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WILLIAM MEIKLE

Genre Fiction

Genre gear change. Maybe.

I’ve tried my hand at several works of fantasy over the years, and they almost always come out the same way — pulpy, with swords, sorcery, monsters and bloody battles to the fore. It’s the way I roll.

I may start with good intentions, of writing high fantasy with political intrigue and courtly goings on but, as in the Watchers series or Berserker, or some of the stories in the Samurai collection, my inner barbarian muscles to the fore, says Bugger this for a lark, and starts hacking.

The blame for my enthusiasm can be laid squarely at several doors.

There’s Conan, of course, and Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon and the whole pantheon of Eternal Champions; there’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Solomon Kane, Jon Shannow, Druss, the princes of Amber and the shades of a thousand more by the likes of Poul Anderson, A E Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H Rider Haggard and many others.

I’ve just come out of a months-long stint on another one, a historical trilogy set in 14th C Paris, with Templar mysteries, desert magic and more swashes than you can buckle, and it’s off to my co-writer Steve Savile for him to weave some more magic into it.

Up next for me is another creature feature for SEVERED PRESS, but I’m already thinking ahead — this might be the year for my own fantasy epic, which will likely be dark, and feature my SIGILS AND TOTEMS mythos in a Stone Age fantasy setting. I’ve got an outline that involves tattoos, flightless birds, thylacines, lost cities, pirates, whale cults, crocodile gods, the dreamtime, a big black bird, mad sorcerors, sea battles and love lost, found, and lost again. It’s been in my head for years. As I say, it might be time for it to come out.

It’s fermenting. The warmer weather this summer might see it develop.

 

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On London – a relationship with an old lady

I went to London to seek my fortune back in early 1982. My relationship with the Old Lady proved to be a love affair that I still carry with me even though it lasted less than ten years.

For the first few months I was living and working outside the main city while making forays into the museums, cinemas and pubs of the city center at weekends. But the love only came after I started working in the old city itself. I got a job in a converted warehouse in Devonshire Square near Liverpool Street Railway Station. My desk looked out over Petticoat Lane Market, my lunchtime wanderings took me to the curry cafes of Brick Lane and the bars of Whitechapel in the footsteps of the Ripper. I was supporting computer systems down in the financial sector, and my wanderings down there took me to Bank and Monument, to indoor markets and gorgeous old pubs, to tiny churches and cemeteries hidden away in courtyards, and across the river, to Borough Market and even older pubs, like The George and The Market Porter. If you’re after a true whiff of old London, there’s few finer places to seek it.

A few years later we moved office to Farringdon Road and more old markets, Guardian journalists in the pubs and forays into the area between there and Euston. Then we settled in High Holborn which for me meant Skoob Bookshop, the British Museum and yes, more pubs, in the Victorian splendor of The Princess Louise, the high gothic weirdness of The City of Yorke and many more, including forays down to Fleet Street for some Dickensian musings in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, and the Strand for The George and the Coal Hole under The Savoy for some slices of theatrical history, and many other bars, too numerous to mention or too lost to memory in alcoholic poisoning of the brain cells.

For a while London got into my soul. I got able to find my way around from just about anywhere inside the M25, I lived south of the river in Bromley, Beckenham and Ladywell, where I discovered that the flat I’d bought didn’t just have a bogeyman in the stairwell, but that the Old Lady’s Well bubbled up in the cellar, to my eventual enormous financial cost, But at least I got to know the similarly drunken patrons of a variety of night buses after concerts or drinking sessions during my time there.

London is indeed a fine old city. Almost, but not quite, the equal of Edinburgh or Glasgow in my heart. My real love for it came from not just the place, but from the people I met there. I met many Londoners, but I also met people from all over the UK, people from India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Poland, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Greece, Turkey and many other far flung spots. I made great friends and a lot of them are still friends today, 35 years on. We spent many happy hours in those aforementioned old bars, telling each other stories. They heard mine, and I heard theirs, and the telling of them bound, and binds us in friendship all across the globe to this day. That’s been better than any fortune to me over the years.

Towards the end of my time in the Old Lady, I met my wife there too, in another of the old bars, and our courtship was spent over beer, film and theatre around Covent Garden and in the West End.

We left London and I returned to Scotland in 1991, but some of the Old Lady came with me, in my friends and, eventually, in my own writing. When I started to drift into writing Victoriana, it was London that called loudest to me, from Baker Street and Cheyne Walk, from Bank to Embankment and yes, from bar to bar.

In my most recent collection, THE GHOST CLUB, most of the stories don’t take place in London. But they are all told there, over a meal and a drink, by Doyle and Stoker, Stevenson and Oliphant, Tolstoy and Wilde and others, all drawn, like me, by the tales to be told, and heard, in the arms of the Old Lady, and in her bars.

