Craig Meighan was born in Lanarkshire, in central Scotland. Both a keen drummer and a fan of science fiction, he grew up wanting to be either Animal from The Muppets or Douglas Adams. This has led to an unfortunate habit of smashing up his computer at the end of each writing session.
With the ambition of becoming a screenwriter, he attended film college in Glasgow. He spent a short time making corporate videos and then after attending one chance meeting, he accidentally joined the civil service. Intending to stay for one summer, he ended up staying for 12 years (so think carefully before inviting him round for tea).
He is too polite to say which of the killer robots, demons and other assorted antagonists that appear in his book, are based on his interactions with actual government ministers.
His first novel, Far Far Beyond Berlin, was written in the evenings, after work, every day for a year, at the end of which time his wife Jen convinced him it was time to finally leave the safety of the office job and pursue writing full-time. She cunningly incentivised him by promising that if he managed to get his book published, he could get a big dog.
Craig lives with Jen, just outside Glasgow, where they like to play softball, enter pub quizzes and do escape rooms. He is delighted to announce that they are expecting a greyhound.
First of all. Tell us more about Far Far Beyond Berlin. Considering your bio, it seems like it may have some biographical elements? 😉
It’s a book about a jaded, disillusioned office worker who ends up being accidentally transported to another universe. That universe is God’s first disastrous attempt at creation. There are six of these ruined worlds and he has to find his way home by travelling along the chain. Meanwhile, God has dispatched his angel of death, Fate, to kill the poor man as he is unknowingly on a path that will see him end all of existence.
In terms of it being biographical – the jaded, disillusioned office worker part is certainly biographical. I worked as a civil servant whilst writing it and aspects of that job were deep in the process of draining my will to live. Pretty much everything, until he gets sucked into his photocopier and transported to another universe, is somewhat based on real things.
Beyond the surface plot, what would you say are its principal themes?
I think there are probably two key themes:
- Failure – more specifically that everyone does it, it’s ok and failing for the right reasons is still a worthwhile pursuit in a lot of cases.
- Broadening your horizons – The character suddenly has to deal with the world beyond his computer screen and that was certainly something I was yearning for whilst writing it.
I was obviously delighted to immediately be prevented from going anywhere by a two-year global pandemic!
Was it the first novel you attempted to write?
I’d tried before a few times. Part of the reason I got my head down and finished this book, is that I was becoming someone who was talking/thinking about writing a book without actually following through and finishing the thing. I’d always wanted to write a book and I’d written a load of short stories. I didn’t actually think it was possible for working class people from Glasgow to become published authors, unless they were writing deadly serious literary works about growing up working in the shipyards.
When it came to writing a novel, I started loads of drafts and rarely got very far before I lost my way and gave up. Mostly it was because they were a bit shite (and some of them were a lot shite), but I think at least a part of it was that I put the concept of a novel on such a lofty pedestal that the volume of work required just seemed out of my reach and I wanted draft #1 to be perfect which is an impossible goal.
It changed for me when my wife Jen and I were watching Pointless one evening (we are VERY rock and roll) and they were talking about Frederick Forsyth. They said that he wrote The Day of The Jackal in 60 days whilst working for the civil service (which is where I working at the time). I set myself the slightly easier target of 100 days to finish a book. I had one draft I’d started which actually showed some promise so I worked on that. Once I started treating it like a responsibility, with a deadline, my productivity went through the roof and I got the first draft done on day 100.
I have learned so much from writing a book and it has changed my philosophy on a lot of things beyond the limits of the page. Taking creative endeavours seriously and treating them like you’d treat a job, doesn’t kill my joy for it in the way I feared it might. It just makes you more professional in your approach and more vigorous in your pursuit of it.
How long did it take you to find a publisher for it?
I finished the book in late 2018 and I signed with Elsewhen Press in March 2020. I got a reasonable amount of interest from various publishers and a small number of agents but there was a lot of nervousness about the religious characters that appear in the book, especially given that it’s a comedy and there is technically blasphemy throughout. I can totally understand that, but it was really disappointing to hear the same thing over and over again. This is a quote from one of the rejection letters I received:
“We loved this book; it is perhaps the most laugh-out-loud funny book we’ve ever been sent. It was very entertaining from cover to cover and we have no real negative feedback for you (it does require some editing in places). However, we have made the difficult decision to pass on the book as the religious themes and characters may make it difficult to place in the market. We feel that it is too much of a risk to spend the money to take it to publication. Other publishers may feel differently though, so please don’t be discouraged. We wish you success in finding a home for it.”
I appreciated them taking the time to explain their thinking (you don’t always get that). But it’s actually a more difficult rejection to take because you don’t have a clue what to do with the information. I didn’t know whether to change the book, which seemed to be working as intended or whether to change who I was approaching etc. In the end, indie publishers were much more receptive and I found that a really good group of small presses exist in the UK that are happy with a more specific product.
