Today, THE FREE
CHOICE E-ZINE is honored to talk with the very prolific and entertaining
author Ian Watson, whose work is published under the byline I. A. WATSON, to avoid confusion with
the other writing Ian Watson. So Ian, just what have you been up to lately?
|I. A. Watson|
a lot of projects have ganged up on me. Airship 27 has just released ZEPPELIN TALES, featuring my
story “Airship 27”. It’s a tale of romance and adventure, when disgraced Navy
weatherman Finian follows mysterious blonde Verity on the deadly maiden flight
of “Airship 27”. As the blurb says: “What is the secret in Shed 13? What lies
behind the strange sky phenomenon known as the fall streak? Who plots the
destruction of crew and ship alike? And what are the strange creatures that
dwell beyond the clouds?”
That was almost an accidental project. I needed to write
something short to “cleanse my palette” between two bigger projects, and I
thought a contribution to publisher Ron Fortier’s appeal for zeppelin tales
might be just the thing. Unfortunately, once I got into the writing, trying to
channel Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Jules Verne, and a pinch of H.
P. Lovecraft, it became clear this was going to be anything but short. Hence
|Cover art by Mike Fyles for Airship 27|
Naming the airship in my story Airship 27 (after the
publisher’s company) was pure cheek on my part. Ron Fortier has a fondness for
airships, so it was really difficult for me not to give him a cameo within my
That’s just the latest of several short stories I've
completed for anthologies – a Spider/Black Bat meeting for Moonstone in their
THE SPIDER: EXTREME PREJUDICE volume, a pair of SHERLOCK HOLMES: CONSULTING
DETECTIVE stories for volumes five and six of the Airship 27 series, an
adventure featuring another classic character for Pro Se’s Pulp Obscura
imprint, a one-off tale about what happens to a superhero’s girlfriend after he
dies, a jungle girl tale, and a couple of magazine stories, including “Mr. Li’s
Laundry of Doom” for WONDERLUST magazine.
tells me that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
surprised I haven’t gone through more keyboards. I've also recently written a
story for GRAND CENTRAL NOIR, an anthology for charity that might just have
become my best-selling work to date. I've done a couple of Robin Hood novellas,
one for issue 20 of Pro Se Presents magazine and one to save for later – and a short Robin Hood comic strip with Rob Davis
for ALL STAR PULP COMICS #2.
I've more or less finished a two-volume novel called ST
GEORGE AND THE DRAGON, despite not actually discussing it with any publisher; I
just wanted to write it. For the same reasons I’m rattling off another novel
without even a working title yet about a modern-day jobbing occultist in Soho,
London, and his weird little world. I’m 80,000 words in plus six associated
short stories and there’s no end in sight. And just last week I was
commissioned for another novella set in the 1930s, so I’m about 29,000 words
into that. It’s a shame it’s only supposed to be 30,000 words long, because I
suspect it’ll take rather more than my remaining 1,000 words to get to the big
finish. The villain has just showed up to boast and explain the plot.
dreading to ask what you do for fun.
started going over some of my earlier work, revising it so it doesn't make me
cringe, getting it fit
to do something with. I've found a bunch of stories that
might well cluster together for an anthology volume sometime. I’m about
half-way through editing them.
Finally, Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Press talked me into
writing my first non-fiction book, a collection of articles and essays about
writing and odd people throughout history. That’s WHERE STORIES DWELL, due out
around the end of the year.
everything else you have going right now, how did that come about?
I.A.W.: I came to
write WHERE STORIES DWELL almost exactly the same way I got my first
non-fiction in publication. Around four or five years ago, I got hauled into a
project by White Rocket supremo Van Allen Plexico. I’d written some articles on
the Avengers superhero team for his two essay books ASSEMBLED! and ASSEMBLED 2.
He passed my name on to Ron Fortier, Commodore of Airship 27 publications, who
needed a Sherlock Holmes story, stat, to meet a deadline. I think Van must have
described me using the words “fast and cheap”.
I've been writing as a hobby all my life, but I've shied
away from fiction publication because when your hobby becomes a job you need a
new hobby, right? On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes is a fun character to
write, and I hate saying no to creative folks with big ideas. So I wrote the
story and thought no more of it.
obviously, and thankfully, you were wrong.
|Art by Mike Manley for Airship 27|
but here’s where the namedropping gets really bad. I went to a Buckingham Palace
party – that’s a whole
other interview really – and was talking to a Personage there about my brush
with publishing. It was suggested to me that I should consider pitching a book.