 

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I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I like horror fiction.

I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I like horror fiction.

A lot of my work, long and short form, has been set in Scotland, and a lot of it uses the history and folklore. There’s just something about the misty landscapes and old buildings that speaks straight to my soul. (Bloody Celts… we get all sentimental at the least wee thing).

Scottish history goes deep. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a castle or a historic monument or, from further back, a burial mound or standing stone. Five thousand years of living in mist and dampness, wind and snow, lashing rain and high seas leads to the telling of many tales of eldritch beings abroad in the dark nights. Add in the constant risk of invasion and war from Romans, Danes, Irishmen, Vikings and English and you can see that there’s plenty of fertile ground for both fact and fiction to merge into a rich and varied mythology.

I grew up in the West Coast of Scotland in an environment where the supernatural was almost commonplace. My grannie certainly had a touch of “the sight”, always knowing when someone in the family was in trouble. There are numerous stories told of family members meeting other, long dead, family in their dreams, and I myself have had more than a few encounters, with dead family, plus meetings with what I can only class as residents of faerie. I have had several precognitive dreams, one of which saved me from a potentially fatal car crash.

What with all of that, it was only natural that my taste in reading would take a turn towards the spooky.

I think my first close encounter of the Scottish kind must have been with Rabbie Burns. I’m from Ayrshire like Rabbie, and we share a birthday, so he was ever present in my early schooling. I remember learning a recital of the galloping frenzy of Tam o’ Shanter as drunken Tam escapes the witches Sabbath by the skin of his teeth. Walter Scott too wasn’t above slipping wraiths and fairies and fey folk into his romances, and he too was an early sight for me of some old Scots preoccupations with the darker side.

When I started reading seriously for myself, Treasure Island was one of my early favorites, and it led me directly to the man who would be a lifelong companion. Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t just anchor a whole sub-culture of horror with Doctor Jeckyll and his alter-ego — he also wrote some of the greatest adventure novels of all time, and some of the most beautifuly constructed short stories you ever did read. He also introduced me to Scottish history in a way that school books had never managed, and through him I was led to Victorian Edinburgh and London, and directly into the arms of another great Scotsman.

Yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was Scottish. No, he wasn’t an English gentleman. Now that’s out of the way… I fell in love with Doyle through Challenger more than Holmes at first, from a love of The Lost World that persists to this day. Holmes came along later, and when I started writing Holmes stories of my own, the supernatural kept creeping into them, which gets me castigated by Sherlockian purists, but I don’t care; as a Scotsman, like Doyle, steeped in the stories told in the mists and dark rooms in old buildings, it feels as natural to me as breathing. Doyle also wrote some top notch horror shorts that were a big favorite of mine in those early years.

Also writing at the same time was Margaret Oliphant, a prolific Scotswoman better known for romantic dramas than supernatural works, but in later years I discovered a ghost stories collection of hers and was delighted to discover that she too shared our kinfolk’s love for the things that live in the dark and foggy nights in the auld country.

My later reading in my early teens before I found Moorcock then Lovecraft then King was almost all sci-fi or thriller based, but there too I found Scots with a taste for the darkside, in John Buchan and especially Alistair MacLean, a man who would have made a great pulp horror writer in different circumstances.

Later still William McIllvaney and Ian Rankin, while ostensibly working in the crime field also showed me more than a few glimpses of their familiarity with the dark and the ways of things that creep in the shadows.

And then, in the Eighties, horror came back to Scotland in full measure, in Ian Banks’ The Wasp Factory, in Jonathan Aycliffe’s Edinburgh ghost story, The Matrix, and in the many works of Joe Donnelly, a much missed genre writer who gave us a whole range of Scottish spooks, spectres, bogey-men and monsters in his short horror career during the boom years.

Which brings us round to when I started writing for myself, in the early ’90s. I’ve tried over the years since then to explain in a variety of works what the rich history of Scottish supernatural writing has given me. In my new book, THE GHOST CLUB, I’ve gone right back to basics, and provided as part of it three tales as if told by Stevenson, Oliphant and Doyle, and a wee cameo by Rabbie Burns in another story for good measure. I hope I’ve done them justice.

I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I write horror fiction.

 

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The Midnight Eye Files

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.

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.

There are antecedents – occult detectives 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.

But I think it’s the people that influence me most. Everybody in Scotland’s got stories to tell, and once you get them going, you can’t stop them. I love chatting to people, (usually in pubs) and finding out the -weird- shit they’ve experienced. Derek is mainly based on a bloke I met years ago in a bar in Partick, and quite a few of the characters that turn up and talk too much in my books can be found in real life in bars in Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews.

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 and audiobook editions from Gryphonwood Press.

