This blog is going to have quite a soundtrack!
In your novel, Wannabes, you talk about the lack of good music in Hell and how it drives a bureaucratic demon named Murmur to come to Earth to do bad things. In the spirit of that, what song would you recommend readers listen to while reading this interview? Maybe something Scottish, because of your heritage? Or something demonic, because of his? Or both?
There’s only really one song I can put in here, since Jeff Buckley plays such a big role in the book. It isn’t Hallelujah, although that number is particularly important to the thrust of the book. It’s Lover, You Should’ve Come Over. This is my favourite Buckley number, a truly haunting song, and one that helps rehabilitate the biggest baddy in the book – perhaps the biggest baddy of all time. It was also the first song at my wedding, which seemed like a good idea until we started trying to dance to it and ended up shuffling awkwardly to the funereal beat while everybody asked themselves why, on this happy day, we had chosen such a downbeat number.
OK, everyone, get the music started. I’ll wait.
Right then, today I’m interviewing Michael Logan. He’s an award-winning Scottish journalist and writer with tons of accolades and such on his website, but that isn’t why I picked up his first book.
I was wandering around Berlin’s largest English-language bookstore when a title caught my eye: Apocalypse Cow. It had a blurb on the front cover from Terry Pratchett–the author of the Discworld books and co-author of Good Omens (with Neil Gaiman), which I had literally finished the day before. That made me turn the book over and start reading about three unlikely heroes who must save the world from zombie cows (Forget the cud. They want blood.). I was hooked. I have to ask: did you have a traumatic experience with cows as a child? With zombies?
I didn’t have any traumatic cow experiences as a kid, since they are pretty docile and everywhere in Scotland – even ginger cows, with which I obviously feel an affinity. I did get chased once on a hike as an adult, though. We climbed a fence without considering that the farmer probably had a good reason for putting it there and shortly found ourselves confronted by a somewhat miffed bull. Luckily I’ve always been a fast runner, so I made it back over the fence before it could spear my buttocks. I think my friend made it out too, although I haven’t seen him since. It was only 20 years ago, so I’m sure he’s fine. Do you think I should call him?
As for zombies, they’re sweethearts really. Just misunderstood.
You might want to make that call. Probably not too late to avoid prosecution. Are you a vegetarian now, to spare yourself the cow attacks? Why or why not?
I was a vegetarian, but then I moved to France to study. I had a little apartment, with no cooking facilities, so I had to eat at the cafeteria. This is a country where you can buy shrink-wrapped brains in the supermarket (I assume not human), so you can imagine there wasn’t a great deal of choice for a vegetarian. I went back to meat, and haven’t stopped since. I rarely eat red meat, though, in large part due to its environmental footprint.
That book occupies pride of place on my son’s bookshelf, next to the sequel, World War Moo. Then I ran out and bought his standalone, Wannabes, which comes out today in paperback. First off, congratulations, and secondly, I love the new cover!
Thank you! It was my first self-published experience, and very liberating to have complete control over the cover (designed by the very talented Nats Grant, fellow shuffler to Buckley), pricing and whatnot after dealing with the machinery of big houses.
Wannabes was rightfully shortlisted for an International Thriller Writers award, and it’s a fantastic read. It’s funny, but very, very dark. It features a bureaucratic demon trying to destroy all good music and musicians to make Earth a sadder place, a serial killer who murders celebrities because he thinks he will receive their powers if he wears their tattoos, and a washed up singer trying to restart his career. That all sounds terribly bleak, and sometimes it is, but it’s also screamingly funny. How on Earth did you wrangle these characters?