The argument was that the discipline of writing to deadline with an editor
could only improve my abilities. At that time Airship 27 wanted stories
featuring classic heroes, and Robin Hood’s really an archetype. So I went for
it. The odd route was: writing for fun, editor asked for
material, someone at a party gave me a push, I fell.
TFCE: It sounds
like you were a bit reluctant to undertake the WHERE STORIES DWELL assignment.
already written quite a bit of my first non-fiction volume for my own interest.
I often run off little articles about things that catch my attention, either to
help me process and remember them, or just because I like telling stories. When
I’m researching a historical period for a fiction tale, I often write a factual
essay to get me into the era and the mood. Then I inflict these articles on
other poor writers who share mailing lists with me.
One day, the unquenchable Mr. Hancock e-mailed me about
collecting the stuff into a book; except that Tommy’s e-mails are never simply
a little ping of the inbox. Somehow Tommy has the talent to make every message
seem like it’s been written on the wall by a blazing finger. Anyhow, he wanted
a book. I needed convincing. He gave me the finger.
And then I went to another party. I’m not really a party
animal. I think I've now mentioned both social events I've been to this millennium.
It was just that, in real life I set up projects for people or troubleshoot
businesses, and I’d happened to make (or save) this particular company an awful
lot of money, and they insisted I come to their event. They took over most of a
county for it, I think, and I was the only person there who didn't arrive in a
private helicopter. Long story short, I got talking to a lady whose name I
cannot recall but whose dress I can remember exactly, what little of it there
was. She convinced me that I was interesting enough to, um, go away and write
down things I said. From her perspective, preferably in a dark room, far away.
In a different county.
Anyway, I've been quite busy recently, and I've got a lot of
“latest work” piled up on the desk right now.
|Art by Ingrid Hardy for Airship 27|
TFCE: So we now
know basically how you became a writer, but why do you write what you do?
I’m a big
fan of old stories. I don’t mean stuff that was published a mere century ago or
whatever, although I read and like a lot of that. I’m thinking of the Greek and
Norse myths, of the medieval legends, of the Biblical narratives, of fairy
tales that go back hundreds if not thousands of years. Those stories are deeply
ingrained in our society. They shape it - and us.
All the great stories of today are recombinant retellings of
older ones. Jason and the Argonauts is the archetypal team-goes-on-a-quest
adventure. Robin Hood is the lone maverick who defies the system to bring true
justice. King Arthur’s round table is the heroes’ varsity, banded together for
common noble cause. Perseus and Andromeda or St George and the Dragon are
template hero-kills-the-monster-saves-the-princess stories. I love ‘em all!
When I write, all those things are unavoidably crammed into
my head. I’m not really interested in telling slice-of-life/world-is-a-bleak-place
mundane narratives. I want big concepts, I want good and evil. I want hard
choices and unexpected twists. I like stories with deep roots, old
associations, hidden meanings, layers.
Those ancient storytellers in their fire lit caves, those
cloistered monks with unfettered imaginations, those starving dime-a-word
writers at their battered typewriters, they all knew that they had to grab
their audience and hold it. They did it by going for the stuff that matters
most to us – life and death, hope, love, betrayal, danger, triumph, tragedy.
They did it by dazzling the minds and quickening the hearts of their readers
through words and plots that spoke to the intellect and the emotions. On my
best days that’s what I’m aspiring to emulate when I sit down to write.
TFCE: So you
apply the lessons of the past to today when you write?
|Cover by Bryan Fowler, from Airship 27|
applicable, yes. Editors or publishers often ask me to write stories featuring
established characters. Those are challenges because one wishes to honour the
work of those characters’ creators and delight fans of that work, while telling
a new story with something fresh to say. I've done half a dozen Sherlock Holmes
mysteries now (I've even got an award on my mantel for one of them). I’ve told
stories about detective airman Richard Knight, about African
adventurer-for-hire Armless O’Neil, about Sinbad the Sailor, Harry Houdini, the
Spider, the Black Bat, and plenty of others. I enjoy the discipline of having
to follow another creator’s lead – and I love to dig back to the archetypes
behind the story.
