Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Dead Man Talking # 13 - Simon Maginn

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Simon Maginn

During the second half of the 90's one of my favourite writers was Simon Maginn, author of such psychological horror masterpieces as Sheep, Virgins and Martyrs, A Sickness of the Soul and Methods of Confinement. Virgins and Martyrs in particular was such a disturbing yet beautifully written classic of the genre that I've now bought and read it three times over the years. It's one of those books you feel obliged to thrust upon friends and demand they read it and then get furiously annoyed when they don't give it back...... ever! However, just when it seemed Simon Maginn had established himself as one the country's best chiller writers he mysteriously vanished off my book-radar. I assumed he was yet another tragic victim of the horror cull that kicked in with the millennium - when entire shelves of horror fiction in bookshops were marched off under cover of darkness to be replaced with wimpy, romantic vampire drivel that made teenage girl's padded training bras heave with unrequited squishy ardour. I hope Bram Stoker burns in hell for what he unwittingly inspired. But all was not lost as far as Simon Maginn was concerned. He popped up from nowhere a few years back with a brilliant novella called Rattus published in the collection, Feral Companions. Since then I've discovered he's also been writing satirical comedy under the name Simon Nolan and published As Good as it Gets (Quartet Books 1999), The Vending Machine of Justice (Quartet Books 2001) and Whitehawk (Revenge Ink 2010). To say I'm highly honoured featuring him on Dead Man Talking is a gross understatement. I thought it would be great fun to have Strachan McQuade conduct the interview in a facsimile of the ruined Brighton Pier in tribute to the novel, Virgin's and Martyrs. But it turned out McQuade much preferred to honour Methods of Confinement instead. Sorry about that, Simon.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Simon Maginn

McQuade: Today on Dead Man Talking I’m having a chin-wag with author Simon Maginn. Thought it would make things more interesting by conducting this interview in a recreation of a scene from Simon’s novel Methods of Confinement. That’s why both Maginn and myself have been tied securely to cane chairs set inside a pokey garden shed at the bottom of a big garden. Hope those ligatures aren’t causing you any painful chaffing, Maginn. No? Then let’s begin.

During the 90's you published four excellent novels of disturbing psychological horror. Sheep, Virgins and Martyrs, A Sickness of the Soul and Methods of Confinement. Then you vanished. Where did you go? And did you remember to leave a note instructing someone to feed the cat?

MaginnFeed them? I was assuming that a transdimensional super-being would have figured out how to open a tin of Kit-e-kat by now. You know, McQuade, I sometimes wonder if cats really are our masters. What would happen if we all just rose up and threw away our tin openers? What then, eh? ‘Here you are, oh Great and Wise One,’ you could say, ‘here’s your Kit-e-kat. In a tin. Still feeling superior, are we?’

Well I don’t know what happened about the books really. There’s always this presumption that you’re going to carry on doing more and more of whatever it is you’ve done before. But I never felt that very strongly. I just had a few things I wanted to get off my chest, and then job’s a good ‘un. Sometimes there’s nothing more to say, and that’s about where I got to after number four horror book. There just wasn’t a number five. I started writing different things. There’s a postscript, a horror novella called Rattus, which came out two years ago, after a gap of, what, fifteen years? I have no explanation for any of it, I’m afraid. The cats made me do it.

McQuade: Ha! That old excuse. As a man of the cloth, whenever I got caught with my hand in the biscuit barrel (that's a euphemism for larking about with some flighty HRT-driven parishioner) I just told my wife that God made me do it. It's amazing how easy some women are to fool.

Your remarkable debut novel Sheep was made into a movie starring Sean Bean and Maria Bello. Unfortunately they (the producers, not Bean and Bello - who sound like an ice-skating tag team) seemed to have mislaid the original plot and even released the movie under the title of 'The Dark'. Thankfully there were still a few murderous sheep wandering around to tie things in with the book. How did you feel about the rewriting? We're you incandescent with rage or did you take a more fatalistic view of matters and pocket the money with a don't-care shrug? Damn, I have an itchy nose. Whose stupid idea was it to have us tied up like this? You go ahead and answer while I try to get my penknife out of my pocket. That's not a euphemism. I really do have a penknife in my pocket.

Maginn: Oh well. Worse things happen at sea, as my dad used to say. He was never prepared to be drawn on this, but I later formed the impression from various seafaring gentlemen of my acquaintance that he was perhaps referring to the food? (Editor - or maybe the Flood?)

I have good things to say about the The Dark: handsome-looking film, fine performances generally, a standout from Abigail Stone as the eerie Welsh girl, excellent second unit, some really powerful punch-in-the-gut images, terrific score. Some knockout moments.

And you know, it’s quite difficult to make a film. You need cameras and, well God knows what all else really, and actors and stuff, and so it’s no wonder it all goes hideously wrong sometimes. I mean, I have trouble just opening tins of Kit-e-kat sometimes, and that’s much easier than making a film. It’s mostly in focus, you can mostly see what’s going on (just about), and it’s mostly the right way up. So easy to criticise, but let’s praise what we can, eh?

I try now to think of the film as a ‘response’ to my novel, and that way I feel fine about it.

