Michael Marshall Smith

Interviewed at FantasyCon XX 5/10/96
by Graeme Hurry


Now that your novels are taking off will your short stories dry up?

They definitely won't dry up completely, in some ways after six months writing a novel I've sort of written all the prose out of me for a bit, and so it tends to take a little while before I get down to it again. It's actually more the screenplay stuff which just takes up so much time. Its what people hassle me to do and so I don't have enough time to do short stories at the moment, I've got a couple planned and I've just done one which I hope to go into Zone, but I'll always keep writing them because I like writing them.


How did the film options for Spares come about, did you have direct involvement in advertising its existence?

The way it was done was the way its supposed to be done really, which is I have an agent here called Nick Master and he co-agented it with a guy called Bob Bookman who's at CAA, who's a literary agent whose sole job is.. CAA are easily the most powerful agency in Hollywood, and they did it the proper flash way, by building up the anticipation, telling only certain people telling them they had to make a bid quickly. Its an extraordinary thing, its like a sort of science. They release it on a Wednesday because then they have Thursday and Friday to read it, the weekend to think about it and Monday to make an offer. If you release it on a Monday they're still thinking about the ones from last Wednesday. It's just done in proper agents style, so I just handed it over to them and excitingly it took off.


Do you find living in London conducive to writing or a distraction from it?

What do you mean the city itself?

Have you always lived in London.

Well yes since I've lived by myself it's always been in London. I don't think its that much of a distraction, because if you life there you don't do the whole theatre think. I just like big cities so its ideal really.

I just thought Steve Jones would be coming over and dragging you out to get pissed all the time instead of doing your work.

It does happen every now and then. Which is good though because writings a pretty solitary business so its good that a few people live in London. So I can see Steve, I can see Nick Royle or Conrad or one of those people. Not necessarily to talk about writing it's just nice to go out and see people.

For your first book Only Forward, did you have a commission or did you write it and tout it round the publishers?

I wrote it and touted it round the publishers. I was quite lucky because when I was just starting writing it, I won the BFS award for best short story. So I changed jobs and was at that awards ceremony. So I saw Jo in the corner and I went to talk with her and she said when you finish it come and show it to me and so I did and she took it it was that simple. I was very lucky, really.

I believe you won the BFS award for the first short story you ever wrote?

It was, yes. Which again was pretty jammie.

Was that because all your pals voted for it.

Well, no one knew me at that stage. That was the first ever British Fantasy Convention I had been to and the only person I knew there was Nick Royle. I met Mark Morris for the first time there. I met Steve Jones for the first time there so no...

Which publication was it in, was it a small press magazine?

It was in Dark Terrors. I actually sent it to.. I'd met Nick about six months before that, maybe a year before that, and we showed each other stories and I asked who do you send stuff like this to, and one of the addresses was for the Pan Book of Horrors, as it was then, and it was ...../ he died or lost interest or something. So it went by Cathy Gale to Steve because they were just starting the Dark Terrors thing. So I was very lucky that my first professional story published in a professional anthology so it got read by a lot of people. It was good.

Only Forward was acclaimed but the print run must have been quite high, was it disappointing that it was remaindered?

Was it actually remaindered?

Well it's been in a few shops at £1.50.

Well the thing is they did four printings of it and in the end it sold somewhere around 38,000 copies, so I'm not unhappy with that. It's a perpetual problem really. I've got the hardback of Spares coming out at the moment their policy, which is a reasonable policy, is not to print too many so that the book stores can see they had something that they ran out of rather than having tons of stuff left.


Do you see films of your work as the ultimate goal for a book or an irrelevance?

I'm writing books. Because I try to do screen writing as well, there is a little bit of me which is bearing in mind if something will work for film, but I'm certainly no writing- I mean Spares for example, if I was writing a film I would have changed it and made it completely different. Because one of the beauties of books is that you can do things you could never get commissioned as a film. So books first if they happen to make a good movie, or with some changes they happen to make a good movie then great because you can earn a lot of money out of it. But no I want films to be film and books to be books.


