Michael Marshall is a best-selling British novelist, who has managed to slip cleverly between genre fiction and mainstream thriller writing. He's also a short story author and screenwriter, who commutes between Brighton, London and Santa Cruz, California.
His new book is We Are Here, about an author who has a chance encounter with a strange man and finds himself part of a sinister plot, involving shadowy figures.
I managed to grab him while he was in England for a chat.
Describe We Are Here.
I started off writing more overtly genre fiction and then to publishing minds at least, switched to a straighter thriller, mystery thing. This book is trying to be more of a synthesis of the sort of stuff I used to do and the stuff I want to go on to do.
How irritating is pigeonholing in the book industry? You have called yourself both Michael Marshall and Michael Marshall Smith to allow yourself to do different things.
I think that's a real problem. In some ways, it's useful because you know what you're doing. But after a certain length of time it can be very hard to jump tracks and I don't think there are many people who can say I want to do this one thing for the rest of my life.
Nevertheless, you do tend to exist on the thriller shelves in the bookshop, competing with the likes of James Patterson...
I don't think it's a zero sum game. There's a segment of readers who buy one book a year, but the people who really care about books, who drive the book-buying market will spend all the money they have, it's an addiction. Which makes me sound like a drug dealer!
How difficult do you find the process of writing?
When you see novelists portrayed in movies - the researching of the book is all very romantic, the writing of the book takes about a weekend and then it's just a round of launches and parties. It is a job. It's a great job to have but 99% of it is sitting by yourself in a room typing stuff up and making stuff up. You've got to keep that fresh. I don't pump out a book a year, it tends to be every 18 months or so. And part of that is because I feel I need to go off and think some new things and do some new things and experience some new things. So that I'm not just recycling the same old thing. Writing should reflect life, not just a desire to get published.
So the ideas come easily?
I have a huge thing I call a bits file, which I've been keeping for probably nearly 20 years. Observations and things like that. And if I'm stuck sometimes I trawl through that and something will spark out.
How do you go about researching your subject matter?
We Are Here is about New York to a degree, so it's like what do I feel about New York? Let's explore the city a little bit, let's try and make the city a character. I did it with The Intruders which was set in Seattle, so I went to Seattle and walked the streets for eight hours a day.
You're successful now, so what would you say to the younger you who was just starting out?
If I had my time again, I think I wouldn't have ended up going the two names route. It's such an open secret, no-one cares anyway. It's about having the courage of your convictions really. Because there are different ways of being a novelist. I'm quite fatalistic, really. There are things I maybe could have done better, but I'm okay with where I am now and that was the process that brought me here.
So what's your tip for young writers who are out there now trying to break into the business?
It sounds trite and obvious, but it's sitting and writing a lot and then doing it again until you die. Because that's the job, it's not the launches and the parties and all that.
We Are Here is out now.