Tina Hall Interviews Ian Graham

Ian Graham wrote his first novel, Monument, in 2002. The prequel is currently in the works. He resides in Manchester, England. Ian has First Class BA (Hons) in Literature from Bolton Institute and an MA in British Romanticism from the University of Manchester.

Can you tell us a little about your background? Where are you from? How has your background influenced your writing style?

I grew up in Bury, in the northwest of England. Nowadays, I live a couple of miles up the road in Ramsbottom, a small town crouching at the edge of the West Pennine Moors. After leaving comprehensive school, I pretty much failed my A-levels, then had an abortive attempt at becoming a computer programmer. During this time, I began to read, primarily for escapism; gradually, I realised that I would like to try my hand at writing. I set about getting a literary education, studying Literature at Bolton Institute, then moving on to a Master of Arts at the University of Manchester. The Masters in particular was hard work. But incredibly nourishing.

Since childhood, I’ve lived in areas that are fairly green and, if not directly rural, were at least in close proximity to areas of farmland. This, I am certain, has had an impact: I suspect that I was drawn to the fantasy idiom because of the vast natural landscapes popular within the genre. I walked to and from school through farmland every day during my adolescence. During my dinner break, I’d wander through the overgrown ruins of the local cotton mills which, reduced to rubble, struck me as being less the residue of an industrial age as something leftover from a far more distant era – an era existing before electrical gadgets, street lighting and other modern day paraphernalia. No doubt, this got my imagination working. I think, too, there was something in the air where I was raised: for many years, my next door neighbour was the artist Vinnie Chong and, unbeknownst to me, the SF/F writer Andy Remic lived a few hundred yards down the road.

When did you first become interested in writing?

The creative writing classes were the only remotely pleasurable lessons at school; yet I never considered writing with any dedication until much later. I spent my teenage years attempting – and failing – to learn to play the guitar. I rarely read; I rarely watched television, or did anything other than make a ghastly, ear-popping racket with my electric guitar and deeply unimpressive 5 watt amplifier. When it became apparent that I was never going to give Ritchie Blackmore a run for his money, I tried to find something else to do. Computer programming seemed the sensible choice at the time but I hated the subject and the jobs it led to. As I mentioned above, I began reading earnestly at this time, primarily to take my mind off the dissatisfying aspects of my life. The more I read, the more I gave thought to writing. In December 1992, I attended a 5 day creative writing course, in which the writer-in-residence was the late great David Gemmell. He said that I showed some promise, and took me under his wing. From then on, writing was a serious concern.

What was the first story you ever wrote?

Like many writers, I began innumerable stories that never reached a conclusion. The first story I finished, and submitted, was a short horror/fantasy piece, whose name I cannot recall. I sent it to Interzone; they replied with a courteous, and encouraging, rejection letter. After the David Gemmell course, I dashed out a 250,000 word novel in about three months. It was written with more vigour than ability, but it was a start. The book, incidentally, was called Monument – though it bears no resemblance to the published novel of the same name.

Do you have any advice to offer others who would like to pursue a career as an author?

Brace yourself! Most writers, when describing their writing lives with complete honesty, sound as if they are whingeing. But, in truth, it is incredibly hard work. You’ve got to be resilient, self-disciplined, self-critical and generally quite tough. As a breed, writers tend to be sensitive and neurotic; these may well be the traits that drive a writer to write. But they also lead to much agonising, self-doubt, sleepless nights and host of other self-inflicted woes. The key is to be persistent, I think. Labour on, day after day, no matter how low your confidence is or how badly the writing seems to be going. Encouragement from others can be helpful; but ultimately, it’s all down to you.

Certain practical things are important. To begin with, read. A lot. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, prose; consume as much as you can, think about what you’ve read, pay attention to the techniques other writers employ. And read beyond your chosen genre, too. If you write fantasy, don’t read only fantasy; gobble up the classics and stuff from other genres. The most unexpected sources can provide some of the best inspiration. You mustn’t be afraid of rewriting, either; first drafts rarely emerge fully formed. They usually need revising, to various degrees. Don’t expect to enjoy writing as you would, say, watching a movie or going on holiday; it tends to provide long-term gratification rather than short-term thrills – though they do crop up from time to time.

