The Sad, Dark Drive-by: Michael Marshall Smith

MMS on the left, Stephen Jones (our mutual editor) on ze right

Michael Marshall Smith writes thrillers under the nom de plume of Michael Marshall – including the international best sellers The Straw Men and The Lonely Dead. He used his full name for horror.

He read Philosophy and Social and Political Science at King’s College, Cambridge, and became wrote and performed extensively in the famed Cambridge Footlights, like such luminaries as Clive James (for ‘luminaries’ feel to read ‘clever and annoyingly opinionated Australians’).

He’s won awards for co-writing and performing two series of BBC Radio 4’s cult show And Now, In Colour, is a five-time winner of the British Fantasy Award, and has been nom-nom-nomed six times for the World Fantasy Award. He’s been a graphic designer and writer of corporate videos – but thankfully he’s stopped that to be a full-time writer.

A relentless over-achiever, his first novel, Only Forward won both the August Derleth and Philip K. Dick awards. His short fiction has been collected in What You Make It (HarperCollins, UK) and the winner of the International Horror Guild Award More Tomorrow And Other Stories (2003), which, when translated into French, won the Prix Bob Morane (2009). Not content with all the foregoing, his second novel Spares was translated into seventeen languages and optioned by DreamWorks; The Straw Men is being released as a comic series; The Intruders is in series development at the Beeb. He is writing with Stephen Jones an animated monster movie for children, Monstermania, for Uli Meyer Animation, and writing a television series pilot called The Rank for Carnival Productions.

His story in A Book of Horrors is “Sad, Dark Thing”.

And he is very nice. 

1. If I wasn’t a writer I would …
I have absolutely no idea. Actually, given my ability to procrastinate and get side-tracked, I have the experience of not-being-a-writer for quite long periods of any given day or month as it is, so I’ve sort of done not-writing, while still being a writer. If I didn’t write, I’d be a bit less stressed and significantly more crazy, I suspect. In terms of earning a living, back in the day it would have been a cook or a graphic designer. Now… I don’t know. Is there money in sitting and staring into space?

2. How much of a leap is it between writing a thriller and writing horror?
Really not so big, I don’t think. Both horror and thrillers deal with the most basic and visceral concerns of the human condition – death, love, greed, fear, redemption, and our capacity for both evil and goodness. It’s largely a matter of different set-dressing, and the fact that writing thrillers is (marginally) more socially-acceptable. The main problem is that there’s not a big crossover audience between the two, and so you’re better off picking a lane and sticking to it. I’m not very good at that. 

3. What was the horror story that made you think ‘Maaaaan, I want to do something like that!’ Or, was there a horror story that had such an effect?
THE TALISMAN, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. I’d read a few horror anthologies when I was a kid, and liked them, but then for some reason lost contact with the genre. Then in my last few months at university I did a deal with a friend where we committed to reading one of the other’s favourite books. In my case, I got to read THE TALISMAN, and it flicked a permanent switch. From there I got into Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker and HP Lovecraft and Nicholas Royal and many others, but Stephen King was the catalyst, without doubt — aided and abetted by the often fabulous Peter Straub. 

4. What should you always edit out of a story?
Fifteen percent of the length. Ten percent from the first half, five percent from the second. Seriously. Always.

5. Donuts or danishes?
Do I have to choose? That’s harsh. Okay… it’d have to be danishes then, I think. Or donuts. No, danishes.    

He lives here

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