Interview with Peter McLean
Fantasy-Faction makes no secret of our love for UK Publishing House Angry Robot… Want some reasoning? OK, how about: Kameron Hurley, Wesley Chu, Adam Christopher, Anne Lyle and Chuck Wendig to get us started… Angry Robot specialise in taking risks on books that can’t be defined as ‘a copy of x’ and discovering new talent. One way they do this is through their yearly ‘Open Door’ submission period (which actually just opened BTW!) and the latest person to find success as the result of this is Peter McLean. After we were given the opportunity to reveal Peter’s cover a few weeks ago, we got back in touch with Angry Robot and asked if they can set us up an interview… they agreed and we’re pleased to bring you a ton of answers to our questions about Peter, Drake, Angry Robots Open-door and the writing process. Enjoy!
Who is Peter McLean?
I’m a guy in my 40s who has been plugging away at this writing lark for over twenty years now, and actually taking it seriously for perhaps the last five. I’ve also been a kung fu teacher, a Wiccan priest, a Unix technician, a chaos magician and an IT account manager at a multinational outsourcing corporation. It’s not been dull.
No, it’s better! When I was first talking to Marc Gascoigne at Angry Robot about the cover I said something about liking the old Hellblazer comic covers from DC Vertigo in the 90s and the first thing he said was “I loved the Tim Bradstreet covers!” That was exactly the look I was after, that blend of gritty comicbook noir with a touch of the magical not-quite-right about them, and I knew we were on the same page straight away.
Tell us about Drake…
Set in the demon-infested criminal underworld of South London, Drake is about a hard-drinking, hard gambling, demon-summoning hitman and the murderous, chainsmoking angel he falls in love with, and their search for redemption.
Don Drake owes a gambling debt to a demon. Forced to carry out one more assassination to clear his debt, Drake unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of Greek myth down upon himself. Rescued by an almost-fallen angel called Trixie, Drake and his magical accomplice The Burned Man, an imprisoned archdemon, are forced to deal with Lucifer himself whilst battling a powerful evil magician. Now Drake must foil Lucifer’s plan to complete Trixie’s fall and save her soul whilst preventing the Burned Man from breaking free from captivity and wreaking havoc on the entire world.
Oh I loved it. I grew up on Edward Woodward’s Callan and The Sweeny and all that good stuff, and then we got Guy Ritchie and Lock Stock and all its imitators. Maybe it’s the London boy in me but something about that genre has always just appealed. That and I used to mix with some pretty iffy people back in the day.
How does the presence of demons and magic influence the telling of a gritty-crime influenced novel?
It’s interesting because in a way it makes almost no difference at all. I have demons and fallen angels mixed in with gambling dens and human loansharks and gangsters, but at the end of the day all my characters share the same very human traits of greed, fear and self-preservation whichever dimension they’re originally from.
This something else I’ve always been interested in. Very little of the magic in Drake is completely made up, just grossly exaggerated. I took some of the basic ideas of real-life occultism and turned them up to eleven, so to speak. For example the Grimoire that Drake uses in the story, the Goetia, is a real book. I have a copy of that. The Vodou elements took a lot of researching though – that’s something I wanted to treat with respect and I hope I didn’t get anything too badly wrong.
Is there anything of yourself in Don Drake?
Oh now that would be telling! I’ve studied magic but I’ve never been a gambler or met the devil, although I do drink too much.
Cillian Murphy, if he’d do it. He played Tommy Shelby in BBC2’s Peaky Blinders and he carried off a perfect blend of hard-eyed ruthlessness mixed with a broken soul that would suit Don Drake down to the ground.
Who was the most fun character to write?
Trixie, hands down. Trixie is a beautiful, murderous angel who may not have fallen but has certainly slipped a bit, to put it mildly. She may or may not be largely based on my wife.
How did you go about submitting through Angry Robot’s Open Door?
I think I got my submission pack in about half an hour before the window closed on the very last day of 2013, after reading it and comparing it to the submission guidelines something like 68,457 times prior to hitting “send”. Seriously, read the submission guidelines over and over again, and do exactly what they say!
It was – Drake grew out of a short story I’d had published in an anthology that I just knew I had to turn into a full-length novel. That said I spent the best part of the year between submitting the sample chapters and being asked for the full manuscript polishing that thing until it’s a wonder it didn’t wear away!
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A bit of both really – I usually pants the first chapter and the last scene, then plot out how to get from one to the other. I may not entirely stick to the plan along the way, but having a clear end in sight from the beginning certainly helps me keep my sanity while I’m doing it.
If your book had a theme tune, what would it be?
Loverman by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
What’s next from Peter McLean?
A second Burned Man book is already in the works, provisionally titled Dominion. After that, who knows where Don Drake’s luck will take him?