McQuade: Still no luck with the penknife I’m afraid. By Jove! My leg’s gone completely numb and this rope may have snagged on my catheter. Please excuse any resultant leakage of fluids and the smell of ammonia. Breathe through your mouth, I find that always helps. So, tell me Maginn, where did Simon Nolan the comedy writer spring from? Was he always lurking around the edges of your previous writing? Or were you just big fan of The Nolans, that insipid girly group who didn’t want to make waves. I always hoped they’d end up performing on a cruise ship that got stranded in the doldrums. I’d like to see them refuse to make waves in that situation.

Maginn: You know what makes me angry? Really angry, I mean? People who say The Nolan Sisters. ‘Oh I did used to love The Nolan Sisters,’ they say, ‘who could resist the madcap caprice  of I’m in the Mood for…’ I say, ‘Listen,’ I say it in this special, quiet voice I’ve got, like Ray Winstone, I lean in close and I kind of whisper it, right into their little pink ears, I say, ‘I don’t care who you are,’ then I leave a little wheezy gap, ‘and I don’t care where you come from, it’s The ****ing Nolans. Not The ****ing Nolan Sisters. Now have you got that, or are you going to make me cut you?’ ****s.

OK, possibly The Nolans might not be your best bet for a becalmed cruise liner. Don’t get me wrong, fantastic bunch of girls, but, assuming the cruise liner is being held by gunmen - Somali pirates, presumably -  would you really want to put your life in the hands of a close harmony girl group whose unique blend of winsome charm and girl-next-door flirtatiousness won a nation’s heart? Wonder if you’ve really thought this through, frankly. You could get Steven Seagal for half the price.

As a quite brazenly self-aggrandising aside, I would just add that one of my Simon Nolan novels is shelved in Brighton and Hove City Libraries, not in fiction - but in the Local History Centre. Yes, McQuade; I am in history. How does it make me feel? Well humble, of course. But also, paradoxically, proud. Grateful. Historic. That kind of thing. Unworthy? Whatever.

McQuade: Local History Centre? In Brighton? Hardly counts for much does it? I imagine they've crammed you between an old Vespa Scooter and pair of Peter James's Italian shoes. Now, if you were to be found in the National History museum alongside the Magna Carta and Queen Bodicea's provisional chariot license I just might be impressed. I'll have you know that my old trousers were donated to the notorious Libertine's Lounge in Mussleburgh where I once held sway with my rakish anecdotes while spending the Sunday collection plate offerings on absinthe and haddock-burgers.

 Stop glaring at me, Maginn. Getting trussed like turkeys isn’t completely my fault you know. After all, if you hadn’t written that damned Methods of Confinement book we could be lounging in comfortable leather armchairs in my office and swigging whisky. So stop wincing and answer this…………. Erm, sorry, now I’ve forgotten the question. Tell you what, while I rock my chair back and forward in an attempt to loosen these bonds, answer this instead. What’s your favourite bird between a penguin and a puffin?

Maginn: I presume you mean in terms of survivability? You know, I’ve learned a thing or two about birds, and believe me, if you are going to survive an avian attack, whether by penguin or puffin, the one thing you must always remember is.............

Sound of crashing wood and thudding flesh

McQuade: Help, I’ve fallen over. Looks like I’ll have to finish this interview from a most disconcerting viewpoint on the floor. Oh, I do like your socks, Maginn. Bet they were a Christmas present. And by the way, your hands are turning blue. I’d try to wiggle your fingers around if I were you. Helps with the circulation. Now then, ‘Sheep’ has been re-released as an E-book publication, presumably to be followed by the others. Do you have any plans for releasing new work in E-book format? It can be a nice little earner you know. My million-selling Kindle E-book ‘Invergallus’ has allowed me to buy my own septic tank. Not having a garden it’s rather impractical but I do enjoy filling it with warm water and floating around in the dark and having my consciousness altered beyond any recognisable shape. Sorry, do you even remember what question I asked there?

Maginn: I’ve long thought septic tanks could do with a bit of a rebranding, to be honest. ‘Septic tank’. Does it fill the soul with quivering ecstasy, does it send the spirit soaring on winged horses of delight? It does not. We could perhaps re-niche them, get more of an aspirational feel going. ‘ShitStore’, for instance: that takes away all those ‘septic’ connotations, and introduces the concept of ‘storage’, thus at a stroke redefining and re-valorising the putative contents. Just a thought.

Yes, I probably will get round to ebooking the other titles at some stage. I’m self-pubbing these, as you mention, and so you have to be organised about it, and I quite often forget where I’ve put my end......................

McQuade: Done it! Free at last! Detachable legs can be very useful at times. Well, Maginn, that was a most interesting conversation. As convention dictates I've brought you a little gift to show our appreciation. It's a potato shaped like a horse. I've added a lock of hair to the thing and now you can boast you have the world's first 'My Little Maris Piper'. Here, catch. Ah, sorry, forgot you were still tied up. Now it's impaled itself upon the spikes of that lawn aerator. Don't worry I'll send another by post. Meanwhile you sit tight while I go fetch someone good at untying knots. No, don't tilt your chair like that................. By Jove! That lawn aerator is certainly seeing some action tonight. Best if I erm....... slip off. Bus to catch. Good luck with the books.

Visit Simon Maginn's web site

Buy Simon Maginn's books on Amazon

Buy Simon Nolan's books on Amazon 


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