Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
I was a voracious reader as a kid - everything I could get my hands on from DC and Marvel comics, very British ones like "The Hotspur", "The Victor" and "The Valiant", all of the children's classics, and most of our local library's genre section which included everything I could find from Verne, Wells, Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, Tolkien, Arthur C Clarke and Edgar Rice Burroughs. At the same time I was making my way through my granddad's paperbacks - the "Pan Books of Horror", Dennis Wheatley, Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie, Louis L'Amour, Len Deighton, Ian Fleming and Ed McBain all figuring large
I found Wyndham, Lovecraft and Moorcock round about 1970 at the age of twelve and things were getting set pretty much for the rest of my lifetime's reading preferences by the time Stephen King and James Herbert came along a few years later.
But there's another constant. My granddad was also a big Bogart fan, and I'd already been introduced to "The Big Sleep" on the telly when I found the paperback in our local shop in '71. I took it home and read it on one sitting, completely lost in Raymond Chandler's California - a far cry from our wee steel working town in the west of Scotland, but somehow Chandler's voice spoke straight to me - laconic hard-edged cynicism with an underlying deep seated romanticism fuelled by snappy one liners. I was hooked.
It took me a wee while after that to find all the books - my home town wasn't exactly brimming with choice, and I was too young to be allowed up to Glasgow on the hunt for reading material on my own. It was around '75 before I finally got all the paperbacks, but they started a love affair that's continued to this day. Even the titles are enough to evoke the memory - "The Big Sleep", "Farewell My Lovely", "The Long Goodbye", "The Little Sister" and more... each perfectly perfect in its own way, each soaked in gin, bourbon, cigarette smoke and regret. I love them deeply.
The paperbacks have long since fallen to bits but I have nice sturdy hardbacks now, courtesy of my lovely wife, who bought me the "Folio Society" boxed set which is a thing of beauty in its own right.
I read them all again about once a year, and still get lost in Chandler's world every time. There's few other writers who can stand up to multiple reads like that, and they're all great ones.
When I started to write for myself, one of the first things I did was create my detective Derek Adams, a character who has shown enough resilience to still be with me these twenty five years later. Derek may be a Scot in Glasgow, but his soul, like mine, is in '40s and '50s California, drinking gimlets in smoky bars with Marlowe and listening to tales of woe from fast broads and cheap crooks.
I don't read nearly as much as I used to - a combination of the old eyes fading badly and the needs of my own writing taking precedence. That said, a day without a book is a day wasted.
As I mentioned above, I reread old favorites as well as trying, in vain, to keep up with new stuff. For example, I'm currently on a reread of T.H. White's "The Once and Future King", another book I've loved since childhood, and the last in a bit of an Arthurian spell where I've read Bernard Cornwell's "Arthur trilogy", Mary Stewart's "Merlin Cycle", and a slew of David Gemmell fantasies that allude to the undead King. I think all of this is leading up to me writing a big sprawling fantasy epic of my own... someday.
But to return to the actual present. Of the current crop of horror, I mostly seem to be reading short story collections, and I'm very impressed by Laird Barron, Simon Kurt Unsworth and Gary McMahon to name but three.
The one that really got my attention is Nathan Ballingrud's "North American Lake Monsters" collection. It's as close to a perfect collection as I've read in many a year, reminding me of the best of Weird Tales from the early 20th Century but with a modern sensibility. I won't spoil the experience by delving deeply here, I'll just tell you to get it and read it. You can thank me later.
I'll be eighty seven in 2045 if I'm still around and I'll be happy just to be above ground, never mind getting any writing done.
It's one of my biggest regrets that I didn't start writing until I was in my mid-thirties. Since then it's felt like I've continually been trying to catch up to where I want to be with it, and now that I'm fifty seven I can feel the pressure build as time gets ever shorter and age starts to wither both my attention span and my eyesight.
Hopefully both will hold out as I've got an ideas list as long as your arm to work my way through that includes more Carnacki stories, a handful of Derek Adams novels, and some themed supernatural story collections.
In the longer term, before I pop off, I mentioned upstream about a sprawling fantasy epic. I had a go with one of those in the "Watchers" trilogy back almost fifteen years ago now, and I keep meaning to do another, but something else always seems to come up and makes me put the epic on the back burner. I have a three book deal with DarkFuse to complete, and more Carnacki to write for Dark Renaissance, and just today I was approached about a new project, which will be like a themed ghost story anthology, but I'll write all the stories myself, in different voices. Which will be interesting.
So the fantasy epic lies dormant, as it has been, in the background, whispering away, for years now. I hope, in thirty more years, I'll have got round to it. George RR Martin stole my thunder a bit in that what I had in mind was very like "Game of Thrones" in concept if not in execution, but there'll be more magic in mine, more barbarians hacking about with big axes, and fewer dwarfs in brothels. I have a basic plot worked out - mirror magic, seafaring pirate whale worshippers, cursed weaponry and children abducted to grow up strangers in a strange land as slave workers in vast mines. I can see it all laid out in my head, and the plot covers years of this place's history. It's just a matter of writing the bugger.
If you ever see me at a con or in a bar, ask me about it - talking about it might be just the kick in the arse it needs to get going properly.
I'm a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with twenty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. My work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and I have recent short story sales to NATURE Futures, Penumbra, Read Short Fiction and Buzzy Mag. When I'm not writing I play guitar, drink beer and dream of fortune and glory.
You can see more of Willie at his website.
Willie’s author page can be found here.