Ian R Macleod

A Short Biography


I was born in Solihull, which is near Birmingham, in the West Midlands of the UK in 1956 and, apart from one or two short excursions up and down the country, have mostly lived in and around Birmingham ever since. My father is Scottish, which accounts for the name, and my mother’s family are from the south of Birmingham. They met each other when they were stationed at an East Coast town during the Second World War. I have an elder bother and sister.

At school, my academic career was unimpressive, and I was generally graded with the bottom half of pupils at infant and junior school. Unsurprisingly, I failed my "eleven plus" exams, and I went to Light Hall Secondary School. But it was a decent school with a good headmaster, and I gradually drifted up the steams until, at fifteen, I scraped enough grades to clamber across and join some of the posher and cleverer kids in Harold Malley Grammar School, and thus continue into higher education. For no particular reason other than that I liked the whole idea of books and huge dusty libraries, and to stop being bothered by the careers master, I elected to study law afterwards, and was persuaded by the interviewer at Birmingham Polytechnic, my local college, to do a proper degree rather than take a lesser and more specifically job-related qualification.

My reading was avid throughout my early and mid teens, and consisted almost entirely of science fiction. I had little reason or cause to read "proper literature." This was in the days of the New Wave, and of 2001, of Dune and Zelany and Delany and Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions — I sucked it all up. Here, I was sure, was something that was new and daring. Then I read Tolkien, and fell in love with his books, too, and Lin Carter’s Ballantine Adult Fantasy. Eventually, I was required to read some of the modern classics at grammar school for A level English. D H Lawrence and T S Eliot soon made a big impression on me, whilst at the same time I was still reading and adoring Ballard and Silverberg. I rather fancied the idea, in fact, of doing what they did, of combining the two streams. Thus, at the age of about fifteen or so, began my first abortive attempt at writing a novel. It was set in an alternative world where the Third Reich really had lasted for a thousand years.

College, and law, turned out to be more enjoyable than I’d really expected. I read less, wrote nothing, listened to a lot of music, and went out a lot. I also met my wife Gillian. I got a lower second honours degree without too much effort: the professional law exams, though, weren’t for me, although Gillian sailed through them and became a solicitor. I still had no idea what was for me, but, after drifting through various jobs, I ended up working in the Civil Service by my early twenties. It was there, on a hot afternoon and with the old bloke in the desk opposite nodding off to sleep in the sunshine, that I finally grew bored enough to set aside the file I’d been pretending to study, and put biro to a scrap of paper. Soon, my efforts grew more serious. Life — the life of work and seeming adulthood — didn’t seem enough on its own, and I was never one for heading out on wild adventures, apart from those which took place in my head. Within a year or so, I was at work on the novel which was to see me through the rest of my twenties. When it was finished, and after I’d learnt typing, I sent it off to various publishers, fully expecting fame and riches.

A few years, and another couple of half-done and unsold novels later, I found myself working on the odd short story — a genre I’d previously avoided because, with the exception of SF, I preferred reading novels. Unsurprisingly, and like my novels, most of these short stories seemed to fit broadly into what I thought of as science fiction, which also meant horror and fantasy and anything else which took my fancy. I refocused a little bit more on the genre when I realised — or remembered — that there were magazines out there, those fabled names which I’d noticed in anthologies during my childhood but had never been able to find, magazines which bought and paid for short science fiction. I still managed to get a lot of my writing done on or under the desk at work in the Civil Service, and largely stuck with the job because it gave me the time and the leisure to write, both at work and at home. Despite, or perhaps because, of this, my Civil Service career progressed well — or did until I found the whole idea of being seen as a high-flyer, whilst at the same time having another objective in my life about which I remained almost entirely secretive, got to me.

Meanwhile, and by now in my mid-thirties and probably heading for some kind of crisis or breakdown, I was starting to get the encouraging replies to my submissions to SF magazines. My first sale was to one of the most fabled names of all — Weird Tales. Then I sold to Interzone. Then to Asimov’s. All of this was a big thrill. After all — I was a writer! When Gillian became pregnant with our daughter Emily, I was very happy to give the idea of being a full-time house-husband and writer a bash.

That was in 1990. Since then, I’ve sold about 30 short stories to most of the main SF markets, including Fantasy and SF, Amazing, Interzone, Asimov’s, Weird Tales, Pulphouse, Pirate Writings, etc. along with a few articles and poems, many of which have been repeatedly anthologised. Funnily enough — or weirdly — my very first sale, 1/72nd Scale, was nominated for the Nebula Award for the year’s best novella. I also managed to sell separate stories to the Year’s Best SF, Fantasy and Horror in my first full year of being published. Since then, I’ve continued to make almost annual appearances in the Year’s Best SF. I’ve also been nominated for the British Science Fiction Association Award, and the James Tiptree Award. My work has been translated into many languages, including Italian, French, Japanese, Polish and German.

Having switched to writing short fiction, it’s taken me a long time to get far with novels — and even longer to sell them! However, my first novel, The Great Wheel, was published by Harcourt Brace in 1997, and won the Locus Award for the Year’s Best First novel. A second, an alternative history entitled The Summer Isles, won the World Fantasy Award as a novella, and will now receive first publication in French. I’m a slowish worker, but almost everything which I’ve finished to my own satisfaction in this decade has found a decent market. My first short story collection entitled Voyages By Starlight was published in 1997 by Arkham House, and my second, Breathmoss and Other Exhalations, was published in 2003 by Golden Gryphon.

My two recent novels, The Light Ages and The House of Storms, are both set in a world close to our own where magic is the main driving force of the industrial revolution. It's a world I'd like to visit again, although it's my firm intention to make sure that every book I write is different. It's certainly been the case in recent years that I've focussed on the novel at the expense of, and to the exclusion of, short fiction. At some time in the future, that will probably change. Seasons come and go in writing, just as they do in every other aspect of life. As long as I still feel I've got things to say, in whatever format, I'll be happy. Meanwhile, I also teach English and creative writing — it gets me out of the house, remains a fresh challenge, and is a great antidote to the essentially navel-gazing task of writing fiction. I just wish I had more time to fit everything in…

© 2017 Ian R. Macleod
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