Saturday, 2 March 2013

Matthew Lang's Casting Couch Interview

Matthew Lang writes behind a desk, in the park, on the tram and sometimes backstage at amateur theatre productions. He has been known to sing and dance in public, analyse the plots of movies and TV shows, and is a confessed Masterchef addict. Over the years he has dabbled in marketing, advertising, event management and the sale of light fittings, but his first love is and has always been that of the written word and is rarely too far from a good book. He likes his men hot and spunky, his mysteries fantastical, his fantasies real and his vampires to combust when exposed to sunlight. Other than that he’s pretty normal. One day we may even take him out of the straight jacket.

How did you get started in writing? What made you decide to submit your first story and what was your experience with that? Who was the first person you told when you got your first contract? What was their reaction?

I’ve always written. I wrote stories when I read stories as a child—blatant plagiarisms of whatever picturebook I borrowed from the library usually, but still stories—I created non-fiction stories that I made into presentations from the new-fangled encylopaedias that came on CD-ROMs before the invention Wikipedia and in one case I made turned out a tiny and badly bound book for a school project. I think it had six pages. I wrote stories when I discovered how to take screenshots in video games.

My first published story, The Secret of Talmor Manor was conceived inside a video game—bonus points if you can guess which one. Actually, tell you what, I’ll give free digital copy of it to anyone who correctly guesses the game before Cate’s next blog post goes up. First guess is the only one that counts though people—contact me at my website to enter! Where was I? Oh yes, the story eventually turned into a novel manuscript when I needed something to work on for National Novel Writing Month. I lost a corporate job I didn’t really want just after I finished the draft—and incidentally got a bit of a backdoor apology from HR for my manager and her behaviour. In retrospect I probably had grounds for an unlawful dismissal case against that particular company, but I’m just happy to be out of it to be honest. In any case, I took up a job in event and festival management—I went from crew to site manager basically—and I spent many evenings sitting on a rooftop by the beach with a small light while a movie played on an inflatable screen for anywhere between twenty and one hundred and fifty people while I edited and redrafted my work.

I took a position in Sydney working on an open air ice rink—day one on the job consisted of improvising a ticketing system so the managers could work out how many tickets they sold and how many people they were letting on the ice at one time—and I was sub-letting a room in an apartment that literally overlooked Bondi Beach when I received my acceptance letter. I’d been asked to redraft the work, which I did, and the requisite ‘consideration time’ had passed, and I sent a polite email in enquiry. You have to remember that I’m in Australia, and my publishers are in America, so I had no idea when they’d see it, or how long it would take to get a response. I got one that evening, at about eleven o’clock at night. Actually, it was there earlier, I just didn’t get to check my email until then.

I read the offer. And I screamed. And then I woke up my temporary housemate who’d gone to bed about half an hour before, and we squeed and bounced about in excitement. She’s working on launching a fashion label, and she slept in her panties. So there she was, tanned skin, bleached blonde pixie cut hair, covering her nipples with one hand and jumping up and down in excitement. It’s an experience I’m sure nine in ten men would kill to have seen, but instead it was me there. Ah, memories.


Where does your inspiration come from for your books?

Where doesn’t it come from? I get ideas everywhere. From things I read, things I hear, people I talk to, social media, gaming, little silly challenges people give to me—hey can you work in death by can-opener into your story? What about a penguin? Everything I experience seemed to go in this simmering melting pot of crazy that is my brain and eventually out pops a story. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re terrible, some never see the light of day. The best ones remain and grow and evolve and eventually demand to be written. And eventually I will write them all. I think. Or I’ll die. That’s always a possibility. Can-openers might feature.  

How do you make the important choices when it comes to writing your stories? Point of View? Voice? Theme? Title?

I write third person close. I find it has all the benefits of first person narrative without the drawbacks. I also write point of view from the protagonist, or protagonist and his lover, given the genre in which I publish. No more than two points of view. I do that very deliberately because I want a reader’s view point into my story to be constrained by perspective. I want to be able to surprise and delight with the unexpected, evoke the excitement of exploring the unknown and the terror of a villain who is similarly unknown in both identity and motive. Or just big and scary. Maybe it’s my love of gaming, but I feel there’s nothing worse than knowing everything about a villain within the first three chapters of the book and having to wait twenty three more for them to get their comeuppance—assuming they even do.

Themes in my work spring from the story idea. For The Secret of Talmor Manor, I wanted to write a story about ghosts trapped in a British Manor, which lead me to ask why they were there, how did they relate to my protagonist and who wanted to keep them trapped in undeath. For The Way You Are, I wanted to explore friendships between gay and straight men and the very real experience of growing up gay in places that do not fall wholly within the liberal bubbles that I know that I for one prefer to live in. For my current novel draft, working title Prophecy, I wanted to find out how a modern gay man would react to the traditional dragon slaying fantasy quest. Typically, I find the story I want to tell and the theme’s right there.

Titles on the other hand have a tendency to be chosen out of desperation rather than anything else. I consider myself quite bad at title creation, and I usually pick something and go with it so I’m not stressing about it—and more often than not it ends up getting used. Maybe I just need to trust myself more.

Are your characters purely fictional, or do you sample from people you’ve met in real life? Which one of your characters is most like you? How so?

Oh, they’re all fictional. They have to be. Because I often find my theme before my characters, my characters all have a role to play inside the stories I tell, so some parts of their identities are necessarily fixed before their personality quirks. In The Secret of Talmor Manor, Jake was deliberately an academic and needed some familiarity with words. Nate needed an innocence towards the modern world and had to be aristocratically British. In The Way You AreLeon needed to be shy, uncertain and self-effacing in order to give him believability and room to grow, whereas Rook needed to have a boy-next-door likability to make the story dynamics work. Warrick needed to have a reservedness born of societal caution. I think all of them sample from me in some way, they can’t not. All of them sample from people I meet, again, they can’t not. I don’t think any of them are me, or are someone else though. I’ve yet to write a story that needs a person just like me in it. That probably answers the next part of the question too...

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

I met a fan recently and got told that The Secret of Talmor Manor was the first novel length work he’d ever read, and it continued to be his favourite novel despite the novels he’s read since. In essence, I am partially responsible for introducing a person to long narrative works. It’s just one person, true, but it’s nice that I was able to help with that.

If you could co-author a book with any other writer, who would it be?

Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. Or both. I think it would be an education in and of itself.

What is the one book that you think that very few people have read but everyone should read? What are you reading right now?

Everything I know I learned from TV.
It’s a great introduction to philosophical thinking for anyone who hasn’t read Sophie’s World, or found it a bit hard to understand. In terms of reading I’m currently between books and I need to go shopping once I’ve sorted out little things like getting a new housemate and fixing my Xbox360. I’m trying to work out what to buy and I’m leaning towards Kim Fielding’s Brute, but there’s a lot of other authors I really want to read.

What do you find the most difficult part of the writing process?

Finishing. I always want to edit, even when I don’t want to edit because I’m sick of editing and can’t see the novel for the words. Also, sometimes I get scared because the novel seems perfect in my head even with the massive gaps in the narrative, and I’m worried that if I write something less than perfect I’m an abject failure. Then, after a bout of procrasturbation, I write it anyway, and then go back and edit the hell out of it. Did I mention I have trouble with finishi--

What is a typical working day like for you? Where do you write? Do you wait for inspiration? Do you set certain writing goals? Are there any specific tools you use to help you write?

I don’t what a typical working day is like for me. I’ll let you know when I have one. In terms of when I write, I just write. I don’t wait for inspiration, because that always leaves about a third of the way into a draft, and I try not to set specific goals because something always interrupts. Sometimes I get more done, sometimes I get less done, but I try to work consistently and get something done at least four days a week.

What is your greatest guilty pleasure (literary or otherwise)?

Amazing fantastic sex. Oh wait, you said guilty pleasure. Probably home-made ice cream. It’s not as bad as shop bought ice cream, but there’s still a fair amount of sugar and fat in there, and I’ve yet to make a sorbet I loved as much as the ice cream.

And…last but not least: What are you working on now and what can we expect to see from you in the coming year?

Well, as I mentioned, I’m working on a fantasy narrative tentatively titled Prophecy, and here’s the raw, as yet unedited opening. Warning, this opening is liable to change without notice.

In his 25 years, Adam had never thought of how he would die. Oh he’d ‘died’ often on the field of battle-reenactments, but there had always been blunted weapons, carefully choreographed dramatic finishes and a lot of rehearsal beforehand. This was different. He’d seen real battle death since arriving in this twisted hellhole of a lost world—quick brutal and messy and somehow he’d managed to survive, whether though fighting or fleeing. Not this time. Staring up the dirt track, past the veritable sea of four armed, leathery skinned barbarians he could see his fate as clearly as the officious looking elders on a crude platform of stone and logs. It may as well have been etched into the heavy obsidian blade clutched loosely in two of the burly executioner’s hands: ‘Warning: Tresspassers will be Eaten’. Of course, that would only work if the Kanak gave warnings.
Every step was agony, sharp stabbing pains shooting up from his wrenched ankle almost worse than the prodding from the stone tipped spears that urged along his limping progress. His head throbbed from where he had fallen to the ground, and his left eye had swollen shut. Back in high school, Adam had read about executions, and how broken prisoners would shuffle slowly towards their fate. He’d always thought they were too tired to move faster, or their movements impeded by manacles. Now he knew better. Even as much as he yearned for the pain to stop, each ragged breath that rasped into his lungs was sweet punishment, every second he took walking up the street between the jeering, Kanak was a second longer to feel his heart straining in his ribcage. The oblivion of death that opened up to engulf him was as horrific and as awful a prospect now as it would have been had he been sitting on a couch at home watching the tv. And so he struggled second to second. Each one a second longer for something—anything—to happen.
One second longer for his luck to change.
Only it didn’t.
As the track made its way between the two largest elevated houses at the center of the village, the din of the watching crowd swelled until it sounded almost like that at a football grand final. At least, it would have if the said footy crowd had been clad in wraps of cured animal hide or woven vegetation, and chanted along to a beat kept by the stamping of their feet while accompanied by the droning of clashing trumpet sounds… it was just like a footy crowd. As entered the central square, he passed a firepit piled high with deadwood, awaiting a tongue of fire to send it roaring up into the perpetual twilight of the jungle sky. On the dais behind it was a rude throne of wood and jutting bone, and seated upon that was the Kanak chieften, easily a head taller than the rest of his clan, although he still had the dark brown skin and ebony hair, braided into a warrior’s knot. His clothing was where his appearance differed—and significantly. Unlike the warriors, who wore nothing bar a leather loincloth or penis-gourd and their tattoos of black and red, the chief’s clothing were of finely woven reeds in red, black and brown, along with a gorget of polished bone and turquoise. On his head sat a headdress of slasherclaw feathers and flitterfish fins in silver, yellow and blue. Standing to the left of the throne was a hunched, elderly female, her two upper arms clutching at a highly polished staff of dark wood, decorated—as was she—in beads of bone and more silver flitterfish fins strung on leather cords. While she wore the same grass skirt as all the other females, her upper body was wrapped in a length of raw, red silk. All this passed through Adam’s brain in the blink of an eye as his focus moved sharply to the low table—or rather, two table halves—which sat on the dais between the throne and the fire pit.
They were made of wood, and looked as though they would fit together, cut as they were so that one lip would overlap the other to  create a seamless surface, bar a circular hole in the middle. It looked like the table would then be held together with thick wooden pegs—two of which lay conveniently on one of the table halves. As his stomach attempted to heave up the last dregs of bile, Adam dug his heels in, momentarily halting his guards in their attempts to drag him forwards, and wrenching his ankle so hard his vision threatened to black out entirely. The chanting of the crowd was feverish, barraging his ears with a thrumming cacophony of noise. It no longer mattered that he didn’t understand the language: he knew all the words.
Do not get locked into that thing, his brain screamed at him as his eyes tracked around the area, looking in vain for a gap through which he might bolt, but found none, so close was the press of bodies. Then clawed hands were gripping his arms, and two of the warriors were half marching, half dragging him forward as he struggled to free his hands, still bound behind his back with a length of twisted creeper.
 “What’s the wierdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” Rusty had asked suddenly, snuggled up behind Adam in the post coital glow of their lovemaking.
>“Raw snail. Dare in year ten,” Adam said, pulling their combined sleeping bags up around his neck to ward off the desert chill that threatened to seep through the walls of their canvas tent. “You?”
“Oh come on, you don’t have any stories?”
“Not personally, no,” Rusty said. “My dad was fed monkey brains though.”
“Monkey brains. From the monkey apparently.”
“Explain, please?”
“He was in… I think it was Egypt? Or somewhere in Africa anyway, and he was served monkey. He said they had a table with a hole in the middle—they put the monkey’s head through the hole and use a knife and…”
Forced to his knees, Adam found the unpolished wood dug into his neck as an even greater cheer went up from the surrounding crowd.  From his new vantage point he could see old bloodstains and knife marks on the table’s surface, and the last wooden peg was dropped into the table with the finality of the final nail being hammered into his coffin.

Matthew can be reached on Twitter: @mattlangwrites and on Facebook at

1 comment:

  1. You can also enter the contest here by commenting on this page :)


    Matthew Lang