THE AMULET is also out in a Portuguese language edition from Retropunk Publicadoes (with the other 2 to follow) and there’s a German language edition of THE AMULET from Blitz Verlag.

There’s also an ever growing list of Midnight Eye short stories, a novella, DEAL OR NO DEAL from Gryphonwood Press, and a new novella, FARSIDE coming in OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY PRESENTS.

Derek has developed a life of his own, and I’m along for the ride.

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The way ahead for a pulpy pensioner

My pulp fiction sells better than my attempts at weird, more literary short fiction.

There’s no beating about the bush about that, it just does. Over the years my heart has been in trying to make a break through in the weird short story field, and I’ve pushed myself hard in attempts to leave a mark in that area.

But after nearly thirty years at it, it’s not got me where I want to be, and to some in the weird fiction arena I’m still–I’ll always be–‘That hack. That pulp guy’.

They see it as an insult. I wear it with pride.

My pulp fiction sells much better than my weird short fiction.

So, now that I’m in my Sixties, and a pensioner to boot, I’ve been thinking about the way ahead again. I had been planning to write another collection of Victorian supernatural stories this year, and even had an editor interested, but on consideration, my heart is no longer in it. I think I’ve said all I have to say in that area in THE GHOST CLUB, which is what I’ll point to if anybody asks why I’m not doing any more. That collection has picked up great reviews, and is selling relatively well. But INFESTATION, my recent pulpy, big-bug short novel is outselling it, and all my other books, by a long way.

So what with that, and my attempts to sell recent short stories to new weird markets not getting me any joy, this year I’m sticking to what works for me. I’ve got a contract to write another pulpy thriller for SEVERED PRESS, my third with these characters, and I’m having a lot of fun with them.

So there’s that, and the fact I want to write another Derek Adams book sometime this year. I’ll be back in the ghost story arena with CARNACKI at some point too, as that’s a love I can’t shun, and I’d like to get a fourth collection done that has some new stories and also collects some published stories that haven’t yet been collected together.

So I choose fun.

Fun is good. It’s better than angst, especially when you’re a pensioner.

Besides, my pulp fiction sells better than my weird short fiction.

 

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FUNGOID is back – new release from Crossroad Press

When the end came, it wasn’t zombies, asteroids, global warming or nuclear winter. It was something that escaped from a lab. Something small, and very hungry.

In this one you’ll find a chunk of Newfoundland, a fireman, some nasty rain, a bit of real science, a lot of unreal science, some Canadians, many cigarettes, some trucks, boats and planes, and plenty of spores, mushrooms and rot.

GET IT ON AMAZON    SAMPLE

For fans of John Wyndham, William Hope Hodgson and H P Lovecraft, here’s a wee homage to a lot of the things I’ve loved since childhood.

Something a lot of people don’t know about me: I used to be a botanist. And no, it doesn’t mean I know about gardening. For my honors thesis I studied how much archaeological information could be gleaned from analyzing pollen grains in the strata of peat bogs in Central Scotland, I spent a year after graduating cataloging the plant fossil collection in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, and I had an abortive attempt at doing a PhD in the causes of rot in apples as they ripen.

I also learned quite a lot about fungi. The pollen analysis stuff hasn’t made it into a story of mine yet, but the fungi have – there’s something insidious about the creeping of mycelium, something obscene in the flesh of the caps, something scary in the fact that they spend so much time in the dark, just sitting there… growing.

I started to get a germ (or should that be spore ) of an idea a few years back of a fungal takeover of the planet, and I tried it out in a piece of flash fiction that I sold to NATURE FUTURES ( you can read that one–> here. ) It was the one image I had in mind, of a dark sky and vast, endless fields of high fruiting bodies. The image wouldn’t leave me, and it came back in another story, THE KEW GROWTHS, in my Challenger collection where the Prof has to tackle a giant fungal menace threatening London.

That story was fun – but the image I had in my head was still for something a lot darker – something insidious, obscene and scary.

Then another, accompanying, image came – a man in a HAZMAT suit, with nothing inside that was remotely human, just creeping filaments and bursting spores.

The story begins with spore-filled rain over Newfoundland. I’ve trashed my new homeland in this book. Sorry.

A band of survivors on the Eastern coast of Canada watch as their world falls and crumbles to ruin. The infection seems relentless. More than that, it seems to be learning, adapting and evolving faster than they can fight it. Worse still—it is infecting not just their bodies, but is creeping into their minds, dancing in their dreams.  Can they stop it before it takes them? Or must they all join in the final dance of death? 

