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"I can’t work without a degree of noise" Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis, the acclaimed comic writer turned crime novelist discusses his work and latest novel Gun Machine - described by The Times as "irresistible"...

Posted on 16th January 2014 by Guest contributor

Gun Machine


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.


You often share recipes online (you can follow Warren on Twitter as @warrenellis): who would your ideal dinner party guests be? 

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)


Win a signed copy of Gun Machine

To win one of six signed copies of Warren Ellis' Gun Machine just answer the question below.

This competition is now closed.


Competition terms and conditions

1. No purchase necessary. Please enter your name and email address. Only one entry per person allowed. Proof of entering is not proof of receipt of entry.

2. To be eligible, entries must be received on or before the closing date of 22/01/14 at 11:59 PM. All entries shall become the property of Waterstones.com, and their directors, officers, representatives, advertising and promotional agencies are not responsible for contacting or forwarding prizes to entrants who provide unclear or incomplete information or for entries lost, misdirected, delayed or destroyed.

3. Entrants must be over 16 years old and residents of the UK or Ireland.

4. There will be 6 winners of a signed (book plated) copy of Gun Machine by Warren Ellis in paperback.

5. The promoter reserves the right to amend the specification of the prize or offer an alternative prize of equal or greater value.

6. Subject to availability.

7. No cash alternative will be offered. Travel and other expenses are not included. The prize is non-transferable.

8. A random draw will take place on the morning of 24/01/14 to select the winners. The prize winner will be notified by email, and will need to respond by midnight 27/01/14 as to whether they are willing to accept the prize. If a selected entrant does not meet all of the contract conditions, another entrant will be selected from the remaining eligible entries.

9. This competition is not open to employees of Waterstones, the publisher or their immediate families.

10. By entering the contest, entrants, consent to the use of their names, city of residence, photograph and/or image for publicity purposes in all media carried out by Waterstones, without payment or compensation.

11. The decisions of the contest judges are final. The prize must be accepted as awarded.

12. The right is reserved to terminate or withdraw this contest at any time.

13. a) All entries become the property of Waterstones, who assume no responsibility for lost, stolen, delayed, damaged or misdirected entries or for any failure of the website during the promotional period, for any problems or technical malfunction of any telephone network or lines, computer online systems, servers, access providers, computer equipment, software, failure of any email or entry to be received by Waterstones on account of technical problems or traffic congestion on the internet or any website, or any combination thereof including any injury or damage to an entrant’s or any other person’s computer related to or resulting from playing or downloading any material in the promotion. Waterstones reserve the right, in its sole discretion to cancel or suspend the email portion of this contest should a virus or bug or other cause beyond the reasonable control of Waterstones corrupt the security or proper administration of the contest. Any attempt to deliberately damage any website or undermine the legitimate operation of this promotion is a violation of criminal and civil laws, and should such an attempt be made, Waterstones reserve the right to seek remedies and damages to the fullest extent permitted by law, including criminal prosecution. Entries are subject to verification and will be declared invalid if they are illegible, mechanically MV reproduced, mutilated, forged, falsified, altered or tampered with in any way. Entrants agree to abide by the contest rules and the decisions of the independent judging panel, which are final.

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14. For name/county of prize winner, please send a stamped addressed envelope marked Warren Ellis Competition to Waterstones Blog, Waterstones Booksellers, 203-106 Piccadilly, W1J 9HD after 24/01/14. No entries should be sent to this address.

15. Entry to the competition is conditional on acceptance of these terms and conditions. By entering your comment, you are deemed to have read and accepted these terms.

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17. Waterstones and the publisher have organised this prize draw in good faith and do not accept liability relating to the prize.