As many of you will know, I’m a fledgling author. The Raus! Untoten! project is my first as an editor of anthologies. Previously, the editing I did was more magazine aka martial arts journalism based, so I was very happy indeed to get this project. What I certainly did not expect was to get a New York Times Best Selling author on board.
The opportunity to interview such an author and get into their head was too good an opportunity to pass up. So, despite knowing that he’s a tad busy creating masterpieces for the Black Library, I decided that it would be a good idea to interview Graham McNeill and find out why he was attracted to the project, and give readers a better idea as to what goes on in an author’s mind.
Naturally, I wanted to know what attracted him to the anthology.
“I think the idea that there was something even more sinister than the Nazis going on behind the scenes with WWII is a terrifying notion. Finding that there’s creepier things pulling the strings on something that was already bloody horrifying is a gift for storytellers.
I’ve always loved fiction that adds deeper and deeper layers to history, peeling back the skin to find that what you thought was already pretty bad, is actually a hundred times worse.”
That’s a very valid point. The Nazis and their actions could well serve as the very definition of ‘evil’. Adding to that can only serve to create what could honestly be described as Hell on Earth.
Without a seed, a plant can’t grow and the same applies to stories. An author must have an inkling of an idea so that they can start a story. From there, the process is often organic, with the story and characters growing in ways that the author – despite possibly planning – could never have expected. Graham told me the inspiration behind his story.
“My folks went to Auschwitz, and some of the things they told me about that place lodged like splinters, and immediately suggested story hooks. But I’d not found an outlet for them until now, and the notion of combining a ghost story set in a concentration camp was one that strongly appealed to me.”
Splinters in the mind is a fabulous way of describing how a story, or the seeds of a story, can get buried, just waiting for the right conditions to start growing and becoming a story. I’m just glad that it was a chance meeting at the 2013 SF Weekender that got things growing in Graham’s brain
Nazis are scary people. I say are, because there are plenty of people who still follow their doctrines and teachings. The Undead are scary because, well, because they’ve died and come back in a way that, depending upon the story, is usually pretty gruesome, and with an attitude adjustment that makes the terrible twos look like a Sunday School session.
Graham explained what it was about the undead that scared him.
“It’s not so much the undead themselves that scare me (though ask me that again when I’m fleeing from a zombie pack…), it’s more the idea of the hopelessness that follows that scares the pants off me. Post-apocalyptic worlds tend to be unforgiving places to say the least, and it’s the removal of any hope of things ever improving that scares me the most.”
Indeed, the idea of a Zombie Apocalypse appeals to every geek out there. The fact that many such geeks wouldn’t have the ability to actually put in place their fantasies (e.g., actually managing to survive, save a hot chick etc.) doesn’t really come in to it. In Walking Dead for example, you don’t see someone with a tooth ache.
Just think. Unless you’ve planned really well, there probably aren’t any dentists in your group. You have a tooth that is going bad? Maybe it got cracked in a fight? Either way, if you don’t pull it, you’re not going to be able to eat properly, which will mean you’ll get weaker and weaker and will be a burden to your group. That tooth needs to get pulled and the only person willing to do it is Scabby Dave. Now we’re talking bleak.
Part of the challenge for this anthology, was that although stories had to involve Nazis and Undead, the Nazis were not necessarily to be the bad guys, and the Undead were not necessarily meant to be just Zombies. We wanted something different, something that stood out from the piles of Nazi Zombie books and films that were flooding the market. We wanted originality.
Graham’s story is certainly unlike any I have ever seen and was one that kept me gripped throughout, almost to the point that I forgot I needed to actually look at it as an editor and not a reader. Always a good sign of a good story!
That said, just why did he choose his form of undead for this story?
“I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, one that can creep you out without having to rely on gore. Ringu is still one of my favourite creepfests, and I fancied trying out a story that didn’t involve any blood n’ guts, but still (hopefully) told a story that had creepy elements and some way of exploring what happened in the death camps without doing the people who endured them a disservice.”
That latter point is especially important, an author needs to treat such a subject with respect and sensitivity. Fortunately, Graham has managed this whilst writing a story that is gripping.
I then asked Graham to give a quick précis, less than 100 words, as to what his story is about.
“A number of people are drawn back to Auschwitz for reasons none of them really understand. But as night falls, it seems Auschwitz has reasons of its own for summoning them.”
Thirty one words. Nicely succinct.
Now, if you go onto Facebook, Twitter and various blogs, you can see numerous authors whining about how hard it is being an author and self-doubting, even complaining when they have too much work. I feel for the poor dears, I really do.
Graham, being Scottish is obviously going to be way harder than most people, although disappointingly he doesn’t wear a kilt that much. At all actually. So, I asked him what the hardest part of being an author was for him.
“Bathing in Kristal Champagne every day really dries my skin out. Seriously. Actually, the hardest part for me when it comes to writing isn’t the doing of the work or the demands that makes or coming up with ideas, it’s trying to find the time to write all the things I want to write. I’ve a notebook/scrapbook/Evernote filed with ideas that’ll take me three lifetimes to realistically get round to writing, so unless someone soon invents Juvenat treatments for real in the next couple of decades, a great many of them will never see the light of day…”
For those that don’t know, Juvenat is a treatment that the very rich and the nobility of Warhammer 40,000 are given to extend their lifetimes beyond that of the peons who live to serve them.
If bathing in champagne is the reward for writing so many popular books, sign me up. However, like everyone else, Graham had to start elsewhere. From stacking shelves in Safeway, being a Building Surveyor, Health and Safety Manager, selling burglar alarms and developing games for Games Workshop, Graham has walked the path of an author-in-the-making. However, as he says, “none of them have been as satisfying as telling stories. I’ve told stories since I was a kid and there’s something incredibly rewarding in telling stories and having That Moment, the instant you find the key that unlocks the story and lets it flow.”
After all of those easy-to-answer questions, I went for the hard one. If there was a war between hardcopy and ebooks, which would win? Graham managed to come out in both camps. We’ll call it a draw.
“I was very much in the real-book camp until I got myself an iPad and discovered all the bookmarking, notes things you can do with them (as I hate defacing books with post-its and pencil notes). But I also love having a full bookshelf, and remembering the key moments of awesome from each book as I glance over at it. But from a convenience point of view, it’s great to have access to my library in one device. The practicalities of the e-book is brilliant, but you just can’t beat having a physical object in your hands.”
To learn more about Graham and his books, go to www.graham-mcneill.com, or his Facebook page at The Fortress of Hera. Or you can stalk/follow him on Twitter @GrahamMcNeill.