Interview with Author Fiona McGavin

Fiona McGavin bw

IP: When did you begin creating stories? Were you an imaginative child? What are your earliest memories of writing/being creative?

FM: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories. I remember being about 3 or 4 years old and being in bed making up a story in my head about a boy called Navy Blue. Apart from having to write stories at school, I probably started writing them down when I was about 12 years old. Paper was like gold dust in our house, and I wrote a long involved school story on a wodge of computer printout paper my Dad gave me. When I was a little older, I used to spend my pocket money on refill pads from Woolworths. I wrote an Adrian Mole type diary thing with pictures that was very roughly based on my family. It was the first thing I let them read and it made them laugh – I think that was the first time I thought I might be good at writing. Sadly, I didn’t keep that piece of writing. Sometime after that I must have started writing fantasy, but I don’t remember exactly when.

IP: What influences you most creatively? What were your original influences?

FM: All sorts of things influence me – books, TV programmes, quite often song lyrics or lines from poetry. I have a habit of scrolling through Pinterest looking for images to inspire me and I usually listen to music when I’m writing. Sometimes, a character from a film or TV will spark something.

I’ve always been intrigued by villains and anti-heroes. There’s a bit of a joke in my family that when I was little, the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was my favourite character and I felt sorry for him and that he was misunderstood

I read a lot of school stories as a child – the Chalet School books in particular and I think what I liked about them was the drama in the interactions between the schoolgirls and I think this has carried over into my writing. I remember watching Star Wars and Return of the Jedi and being completely enthralled but again, I think it was the characters more than the story that appealed to me. I think a lot of people say this, but once I read The Lord of the Rings, I knew I wanted to write a fantasy novel. I didn’t even understand it properly the first time round, but it definitely influenced me (the films too) if only to get me reading more fantasy novels.

As a teenager, I read a lot of anthologies of ghost stories. I took them out of the school library, and I think there was a series of them called something like Spectre 1 – 4. I read a lot of teen novels around that time. There was a book called ‘The Outsiders’ by S E Hinton that I loved so much I stole it from the school library. I still read the ‘The Chocolate War’ and ‘Beyond the Chocolate War’ by Robert Cormier every couple of years because I think the way he depicts the misuse of power is very powerful. Those books were probably the first I read where the good guys didn’t win, and the villain wasn’t punished.

When I started writing more seriously – in my early 20’s – I was reading more and more fantasy and writing more of it too. I read a lot of Anne Rice and at the time her lush, descriptive style appealed to me as well as her immortal characters. I was also reading Tad Williams’ epic fantasies and Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu trilogy and out of this mish mash came A Dream and a Lie. It also came about because I couldn’t understand why anyone (even an evil over lord) would want to live in Mordor – it’s horrible and uncomfortable there and orcs are not nice people to have around. That got me thinking of alternatives. So, the Big Bad in A Dream and a Lie lives somewhere that’s quite a bit nicer than some of the places where the good guys live.

ADreamAndALieOriginal Cover Illustration for ‘A Dream and a Lie’ Omnibus
by Ruby

The Wraeththu trilogy was important to my writing because I’d never read anything like it. I loved the characters, the plot and the setting but I also liked the way that it treated with gender. I’d been writing male characters that spoke and behaved in a way I felt was more female and I thought this was a fault with my writing. Reading the Wraeththu books showed me that there were ways round this, things I could do with the building of my worlds and without changing my characters’ personalities

IP: Several of your stories concern life in a humdrum office. Clearly, you have worked in such an office, and have experienced the pitfalls! Can you expand upon your inspirations for these stories?

FM: I’ve worked in a lot of offices, so I guess I’m just writing what I know. There are a lot of small dramas that go on at work and people get very territorial over desks and chairs and stationery. I’ve witnessed arguments over some ridiculous things and seen grown women revert to schoolgirls over whether to have a window open or closed (this resulted in someone very pointedly wearing a winter coat in the office in the height of summer.

There’s a lot of backstabbing and some quite despicable behaviour that goes on but is somehow condoned because it happens at work. In my story ‘Cosmic Ordering for Vampires’ the vampire kills someone because she gets given his desk at the window because she’s more senior than he is. This happened to me in one of the jobs I had, and it just seemed utterly petty to me. I didn’t complain, but I didn’t like it much and I may have harboured some revenge fantasies that have come out in this story! In that same office, the girl I was moved next to, very pointedly moved all her stuff to another desk so she wouldn’t have to sit next to me, and one evening someone took my monitor and chair and then when I came in the next morning I was told ‘no one here would do that’ when my empty desk made it obvious they had. They really didn’t like me there.

In one team I worked in we did a lot of overtime in the evenings and at the weekends. A couple of times, I got there before 8 am on a Sunday morning and there was hardly anyone else in the massive building. It was quite eerie. The lights were on a motion sensor so only came on when you walked under them, past all those empty desks with papers and coffee mugs left on them as if their occupants were expected back at any minute. There were lots of creaking noises and any footsteps from upstairs were amplified because it was so quiet. It was always the same group of people doing overtime and we got to be quite a close knit group. At some point, I thought I’d worked out how to defraud the bank and I was pretty sure at least one of my colleagues would have helped me. So, from all that, I got the ideas for ‘Cosmic Ordering’, ‘The Lottery Lady’ and ‘We Are Not Who We Think We Are’.

I also really enjoy reading about people at work and apart from some chicklit and a few crime novels, I haven’t come across a lot of stories set in offices, so I’ve had to write my own. I’d be interested to know of any fantasy or horror stories set in offices.

9781907737992-Perfect.inddLord of the Looking Glass Cover
by Danielle Lainton

IP: Your stories of a post-apocalyptic world are vivid and strange. How did this world make itself known to you, and what are your plans for it in the future? Could you tell us about your favourite characters in this world?

