Mike Carey has worked extensively in the field of comic books, completing long and critically acclaimed runs on Lucifer, Hellblazer and X-Men. His ongoing comic book series for DC Vertigo, The Unwritten, has featured repeatedly in the New York Times’ graphic novel bestseller list. His superhero series Suicide Risk, published by BOOM! Studios, has been nominated for two Harvey awards. He is also the writer of the Felix Castor novels, and (along with his wife Linda and their daughter Louise) of two fantasy novels, The City Of Silk and Steel and The House Of War and Witness, published in the UK by Victor Gollancz. He writes mainstream thrillers as Adam Blake, and as M.R.Carey is the author of the bestselling novel The Girl With All the Gifts.
MC: Kind of surreal, as you’d imagine. I’ve worked on TV and movie projects before, some of them based on my own work – but this was the first time I’d been in this situation, of having a novel of mine developed for film with a director attached and with BFI funding. It felt more real and more solid from the outset than any of my past experiences. And the people I was working with were amazingly talented, amazingly knowledgeable about story. It was a big learning experience for me.
RM: Have you had much input into the script at all or has that very much been left with the producers to develop in their own way?
MC: It’s my script, written with input from the director and producers at every stage. It was a very collaborative process, and one of the most rewarding I’ve ever been involved in. The producer, Camille Gatin, and director Colm McCarthy worked with me on developing a movie outline in tandem with the novel I was writing. The two versions of the story played off each other in my mind in ways that were very productive for both.
Now the movie is in prep and I’m still involved, adjusting the script as the builds and sets come together and making sure everything dovetails. Another first for me. The TV work I did in the noughties was animation, so I delivered my scripts and then the production process happened somewhere else, in some big black box. I never got to see any of that. It’s wonderful to be organically involved like this.
RM: The movie features some impressive British acting talent in the form of Paddy Considine and Gemma Arterton. How close are they to how you imagined the characters in your head when you were writing them?
MC: Paddy Considine is very, very close to the ideal Parks in my mind. He can realise both sides of the character, the ruthlessness and pragmatism he projects at first and the more considered and nuanced humanity that lies under that. Having said that, when I was writing Parks I used a particular actor as a placeholder. That’s not something I’ve ever done before, but it really worked in this case. I imagined Sean Bean saying the lines. It helped me to keep Parks’s idiom from drifting into a sort of mid-Atlantic register.
Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close were both surprises, but very good surprises. It’s easy to see what they’ll bring to their roles – Arterton’s exquisite and precarious passion, Close’s intensity and intelligence. I think they’ll both be brilliant in their roles.
RM: You’ve written some fascinating articles, including one exploring how movies have impacted on the style of story telling in books. What are the main differences between writing for books, comics and screen?
MC: There are so many differences that it’s hard to know where to start answering that question!
For me, one of the big surprises in moving from comics to novels and then from novels to screenwriting was how the different media have such very different life cycles and tempos. If you’re writing a monthly comic it’s part of your life on a day-to-day basis. You’re always writing a script, redrafting, taking edit notes, going over lettering … and the deadlines are very short. If a script outline is approved the deadline is next week. Sometimes it’s last week. Novels take shape over months: you’re working on them on and off for very long periods of time. Movies and TV screenplays are different again – short bursts of all-consuming activity with unpredictable lulls. Writing in all three at once is … complicated.
It’s also fatally easy to write movie screenplays as though they were comic scripts, because the two things are superficially very similar – but the internal logic is very, very different. My early screenplays were disasters for that very reason.
RM: Writing can be a lonely experience, trying to bring to life stories and characters that only you know about; however, you’ve done a lot of collaborative work too, including The Steel Seraglio with your wife Linda and daughter Louise. Do you prefer working collaboratively to alone? Are there any clear advantages to one over the other, in your experience?
MC: Well comics are inherently collaborative. You’re always working with an editor, an art team, a letterer to realise the vision that’s inside you’re head. You can’t write for comics and see yourself as some solo genius auteur. It just doesn’t work like that. So you learn social and collaborative skills and you learn to get over yourself, or else you go out into another medium.
But when it comes to prose I generally prefer to write alone. Writing with Linda and Louise was an exception to that because we know each other so well and the trust is absolute. I could do that and not worry about where it was going to go.
The advantage of collaboration is that it moderates your voice – and it sensitises you to your voice. You come out of it in a different place. I don’t think I could have written The Girl With All the Gifts if I hadn’t done those two collaborations with Lin and Lou first. It gave me the confidence and the insight to do something that was totally new for me.