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[INTERVIEW] Peter McLean Discusses DRAKE, What Makes a Good Story, and More

Peter McLean was born near London in 1972, the son of a bank manager and an English teacher. He went to school in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral where he spent most of his time making up stories. By the time he left school this was probably the thing he was best at, alongside the Taoist kung fu he had begun studying since the age of 13.

He grew up in the Norwich alternative scene, alternating dingy nightclubs with studying martial arts and practical magic.

He has since grown up a bit, if not a lot, and now works in corporate datacentre outsourcing for a major American multinational company. He is married to Diane and is still making up stories.

You can find Peter online at his website, on Twitter @petemc666 and on Facebook.

Peter kindly answered a few of my questions about his brand new book, Drake!

Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a bit about DRAKE?

Peter McLean: Thank you, and thanks for having me here. Drake is a noir urban fantasy thriller, something I like to describe as “a Guy Ritchie movie with demons in it”. It’s set in the ganglands of modern-day South London, but instead of a gangster my central character Don Drake is a magician. He’s an alcoholic, hard-gambling hitman who uses his magical abilities and the power of an enslaved Archdemon to summon demons and set them on people.

After losing a game of cards to a demon, Don is forced to carry out one more assassination to clear his debt. In doing so he unwittingly kills an innocent child and brings the Furies of Greek myth down upon himself. From then on he’s on a quest for redemption, in equal parts helped and hindered by his magical accomplice the Burned Man and a murderous, chain-smoking angel called Trixie.

KC: Tell us more about Drake. What is your favorite thing about him as a character?

PM: Well Don Drake isn’t really a particularly nice guy, but he thinks he is. To be honest he’s an absolute screw up – he’s a magician and a fairly accomplished one at that, but in almost every other aspect of his life he’s a disaster. His lovelife is a trainwreck, he’s a drunk, he’s a hopelessly bad gambler, and he’s basically a coward until he’s backed into a corner. Take away the magical trappings and Don is every guy who tried to make his way in the world and made an almighty mess of it. But that said, when he is backed into a corner he finds some backbone and he does his best, which is really all any of us can hope to do I think.

The book is written in the first person so the whole story is told from Don’s own slightly skewed perspective – he thinks he’s a gentleman and he thinks he’s doing the right thing, although quite often he really isn’t. If something can go wrong for Don Drake it probably will, and his continuing struggles to put things right again tend to drag him deeper into the mire despite his best efforts.

I think the most fun thing about writing him though is his sense of humour – Don is very dry and deadpan.

KC: What supporting characters did you enjoy writing about the most?

PM: My favourite character in the whole book is Trixie, who is actually my favourite of all the characters I’ve ever written in an awful lot of writing over the years. Trixie is an angel but she’s a very Old Testament, Catholic type of angel, not at all the sparkly New Age kind. She has most definitely not fallen, she’s very clear on that point, but she has certainly slipped a bit to put it mildly. She chainsmokes Black Russians and is not above murdering people who get in her way.

KC: Will you tell us a little about yourself?

PM: Well, I’m English and a married grandfather in my 40s. I’ve been writing for over twenty years, and actually taking it seriously for perhaps the last five years or so. Since leaving school I’ve been a kung fu teacher, a Wiccan priest, a Unix technician and a chaos magician, and I am now an IT account manager at a multinational outsourcing corporation. I drive an old Jaguar and am owned by an 18 year old Siamese cat.

KC: What is your writing process like?

PM: I’m a sort of hybrid between a plotter and a pantser – I usually write the first chapter and the last scene first, then plot out how to get from one to the other. I may not entirely stick to the plan along the way, but having a clear end in sight from the beginning certainly helps me keep my sanity while I’m doing it.

KC: What do you like to see in a good story? Is there anything that would make you put a book down, unfinished?

PM: For me story is all about character. It doesn’t matter how involved a plot is, if I don’t care about the characters then I’m not going care what happens to them. Give me characters I can really get invested in and I’ll be interested in them having breakfast together.

I have put books down unfinished but it’s unusual – I normally finish everything I read even if it’s not really my cup of tea. The only things that make me toss a book are flat, uninteresting characters or those rare books where you can tell the Author only wrote it to push their personal political agenda. I don’t finish those ones.

KC: What are a few of your favorite authors?

PM: In fantasy I’m a big fan of George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence. I don’t read a huge amount of science fiction but admire Alistair Reynolds and William Gibson, and in crime I really enjoy Ian Rankin’s work. This year I have also discovered Dave Hutchinson and Sarah Pinborough who both blew me away with very different but utterly brilliant books.

My all-time favourite author is still Tanith Lee though.

KC: Have you read any good books lately? Anything you can recommend?

PM: I’ve read some really great books this year but if I had to pick two absolute stand-outs they’d be The Death House by Sarah Pinborough, which has the distinction of being the first book to actually make me cry since I was a kid, and Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson which is a just smack-in-the-mouth brilliant post-cyberpunk spy thriller.

KC: What’s next for you this year?

PM: Well at the moment I’m putting the finishing touches to the second Burned Man book, and a third is already in the first draft stage so there will be more Don Drake in the future.

I’ll be at EasterCon in Manchester, UK in March, and hopefully at FantasyCon UK in September as well.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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