Other times I’m working with fellow writers creating new
collaborative mythologies. My contribution to these efforts is often in the
world-building, drawing on the mythic roots I was talking about. For example,
my short story in BLACKTHORN: THUNDER ON MARS, and the subsequent novels
BLACKTHORN: DYNASTY OF MARS, and BLACKTHORN: SPIRES OF MARS was underpinned by
all sorts of background material I generated, some of which is available for
inspection at http://www.chillwater.org.uk/writing/blackthorn/whoswho.htm and
the pages linked off it. I was similarly enthralled by the historical planning
necessary for the GIDEON CAIN: DEMON HUNTER anthology.
|Art by Adam Diller, White Rocket Books|
TFCE: But what
inspires you to write?
story. After my visit yesterday to a
parent/teacher evening at my son’s school, his classmatesasked him if his
father was a member of the Mafia. I went straight there from work,
business-suited and black-long coated, and I suppose I trailed the grim
professional demeanor I need to adopt as a management consultant and business
troubleshooter. In my view, I probably looked more Russian gangster than
Anyway, my day job in the business world is getting projects
off the ground, sorting them out if they falter, and making things happen.
Actually, that does sound like a Mafia job. It requires a lot of fast-talking,
a lot of hard-headed planning, tough, sometimes horrible decisions, and a work
persona that keeps people listening to what I tell them.
So when I get home, when I relax, I want to do something
entirely different. Fiction and essay writing are escapes, very different from
preparing business plans or development assessments or redundancy lists. I can
sit alone in my study all night, without anyone arguing except the characters
in my head. I can make worlds with narrative sense to them. I can travel to
times and places far away from grey office rooms. So I write to escape.
TFCE: A lot of
people are avid readers, but never have any interest in becoming a writer. What
first sparked your interest in writing?
told stories to amuse playmates as a child. Then I wrote stories and plays for
friends to act as a teenager. My first theatre directing credit was at age
sixteen, for a play I’d written. Later I wrote stories for my wife, and after
that for my children. My daughter is probably my most prominent reader now, and
my severest critic. So although I write to escape, I also write to entertain. I
enjoy communicating the worlds and words that were in my head with other
people. Even writing is something of a performance art.
Finally, I suppose when I’m not working for the Mafia, I
like to make people happy. Writing stories is often an attempt to do that.
Whether it makes a small-print publisher or online magazine editor happy, or a
member of my family grin, or a paying audience of book-purchasers feel they
spent their money well, I like the idea that I’ve done something that helped.
In fact a few publishing projects I've been involved in, like this year’s ALL
STAR PULP COMICS #2 and GRAND CENTRAL NOIR have been charity fundraisers, so
they tick the boxes twice, once for hopefully giving folks an enjoyable story
and once for raising some cash for much-needed good causes.
our conversation so far, what has influenced your style and technique?
|The Saint (logo)|
I.A.W.: I read a
lot as a child. Some seminal formative authorsinclude J.R.R. Tolkein, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Leslie Charteris (The
Saint), T.H. White, Robert E. Howard, Bram Stoker, William Hope Hodgson,
Sir Walter Scott, and the books The Good Companions and Watership
Down. I also discovered Shakespeare, but that was more through acting than
reading. At university I discovered Anne McCaffery, M.R. James, Michael
Moorcock, Terry Pratchett, Raymond Chandler, and H.P. Lovecraft. All of those
must have left their mark because I still catch myself recycling phrases or
situations of theirs if I’m not careful.
But alongside that I was massively influenced by comic
books. I stumbled across a UK
reprint of some Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four
issues and that hooked me into
the Marvel universe. Those early tales of Spider-Man, FF, X-Men, Doctor
Strange, and especially the Avengers really spoke to me. I was an avid comics
collector for thirty-five years.
The influence of those comics was incalculable. The serial
nature appealed to me, and has tended me towards long-running series in my own
writing. The interactions and banter of those flawed, yet heroic early Marvel
characters informed my own growing perception of how to effectively use a cast.
The reveals and sub-plots and cliffhangers all shaped my own style, and still
Finally, very few British children of my age grew up without
exposure to Doctor Who. I was, and am, a massive fan of the series. It’s
a great programme that recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary! For a
slightly odd child who was sometimes “too brainy” it was a massively
life-affirming thing to watch a hero who won by being smart, and who saved the
day because he was different from everyone else. There is a basic
decency and underlying eccentricity about the programme that has somehow,
without me ever intending it, suffused almost everything I write.
everything you've done and have in progress, what would be your dream project?
I.A.W.: A while
ago, in correspondence with Pro Se overlord Tommy Hancock, he pointed out that
|St. George by Hans Acker, Circa 1440|
unusual in not having a “signature” character, as many prolific writers
do these days. He’s right. I haven’t yet established a series or primary
protagonist I could really call “my own”. So an ideal project would give me the
chance to develop some of the ideas in my head and on my hard drive into an
ongoing series with characters that are mine, all mine, and whose direction and
fate lie solely with me.
