Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Pulp Fiction

For those of you who thought this blog was all me-me-me, today we offer something completely different. First in a series of guest spots, showcasing the talents and thoughts of other authors. Since, as writers, we're all in this together.

I'm still very much a newcomer to the world of Kindle and independent publishing and when finding your way through the fog, you can encounter all sorts of strangers. Luckily, most of them are friendly - not a monster among them. One such fellow is William Meikle, who coincidentally knows quite a bit about strangers, monsters and fog.

William Meikle - Why I write pulp

I choose to write mainly at the pulpy end of the market, populating my stories with monsters, myths, men who like a drink and a smoke, and more monsters. People who like this sort of thing like it.

My pat answer as to why has always been the same. "I like monsters."

But it goes deeper than that.

I write to escape.

I grew up on a West of Scotland housing estate in a town where you were either unemployed or working in the steelworks, and sometimes both. Many of the townspeople led hard, miserable lifes of quiet, and sometimes not so quiet desperation. I was relatively lucky in that both my parents worked, but I spent a lot of time alone or at my grandparent's house.

My Granddad was housebound, and a voracious reader. I got the habit from him, and through him I discovered the Pan Books of Horror and Lovecraft, but I also discovered westerns, science fiction, war novels and the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E Howard, Louis D’Amour, Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, Alistair MacLean and Dennis Wheatley.

When you mix all that together with DC Comics, Tarzan, Gerry Anderson and Dr Who then, later on, Hammer and Universal movies on the BBC, you can see how the pulp became embedded in my psyche.

Pulp is all about the struggle of the dark against the light. The time and place, and the way it plays out is in some ways secondary to that. When you're dealing with archetypes, there's only so many to go around, and it's not surprising that the same concepts of death and betrayal, love and loss, turn up wherever, and whenever, the story is placed, whether it be in crime, fantasy or horror.

I also have a deep love of old places, in particular menhirs and stone circles, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time travelling the UK and Europe just to visit archaeological remains. I love what is widely known as “weird sh**”. I’ve spent far too much time surfing and reading fortean, paranormal and cryptozoological websites. The cryptozoological stuff especially fascinates me, and provides a direct stimulus for a lot of my fiction.

So, there’s that, and the fact that I was grew up with the sixties explosion of popular culture embracing the supernatural and the weird. Doctor Who, Gerry Anderson series, The Avengers and Adam Adamant on TV, then Hammer horror movies got me, and led me back to the Universal originals. My early reading somehow all tended to gravitate in similar directions, with DC comics leading me into pulp and to finding Tarzan.

Mix all that lot together, add a dash of ZULU, a hefty slug of heroic fantasy from Howard, Leiber and Moorcock, a sprinkle of fast moving Scottish thrillers from John Buchan and Alistair MacLean, and a final pinch of piratical swashbuckling. Leave to marinate for fifty years and what do you get? A psyche with the urge to beat up monsters.

When I was at school books and my guitar were all that kept me sane in a town that was going downhill fast. The steelworks shut and employment got worse. I -could- have started writing about that, but why bother? All I had to do was walk outside and I'd get it slapped in my face. That horror was all too real.

So I took up my pen and wrote. At first it was song lyrics, designed (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me closer to girls.

I tried my hand at a few short stories but had no confidence in them and hid them away. And that was that for many years.

I didn't get the urge again until I was past thirty and trapped in a very boring job. My home town had continued to stagnate and, unless I wanted to spend my whole life drinking (something I was actively considering at the time), returning there wasn't an option.

As I said before, I write to escape.

My brain needed something, and writing gave it what was required. That point, back nearly twenty years ago, was like switching on an engine, one that has been running steadily ever since.

And most of the time, the things that engine chooses to give me to write are very pulpy.

I've also been criticised for it by people who don't get it. Willie Meikle is..."the author of the most cliched, derivative drivel imaginable...the critical acclaim he receives from his peers is virtually non-existent." is only one of the responses I've had.

Now, I don't write for the critical acclaim of my peers. I couldn't give a toss what other writers think of me. I'm writing for two reasons... myself and a readership. Posterity, if there is one, can decide on whether it's any good or not. Besides, the harder I work at it making my writing accessible, the more readers I get, so I'm doing something right.

But that's still not why I do it.

I think you have to have grown up with pulp to -get- it. A lot of writers have been told that pulp=bad plotting and that you have to have deep psychological insight in your work for it to be valid. They've also been told that pulp=bad writing, and they believe it. Whereas I remember the joy I got from early Moorcock, from Mickey Spillane and further back, A E Merritt and H Rider Haggard. I'd love to have a chance to write a Dracula, Tarzan, John Carter, Allan Quartermain, Mike Hammer, Dr Who, Quatermass or Conan novel, whereas a lot of writers I know would sniff and turn their noses up at the very thought of it.

I write to escape.

I haven't managed it yet, but I'm working on it.


You can check out William Meikle's impressive catalogue of books at or

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