The idea for the book started off, more or less, with Gareth the serial killer. He was a little different then. The idea was that a tattoo shop owner had created a gimmick: a one-off tattoo, split into ten pieces, that when assembled formed some profound message (allegedly). Gareth was to go around killing everyone and trying to piece it together. He was always tragi-comic, an attempt to embody that desperate search for meaning and love that we all feel at some point in our lives, but are usually able to contain or ward off. He stayed that way as the story morphed, with the addition of the little voice in his ear directing him (Murmur), the celebrity angle, the music, and the equally desperate Jackie Thunder trying to take advantage of Gareth’s killing spree. I wanted to tell a story with no obvious antagonist, one that showed that even ‘bad’ people can be understood and rooted for. At heart, pretty much everybody wants to be loved and admired. This was my starting point.
I’m assuming that Murmur the demon, at least, is based on a real person. Spill.
Err, litigation alert! I’ll let people draw their own conclusions. Plus it would be a pretty big spoiler..
Then let’s get right to the death and mayhem. Who are the musicians that Murmur tries to destroy and why?
He starts off with Buddy Holly, who was a pivotal figure in the burgeoning Rock’n’Roll movement that brought so much energy, optimism and enthusiasm to youth, and scared the crap out of a very conservative generation. That’s why Satan sent Murmur upstairs to bump him off in a plane crash. He was worried that music, this incredibly powerful force for good that speaks to some indefinable part of us, would make people better and therefore closer to God. From there, Murmur goes off on a spree, taking out other musicians who are threatening to spread love and happiness. A lot of the names will be familiar to those who know their dead musician history.
Which musicians does he promote?
In the course of the book, Murmur begins to fall in love with music and doubt his mission. His first big music crush is Hendrix, but he quickly builds up a catalogue of musicians he should kill but can’t bring himself to. Buckley is among them. In terms of those he actively promotes … well, they’re all fabricated echoes of dreadful manufactured bands.
Do you have a playlist for this book?
Everybody’s tastes are different, so listen to the music that makes your heart sing. Having said that, some of my favourite songs of the moment, a few of which are name-checked in this book (did I mention it’s my most personal work?) follow:
Romulus, Sufjan Stevens
Bugs Don’t Buzz, Majical Cloudz
Pink Rabbits, The National
Pyramid Song, Radiohead
Location, Freelance Whales
All We Have Is Now, Flaming Lips
The Swimmer, Metz (please do forgive the abrupt change of pace, but this song kicks all kinds of arse)
Steady As She Goes, Shellac
Walking Spanish Down The Hall, Tom Waits
My favourite songs do tend to change pretty regularly, so ask me again tomorrow and I’ll give you another list (although these songs will always be up there).
What are you working on now? Are there demons? Tell me there are demons!
There are demons. Next up is Hell’s Detective: Lost Angeles. Here’s the pitch:
Kat Murphy is a private detective tortured by demons. Real ones. She is serving a death sentence in the depraved city of Lost Angeles, where her own personal Torment forces her to relive, night after night, the moment she killed her lover and put a bullet in her own skull.
Kat longs to make amends for her sins. When the city’s Chief Administrator hires her to retrieve a stolen box with a mysterious power, offering to call off her Torment in return, she gets the chance to do just that.
But if Kat has learned one thing, it’s that every case has a wrinkle. As she trawls drug dens, porn hubs and fighting pits in search of the thief, she discovers that both box and city contain secrets darker than she could ever have imagined. With time running out, Kat must choose between her own desire for peace and the fate of the world above.
I can’t wait to read that one! For now, though, what’s a good song to send us on our way today?
In Wannabes, I bang on quite a lot about how cover versions, at least how they are done in reality TV shows, are evil. However, there are some great covers out there – not least Buckley’s version of Hallelujah, which outshines the Cohen original in every way (sorry, Leonard, you know I love you). Another great example is the James Vincent McMorrow cover of Wicked Game, used in the Game of Thrones Season 6 trailer. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Chris Isaak original, a bit too cheesy with the twangy guitars, but this stripped back cover is a thing of beauty. I defy you not to feel every broken love affair you ever had sweetly prick your tender heart when you listen to it.
This for my blog readers. Which songs do you think Murmur should most promote to (whatever your why is)? Which ones should be destroyed to save humanity?