Fungoid is a fast paced ecohorror thriller that delivers on all fronts. The large cast of characters combined with Meikle’s tight plotting and a keen eye for dialogue bring a real cinematic feel to the narrative. By focusing more on the fast based plot rather than getting bogged down by over characterisation Meikle has created a real page-turner. – GINGER NUTS OF HORROR 

Lightning fast, engaging and thouroughly entertaining. – Unnerving Magazine 

The end result is a deeply entertaining piece of writing which takes a number of well-established tropes and characters and moulds them into something new. – Dark Musings

Recommended for fans of fast paced, plague spreading, biological menaces! – Char’s Horror Corner 

Do you like campy horror? Immersively weird apocalyptic scenarios? Star-crossed lovers in impossibly disgusting situations? Then this book is for you. – Bookshot at Litreactor

Above all else in my love of the horror genre, I cherish implacability. Prolific and accomplished author William Meikle masterfully delivers this element; in fact, I consider it one of his trademarks. In FUNGOID, a story determined to keep you wide-eyed awake, he brings together a seemingly natural process, adds the suspicion of human meddling, and a frisson of supernaturalism. Together, I raced through the pages as fast as my Kindle could handle – The Haunted Reading Room

 

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X – The Unknown (1956)

My first viewing of this early Hammer horror was sometime around 1970, late night on BBC 2, and it was made vivid in my memory because one of the actors, Scottish character actor Jameson Clark, lived in my home town and we’d see him in the street.

The movie itself is full of all the stuff I’ve come to love over the years: Hammer horror, big blobby things, a Scottish setting, and scientists dabbling in things best left alone.

It was originally intended to be a sequel to THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, and you can see some of the joins in the script as a result, but it still holds up well to repeat viewings, and there’s an array of faces that would become much better known in later genre movies and TV, like Leo McKern, Kenneth Cope, Michael Rimmer, Frazer Hines and even a quick appearance from Anthony Newley.

It moves along at a great clip, there’s some decidedly iffy FX, the obligatory child in peril, a pervy doctor hitting on nurses and some lovely melting flesh. Everything a growing lad like me loved at the age of twelve, and still does to this day.

The setting is Scottish seen through an English studio lens, there’s a joke Scottish soldier who gets killed off early after some ludicrous banter, the geography is all over the place, as one minute they’re near Glasgow, then they’re near Inverness, and there are plenty of stock Scots locals harrumphing behind the non-Scottish leads. But none of that matters.

It’s got a big radioactive blob wreaking havoc in Scotland.

That’s enough for me.

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Dark Regions Press and Me

Dark Regions Press were my breakthrough publisher – the one where I started to believe I could do something with myself in the genres, and the one who gave me my break into both the hardcover markets and the Carnacki / Challenger / Holmes pastiches that have proven so popular with my readers in recent years.

Due to the overlap with Dark Renaissance, and with them taking on the books when it folded, Dark Regions Press is now home to a lot of my material from the past ten years, and I’m always happy to see it there, given the tremendous production values that the company puts into their products.

I also get to rub shoulders with a fine stable of established writers.

If you’re looking for a great read, look no further.

You’ll find my available books over at their online shop here » Dark Regions Press

And there’s a full list of all the novels, novellas, collections and anthology appearances over at my website

I’ve got more stories coming in their fine anthologies in the months to come. First up will be an appearance in the huge I AM THE ABYSS, where I get to rub shoulders with some great writers, and, a wee dream for me, I get a two page, full color illustration by the legend Les Edwards accompanying my story.

So look out for that.

I hope to sell them more work in the future. I love the look of those hardcovers on my shelf.

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My Fifties in Writing

So, a look back at my fifties in terms of the writing.

In January 2008, when I turned fifty, I had five pro story sales to my name, a lot of small press credits in for-the-love markets, a total of five sales to mainly small press anthologies, and a handful of novels in print in the US small press at Black Death Books. Island Life had gone out of print, and I’d just had a failed year trying something different, writing a straight crime novel (failed), a children’s novel (failed) and I was working on an “Ice Zombies take Manhattan” thing I wasn’t at all sure about. The main thing that was keeping me going was the memory of a sale to the pro anthology NOVA SCOTIA where I’d rubbed shoulders with Hugo and Nebula award winners, but even that thought was fading quickly into the past.

I was new in Newfoundland, with no regular income to speak of, and staring into a void.

Fast forward ten years. I’ve been selling regularly to pro markets with over eighty pro-rate story sales, I’ve had novels, novellas and collections published in some of the better known genre presses, I’ve sold books to foreign markets, and have numerous appearances in anthologies from the big name publishers. I have a lovely shelf of deluxe hardcovers of my work, and a full bookcase of paperbacks of my books and antho appearances.

And we haven’t starved. Which is nice. It’s been a golden period, ten years that I could hardly have imagined back in 2008.

I sense that some of it will slip away a bit now, with the demise of DarKfuse and Dark Renaissance, but I have new places to conquer, new paths to walk, and there’s still the dream of fortune and glory to pursue.

I wonder what my sixties will bring?

Onward!

 

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