You studied at film college with the intention of becoming a screenwriter. Do you think this has had any influence on the kind of writer you became?
I think it has probably made me write more dialogue than other authors. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it certainly affects pace and tone. I’d say I have a more conversational style than most and a relatively quick pace as a result of starting with scripts.
What is next? Does Far Far Beyond Berlin have a sequel, or are you currently working on something completely new?
Far Far Beyond Berlin has a fairly definitive ending so was always intended to be a standalone. I’m just about finished editing a second book I’ve written in a totally different genre and then I will be trying to finish a book I’ve started about a heist on a colonised Mars. If I write that well then it is perhaps the start of a series.
Would you consider writing in any other genres?
I have just finished writing/editing a hard-boiled detective book set in 40s Hollywood. Crime is my other passion, I love snappy, punchy, noirish stories with lots of dialogue and plenty of action. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are my two favourite writers in the genre.
Other than that, I’d love to write something for children, I’ve not thought of anything suitable though!
Far Far Beyond Berlin has a picture of a nice cartoon goose on the cover, so some people have asked if they can get it for their children and I’ve said that it is, of course, their parenting decision to make, but that the book does have five instances of the word ‘cunt’ in it, so please take that into account!
So, given my sweary nature, it’s quite possible that I might struggle to write a children’s story! I’d probably end up with an unpublishable story about a duck who isn’t allowed to play games with the other ducks, not because they’re bullies or he’s different, but because he keeps calling them “a bunch of quacking twats”.
What book are you currently reading?
I’m currently working my way through the Wheel of Time series for the first ever time. I’m on book 4 The Shadow Rising and absolutely loving it. These are the sorts of books (epic fantasy) that I just will never be able to write. So, I am impressed and enthralled at the same time. There’s an absolutely insane level of confidence involved in doing a series of that size. If someone told me I HAD to write 14 books that are 900 pages a pop and have it all tie together and make sense, I would cry until I was a dead, dried-up husk.
And finally, would you like to give a shout out for three books which you feel more people should read, and tell us why?
Everyone should read The Salmon of Doubt. It’s the unpublished works and correspondence of the late, great Douglas Adams. You will find out that he writes letters to his agent that are better than most people’s novels. The amount of creative energy he would invest in a letter, a foreword or a little short piece for some obscure pamphlet is absolutely inspiring. And it’s hilarious throughout.
Tom Holt’s The Portable Door and all the subsequent books in that series. They are the work of a master clockmaker. Intricate, detailed, high quality parts that all come together and work perfectly. The level of intelligence is off the charts and he somehow also makes them funny. He’s an unsung hero of the fantasy world, I think. He should be as big as Gaiman and Pratchett etc.
The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. It’s a short story collection added to an essay collection. In it, you will be given sage advice about story writing and then also see a master at work. If you’re a person who suffers from writer’s block or get’s stuck at bottlenecks in stories, the advice is strong:
“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand” – in other words, create an interruption which will force your character to do something in response.
And obviously you should read all books available from the good people at Elsewhen Press!
Far Far Beyond Berlin, was published in a digital edition on 19th March 2021 and will be published in paperback in May 2021.
Not everything goes to plan at the first attempt… In Da Vinci’s downstairs loo hung his first, borderline insulting, versions of the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo’s back garden was chock-a-block full of ugly lumps of misshapen marble. Even Einstein committed a great ‘blunder’ in his first go at General Relativity. God is no different, this universe may be His masterpiece, but there were many failed versions before it – and they’re still out there.
Far Far Beyond Berlin is a fantasy novel, which tells the story of a lonely, disillusioned government worker’s adventures after being stranded in a faraway universe – Joy World: God’s first, disastrous attempt at creation.
God’s previous universes, a chain of 6 now-abandoned worlds, are linked by a series of portals. Our jaded hero must travel back through them, past the remaining dangers and bizarre stragglers. He’ll join forces with a jolly, eccentric and visually arresting, crew of sailors on a mysteriously flooded world. He’ll battle killer robots and play parlour games against a clingy supercomputer, with his life hanging in the balance. He’ll become a teleportation connoisseur; he will argue with a virtual goose – it sure beats photocopying.
Meanwhile, high above in the heavens, an increasingly flustered God tries to manage the situation with His best friend Satan; His less famous son, Jeff; and His ludicrously angry angel of death, a creature named Fate. They know that a human loose in the portal network is a calamity that could have apocalyptic consequences in seven different universes. Fate is dispatched to find and kill the poor man before the whole place goes up in a puff of smoke; if he can just control his temper…