Do you see yourself directing if the films of your work take off?

I'd love to direct at some stage, yeah. It's the kind of thing that if it happens will be ten years down the line because I'm still learning how to screen write, and directing is a whole now discipline again. Screen writing is quite different from novel writing. In terms of structure in terms of what you tell, what you show, and I think I'm getting the hang of it but it'll take a little time, and as I say directing's a whole other level. Also some people have a very visual sense I don't think that just anyone can direct just because they have seen a few movies and written a script. So I'll have to wait and see if I can do it.

What film scripts are you writing at the moment?

In 1995 I did a first draft of an eight part mini series adaptation of Clive Barker's Weaveworld. Then there was a hiatus while they sorted out various things, because there were some personality clashes. The original production company have now been lobbed off and it's just writing directly for Showtime in LA. I'm just starting a second draft for that now. I'm wrote an adaptation of Jay Russell's Celestial Dogs which is out and about doing the rounds at the moment. I wrote a big SF action movie which was called Death Lane but has had a name change to Avenging Angel, which is out and about too. At the moment I'm just about to start writing an adaptation of the first Night Hunter book by William Falkner (i.e. Robert Holdstock writing as William Falcner). I'm doing that for a production company called Wandering Star and Mirramax.


Is screen writing better paid than your books?

Pretty much. I do it because I want to be a screen writer rather than for the money, but as long as you've got a reasonable agent... I've done a lot of years working for no money and now I'm getting paid and you do get paid reasonably well doing films.


Have you started a new book or are you resting?

A bit of both, as there was such a hiatus between Only Forward and Spares Harper are justifiably keen to get the next one out on time so they can start building a thing. In theory I should be writing it now but I'm a little late starting probably because of the film stuff and partly because I only finished Spares in March of this year (1996) and I could really do with a rest rather than doing it straight over. I've got some ideas and to a degree letting them filter in the back of my head and then I'll start writing, I hope, in the next month or so.


Do you ever consider the publishers paying you to do your research in foreign countries.

The next one is set in America and I can offset holidays against tax but I think the publishers would balk at paying me to go out there.


When do you think you'll be a tax exile, and where would you exile yourself to?

Well, I don't think I'll be a tax exile for a little while yet, but I do want to go and live in the States at some stage. I grew up in the States until I was seven or eight and I'd quite like to go back to live for a bit. What I'd ideally like to do is to divide my time more or less equally between here and the States, simply because America feels very comfortable.


Any particular place in America?

Where I grew up was Florida and that feels very nice, alternatively somewhere like Northern California.


Do you have any ambitions left within the writing field?

Too right. Spares has just been published I have no idea how many copies it will sell, I have no idea if people will like it. So to keep writing books, make them bigger and better and make more money.


Do you have any ambitions outside writing?

I have sort of domestic ambitions to get a nice house kids at some stage a nice family all that sort of stuff. I've played music for a long time, in the last couple of years I've not done much of it but I used to be quite keen on playing the piano and guitar. It would be nice to do a bit of that for fun. But what I tend to do is start doing things and somehow turn them into a job and suddenly it's a job and not relaxing. I'm sort of ambitious in some ways and I knew if I got in a band I'd start writing songs and wanting to get recordings I know it would all go bastard. I'm not very good at just doing things for the fun of it really.


How much research do you do for your books and short stories?

Virtually none. For Spares it was a place I've been to so I know it and I've got a map for the names of roads and things. What would tend to happen is that I'll read a wide variety of stuff, like New Scientist and if anything looks interesting I'll note ideas down. Generally I just make things up, it's partly laziness and partly because I thing people can get too immersed in research and it can end up sounding like half way between fiction and non fiction. I'm more interested in emotions and character and that kind of thing rather than factual stuff.

One of the skills involved in writing fiction is getting people to believe things and not notice things and if the idea is strong enough then who cares whether or not it is true.


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