Can you tell our readers a little about Monument?

Monument is set in the medieval world of Druine. Politically, Druine is a theocracy, governed by the Pilgrim Church. On the whole, it is a thoroughly unpleasant place, and getting worse by the day. Anhaga Ballas, the story’s protagonist, is a drunk, vagrant and thief. When he steals an unusual gemstone-encrusted oddment from a museum, he suddenly finds himself pursued by the Church for reasons he cannot fully comprehend. He decides to take refuge in Belthirran, the fabled Land Beyond the Mountains. But the journey there is long and Ballas, never the most wholesome of fellows, gets up to some very nasty things indeed . . .

You are currently working on the prequel. What can your readers expect from that? When do you think it will be available?

In the prequel Ballas is, of course, much younger. He is yet to acquire the potentially murderous alcoholism of his later years; consequently, he is stronger, faster and more quick-witted. He also exhibits a few faint traces of decency, which seldom appear in Monument. But I must be careful: if I say too much, I might reveal information best disclosed after having read Monument . . .

Who are some of your favorite authors? Why?

Crikey. There are so many! Within the genre, David Gemmell was a huge influence. I don’t know of any writer who can write a fast-paced, emotionally engaging story as well as David could. Tad Williams is also an influence: his prose style is amongst the powerfully evocative I’ve encountered. Philip K Dick is consistently mind-bending; he had a rare knack of changing the way a reader views the world.

Amongst the current crop of genre writers, I have an (albeit grudging!) admiration for my friend, Andy Remic. He produces first rate fiction, in several genres, and has a workrate that is simply astonishing. The horror writer Gary McMahon is dazzling; his debut, Pretty Little Dead Things, is one of my favourite horror novels of all time and has an emotional impact seldom found in fiction of any sort.

Outside the genre, I have too many favourites to list. Dostoevsky, Graham Greene, Dickens, Shakespeare, Conrad, Nabokov, Cormac McCarthy . . . I also read a lot of poetry. Ted Hughes’ work was particularly affecting. So too Wordsworth and Keats . . .

What one subject that you have yet to cover would you most like to bring the public next?

Oh gosh! There’s a question . . .! For myself, writing tends to be a largely instinctive endeavour, and the subject – that is, the theme underpinning the narrative – only becomes apparent during the latter stages of writing any piece. There tends to be a moment when the clouds part, the sun shines, and I think, Ah, that’s what I meant! So don’t have any predetermined subjects as such. I just plod on and see what emerges . . .

Are you yourself a fan of the horror/sci fi genres? Did you have any favorite monsters as a kid?

When I was growing up, I devoured pretty much any horror VHS I could get my hands on. And during the summer holidays, I ploughed through James Herbert’s works at a rate of knots. I was inordinately fond of the movie Hawk the Slayer too. At primary school, I manufactured little Hawk comic books on pink paper towels plundered from the toilets. Nowadays, I read a lot less fantasy than I used to. No doubt, this is because I spend so much time writing it. And I don’t tend to read a huge amount of fiction, at least when I’m working on my own stuff. I like to keep my head clear, as far as I can; I suspect I am missing out on a great deal of excellent material, which saddens me a little. At present, I tend to read non-fiction, either for research or general enlightenment!

I can’t recall having a favourite monster. But I do remember being chilled by a trailer for The Blob. The thought of being smothered by that ghastly ooze was intolerable; maybe it connected with my childhood fears of drowning and asphyxiation . . .

What is the best advice anyone has ever offered you?

As hackneyed as it may be, Work hard, play hard is a pretty sound philosophy. If you work too hard for too long, you dry up; the joy vanishes, and the work itself suffers. So you have to cut loose now and again. Equally, you must know when the time for play has stopped and the hard graft must resume . . .

What are you planning to work on after the prequel to Monument?

There will be another fantasy novel, set in a different world to Druine. Also, I am working on a piece of contemporary fantasy/horror; a bit of a departure, but we’ll see how it goes . . .

Leave a Reply

FTC Disclaimer
Unless otherwise stated all books reviewed here were received free of charge from their author or publisher. This, of course, does not affect the content of our reviews.