In Conversation With Arthur McBain
last updated 07 November 2023
Interview by Nina Fiol
We had the opportunity to sit down with one of Bright’s literary authors, Arthur McBain. Both an actor and writer, Arthur is incredibly talented and now has two books published, one of them being translated into two different languages. He is currently in the process of writing his first adult novel, and has big plans ahead for his writing career. We chatted about how he found Bright, his favourite places to write, and how music influences his writing.
Arthur’s agent,Katie Blagden, comments on working closely with the eccentric writer:
“I first started working with Arthur on his children’s books where he writes incredibly funny, silly and joyous picture book and middle grade texts. His writing is fast, witty and captivating, and seeing him reading aloud to kids at events, holding the audience’s rapt attention, it seemed like children’s books were his natural stomping ground.”
“So when he told me he had written a dark, gritty adult fiction book about toxic masculinity and childhood trauma, I was reasonably skeptical! But his adult writing blew me away - it sits between crime, thriller and literary fiction, and made me laugh and gasp in shock. I’m so excited to start querying Arthur’s book soon, and I can’t wait to see him take the adult market by storm with his mesmerising fiction debut.”
“It’s so rare to find someone who can embody both children and adult writing so well, and I’m so proud to represent Arthur in all areas”
What are your first memories of writing?
As a child, the four jobs I wanted to do when I grew up were author, actor, ghost hunter and rock star. Now at the age of thirty one, I do two of these to make a living, which I’m really pleased about. Sadly, ghost hunting didn’t work out and I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, but that’s probably why my writing tends to err on the side of horror and darkness. My earliest memory of writing was thinking I could write a full length piece of gritty fiction with an unsharpened HB pencil in an A5 notebook. I was five and didn’t get past the first page.
Illustration from In the Dead of the Night
What brought you to Bright?
I was introduced to the team at Bright by the incredible illustrator and all round good guy Tom Knight, who is repped there and illustrated my first book In The Dead of the Night. The team at Bright are completely magical (Katie Blagden, my agent, is an actual fully fledged superhero). I’ve never felt as supported, encouraged and inspired as I do by the team at Bright. I came to the agency with dreams of publishing full blown novels and Bright provided me with experts to speak to (Rachel Heath & Holly Tonks) and a framework to help me achieve my goals.
Illustration from In the Dead of the Night
Where are you from and how does that affect your work?
I’m from Liverpool, in the North West of England. Liverpool is a city built on music. Let’s face it, music didn’t exist before The Beatles. Music finds its way into all of my writing. I listen to music when I write. I hear the rhythms and musical cadences in the words and I often try to challenge myself to make my writing more punk rock. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds good and makes me write better… I think.
How do you translate your thoughts to the page?
Apple Pages version 10.0 on a MacBook Air 2017. I need to get the battery replaced.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
I love the writing bit of the writing process best. It means that I can get lost in my own make believe world and block out the fact that I have to pay council tax and that I need to get the battery on my laptop replaced. I really love sharing my work. It’s an incredible feeling to read my kids books aloud to eager ears. I love seeing how everyone engages with it in a different way and I get very excited about that. I will never take people engaging with my work for granted. I love it and am grateful to every person that reads it.
Arthur doing a reading at Foyles Bookshop in London
How do you develop your writing skills?
Pages and pages of notes from wonderful editors, and practice. Practice is everything. For the last eight or so years, I have co-written an anthology podcast series of short stories called At Your Peril with my long term collaborator and best friend Owen Jenkins. It’s been an incredibly educational process, having to turn over a high volume of work to its best standard while challenging one another to get better. At Your Peril has certainly been my field training when it comes to crafting stories.
Illustration from Night of the Living Pasta
What is an average day in the studio like for you at the moment?
I don’t have a studio. I like to write in public places. Museums, galleries, cafes, trains. I love writing on trains so much that sometimes I consider buying a round trip from London to Edinburgh just to get lots of writing time in. Every day is different. But my usual routine is to write as soon as I get up (8am-ish) until around mid day, then I eat, and exercise, and listen to music, and try to hold down a career as an actor, and procrastinate, and go for a walk, and chat to the people who run the local coffee shop, and then berate myself for procrastinating, and walking, and eating, and chatting, and then I do a bit more writing before stopping for the day. When I’m working on a project, it tends to consume me and becomes all I can think about, so I always try to fill my evenings with good friends. Plus, it’s a great distraction because writing can often be quite lonely.
Illustration from Night fo the Living Pasta
Who or what have been your key influences?
I grew up listening to rock music and that has an enormous influence on my work. Particularly with my long form, prose, novelly stuff. I try to fill my writing with as much energy as a loud distorted guitar, so that it sort of arrives, slaps you in the face and leaves for another arena in another town. Paintings and photography matter to me when I’m working on something as well. Often I will find a picture and put it on the first page of whatever I’m working on. I will try to let it infuse into my work. The picture changes with each draft I do, too, so that I attack the project from a different angle each time. I also read a lot, which I think is probably crucial for any writer. Darkmans by Nicola Barker is one of my all time favourite books and is a big influence on me. Ian Banks’ The Wasp Factory and Deadkidsongs by Toby Litt were my two favourite reads as a teenager which probably explains why everything I write has a tinge of excitable darkness. Terry Pratchett is also a hero.
What was it like seeing your work out in the world for the first time?
Imagine being Dua Lipa’s parents. Well, it feels like that.
To an aspiring writer, what’s one piece of advice you would give?
Get rid of the word aspiring. You’re either a writer or you aren’t. The word aspiring implies that you haven’t started writing yet, or that you’re waiting for permission to do it. You don’t need any permission, just get on with it. It takes a lot of practice to get good at it (I’m still working on that), so there’s no time to lose. I’ve written three full length novels that will never see the light of day because they’re terrible. But they taught me a lot and now I’m glad that I got them done. Chop chop. Why are you still reading this? Go! The world needs your stories.
Do you have any ‘dream projects’ that you’d like to work on someday?
Whenever I have an idea for a dream project, I tend to just start working on it right away. My biggest dream was to be a novelist. And now that I’m on the third draft of a novel that I don’t hate, I feel immensely excited.
To work with Arthur, get in touch with Katie here.