Today i bring to you a new feature on my blog called “10 Questions with”. It is my hope over the next few months i can bring you some interesting Q&A’s with some of the authors whose work I’ve recently read/reviewed.
I’m very pleased to say the first of which is a Q&A with Matthew Harffy! Author of The Serpent Sword. If you’ve not had a look at my review yet take a look here
Ok.. lets get on with the questions.. 🙂
Q1 – For anyone who’s read my review of The Serpent Sword I’m sure they will be aware how awesome your book is but for those who’ve not read it yet what would you say to convince them to read your book next?
Rather than me tell you why my book is awesome (although this is a subject I enjoy!), how about I let Angus Donald, bestselling author of the Outlaw series explain why it is worth reading. He said the following:
“A gripping and credible tale of Dark Ages Britain, well researched, with rounded, convincing characters and a strong plot-line … the battle scenes [are] gut-clenching encounters in which you could almost smell the blood and feel the sweat trickling down your spine. A very good read! Recommended for all fans of Bernard Cornwell. Historical fiction doesn’t get much better than this.”
Q2 – After reading the first book you’ve left me wanting more. When can we expect the next book to be out and can you give us any juicy info on it?
The sequel is THE CROSS AND THE CURSE.
Here is some blurb about it:
Beobrand stands with the King of Northumbria in battles of great portent and continues his rise to prominence. He wants nothing more than to settle down, but he soon finds himself beset with enemies old and new. He even fears that the power of a curse has him in its grip.
Fated to become a famed warlord, Beobrand confronts his foes with cold iron and bitter fury. On his quest for revenge and redemption, Beobrand grudgingly accepts the mantle of lord, leading his men into the darkest of nights and the bloodiest of battles.
THE CROSS AND THE CURSE is already written and should be available in the next few months. Probably early 2016.
Q3 – To give your readers some insight into your life as a writer how long did it take you to write the book? Including the editing process and any re-writes you made
I actually started writing it back in 2001! I saw a documentary about the Castle of Bamburgh in Northumberland and how it had been the seat of the kings of a long-forgotten kingdom called Bernicia. I had a vision of men pulling their ships up onto the beach below the crag of Bamburgh Castle and I just sat down and started writing.
I had been working on the book on and off for a couple of years when one day, Bernard Cornwell released his first Uhtred novel. It was set a couple of hundred years later, but began in Bamburgh and featured a similar young man who would become a great warlord.
I was despondent. I gave up and stuck my book in a drawer for about ten years! It then became clear to me that Amazon and e-books made it possible to self-publish and make money through writing in a way that had never before been possible.
So I set myself weekly writing targets and a goal for completing the book and finished the first draft in about eight months.
Rework and clean-up of the manuscript took another couple of months and then I gave it to several friends and family for their feedback. The test readers caught lots of errors and gave me some great ideas for how to make the book better.
I did some more work on the book and then sent it to my dad to edit. He has a great eye for detail and grammar and caught almost everything else that had slipped through.
The next year went by with THE SERPENT SWORD getting pitched to publishers by my agent, while I worked on book 2.
In the end though, I didn’t sign a deal with any publishing house and so I decided to self-publish.
Formatting and cover design took a month or so.
Q4 – What made you decide to become a historical fiction writer in the first place?
I’m not really sure. I have always loved historical fiction, and for some reason when I started writing this story, I couldn’t let it go. I had started many stories in the past but never got beyond five or ten pages. Starting is actually the easiest thing. Finishing a complete novel is where the difficulty lies.
Anyway, it sounds like a cliché, but in some ways the story of Beobrand and The Serpent Sword found me!
Q5 – What are your views on historical accuracy when writing fiction? I note from other books I’ve read in the same genre some reviewers can be quite negative to any inaccuracies.
As you say, some readers and writers, believe that the historical accuracy is the most important thing in historical fiction. I look at it a slightly different way. I will never knowingly include anything historically inaccurate without informing the reader in a historical note, but I believe that the story is more important than the history. If the setting and events have the feeling of authenticity, and the story entertains the reader, then I think my job is done.
Several readers have commented about how much they feel they have learnt of the history of Northumbria from reading The Serpent Sword, but it was never my intention to be didactic. If a story is compelling and exciting, and you come away learning some history, that’s a bonus!
Q6 – Would you contemplate writing a book in any other genre?
I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction, so I wouldn’t rule out writing something in those genres. Particularly fantasy. George R.R. Martin said in an interview with Bernard Cornwell: “It has long been my contention that the historical novel and the epic fantasy are sisters under the skin, that the two genres have much in common.” I agree with him and can easily see myself writing an epic fantasy, but for some reason, having a story grounded in reality feels more natural to me now than perhaps it would have if I’d taken up writing seriously when I was younger.
I’m also a huge fan of westerns and have seriously considered writing in that genre. I guess it is still historical fiction, just in a different period.
Q7 – Who have been your biggest influences within the writing community?
In terms of which writers have been the biggest influence over a long period, I would have to say Bernard Cornwell. His Warlord Chronicles are what got me to consider writing The Serpent Sword and its sequels.
If we are talking about which writers have been the greatest influence in the journey to publication over the last couple of years, I’d have to say Steven A. McKay and Justin Hill. Steven is self-published and has been extremely successful with his Forest Lord series. He is a couple of years ahead of me in the process of being a published author, and I have shamelessly tried to emulate the way he handles the marketing side of the business. He has been nothing less than helpful and supportive since we first “spoke” online a couple of years ago.
I read Justin Hill’s book, Shieldwall, while writing the first draft of The Serpent Sword and fell in love with the prose and the authentic feel of the writing. I was overjoyed to have Justin reply to emails and requests for information, and later to read my manuscript and offer me an endorsement for the cover.
I was lucky enough to get endorsements from many other writers too, including hugely successful authors such as Angus Donald and Manda Scott, and I cannot count the number of times different writers have helped by retweeting or sharing stuff about my work, or writing nice reviews on Amazon or their blogs.
The community of historical fiction writers is quite small, but almost without exception, they have been willing to offer support to a new writer with very little idea of how the business works.
Q8 – What book(s) are you looking forward to reading in the coming months?
My TBR (To Be Read) pile is huge! I am quite a slow reader and also have to find time to write, research, do my day job, spend time with the family, sing in a band, market the book and do interviews like this. I always have a book on the go, but it takes a long time to complete each one. If I like them, I write a review and post it on my blog, Amazon and Goodreads.
At the moment I am enjoying Andrew Latham’s debut, The Holy Lance. Next up is an advanced copy of The Betrothed Sister by Carol McGrath (though if I’m not careful, I won’t get around to reading it before the book is released!). I then need to get around to reading Steven McKay’s Rise of the Wolf.
A bit further in the future, I am looking forward to reading Justin Hill’s “Viking Fire”, the sequel to Shieldwall.
Q9 – You also review books? Any tips for me and any other would be reviewers out there?
I think if a book does not light your fire, move on. Life’s too short to waste precious time on books you don’t like. So I tend to only leave broadly positive reviews (if I haven’t finished a book, I won’t review it, and I tend not to finish books I don’t like).
I think reviews should be truthful and pick out a few issues (if you see them when reading the book) but without doing a hatchet job on the writer. No book is perfect, and a writer can learn from constructive criticism, but reviews are ultimately to let people know whether you enjoyed it, and why.
Q10 – Future plans? I’m sure we’d all like to know what you’ve got planned.
For now, I am sticking with Beobrand and the Bernicia Chronicles. I am 75,000 words into the first draft of book 3 in the series, BY BLOOD AND BLADE. After that, who knows? There are certainly more stories in Beobrand’s future for a couple more books at least.
Thanks for hosting the question and answer session on your blog, David. It’s been great fun and of course, thank you for the great review of THE SERPENT SWORD.
To connect with Matthew you can use the following links