Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Monday, 18 January 2016

The Lowdown with... David Nickle

David Nickle is a Canadian novelist and journalist, living and working in an old Toronto stable building, in the company of his wife, science fiction writer and futurist Madeline Ashby. As a journalist, he covers city politics in Toronto. As a novelist, he writes on diverse subjects, including the early American Eugenics movement and crypto-parasitology (Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism) Cold-War espionage and psychic phenomenon (Rasputin's Bastards) and poltergeists and the modern marriage (The 'Geisters). He is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, Aurora and Black Quill Awards. In 2015, he and Madeline Ashby co-edited the Canadian-only Bond anthology Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I'm the child of artists: my late father Lawrence, a plein-air landscape painter who worked
mainly in northern Ontario, and my mother Olga, a sculptor and high school art teacher. They were both always certain about the value of a career in the arts, properly skeptical of my interest in horror fiction but ultimately supportive. I work as a journalist covering Toronto municipal politics, so was there for the Rob Ford mayoralty and all that entailed (mostly stake-outs and foot chases). I wrote a short story, “Knife Fight,” as a bit of a commentary on that time, and put it in the marquee spot of my 2014 collection Knife Fight and Other Struggles. When fellow writer Madeline Ashby and I were married in 2015, we took wedding photos in our favourite butcher shop's meat locker, and George the head butcher tells us the photo we left there, of us dancing among the carcasses in what is surprisingly good light, has garnered the admiration of a good three-quarters of the customers who come in and the horrified attention of all of them.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
You have to go back a long way for that. It was a short story called “The Killing Way,” in On Spec Magazine in 1991 (more on that later). 

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
For a long time, it was “The Sloan Men,” which appeared in 1994 and has been reprinted a bunch of times, taught at university and also adapted for television. Herman Sloan's image graces the cover of my story collection Monstrous Affections, to terrifying effect. “The Sloan Men” was also the first story that I wrote that I felt really nailed the theme and pacing I was going after. Hard not to be proud of that, but discouraging to be most proud of a story that's so old.
So now I'm cautiously going to put forward a very new story, “The Caretakers,” which is live at January 20. It's hard to talk about that one much—the blurb-writers at Tor put forward the blandest description you could imagine, and they were probably right to do so: it's that kind of story. But as with “The Sloan Men,” I feel like it nails the thing I wanted to do. We will see if others agree.

4. …and which makes you cringe?
Whatever they may tell you, the first time is often the worst. So I'm going to say “The Killing Way,” my first published story, written back when I thought I could write science fiction in the mode of Joe Haldeman and Larry Niven. It's a piece about a literary writer in full-on toxic-Martin-Amis-level writer's block, stuck at an Antarctic writer's colony with a cybernetic vat-bred soldier who's written a DaVinci-Code popular piece of war porn. They meet, amid attempts at clever allusions and hard-boiled prose. Gah. It works, I guess, in that it sold. But it reeks of pastiche and makes me feel a bit like the protagonist when I reread it.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
There isn't really a normal writing day. I work full time as a reporter, so I squeeze in work as I can: often on the subway into work, or early in mornings or on weekends. For a long time I felt badly about this: there's a sense n the writing world of genre fiction that a proper writer sets aside four or so hours a day to maintain a daily word count in the middle four digits and does this consistently. That's a good ideal, but a punishing one for those like me maintaining an enjoyable, full-time career in another field at the same time.
When I'm on deadline, however, a writing day reaches that level of anxious productivity. 

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

I'd say my 2011 novel Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism. It's my first-published solo novel, and is a bit of a mash-up about the early years of the American eugenics movement and the middle years of American utopians. It's also about a terrible monster, and in that way it's a little bit Lovecraftian. So there is something for everybody—and probably something in there to irritate everybody. But if you're not being irritating to at least somebody, you shouldn't be writing...

7. What are you working on now?
The sequel to Eutopia, right now titled Volk. It follows the characters who met in Idaho in 1911 over folly and bloodshed, through the other side of the First World War to Paris and Bavaria in 1931, for a helping of more of the same. And, hopefully, then some...Also, a couple of short stories are on order, and they're not going to get written on their own. Which means I really must get to it. Thank you for having me!

Don't forget to check out David's 'The Caretakers' at - live from Wednesday 20th January!

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