Please welcome Michael Marshall, author of We Are Here and other novels.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Waking up with my wife and son in a nice, urban hotel room on the first day of a trip to some big, vibrant city, in autumn… having an early coffee at a sidewalk café watching the world go by and plotting how to spend the morning, though probably ending up just walking the streets… then being magically transported to some rugged miles-from-anywhere wilderness for the afternoon, for more walking and talking, with drinks and dinner — and maybe a few games of pool — in some wood-paneled local dive before retiring to sleep in a cozy log cabin in a snowy forest. With a couple of cats on the bed. And a nice cup of tea.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I’m seldom seen without my iPhone, doubtless smell of cigarettes, and possibly say “Interesting…” a little too often. Doesn’t make me sound like a captivating combination, I know. But I have cash on me.
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Nicholas Royle, whose work and encouragement first got me sending short stories out; Stephen King, who made me realize the kind of engagement with the reader that I aspire to; and Kingsley Amis, who showed that everything in human life — however grim or annoying or frankly tedious — can be food for amusement, and that every single word is worth choosing carefully.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Very seldom. I find music picks at my ears, making it impossible to do anything except sit and listen to it. Once in a while I do find it helpful, however — usually when fighting through some particularly knotty section — and will put some Bach on, or perhaps a Hans Zimmer movie soundtrack, or one song with exactly the right atmosphere, on endless repeat.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
An After Eight. This is a distinctively English chocolate, and I guess the nearest functional US equivalent would be a Junior Mint, though they’re different both in form and how they’re perceived. After Eights are very flat and thin and square and are seen as something of a treat. They have a rippled dark chocolate outside (the noir and suspense elements), with a bitterness that is in strong contrast to the velvety mint fondant interior (the all-important threads of human emotion, and warmth). There are more boutique and expensive versions of this combination — but I don’t want to write exclusive, highbrow fiction: I like books that are accessible to everyone.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
A lot of songs and books are written about love. That’s understandable. It’s a big thing, and often sculpts people’s lives. But friendship may be even more important, and the way in which it threads through our lives — and the impact of its loss upon how we feel about the world and our selves — is just as critical. The conceits in We Are Here seemed to give me a new way of looking at these ideas, of concretizing the role of friendship in our lives.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The importance of love, and friendship, and family, and our pasts — and what happens to us, sometimes years later, when darkness arrives in these areas, and how we may hope to recover and rebuild our worlds when that has happened.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
We Are Here is an ensemble piece — there are a few ‘main’ characters, their stories interweaving — but I suppose the protagonist is a man called John Henderson. He’s now living in a tiny apartment in New York, working as a waiter, and in a new relationship with a tough young woman called Kristina. Though We Are Here is a standalone novel, John previously featured in a book of mine called Bad Things, in which his past as both a lawyer and special forces agent are covered, along with the break-up of his marriage after the death of his young son in very mysterious circumstances. John is a strong, forceful man, with a sense of humor. He’s made some pretty big mistakes in his life, however, and knows all about the darkness threaded through the world, and through human nature.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’ve thought about this long and hard, and actually find it impossible. I spent nine months writing his story and he seems very real to me, as a character in his own right rather than amalgam of other people.
If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, P. G. Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Kingsley Amis, and Stephen Jones. I don’t want to even think about the hangover that would ensue, but it’d be fun getting there.
What’s next for you?
Right now I’m in the middle of a new novel, set around the town where we now live — Santa Cruz, in Northern California — and co-writing a movie adaptation of a previous novel of mine, Killer Move. I’m also assisting BBC America with the television series adaption of my novel The Intruders.
Michael Marshall was born in England but spent his early years in the United States, South Africa, and Australia. After spending twenty-five years in London, he recently moved to Santa Cruz, California, with his wife and son. His previous novel, The Intruders, is about to go into production as a BBC America series.