Sean Bean running Denton? Welcome to the world of Stephen McGeagh

Sean Bean running Denton? Welcome to the world of Stephen McGeagh


The kid on the pavement, eyeballing me, spits as the bus sets off. I’m sat on that seat on the bottom deck. Over the back wheels. High enough. Scanning down to the driver, checking who’s getting on and off. Sat there because when she gets on I’ll be able to scope her out again. Well nice. Fit as.

This is probably as cheerful as you get in the Manchester of Stephen McGeagh’s debut novel Habit. The girl doesn’t even get on the bus this time. You’re listening to Michael, the narrator, who’s on his way to the dole office. It’s raining, of course. The fit girl on the bus might not have turned up, but Michael meets Lee instead, a girl who ‘looks about twelve but she’s raging, kicking out everywhere.’ In the sliding, impermanent way of the city, Lee stops at Michael’s place for a few nights. They go out, them and Dig and Mand. They get wrecked. It rains. Then Lee takes Michael along to 7th Heaven, and it all starts to go a bit weird…

That’s what Stephen said to me after a reading one night this year. We were in the same writing workshop group during our MA course at MMU, so I got to hear some of the very early stages of the novel. Then I heard more at readings, and during writing weeks away at Lumb Bank and Moniack Mhor. All these pieces, all from the opening chapters. After the last one, an evening at Didsbury Arts Festival, I asked Stephen about it. Y’know, I said, isn’t it supposed to be, well, y’know? Horror? And that was his answer, that this guy is drifting around Manchester and then it all gets a bit weird. I’m not going to say any more about the plot. You’ll have to read it. And you really should.

I have to say, I’m not a horror reader in general. I read Pet Sematary once, but I don’t like sleepless nights. The only horror film I’ve ever watched was Nightmare on Elm Street. It was on a Spanish beach and was dubbed into Spanish, which made all the bodies flying about on the screen and all the gore pretty funny. Plus the tide was coming in, so we had to keep on picking up our chairs and shuffling away from the water. The horror in Habit isn’t like that. It’s subtle, pervasive. It’s the lowering greyness, the hopeless lives. The weirdness is what makes sense.

My favourite character is Lee, tiny, bolshy, and the beating heart of the book. She’s the one who barrels Michael out of the dimly lit rut of his life. It’s not a love story, though. It’s better, more complex than that. Love is a something that’s hard to get a handle on here. My favourite scene is in the latter half, the bit I’m not going to tell you about. Just to say that there’s burlesque, magic, and the creepiest disappearance act I’ve ever experienced.

I read it at one sitting. So did my daughter, and my boyfriend. It’s that kind of book. Get it.


Stephen, I know a few random things about you, like you go running & play football, that you’re in a band, that you’re a retail expert, and that Canada geese give you nightmares. How do all of these things combine to make Stephen McGeagh, the writer?

Let’s just get this sorted from the kick off – I do *not* have nightmares about geese. Once I jogged down the canal path from Trafford Park to town and was attacked a few times. It was scary. Who wouldn’t have shit it? Nick Royle would’ve. No nightmares though. I haven’t had a decent nightmare for ages.

I’m not sure any of those things add to my writing. I wish I could make a game of five-a-side sound interesting on paper. Exercise makes me happy. So does music. Involving myself in those activities allows me to live and write. No crossover. Just support.


There are moments in Habit that I remember first hearing in the writing workshops back in 2009. How different is the finished book to the ideas that you started with? Or is it exactly as you imagined it to be?

It’s different. At first I couldn’t quite get over the freedom of the workshopping process. Working that way made me write to amuse and disgust and even embarrass. It was the instant feedback. Good or bad. Sometimes I think about some of the work in progress I was submitting and find it very difficult to believe that I ended up here, at Habit. Everything was really disjointed. I hope the published version hangs together. Also, Michael’s name was Harry. For ages. I can’t remember why. It was a shit name.


After I read Habit, I went around for a bit seeing two different Manchesters, the one I know and the one where Michael lives. What sort of filter are you looking through now, with your second book? And how much of you makes its way into your main characters? 

Mixer is set in the city, again. It’s all I want to write about at the moment. The city is a character. The concrete and the blood and the booze. The stink of violence. The way all of those things become familiar, comforting. The people who move around the novels are an extra layer to the city fabric. Think Auster’s NY Trilogy. But written by an idiot. Maybe I could do a third.


Talking about your second book, are you finding that you’re writing in a different way now that you’ve been through the whole editing and publication process? What was that actually like?

Great. Salt, and my editor, have been fantastic. There has been support and dialogue from day one. They all worked ridiculously hard to get Habit out – having to cope with the huge demands of Alison’s Booker shortlisting – and Nick’s patience is pretty endless. I will continue to test it though.

Mixer isn’t being written differently. I’m trying for something a lot more solid in terms of genre, and maybe that’s slowing me down, but it’ll come. It’s written. Just needs typing.


You’ve been commissioned to write a piece of fan fiction set in Manchester. Who would be your characters, and where would they go?

I’ve just finished watching Game Of Thrones. I’d rip that off big time. Lords become gang bosses. Sean Bean running Denton. Loads of killing, and boobs. Loads of dodgy deals done in fancy Chorlton bars.

No dragons though. Fuck that.


You can follow Stephen on Twitter @SJMcGeagh

You can find out about his band, Colibra, here

You can buy Habit by visiting Salt here


And you can come to the official launch of Habit, on Thursday December 13th at Blackwells in Manchester. It’s going to be a massively fabulous evening, with Nicholas Royle, Socrates Adams and Claire Massey reading alongside of Stephen. For more details click here.






1 Comment

  1. Graeme
    5 Dec 2012

    Technically I read Habit in two sittings. First I read till four in the morning. Then I dozed for two hours. Then I finished the book. Then I had to look at pictures of puppies and kittens on the Internet for an hour to try and cheer myself up. Then I gave up and went to the massage place instead.

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