Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Guy Haley?
I am British, from Yorkshire to be precise. I have a kid, a big dog, a fierce wife and lots of brothers. I’m fine, how are you?
Your new novella, The Emperor’s Railroad, will be published by Tor.com in April 2016. It looks really cool: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
Global war devastated the environment, a plague of the living dead wiped out much of humanity, and civilization as we once understood it came to a standstill. That was a thousand years ago, and the world is now a very different place. Conflict between city states is constant, the dead are an ever-present danger. Superstition is rife, and machine relics, mutant creatures and resurrected prehistoric beasts trouble the land. Watching over all are the silent Dreaming Cities. Homes of the angels, bastion outposts of heaven on Earth. Or so the church claims. Very few go in, and nobody ever comes out. Until now…
That’s the blurb. It’s an SF/fantasy/horror/western hybrid, where advanced technology, primitive cities and strange creatures exist alongside knights in armour, and there are zombies. Did I mention the zombies? Sounds complicated? It’s not, actually. I have an underlying history for the whole thing, and it’s sweet as a nut, if I say so myself. The protagonist is a knight of the angels named Quinn, he’s got a gun, two swords, a quest, and a whole lot of secrets besides.
Is it part of a planned series?
Oh yeah! All my books could be. I love world building. My worlds tend to be very detailed, and that detail gives me loads of space to tell stories. I have a number of story arcs I can set in this world, but the first is about Quinn, what he’s trying to achieve, and why the world is the way it is.
What inspired you to write the story?
It can be hard to pin down exactly where a story’s birth occurs along the road, but with this one I have a clear map of the development. The short answer is: The Walking Dead.
The long answer is: I used to hate zombie films, I mean really disdain them. I respected Romero’s original film, but the rest? Awful trash, most of ‘em, all about screaming girls being ripped to pieces. But then came 28 Days Later, and the Walking Dead, and a whole bunch of really clever, exciting zombie stuff and I got kind of hooked.
The seed for this story came when I was watching the Walking Dead. I just thought, “why don’t they make some armour?” I made some chainmail out of old fence wire when I was kid – it’s not hard. Even really badly made stuff would stop zombie teeth and fingers. I also wondered why they all didn’t have swords like Michonne, sure samurai swords aren’t lying about everywhere, but even a primitive blade would be the most useful weapon against zombies.
I started daydreaming about post-apocalyptic knights in armour fighting zombies, and then I started thinking, the zombie outbreak would peak, then tail off as people died and the zombies fell apart. What would happen next? Then I thought, “Hang on, where do these zombies come from in the first place?” And that got meshed up with a load of weird, post apocalyptic, far-future stuff that I love, Michael Moorcock and Gene Wolfe and M John Harrison type things. Out slithered the Dreaming Cities, from my head.
And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
It can honestly come from anywhere, but works other of fiction and things I read in the press mostly.
You are also one of the authors working on Black Library’s The Beast Arises series. What can you tell us about your contribution(s)?
Well, I write a lot of material for the Black Library every year. I was asked to pen the fifth part of The Beast Arises just like any other project. When I finished that, I said, you know, I can fit another in, so I’m going to also write part 12. That’s the finale, so that’s really cool.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My mum and dad. The first film I saw at the cinema was Star Wars. Dad used to tape SF films for me off the telly that were way over my age rating. My mum got me The Hobbit when I was seven, my dad read it to me, then I read it myself, then I worked my way through my mum’s small library of SF paperbacks. It just grew from there.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I love being a writer. I was a journalist and magazine editor from 1997 onwards. I’ve done a few other jobs, but not for very long, so I have always been a professional writer, pretty much. The publishing industry I feel a little disconnected from because writing is solitary. It’s good to go to events and meet readers and the dozens of other people your work depends on to get into the shops!
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Not really, I tend to chop and change the way I write to keep it fresh. I’m a stay at home dad, so I fit my work around childcare and housework. Our little boy has been in school for a few years, so what started out as a two or three day a week job is now more or less full time. I write between 3,000-6,000 words every weekday, I usually have weekends off but often write a bit in the evening as I focus better then.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author?
When I was about 18. I loved reading, but to be honest I thought writing looked like a massive lark so I bent all my will to becoming an author, simply for the sake of an easy life (that and the fact all my family run their own businesses). My determination only increased when my teacher, in a careers advisory role, said to me “Writer? It’s never going to happen.” It did happen, and it is a lark. It is not, however, easy.
And what was your first foray into writing?
Professionally? A review of a radio version of An American Werewolf in London by Dirk Maggs, when I was on work experience on SFX (I got offered a job the following week, and was there for six and a half years). But of course I used to write stories at school. My brothers found a cache of my old work, including one written when I was ten. An obvious Planet of the Apes rip-off, it has the ape generals clustered around a map debating where to invade. China? Russia? Africa? Europe? Until their leader quietens them all with the immortal words “No gentlechimps, America!”
Do you still look back on it fondly?
The chimp thing makes me laugh every time I think of it. The review makes me a bit sad, as I was hard on the play and the creator is a lovely man. I was quite harsh, back in the day.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
You know, I am so wary of giving my actual opinion about anything on the internet! The harsh me has hidden himself, though he still spits at the world occasionally. So I’ll say that SF and fantasy fiction remain rich playgrounds to explore all kinds of concepts, but I really hope my stories do what the genre does best, and explore what it means to be human. Not very revealing, but heartfelt.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I always have a lot of projects, it’s the only way to survive as a full-time writer – I write around four novel’s worth of material every year. I’m finishing up a book going out under a pseudonym right now. After that, I have to write a Sherlock Holmes story, then a Cthulhu story, then The Dreaming Cities part 2, which will be awesome, I promise. Then I’m booked up by the Black Library until May doing a variety of short novels, including that Part 12 of The Beast Arises I mentioned.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m reading The Warhound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock, in Polish would you believe. I used to live in Poland, and picked up a translation of it back then. I’ve forgotten so much of what I used to know and am determined to refresh my knowledge of the language, so I’m slogging through it. I’m also finally reading part three of Ricardo Pinto’s The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, which is very good.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Besides Polish, I also speak Swedish, and about as equally badly (it’s all to do with girlfriends, I’m afraid). I’m quite handy with a sword. Besides writing for Warhammer, I’m also a massive fan and spend far too much time and money messing around with plastic models. A sword in one hand, a paintbrush in the other, and I’m happy.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Truthfully, I’m looking forward to the release of The Emperor’s Railroad pretty much above all else. Tor.com’s got a big audience, and I’m really excited about sharing this story with them. I’ve fallen for Quinn in a big way, and I want everyone else to, too. My first Horus Heresy novel is out not very long before, and that is also a big deal. This is an important year for me.
Guy Haley is the author of many novels, novellas and short stories. Aside from those mentioned in the interview, two of his latest novels are also currently on sale: Crash (UK/US) and Champion of Mars (UK/US). His next novel for Black Library is Throneworld.