INTERVIEW: Martin Adil-Smith
– By @LastBoneStands
Martin Adil-Smith is an author, researcher, and all around great guy. He has 3 novels to his name, as well as a novella and a short story. Through his stories he has crafted a terrifying and strange world, that in many ways is modeled after our own. I had the chance to sit down with Martin recently, and pick his brainmeats.
Hullo there, Martin. How’s things?
Heya. I’m all good. It’s another beautiful day here on the Western Isles (Scotland). The kids are just off to school, and so I’m settling in for the day.
Excellent. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Over the past few years you’ve churned out quite a few stories in your Spirals of Danu series. Your first book, A Gathering of Twine, came out in 2013 and you’ve since released 2 other full length novels, a short story and a novella. Do you ever sleep?! What is your writing process like, and how the hell have you been able to release so much literary content is such a short amount of time?
Ha ha! I’ll sleep when I’m dead. It’s never quiet in my head. The way I describe it is think of my mind like an internet browser which has over a thousand tabs open ALL THE TIME! All of my books take place in the same universe. It took me something like seventeen years to construct that universe – all the rules, the history, the factions… but now I have the framework, it becomes a lot easier to pull a story together.
Most of my ideas come from real world events, be they historical or present day. I am a meticulous planner – I can’t just sit down and write. I need to know what the town looks like, where certain shops and traders are, who the characters are, even down to their dates of birth and what music they like. I frequently draw maps to better understand settings. Generally speaking, I spend at least six months out of twelve planning and researching. Not all of the material will go into a story, but a lot gets either subtly referenced or held over for other works.
For those who might not be aware of your work, could you give a run down on what the Spirals of Danu series is all about?
My series is called “The Spirals of Danu”, and core premise is very simple; God exists. However, Her nature is not what you would imagine it be – She’s not benevolent towards Humanity, and she’s occupied by much greater things than a minor race such as ours.
The books explain why there is suffering, and how things came to be. The framework is told through various people – and some recurring characters – and how they came to find out about “The Great Lie” and the effects that it has on their lives. Some choose to flee the truth, others embrace it, whilst still others choose to fight. But my vision goes beyond the realms of our world – I’ve got this cosmological view, where everything is linked and our world lies at the heart of that nexus.
Your books have a wide range of subjects and themes that you’ve put your own twist on. What themes, specifically, were you hoping to explore when you first set out to write this series?
You know when I first set out to write a book, it was really for my daughter. I’m a child of the eighties, and I would describe my father as the “last of the John Wayne generation”. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great guy, and a good dad… but I didn’t really know him. I can’t tell you what his favourite movie was, or his favourite band or book, and I didn’t what that for my kids.
So the first two books – which are kinda Part 1 and Part 2 – are almost a love note to my family. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they are the greatest literary works, because they’re not. But they are meant to appeal to fans who have a penchant for the weird, and they are meant to explain my views on the world; why our leaders make war, why profits are put before people, and why some people fall. More than that, once I’m dead a gone, my kids can pick them up and hopefully understand their father a little better than I understood mine.
However, things change – you know, people develop, and so have I. The next set of works… artistically speaking, they’re more refined. You know, writing is a craft like any other, and the more you do it, the better you get. The next novel… it’s almost an anti-love story. I get so sick of the bullshit that Hollywood puts out, and the same old tripe that the major publishers try to force down our throats. I like the stuff that takes a right turn and heads into some strange territory, and that’s where I’m heading as well.
We should admit that some of the biggest sellers of the last decade have been shit. Transformers – utter garbage. Prometheus – utter garbage. Gravity. Interstellar. All of these movies are incredibly pretty to look at, but either make no sense when analysed, or are devoid of any message. And I think artists, of whatever medium, should have something to say – it you put out a piece of work that doesn’t say anything then you’re just a shill.
I love deep stories that have a ton of lore in them. Donnie Darko. Primer. Take Shelter. The Objective. These are all stories that demand my attention and make me sit up.
All of these films don’t just dwell on the human condition, they go further, they try to offer an explanation of not just who we are but why we are. And that’s where a lot of my writing is heading at the moment.
I’m really interested in the ideas of memory and identity. Are we who we think we are? Are our friends and family who they say they are? How can we be sure? That’s the sort of stuff that I’m exploring at the moment.
In your books you tie several significant events in history into your narrative but in your world, these events have a very different cause. I especially enjoyed your take on Jonestown. How much research went into these stories? Were you looking for specific types of events to fit the story?
Generally speaking those sorts of stories come to me. Things like the Jonestown segment, the poisoning of Pont-Saint-Espirit, and the loss of Scandinavian 101… they take months of research. Yeah, I could just slap any old nonsense on the paper, but you know I try to take pride in my work. Sure, not every detail is going to be one-hundred-percent accurate, but I think most people understand that some artistic license has to be taken.
I do a lot of my research the old fashioned way. Sure, I start with internet, but then I track down books, journals, academic papers. At any one time, I’ve got 10gb of research notes – and that’s like word or pdf files, not images or video.