Nowadays I vary my fiction
writing time between responding to publisher or editor requests for stories on
subjects they set and writing stories that nobody has asked for but that
interest me. I’ve been working on that huge ST GEORGE AND THE DRAGON story for
a couple of years now, and it’s complete now at around 160,000 words except for
a final scene – but I have absolutely no idea what to do with it next! The
same’s true of a World War II-based Saturday-matinee-style fantasy adventure
that’s been awaiting a last-draft proofread for a year so far. And for a
murder-mystery set in the Biblical Tower of Babel. It would be lovely to place
some of these at some point so that readers could (hopefully) enjoy them.
such a busy schedule, where do you foresee yourself within the next few years?
have a vision of a fat, bald, gurning madman in some dirty and cluttered attic
typing away at a grubby keyboard, not speaking to anyone for weeks on end,
obsessively typing out words. Perhaps occasionally I will mutter to myself.
And I will finally learn to
keep my sentence length and commas under control.
such a large bibliography to your credit, is there any character you would love
to write, but have yet to have the opportunity to do so?
question. It depends on the genre and on the suspension of current copyright
law, which are governed by different rules here in Europe
In detective fiction, I’d really want to produce some new
material for Simon Templar, the Saint. I’m a big fan of Charteris’ early work.
The later stuff, much of which was ghost-written by others, is interesting but
can’t compete. I’d want a Saint who runs around with the glorious Patricia
Holm, who spars with and infuriates the gum-chewing Inspector Teal, who fights
alongside big-hearted Hoppy Uniatz. I could so do a series with that Simon
Templar and his war upon the ungodly.
In science fiction, I’d enjoy a go at Lois McMasters
Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series –
when she’s finished with it. It’s an excellent set-up full of rich nuanced
characters, and I’d love to try my hand at it.
For horror, I’d enjoy a chance to redo the original penny
dreadful serial Varney the Vampire for a modern audience. It’s been such
an influential tale in the development of the genre, but it gets no respect or
regard. Originally published serially in 220 chapters from 1845-47, predating Dracula
by nearly forty years, the rambling 667,000 word story would strike most modern
readers as slow and soapy, but its got a compelling core concept and it’s ripe
for a modern retelling.
For historical series I’d probably pick George MacDonald
Fraser’s Flashman, even though the research required to get to half of
what the original author simply held in his head would be massive. Fraser
hinted at, but never really covered Harry Flashman’s exploits in the American
Civil War and I always regretted that he never explained about the rogue’s
second meeting with Abraham Lincoln or how he came to be decorated for merit
and valour by both Unionists and Confederates.
In the adapted-from-other-media category, it would have to
be Doctor Who. As I mentioned, I’m a big fan and the series has shaped
me. I’d enjoy a chance to chronicle the first or seventh incarnation of the
Doctor. Actually, I got a chance to write a pastiche story for an upcoming new
SF series that allowed me to channel my inner Who-writer; that project should
be announced presently.
everything we've discussed, what's next for Ian Watson?
depends on publishers. There’s plenty of things out there in the queues waiting
to go to press. I've mentioned the forthcoming Pro Se non-fiction WHERE STORIES
DWELL, the first in their new Pulp Studies imprint. Any day now the weird
fantasy magazine WONDERLUST will be out with my short story “Mr. Li’s Laundry
of Doom”. I’ve turned in work for SHERLOCK HOLMES: CONSULTING DETECTIVE volume
5, the most unusual Holmes story I've ever written and one I don’t think anyone
had done before like that, and another mystery for CONSULTING DETECTIVE 6.
White Rocket will be bringing out an anthology of tales about a classic
historic fictional character sometime soon that will include my
Lovecraft-tinted offering. Pro Se’s Pulp Obscura library is due to expand with
some more work of mine about a classic occult hero. Airship 27 intends a series
about a real-life person’s fictional adventures and I've turned in my work for
that one. And just yesterday, Pro-Se Tommy talked me into writing a Richard
Knight novella sometime in the next four weeks.
That should keep me busy for now.
TFCE: Perhaps, but
we are not done with Ian folks, for there will be a follow up interview later
on where we discuss Ian's historical fiction in greater detail, especially his visits to Sherwood Forest and writing the adventures of
Robin Hood. Until then…
All of Ian's work is available via Amazon through its respective publishers, but for a complete list of his published works and links to free stories, visit his personal website at:
For more specific Robin Hood
material, including maps and character profiles, feel free to visit
and for additional Blackthorn stuff, including a full online novel,
SPIRES OF MARS, visit
All accompanying images provided either by the author, Wikipedia, or Google Search.