing. There's
also a physical effort and reward in making music. Writing leaves you
tired because of the mental effort, but there's no adrenalin rush.
IM: What kind of music
(if any) do you listen to when you're writing? What other kinds of things
do you like to have around you?
MS: I tend to listen to quite fast, hard stuff. It's good for giving
your brain a stimulus when you're trying to write a thousand words at
6am, or 11pm. And it's great for producing action scenes! The Liberty
Gun was written to Ian Brown, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Nirvana,
PJ Harvey, Prodigy, Rage Against the Machine, That Petrol Emotion, The
Wedding Present, The Zutons, and in the very final moments, Arctic Monkeys.
Most of that is pretty dark, too, and I think my writing can be pretty
dark. If not music then I like silence -- or as close to silence as
it's possible to get. It kind of depends what mood I'm in.
IM: Why did you choose
(or did you choose) to write SF?
MS: Although it's a bit of a cliché
to say it, I think it was inevitable. I always read SF, always loved
SF films, and have always been fascinated with the possibility of alien
life. I'd always fancied the idea of writing, too, but it took a while
for the two to come together. I'd been writing for a while when I read
Use of Weapons by Iain Banks. A light bulb came on above my head.
In the back was an Interzone subscription form. I used it, began
writing SF, and didn't look back.
IM: If you had one
piece of advice to give to budding writers what would it be? And you
can't say, don't!
MS: Write something that's commercial, but distinctive. Oh, and ditch
Windows and buy a Mac -- you won't regret it. (I guess that's two --
can I have two?)
IM: Is there a particular
writer or performer you'd cite as a key influence?
MS: The subtle turns in Chris Priest's novels have always stimulated
me, but I think the most exciting writer to emerge and have an influence
on me in more recent times is Jon Courtenay Grimwood. His writing's
gripping, exotic, entertaining and supremely economical: he can convey
all you need to know about a character in a couple of sentences. His
last few novels have been stunning. I bought them in hardcover and have
pre-ordered his next -- End of the World Blues -- and I never
do either of those things!
I'd say overall, however, that film has had much more of an influence
on my work than text. The Coen brothers are a particular influence:
there's a scene in The Destiny Mask which is an homage to Fargo,
although I don't reckon anyone will spot it. And their superb film The
Man Who Wasn't There has a darkness and pace I love. Donnie Darko,
Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, and things like the BBC's
production The Nightmare Man I love. Looking at the list, they're
all relatively quiet, slow pieces with a certain tension. Interesting.
IM: What directions
do you see SF heading in? Do you see yourself going the same way?
MS: For several years the books on the Clarke Award short list have
all had very mainstream covers, with an undeniably ambiguous positioning.
I think SFs heading this way for a couple of reasons. One is market
forces. Everyone wants to sell more books -- authors, publishers, booksellers,
agents -- and if your novel can be pitched with mainstream as well as
SF appeal you'll sell more. People who wouldn't pick up a book with
a spaceship on the cover will pick up a book with a face on the cover,
for example, even though the content may be the same. Also, and possibly
more importantly, SF can continue to evolve by putting mainstream ideas
into an unusual context, and visa versa.
IM: As a writer myself,
I know that the stupidest question you can possibly be asked is "where
do you get your ideas?" But at the same time, your work is full
of twisty invention. So -- is there such a thing as a typical Sketchley
MS: Thanks. I believe inspiration does
exist, but you have to turn on the machine. If you have a problem with
a novel, or aren't sure where it's going, it needs to be ticking over
in the back of your mind. I put little notes here and there to remind
me what I'm supposed to be thinking
about. At the sink is a good place. And between the speedo and the clock
in the car.
I also make an effort to give the reader the unexpected. The end of
The Affinity Trap is a great example. I love the ending to that
book. In fact, I love the endings to all three Structure novels. My
wife's just finished reading The Destiny Mask and cried for the
last ten pages! The ending to The Liberty Gun is also a burster.
I guess I'm good at endings. Although that's bit ironic, as in my life
ending things hasn't been a strong point.
IM: Thinking of the
Structure novels, a key point of what drives your writing seems to me
to be relatives and family relationships. Why do you think this is?
You also seem to be very interested in people not knowing who or what
they really are. Does that throw any light on the Sketchley psyche?