And very often, because I research this way, I find other stories. Like with Scandinavian 101 – I researched the planes of the era, what was flying and when, and how it flew. During the course of that research, I came across a story of a guy; he was a refugee and had stowed away on a plane from Africa to London. However, he had hidden in the hold and most likely he had frozen to death because as the plane came in to land, he fell out as the landing gear lowered.
Now that is a tragic story, but the twist on it that no-one has any idea who this guy was. I’m serious, the police spent like five years investigating this, and they went to Africa with his DNA records and they got nothing. So my mind kicks into overdrive – who was he? What was he running from? Did he know what he was running to? And because my mind is a dark place, all sorts of shadowy creatures come along.
But you know, that’s not an isolated story; there’s a case on in the US at the moment – I don’t know if you’ve heard about it; Lori Kennedy. This is the story of woman whose marriage dissolved and she took her own life… but when her death was investigated, everything about her was fake. And I mean EVERYTHING. Her birth certificate, her education records… everything she had every told her husband and his family was a lie. And the authorities have had very little success in finding out who she really was.
Now whilst that case is tragic, I look at it from two perspectives; firstly we have Lori – God knows what happened to her that she had to leave her life behind at such a young age, but she then had to carry the weight of her lies and her past around with her, and I have no doubt that started to grind her down. But we also have her husband – what is he going through? How does he feel that his wife couldn’t ever tell him the truth? You know, there are secrets out there – some big and some small – but it sends people searching, and that appeals to me.
It’s clear from your writing that you’re a big fan of horror and weird fiction, what made you decide to write this sort of story, and what influences did you draw from?
Ha ha. You know, I don’t know if I ever had a choice in that. My dad was a fan of Lovecraft – I think I was eight when I read “Lurker At The Threshold” – and the Twilight Zone.
Being a kid in the eighties and then a teenager in the nineties, there was The Outer Limits and The X-Files, and I was like “This is me. This is what I love.” It doesn’t have to always be aliens or ghosts, but if it’s dark and a bit weird, I’m probably going to be there. I think that you have to be passionate about what you write – I read so many books where it is clear that it is by the numbers, and just tired and formulaic. That’s not for me. I have to love what I do, or I’m not going to do it. I and just looove the darkness. It’s a magical place.
As for my influences? They have changed a lot, and certainly in the last five years. Before I would have said to you “Oh, I really dig Stephen King and Anne Rice and Clive Barker”… and yeah, that is still true to a degree, but now there are so many more platforms for good narrative content.
At the moment, I’m playing Mass Effect 3 on my PS3… that is an amazing story. This is a game that is not a mind-numbing shoot ‘em up, or a strategy RPG… it has depth and lore and an amazing back story.
Similarly, I’m listening to a lot of pretty niche music genres, but all stuff that tells a story; thing like “Elizium” by Fields of The Nephilim, and the amazing “Altered State” by Tesseract. This stuff is really textured – it’s got so many layers going on with it that I’m always picking new things out of it. And there are off the wall ideas and I really get into all of that. I was always the kid who would sit on his bed listening to an album and pouring over every details of the art work and the lyrics.
But I’ve also got my contemporaries as well. For instance I chat a lot with William Tooker, who wrote “Echoes of The Fall”, and is currently working on the “Invisible College” series. People should really check that out, because it is stuff that you can really analyse and makes you stop and think.
Are you working on anything at the present? When can we expect the next book?
A quicker answer might be tell you what I’m not working on. It’s a shorter list!
Next year will see the release of my fourth novel – “Disciples of The Veil”. This is a book that I’ve had so much fun writing, but it is also the grittiest so far. It’s set in the Tuetoburg Forest (modern day Germany), at the turn of the nineteenth century. It is the last days of the Holy Roman Empire, and into this political and religious vacuum a forgotten faith and a forbidden love collide to reveal and ancient evil. The story has already been obliquely referenced in A Gathering of Twine and The Beggar of Beliefs, regarding the events at Wewelsburg.
Then in 2017, there might be two releases. The first will be a collection of short stories that revolve around a fictional grimoire known as “Howell’s Journal”. The Spirals of Danu is sprawling universe, and so far the reader has only been introduced to a small number of the groups and factions that dwell within. Tentatively titled “The Blooms of July”, it will look at the history of Howell’s Journal through the last three hundred years of its existence (although it is much older), and all the various groups that have pursued it… and the effect that it has on them.
The second release… well this one will be a bit special. I’m not sure if it will be possible, and a lot is still up in the air… but we might produce Howell’s Journal, complete with all the incantations and translations. I’ve started a few drafts on it now, and a couple of people who are really into things like the Necronomicon have seen it and squealed in delight, so I’m hopefully.
Looking out from there – well we’re talking the 2017-2020 period. I can’t say for absolute certain, but I’d like to finally write the Skylord Trilogy. This is the civilization who came before Humans, and concerns their rise and fall, exodus from Earth, and their return as humanity nears its own end.
There is also the second instalment of the Jion arc. “The Shackles of a Name” was great to write, but the main character has much further to go, and I need to figure out how he gets to where he needs to be.
And to tie in with all of that… perhaps a board game! And maybe a novella tie in. And an accompanying music CD.
Like I said, it’s never quiet in my head.