Fergus McNeill Q&A
A fun Q&A with the author of KNIFE EDGE
Cold war spies or hot action heroes?
Cold war spies. I love the idea of hidden secrets and quiet menace - of a quiet and clever war, fought in the shadows. And John Le Carré writes with such effortless beauty in those early novels like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that it's impossible not to be swept away by the story.
Drive or be driven?
Well, I dislike traffic, and I hate speed cameras, but on balance, I'd say drive. Just.
Music or TV?
Music. I listen to music whenever I'm writing, using it to manage my mood like an emotional bookmark. Friends describe my musical tastes as weird, filmic or "that ambient rubbish" but it gets my head where it needs to be. My iPhone is full of tracks by artists like Deaf Center, Christina Vantzou, or A Winged Victory For The Sullen.
Music also helps me to see places differently. I do a lot of my writing "on location" and listening to something sinister while visiting the scene of a fictional crime makes everything feel terribly real.
Salad or steak?
Steak. I'm told that I'm as far away from being a vegetarian as it's possible to be. In fact, until quite recently, this was my Facebook avatar:
City or country?
It's a tough choice, but I'd have to say country. I grew up in a tiny Scottish village, up in the hills between Glasgow, Stirling and Loch Lomond. We took my son there when he was eight years old and, while out for a walk, he stopped and gave me a puzzled look, asking what it was that he could hear. It took me a moment to realise that it was silence – he'd never heard it before.
Morning or night?
Night. All the best things happen at night. Also, I'm usually baffled in the morning, at least until the coffee kicks in.
Pen or Pencil?
Neither. My handwriting is achingly slow, and almost completely illegible. Thankfully, I'm a quick typist; I'd still be struggling to finish my first book if I had to scrawl it out by hand.
When did you know you were going to be a writer?
It still hasn't sunk in. I've had two books published, and my third is almost done, but I still feel as though I've gate-crashed a party I have no right to attend.
As to when I knew I *wanted* to be a writer, that was when my secondary school English teacher inspired me with her absolute love of language. Thank you Mrs Pearson.
Which authors are your biggest inspirations?
I could choose so many great writers across different genres, but I'll mention two that aren't from crime.
Firstly, C S Friedman, who wrote the stunning Coldfire Trilogy. In this story, she created one of the most charismatically evil characters I've ever read, and managed to sustain him as a main protagonist for three books. Her ability to stir empathy, where there should have been none, was a big influence on me when I was developing my own charming serial killer.
The other author I'll highlight is Philip K Dick. Hugely talented, he was also the master of the unhappy ending, and I rather like books where there's no guarantee of a cheery conclusion, with everything neatly wrapped-up. When anything can happen, the stakes seem so much higher.
Which book would you take to a desert island?
Assuming that most islands come equipped with the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, I'd take The Lord Of The Rings by J R R Tolkien. Beneath the epic landscapes and the fantasy cast lies a beautiful story of sacrifice, duty, and friendship.
If I could rewrite history, I would . . .
…take back some of the stupid things I've said, especially if they hurt people close to me. While it might be tempting to undo historical atrocities, good things frequently arise from tragedy, and I'd hate my good intentions to make things worse. Better that I try and remedy my own mistakes – it's all I'm qualified to fix.
In another age I would have been . . .
Hopefully a full-time writer. My other skills - game designer, digital artist, photographer - aren’t really transferable to many historical eras. Of course, I'd have to do some work on my penmanship if I wanted anyone to actually read what I wrote...
Who would your fantasy dinner guests be?
Confining myself to people who are alive, and trying to ensure a group that would spark interesting conversation, I'd invite J K Rowling, Bill Gates, Sir David Attenborough, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I'm confident they'd all hit it off and, so long as I got a grown-up to do the cooking, the evening would be a big success.
Who would you choose to survive the apocalypse with?
My wife and son. I wouldn't want to survive without them, and they're both much more practical than me, so I probably wouldn't be *able* to survive without them.
Which book do you wish you had written?
The answer to this question changes depending on my mood, but currently I’d say Lexicon by Max Barry. Reading it was like taking the first ever bite of a new favourite food. It powers forward with such confidence, really quickening the pulse. I can only imagine the buzz of creating something so relentless.
If a film was made of your life, which actor would play you?
I’m a big fan of fellow-Glaswegian Peter Capaldi, from his time on The Crow Road through to The Thick Of It. I’m sure he’d be up for the role, so long as he doesn’t have any other new projects on the horizon...
Who is your favourite crime/thriller character across literature, film, TV, theatre etc?
Rick Deckard, from Blade Runner / Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. I've loved every version of him, from the first cut of the movie with the Marlowe-esque voice-over, to the depressive protagonist in the novel. There's something profoundly compelling about characters who are forced to face the truth about themselves through their investigation and pursuit of others, and in Deckard's case that truth is particularly poignant. At the same time, he's an anti-hero, dwarfed by larger-than-life adversaries, which makes it easier to empathise with him – and if you know the story, you'll see there's an irony in that.