Welcome to Part 1 of our interview with M.R. Carey, writer of ‘The Girl with All The Gifts,’ and ‘Fellside,’ – The Girl with All the Gifts is released in cinemas in the UK on 23rd September!
Mike Carey is a British writer whose work appears in comic books, novels, TV, film, and radio. His novel The Girl with All the Gifts is an international bestseller, and has been adapted by Carey for the 2016 Colm McCarthy-directed film.
He’s written for DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on Ultimate Fantastic Four and X-Men, and with Peter Gross, Lucifer and The Unwritten. His books include Fellside, the Felix Castor series, and The Steel Seraglio (with Linda and Louise Carey)
STORGY: Hi Mike, how are you doing?
M.R. Carey: I’m good thanks, how are you?
STORGY: Good – firstly I know you’re probably extremely busy at the moment, what with the film [The Girl With All The Gifts] about to be released, so thank you for taking the time to do this interview. You’re doing screenings at the moment?
M.R. CAREY: For most of the next three weeks, I’ll be going from one screening to another.
STORGY: You said you were going to Toronto, is that right?
M.R.C: That’s right, for Midnight Madness.
STORGY: Is it premiering there at the moment then?
M.R.C: Yeah, that’s the kind of North American continent premiere; the world premiere was at Locarno a few weeks ago.
STORGY: Oh Excellent – so it’s getting all kinds of press and publicity.
M.R.C: Yeah, reviews are starting to trickle in now – Empire gave us five stars –
M.R.C: And we got an amazing review in Sight and Sound, which was incredibly positive. They don’t give star ratings, but they selected us as one of their films of the month.
STORGY: Are you going to be one of those people who reads all the reviews that come out? Or do you prefer to stay away from that and…
M.R.C: No, I’m massively following the reviews at the moment.
Normally I just sit back and see what happens, but I’m kind of on a bed of nails here, just waiting to see how it’s received.
STORGY: Yeah, I guess in that kind of way it’s your baby and you’ve put it out there, exposed it to the world, initially as a novel but I guess then you also adapted the novel into a screenplay, that’s correct, isn’t it?
MRC: Yeah it is, yeah.
STORGY: So I guess in essence you’re going through that birthing process again, sending it out there for everyone to view and see and how do you feel about that? Does that make you feel a little bit…not anxious as such, but excited and apprehensive or…?
M.R.C: Well all of the above, really. I guess it’s partly to do with the lifecycle of a film, like the lifecycle of a comic or novel. It’s the culmination of several years of effort –
M.R.C: We’ve lived with it for so long, since…I guess I was having those preliminary conversations with Camille [Camille Gatin, Producer] some time in…2013, yeah 2013, because the book came out in January 2014 and we were already fairly well underway at that point on the movie, so it’s been such a huge thing in our lives, for all that time.
STORGY: Yeah, definitely. I was just wondering if I could just take you back to begin with, before we get too much into ‘The Girl With all The Gifts,’ and ‘Fellside,’ – I came across ‘The Girl With all The Gifts,’ last year, I think purely by…I’m a fan of the dystopian future and I was going through a ‘Spore’ sort of fascination, because I was reading Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘Southern Reach Trilogy,’ as well, and I noticed that you had a start in comics, I was just wondering how did you get from writing for comics and how did you get into writing for comics and the transition from that to novels, I was just wondering if you could elaborate on that a bit, and kind of see if there were many different hats that you had to put on as such from writing comics to prose?
M.R.C: Yeah sure. It was a fairly long and involved process, but I don’t think it had to be. That was more down to my being extremely tentative than anything else. Peter Gross, my good friend and collaborator over the last 15 years on many, many comic book projects said that there are three mistakes you can make when you’re starting out:
You can aim too high, aim too low or not aim at all. I think I was in the aim too low category, which is to say that most of what I wrote ended up in my sock drawer.
M.R.C: And nobody ever got to see it. But then I started to do comics journalism. We’re talking about the late 80’s, early 90’s – there were a lot of amateur sci-fi and comic magazines on the market – fanzines, produced by enthusiastic people just for the pleasure of it, to celebrate the medium. I wrote reviews for a number of those. I wrote reviews for Fantasy Advertiser in particular for quite a long time, and the editor Martin Skidmore briefly became the editor of a comic book line, because his magazine was taken over by a comics distributor. This was back in the day when there was more than one comic book distributor, so Neptune, I think were the distributor, they created their own line of Trident Comics – and because I knew Martin well and had worked with him for quite a while at that point, I thought why not, I’ll pitch some stuff. They ended up commissioning two stories that I pitched – a superhero story called ‘Aquarius,’ and a sort of psychological horror called ‘Legions of Hell,’ but then they went bankrupt before they could publish any of that stuff. Actually I think they published 17 pages of ‘Aquarius,’ in an anthology title, and the rest of it just sort of died a death…but through that I made the acquaintance of a whole bunch of people who were doing the same thing in America, you know, working in the American indie scene. Crucially, I met Ken Meyer, who introduced me to Lurene Haynes. Lurene and Dave Dorman at that time were trying to set up a comics agency called ‘Big Time.’ They never did – they never implemented that plan, but for a while Lurene was sort of my unpaid agent, she was shipping my stuff around, not taking a commission, not taking anything from me at all, just doing this as a favour.
