[Interview] Neil Williamson

Fantasy and science fiction author, Neil Williamson’s first story was published in Territories Magazine in 1993.

His other stories have been published in magazines such as The Third Alternative; Interzone and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. Still more of his stories have been featured in anthologies that include The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide To Eccentric And Discredited Diseases; Nova Scotia: An Anthology of Scottish Speculative Fiction; and The Elastic Book Of Numbers.

In a recent interview, Neil Williamson spoke about his first collection of short stories, The Ephemera (2006).

What is The Ephemera about?

The Ephemera is a collection of varied short stories about the length of time things last for. The stories are all fantastical in some way -- science fiction, fantasy, supernatural or magic realism.

The collection is made up of stories written over the last ten years or so. It was published by Elastic Press in May. The Ephemera is pretty much a summation of what I’ve written to date, but without the 100% Science Fiction stuff.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I found choosing the stories difficult. There were ones that I wanted to have in there that just didn’t fit. And a whole bunch of new stories that I wanted to write for it, but didn’t have time.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

I co-edited an anthology called Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction in 2005 (with Andrew J Wilson), but this is the first book that’s all my own work.

In your decision to become a writer and in the writing that you are doing, who would you say has influenced you the most?

I’m not sure I ever really decided that, it just sort of happened.

I remember deciding that I wanted to give it a try. I’ve always been a reader, and when I was living in London in the early 1990’s I got hooked on Interzone magazine. There were some terrific stories being published back then (and still are, check it out), and I admired one story in particular -- ‘Well Loved’ by Ian McLeod -- so much that I wanted to have a go at creating something like that myself. So I tried to write a short story and found it harder than I expected, and when I returned to Scotland shortly after that I enrolled in a Science Fiction and Fantasy writing evening class at Glasgow University. Through the class I was introduced to the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, and after that writing became so much of a habit that I’ve never been able to give it up.

Writers I admire include Jonathan Carroll, M. John Harrison and Ian McDonald, but I’d have to say that the biggest influence on my development as a writer has to have been the critique group I belong to: the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, who over the years have been a constant source of enthusiasm and advice.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Finding the time to write. I don’t have great artistic ambitions, but my life is so full that sitting down on a consistent, regular basis to do something as simple as tell a story is enough of a struggle.

How do you deal with these?

Discipline, and getting up early. When my writing is going well I wake early and write for an hour or so before work. I also go off to a café and write through my lunch hour. And if I’m lucky, I might get another hour or so in before bed. That’s all the time that’s available to me, so I have to make use of it.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

It’s obviously not possible to fabricate everything that you write about -- something of your own life is bound to creep in to the bricks, but I don’t write autobiographically. I’ll just use bits of what I know as colour. For instance, I’m a musician, so it’s easy for me to have characters who are musicians, or indeed other sorts of artists.

As for the direction of my writing, I find that the thing that has influenced that most is discovering new writers who are doing interesting things. And for me a lot of that process of discovery is done by meeting people at conventions or over the internet.

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

I never really know what a story’s going to be about until I start it, so I don’t think I really have concerns as such. Having said that, in retrospect you do see patterns. When I chose the stories for my collection, The Ephemera, for instance, I noticed that a lot of my stories were about brief encounters, and the value of appreciating things while they last. And rain, but I then I live in Glasgow, so perhaps that’s not so surprising.

What will your next book be about?

I’m currently finishing a novel called The Moon King, which is a fantasy adventure about a city that stole the moon for its own purposes.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think writing in itself is enough of an achievement. Publication is nice, but coming up with the ideas and putting them down on paper is the thing that makes me feel proud.

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