Warren Ellis, the acclaimed comic writer turned crime novelist discusses his work and latest novel Gun Machine – described by The Times as “irresistible”…
After writing Crooked Little Vein and now Gun Machine, would you describe yourself as a crime novelist? Does the crime genre offer something to a writer that other genres don’t? And do novels offer something that comics didn’t?
Well, I did crime novels in comics: Scars and Fell to name two. I’ve always had a love of crime fiction, which also clearly leaked into comics series like Hellblazer (from which the film Constantine was drawn), and Red is as much a crime story as it is a spy story (or, in the film adaptation, a caper).
The crime novel, though, for me, is unique in that it allows you the genuine pleasures of genre while also containing within itself the space to write social fiction. In crime fiction, there’s permission to talk about the people and the places and the times, not just the props and the scenes. You can do something richer, without denying yourself the joy of having some horrible git shot in the head.
What comes first when you’re planning: characters, setting, plot? (Or can any one element be privileged in that way?)
Every piece of work starts differently. This is the part that, for me, there’s no method for. Anything can be the seed that starts the planning. A place, a theme, even a sound.
You’re signed up to write a non-fiction book about the future and cities – and cities of the future – how do your other interests influence your fiction?
Too much, probably. I have this particular kind of brain damage that makes me think that fiction is a kind of reportage, and so my interests in the world are always reflected in my fiction, as a way of trying to understand where we are and what we’re looking at. And what I think about it.
Philip Roth apparently recently told an aspiring novelist “not to do it to himself”. Any advice for a young writer – in any form or genre – who’s starting out?
There’s an old saw artists have, about there being ten thousand bad drawings inside you and you have to get them all out before you can get to the good ones. I find that applies just as well to writing. This is your full-time job. As a friend of mine says, you can either work nine-to-five or twenty-four-seven. Choose.
I find that scares most people off and leaves me with less competition. The ones that are left, I have beaten up.
How do you balance your time writing with the distractions of the modern world: the never-ending stream of things to look at, listen to, think about…?
I don’t have a rationed writing time. I’ve never been able to work like that. And I can’t work without a degree of noise: music, radio, television or film, the whispers of the outside world and the presence of news. Sometimes I have to switch things down to the bare minimum, for things that demand special focus, but I need a richer ambience in the room than many writers I know. We’re all different. I don’t work well in a silent cell.
People with cast-iron stomachs and no taste buds, because I get it wrong, you know, a lot. Therefore, the ideal attendance would be a group of television chefs.
Is it more sensible to embrace the future or fear it?
Both. Running blindly into the arms of anything is idiocy. It’s more sensible to simply accept that the future’s coming, look for its angle of attack and study its features closely.
You can Reserve & Collect Gun Machine from your local Waterstones bookshop (http://bit.ly/1dSSCdz), buy it online at Waterstones.com (http://bit.ly/1iSNQkX) or download it in ePub format (http://bit.ly/1iSPvXK)
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