LUCY: Your heroine in Good Fairies of New York has Crohn’s disease, and Lonely Werewolf Girl is plagued with many issues – depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse, to name a few. What made you take your characters in this direction?
MM: I’d view these two instances as rather different. From my point of view, Kerry is more an unfortunate victim of a bad disease. Kalix, on the other hand, is troubled, partly by mental issues she can’t control and partly by bad choices she makes. I’ve met a lot of troubled characters in South London. Not as extreme as Kalix perhaps, but I seem to have known a lot of people with eating disorders, depression, self-harming issues and so on. These characters do tend to appear in some form or other in my books. Kalix, with all her problems, is based on people I’ve known (apart from her being a werewolf, obviously). Also, I can write with first-hand knowledge of anxiety problems, because I’ve suffered from them myself.
MIA: I loved The Good Fairies of New York. Reading it, I was taken by the warm and vivid peripheral characters and terrain like the city itself is a character… the voices of the phone sex TV commercials, the way the fairies traveled by hitching rides on bicycles wheeling through Manhattan, the ever present homeless people and the way the fairies tried to help. It actually made me feel more benevolent towards NYC (where I live) when I was done reading it.
Where does this attitude of compassion come from, and how do you manage to weave it into your narrative without it sounding sentimental or saccharin? How do you inject such gravity into playful beings like fairies?
MM: If my books have a feeling of compassion about them, I like that. Generally, in my writing, I think sympathy for people greatly outweighs cynicism. I’m not quite sure why this is. I don’t consciously set out to write about people warmly, but it does tend to happen.
It’s possible my books show more compassion than I actually do in real life. I’d hope that’s not the case, but it’s hard to judge that sort of thing about yourself.
As for avoiding being sentimental or saccharin, that’s just a matter of experience in writing. There’s quite a lot of unpleasant reality in The Good Fairies of New York, from illness to the TV sex commercials, and that all helps to keep the book from being overly-sentimental.
LYDIA: I found myself wondering, during Good Fairies, if you play an instrument yourself.
MM: I played guitar when I was younger, then mandolin, flute and tin whistle. I’ve joined in sessions of traditional music, as played by the fairies in the book. Not with fairies though, with Scottish and Irish musicians in the pub.
These days, I don’t play much, I’m sorry to say. Partly this is due to laziness, but it’s also partly due to suffering some persistent finger and wrist problems due to typing so much.
MM: I’d prop up the bar. I would be a terrible stage diver. I’m the opposite of intrepid, and also I don’t like being in the middle of a dense crowd. However, I’ve always been very impressed with the phenomenon, and thought it was worth recording. I admire these fearless stage-divers!
RICH: When (and why) did you start adding out-and-out magical fantasy into your books (as opposed to just the everyday fantasies about wealth & success that people always entertain)?
MM: I’m not certain why this happened, it just seemed to, right from the start of my writing career. I started off writing about people around me, and these books were set among the squatting/post punk/alternative scene in South London in the 80s. So in that way they were realistic, but other-worldy elements were always creeping in.
I’m not certain why this was, although it might have had something to do with my youthful enthusiasm for Marvel comics. Comics often have that aspect to them – sort of set in the real world, but with many fantastic elements too. Another big influence on me when I started writing was Kurt Vonnegut, and his books – Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions – had a very entertaining manner of dealing with real people whose lives somehow became entangled with elements of fantasy.
RICH: Curse of the Wolf Girl appears to be marketed as YA in the US. Did you approach the writing any differently?
MM: I seem to have tumbled into the ‘Young Adult’ genre by accident. Lonely Werewolf Girl was not consciously written as a YA book. However, in tone and genre, it could be viewed as young adult. For instance, there is no graphic sex or bad language in either Lonely Werewolf Girl or Curse of the Wolf Girl, although you can find both these things in my other books. However, neither Lonely Werewolf Girl or Curse of the Wolf Girl would be improved by these things, they’d just spoil the tone.
Another aspect of the two werewolf books which has accidentally leant itself to the Young Adult Genre is the humour. Malveria and Vex, for instance, wouldn’t work so well together in a book with a different tone. They can only really exist in the world they’re in now. If the books had what might be termed adult scenes in them, I’d lose a lot of the humour.
Knowing that Curse of the Wolf Girl was probably going to be viewed as a Young Adult in the USA book didn’t make any difference to writing it. I didn’t try and make the characters’ actions moral, or well behaved. (And there is no abstinence. Scottish werewolves have lusty appetites for almost everything.) Despite that, they both came out as quite moral books, in their way.
RICH: Will there ever be a direct-sequel (or prequel) to Good Fairies? (please, please…)
MM: Hmm. I’m not certain. I have thought for a long time that I’d like to write more about those characters, but the time never seemed quite right. I would like to write a graphic novel about the fairies Heather and Morag, but again, the opportunity has never quite presented itself. (I’ve been writing a graphic novel about another subject recently, and it’s a long process, with the artwork involved.)