MS: That's an interesting one. Someone once said (I'm afraid I can't
remember who) that when two people meet there are always six people
present: the person each perceives themselves to be, the people they
perceive each other to be, and the people they actually are. I think
a person's personality is in a constant state of flux; we just check
different boxes for different situations.
The Liberty Gun is definitely about relationships: between people
and the things they create. I'm an only child, so maybe that's in there
somewhere. But in truth the one of the biggest influences on what we
do in life is the people around us, and I write books that are about
people rather than ideas. For example, it would be possible to put Delgado
into a present-day context without his story being much different.
IM: Another recurring
theme is time -- both through travelling in time and prediction.
How and why did you develop The Destiny Mask's characteristics
in the second book of your series?
MS: I'm very interested in time. Knowing the future is dangerous, but
people still seem to yearn for it. For example, we're at the point now
where it's possible for parents to know the sex of their unborn children,
and whether they have any health problems. People are then able to make
a choice as to whether they still want that child. I'm an atheist, but
that just doesn't feel right to me.
I'm also fascinated with what the future holds for the human race,
and for Earth. If you look back 1,000 years and consider how the world
has changed since then, and consider how the world may change over the
next 1,000 years, I'm certain the difference will be even greater, and
that's a pretty big difference to comprehend.
We're rapidly approaching a tipping point in terms of the growth of
the human race, our consumption of the world's resources, and the power
we bestow upon ourselves. Indeed, it may already be too late for us
to maintain in the long term something that even approaches the lifestyle
we currently enjoy in the developed world.
The idea I'm developing for my next novel is set in the present day,
with a link to the far future -- 200,000 years hence. The future I'm
seeing in my head, although somewhat orange, isn't particularly bright.
And looking at my notes in light of your previous questions, I can see
that relationships and personal identity are there again.
IM: Rightly or wrongly,
I detect traces of Greek and Norse myth -- family rivalries, saviours,
oracles, wars -- in your work. Is this something you'd agree with, or
are aware of?
I've got a book called Dictionary of World Myth -- An A-Z reference
guide to gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and fabulous beasts.
I love all that stuff, and pore over this book quite a lot when I'm
developing a new idea. There's evidence of this in the chapter titles
in The Affinity Trap and The Destiny Mask. Cerberus was
a three-headed dog that guarded the underworld -- that's fantastic!
(And I think he might have appeared in one of the Harry Potter films…)
And I love the Labours of Herakles. My Favourite is the Stymphalian
Birds, which is the title of the first chapter in The Destiny Mask.
Herakles has to get rid of vicious man-eating birds with iron claws,
wings and beaks that infested lake Stymphalios in Arcadia. He scared
them out of the trees with his bronze castanets, then shot them down
individually with his bow and arrow. I love anything with bronze castanets.
IM: Action and entertainment,
things going on, a strong narrative, are clearly important to you. How
does that translate into how you see your work and your readership?
MS: People don't read as much as they
used to because there are so many alternatives. In order to remain at
least moderately popular, books have to compete. While there is undoubtedly
a market for deep, meaningful works that'll stand critical analysis,
I believe a lot of people just want good escapist entertainment. That
might seem cheap, but there's a lot to be said for escapist entertainment.
If I can give people the opportunity to escape for a few minutes while
reading one of my books, and also examine a few of the issues that niggle
me, that's great.
The first two novels in Martin Sketchley's Structure
series, The Affinity Trap and The Destiny Mask, are currently
available from Pyr in the US and Canada, and Simon & Schuster in
the UK. The third -- The Liberty Gun -- will be published by
Pyr in November 2006, and in February 2007 by Simon & Schuster.
Order online using these
links and infinity plus will benefit:
...The Affinity Trap (UK edition) from Amazon.com
...The Affinity Trap (US edition) from Amazon.com
...The Destiny Mask (UK edition) from Amazon.com
...The Destiny Mask (US edition) from Amazon.com
...The Liberty Gun (US edition) from Amazon.com
Ian R MacLeod's novel The House of Storms
is currently available in paperback from Pocket. A new short story collection
-- Past Magic -- is also imminent from PS Publishing, with an
introduction by Jack Dann. His novel The Summer Isles, published
in the US by Aio Publishing, has been shortlisted for both the John
W. Campbell and Sidewise Awards.
in infinity plus:
Elsewhere on the web: