Thomas McMullan is a writer, critic and journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Guardian, Observer, Times Literary Supplement, Frieze and BBC News, and has been published in 3:AM Magazine, Lighthouse and Best British Short Stories. He has worked with visual artists, game studios and theatre companies in London, Amsterdam, Beijing and Los Angeles. He lives in London.
His debut novel, The Last Good Man, will be published by Bloomsbury on 12 November 2020. Thomas, who studied English at Goldsmiths between 2006 and 2009, tells us about how his time at Goldsmiths shaped his writing and his recently published debut.
How Goldsmiths shaped my writing
‘I’m in over my head.’ I remember that feeling when I started at Goldsmiths, the first time living in London, tangled up in reading lists and friendly strangers. Turns out being over my head was a good thing. I studied literature but I met artists and musicians, anthropologists and actors. The same can be said for many universities, I’m sure, but I remember a distinct feeling that we were all angled in the same direction.
I have a lot to thank my tutors for, Tim Parnell and Lucia Boldrini in particular. Their reading lists are bolted to my bones. I remember studying Samuel Beckett for the first time. Virginia Woolf. Laurence Sterne. Dante. I made a writer’s circle with other students, taking turns to host readings in each other’s living rooms and basements.
I remember a ritual in a garden. I got to know drama students and put on plays with them. Amy Letman, now creative director of the Transform Festival in Leeds, was an engine. She pretty much single handedly produced our plays at Southwark Playhouse, transferring some to the Edinburgh festival. I was accepted onto the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme around the same time. I got to know a lot of people, which you take for granted at the time. I made some of my best friends.
After graduating I did an MA in English at UCL, then spent a year researching patents for an Egyptian businessman. That was a strange time. Then I spent two years teaching at a university in China. When I got back to the UK I moved into journalism, where I’ve lingered since. The whole time I’ve written creatively – short stories, poems, plays, and now a novel.
What The Last Good Man is about
My main character, Duncan Peck, has travelled alone to Dartmoor in search of his cousin. He finds a place with tea rooms and barley fields, a church and a schoolhouse. There is also a large wall, where anyone can write, anonymously, about their neighbours, about any wrongdoing that might hurt the community. It’s about fear and atonement, responsibility and justice, community and the violence of writing in public spaces.
You can buy it from your local bookshop (hopefully) or order it online.
What else am I working on
I’m freelance, so I take what I can get. I write journalistically for a bunch of places on a range of subjects. Creatively, I’ve just finished working on a commission for the innovation organisation Nesta, as part of a competition called Alternarratives that set out to explore new forms of short storytelling for teenagers. It’s called The Unsettled Ground and it won the competition’s Highly Commended award. I’m also doing narrative design for a video game that’s being made by the UK studio Roll7. On top of that, I’m writing my next novel. It’s coming along.
For more information about Thomas’s work: