TeamRock writer Morat has been interviewing and reviewing the biggest names in rock for a quarter of a century. Now he's written a sci-fi/fantasy novel about a bad-ass seven foot-tall cocaine-addicted biker named Numb Tongue. We had to find out more...
You’ve been writing, very successfully, about punk and metal for over 25 years, so what prompted you to turn your hand to fiction writing?
“The fiction actually came first but I didn’t have any idea what to do with it. I lived in squats when I was young and barely had a roof over my head, let alone a typewriter, so I’d write short stories by hand just because I enjoyed writing. Unfortunately some of the squat evictions weren’t exactly sympathetic and I’d come home to find everything gone and the building boarded up, so most of those stories were lost. The Road To Fero City started out as one of those stories and I found the hand written notes, which is what prompted me to have another go at it and turn it into a book.”
Pretend we’re a Hollywood film producer, and give us the basic plot pitch for The Road To FeroCity?
“Sons Of Anarchy meets The Lord Of The Rings on drugs at a cage fight! Obviously there’s more to it than that, but that’s the general gist of it. I’ve actually left the back cover of the book blank so you kind of have to judge the book by it’s cover, and the artist, Tim Shay, totally nailed it. If you don’t like the cover then you probably won’t like the book. Also, it’s difficult to know how much of the plot to give away because some of the characters are finding out as they go along and you’re supposed to find out with them. I grew up reading a lot of sci-fi/fantasy and a lot of biker pulp books like The Bike From Hell and this book is a mixture of both those genres.”
How did your love of music feed into the story?
“There are constant music references throughout the book and some of the story is based around lyrics from Clutch. I went to the trouble of getting their permission before I found out that you don’t need permission if it’s in the public domain, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Any music fan has a constant soundtrack in their head and a song for almost any situation, and I’ve tried to reflect that in the writing. Although it’s not mentioned, I always imagined the opening motorcycle chase having the riff from Cancer Bats Scared To Death as the soundtrack and I’ve been very specific about the music in other parts. I love the idea of a book turning people onto music they might not have heard before and I’m sure that people who already know those bands will get a kick out of it.”
Name some authors you admire, and tell us please why we should care about them?
“Oh Christ, we could be here days! Christopher Brookmyre is fantastic, kind of like Bill Hicks writing detective novels, and he also references a lot of music, which is why he came to mind first. His book The Sacred Art Of Stealing made me go and track down Faith Healer by The Alex Harvey Band, not that I particularly liked it, but his writing is so evocative that you have to go and find the song. I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers ‘trilogy’. Seriously, we could be here for days… Hunter S Thompson for bloody obvious reasons, Charles Bukowski, Iian Banks, Bill Bryson, George Orwell… I read a lot! I almost forgot John Wyndham, who is probably my favourite author. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read The Day Of The Triffids and The Chrysalids. He was a hugely influential author and way ahead of his time. The opening scene from 28 Days Later is straight out of The Day Of The Triffids!”
Did the process of writing this book teach you anything new about yourself?
“Mostly that my punctuation is atrocious. But, sadly, most people don’t know how to punctuate. That was the hardest part for me and there were months of Facebook posts like, “Let’s eat Grampa! Let’s eat, Grampa!” I know there are still a few errors, but I also learned that you have to let go at some point. Besides, if this book was music it would be punk rock rather than classical and some of the greatest bands were flawed. Discharge were almost jazz-like in their ability to play different songs at the same time, but it was that rawness that made them so special and they lost it when they tried to polish the music too much. It’s about the song and what it makes you feel, not necessarily the notes that the band have played or missed, and, hopefully, this book has the same thing. Thankfully, I’d already learned the lesson of backing everything up to the point of obsessiveness when I lost 75,000 words of the first book I tried to write. That’s not a good feeling.”
Writing a book can be both a daunting and draining experience: are you ready to dive again on a new novel?
“Absolutely! I’ve already started on the second one! Obviously you get a little wave of encouragement when the book is finished, particularly when it gets a good reaction and so far it’s been great. I’ve had people tell me they called in sick at work so they could finish reading it. And this has taken a lot of the mystery out of it, not that books aren’t still sacred to me, but the actual process was a lot easier than I’d imagined. The thing that stopped me writing for a long time was losing the aforementioned 75,000 words and it probably affected my other work at the time. That was daunting and draining! I’d have nightmares that when I finally got the proof for Fero City it would all be in Sanskrit or Binary Code, but I’ve checked and it’s definitely English, so it’s kind of exciting right now. I’ve had years of writing magazine covers, but this is a totally new experience.”
What, to you, will constitute success for the book?
“This is going to sound so fucking lame, but, to me, it already is a success. It always sounds lame when bands say that about their records, but it’s true. Obviously I’d like to make pot loads of cash because writers never have a pot to piss in, but when you’ve grown up in squats that doesn’t really matter because you’re used to it. As you’d imagine from living in squats, I had a difficult upbringing and I wasn’t reunited with my family for a long time. I didn’t really know them, so when I finally went to visit for Christmas I bought my brother a book (Christopher Brookmye’s Boiling A Frog), hoping he hadn’t read it already. He admitted that he’d never read a book and it was such a thrill to get him into reading. The mechanic at my local bike shop is the same, never read a book, and he’s promised to read Fero City because it’s about bikers. That, to me, is a huge success. Hopefully it’s a gateway book for him and there’s one more reader on the planet.”