FM: I’m not sure where this world came from. I suppose it might have come out of what I was reading at the time that I started to conceive of it – the Wraeththu books, Elizabeth Hand’s ‘Winterlong’ and ‘The Stand’ by Stephen King. I was at school during the Cold War and in English lessons we were studying works with a Cold War theme – novels, poetry and short stories and we watched the film ‘Threads’ in class. I don’t remember being very interested in the bomb blast, but in what would happen in the centuries afterwards when there was nothing left but ruins of our world.

I do have plans to write more about this world. The world of ‘The Census-Taker’s Daughter’ appeals to me a lot and I’d quite like to expand this short story into a novel length piece of writing. I’d keep the Sleeping Beauty theme and the talking animals and include the back story around what happened to Maya’s mother. The idea of there only being a finite number of people left in the only inhabitable place in the world, and then an extra person being half glimpsed in the shadows, really interests me.

I’ve also got an idea for a portal fantasy where several cities are interlinked and where one of these is a post-apocalyptic city. I’ve started sketching out a few ideas in a notebook, but it’s a slow progress.

IP: Are the stories of the Blood twins associated with the same world as that of the Walking Man?

Originally, they were, along with the ‘Ginevra Flowerdew’ and ‘The Plague Doctor’ stories. I wrote the stories to try and get some ideas of this world clear in my mind.

The Walking Man is a character/concept that particularly interests me – I’m not sure if I’ve ‘borrowed’ him from a film or a book, I have a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that something inspired him, but I can’t remember what. The idea of a stranger just walking and walking and not actually going anywhere but creating his own mythology along the way appeals to me. I have an idea for a novel that mixes the vampire from ‘Cosmic Ordering for Vampires’ with the Walking Man that really excites me, but I think it’s probably unpublishable.

I’d also like to write some more about the Blood twins, and I can see that having them encounter the Walking Man in one of his many incarnations might be interesting.

IP: How many of your stories are inspired by events and people in real life, and are there any anecdotes you can share about them?

FM: The bridge in ‘Bridge 52’ is a real place in Milton Keynes which is apparently haunted by an Irish labourer who was murdered, and his remains walled up in the supports.

I was part of a lottery syndicate until quite recently and we rarely won anything, and I got the idea for ‘The Lottery Lady’ from that. The mortgage fraud in that story is a little like the fraud I thought I’d worked out how to carry out, and when I was working in that same team, a colleague and I found a staircase in the building we’d never noticed before one day, despite having worked the building for years. All that found its way into ‘The Lottery Lady’.

There are elements of someone I used to know in the character of Terz in ‘A Dream and a Lie’ – the idea that you can get away with doing something despicable if you can make people laugh and you’re fun to be around.

IP: You’re currently working on a revised edition of your trilogy ‘A Dream and a Lie’. Could you talk about how you’ve felt coming back to those novels after quite a long time away from them?

FM: I had mixed feelings about revisiting it. My initial feeling was that it was written and done with and I wasn’t particularly interested in looking at it again, but when I flicked through it, I could see that there were still parts of it that excited me even though it’s probably not what I would write now if I was starting a fantasy novel from scratch.

What surprises me now is the hugeness of the world I created and the sheer number of characters. I didn’t have any plan when I started writing it – I just wrote it without any idea of where it was going. I don’t think I intended on writing something so epic when I started it. The first three or four drafts were hand written and there were a lot of characters (Traize, Nym, Nightshade) who were late additions. Every time I added a new character, I had to start rewriting again at the beginning to weave their story into the plot. Revisiting it now, I can remember those first drafts and how I began to slowly realise I was writing something that might actually go somewhere.

One thing that’s struck me on revising it is the lack of strong female characters in the original, so I’m trying to address that. The beauty of having a shape-shifting, gender-fluid race of people is that this isn’t as problematic as it might be though it hasn’t been as simple as just changing ‘he’ to ‘she’. What’s struck me is how something like changing the gender of characters can change the whole feel of certain scenes. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there’s one particular thing that has a completely different feel and much more interesting slant to it when the gender of one of the characters is changed from male to female.

I’ve enjoyed revisiting it and I’m glad I’m doing it. I love it when I come across something that I’d forgotten I’d written, or a description or turn of phrase that surprises me and I find myself thinking ‘Wow, I wrote that’.

IP: What unfinished works and ideas do you have awaiting further development?

FM: Lots of ideas, some that I’ve already mentioned – a vampire/walking man novel; an expanded version of ‘The Census Taker’s Daughter’ and the portal novel I mentioned. I’ve got a crime type novel that I wrote at the same time I was developing A Dream and A Lie that I’d like to do something with and an angels and demons novel that I wrote and have some plans for. I’d also quite like to revisit the world of A Dream and a Lie and write a bit more about what happens next to some of the characters. I started doing this a few years ago but rather infuriatingly I can’t find the file.

IP: What is the strangest/weirdest thing that has ever happened to you?

FM: When I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years old, I was in the garden with my Dad and there was something grey and metallic in the sky that only I could see. I can see it very clearly in my memory – it looked a bit like a sideways metal pyramid. I pointed at it and asked what it was, but my Dad couldn’t see anything. Strangely, I’ve never given this much thought or questioned what it was or if I just imagined it.

Generally, nothing particularly odd has happened to me – I think I write strange fiction to fill that gap.

IP: Please give details of all social media you’re involved in, so that people can keep up to date with your work.

FM: I’ve got a Facebook page and a Facebook author page that I’ll endeavour to keep up to date. I also have a website at fionamcgavin.co.uk where I’m keeping a weekly blog about my reading, writing and other stuff that interests me. I’ve also got a Good Reads author page.