STORGY: For the love of it, yeah.
M.R.C: And through her I got some work at Malibu, just before they were bought out by Marvel…I got a lot of work at Caliber and I gradually worked my way up the indie chain to Vertigo, I was sending copies of everything I had published to Vertigo and then I had the big break with Sandman Presents: Lucifer. So it was 10 years, a 10 year process but it didn’t need to be. I think that was just me sort of faffing around, not really having uh –
STORGY: Finding yourself in that –
M.R.C: Yeah, having a clear game plan and all that time I was working with small, precarious companies, companies whose toe hold on commercial success was wafer thin, so a lot of the companies that I was working with ceased to exist, ceased to trade, so it felt like it was one step forward and a huge march back every time..
but actually…you know, nothing is wasted. I was learning my trade, you get better at writing by doing it, that’s the only way you get better at writing…uum, that’s not true, but it’s one of the big ways.
M.R.C: So by the time I got the Lucifer gig I was able to run with it, I had enough confidence and I had enough technical skill and enough sense of the craft to make a decent fist of it and that led to all of the things that followed, to Lucifer and HellBlazer and my superhero work with Marvel and so on…and that made it easier, I think, to get a novel published, because I think we live in an age where that kind of cross media pollination happens all the time. If you’ve got a name, even a small name in one creative field – it’s a toe in the door, in other creative fields. Comic book publishers aggressively recruit people who are screenwriters or novelists…I’m not sure it works quite the same the other way round but it certainly helped…the fact that I was writing HellBlazer made it very easy to pitch the ‘Felix Castor’ Novels.
STORGY: Yeah, I was just about to go into your collaboration with Peter Gross with Lucifer and also the Unwritten and Highest House, I believe?
M.R.C: Yes, Highest House comes out next year.
STORGY: And have you always had an affinity with that kind of world? The Constantine, sort of exorcist/magician, down on his heel reluctant hero? Like with your Felix Castor novels as such, was that something that you wanted to elaborate more on, that you couldn’t do with the Hell Blazer series, that you wanted to take your own approach on? Was that something there, or did you just have so much material that you wanted to create your own anti-hero, as such?
M.R.C: I guess my comfort zone has always been speculative fiction, that broad umbrella term for everything from horror through to dark fantasy to the other forms of fantasy to sci-fi to magic realism – I can’t write realist fiction, I’ve tried a few times and it kind of doesn’t take. It feels like I’m writing in monochrome – I prefer the fantastic.
STORGY: Yeah, and of course – why not?
M.R.C: With Felix Castor, although HellBlazer is in the mix – you can definitely see that John Constantine and Felix Castor are in the same lineage – I think ultimately it’s a kind of hard boiled, noir-ish lineage. One of my stylistic influences in writing Castor was Raymond Chandler, you know, I wanted him to be kind of like –
STORGY: Like a gumshoe detective –
M.R.C: Like a knight without armour, walking the mean streets, that kind of thing.
STORGY: Oh yeah, definitely. I was just going to say as well, do you have any kind of writing technique as such? Elmore Leonard has said in the past that he’s up early in the morning, Stephen King has said that he likes to get six pages, clean, done throughout the day – is there a routine for yourself?
M.R.C: It depends on what I’m doing, you know at this stage in my career I’ve got a lot of different media that I work in, the projects often run side by side…I have different approaches, for the different kinds of writing that that calls for. With comics, because now I’ve been doing comics for more than 20 years I can absolutely…I know exactly what I can achieve in a day.
M.R.C: I know what my creative rhythms are, I can take a day to plan, a day to do page roughs and a day or possibly two days to script, so a comic strip I can turn around very comfortably within a week and still have some small change…novels I tend to aim for 2,000 words and usually I’ll hit it, and sometimes if I get to that point in the middle of the afternoon I’ll carry on writing, I’ll just keep going…other times it’s more of a struggle, but it’s a reasonable target. Obviously, that’s once I’ve done all of the planning –
M.R.C: – and roughing out. Screenwriting I’m still figuring out the rhythms and it’s much, much harder to predict how long a screenplay is going to take me. It tends to accelerate, the first few pages tend to be agonisingly slow –
STORGY: [Laughs] But once you get into the flow –
M.R.C: Yeah, you get into a rhythm and you feel that you’re rolling downhill a little and then you accelerate a bit, but it’s more unpredictable.
Read Part 2 of the interview here…