Category Archives: 10 Questions With…

10 Questions with… Steven A. McKay

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Today i bring to you an interview with the awesome Steven A. McKay author of the brilliant Wolf’s Head which is book one of his Robin Hood series.

The series is currently made up of 3 novels and 2 novellas. If you’ve not had a look at them please click the images below to be directed to my reviews 🙂

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Now on with the questions!!

1) For anyone who follows my blog I’m sure they will be aware of your work but for anyone who’s not read any of your books yet what would you say to them to get them to give them a go?

It’s historical fiction without the “gadzooks” or “prithee” bollocks. I wanted to write stories set in medieval times but with people you and I could relate to. Normal people, rather than high born knights and ladies. Of course, I’d like to think the tales are exciting and keep you on the edge of your seat but I’ll leave your reviews to deal with that…

2) After reading your Robin Hood series you’ve left me needing more, you’re going to fill that void with a Christmas novella staring Friar Tuck. What made you decide to give the good Friar his own story?

I wanted to write a Christmas tale because I love the season so, really, who else could star in it? It’s a Christian holiday, whether you celebrate it in that way or not, so it was obvious the bold friar should take the lead.

3) I personally love a good novella; I feel it can give a great insight to an author’s writing style while also giving the author a great chance to elaborate on characters or events touched on in other books. I know not all readers agree. What are your views?

Some stories aren’t made to be told in 100,000 words. One of my favourite writers is HP Lovecraft – can you imagine ANY of his stories stretched out to novel length? They’d be awful! They work perfectly as novellas, and I’d like to think my two shorts work as well.

In terms of writing them, they’re great fun, it’s almost like a holiday! You don’t have to worry about side-plots or extra characters, you can just concentrate on one storyline and keep it simple and I really enjoy that because my full length novels tend to have lots of other stuff going on.

Amazon clearly agree – they have the Kindle Singles Programme which is described as “Compelling ideas expressed at their natural length” and Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil was accepted into that exclusive programme so that says it all for me.

4) Looking back at my reviews for your books so far I note a common theme. Namely you’re not afraid to kill off characters. Were you not worried your readers might not like the direction you took?

No, when I’m writing a book I don’t think about how readers will view it. Don’t get me wrong, once it’s done and it goes out I shit myself wondering if anyone will enjoy it! But in the writing process I do whatever I think will work. When it comes to killing off characters, I feel like if I DON’T kill characters it would be unrealistic and readers would see them as superheroes which is not what they are at all.

They are, as I said earlier, normal people, and normal people die.

5) One of the best things about your Robin Hood series is that you’ve put a new twist on the old tale. Why did you decide to move away from the well-known tale we all know and move away from Sherwood Forest?

The original, very first Robin Hood stories were set in Yorkshire. When I started to research the legend my idea was to make it as close to the first stories as possible so I was surprised – and pleased – to find that fact out. It gave me something new right from the off. Who else writes about Robin Hood the Yorkshireman?! That old story has been done to death and even now there’s new novels about him coming out every few months but as far as I know I’m the only one placing him where he was originally, in Barnsdale, in the time of Edward II.

6) Who have been your biggest influences within the writing community?

The two guys that inspired me to actually do it were SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty. I saw their books doing so well, even without the backing of a publisher, and it gave me the confidence to do it myself.

In terms of my actual writing, it’s hard to say. Bernard Cornwell is an obvious influence but I take bits from whatever I’m reading that strikes a chord in me, such as the aforementioned HP Lovecraft, or John Fowles whose The Magus I recently revisited. It all goes into the old brain box and comes back out in my writing in some way!

7) To give your readers an insight in to the writing process how long does it usually take to get from an idea to publication? Do you have many rewrites?

I couldn’t really give an answer to that for the simple reason I have an 8 year old daughter and a 2 year old son! When I wrote my debut novel, Wolf’s Head, and the follow up The Wolf and the Raven, I only had my wee girl and she would be in bed at 8pm every night so I could get to work. But now, my boy is up to all hours being wild hahaha! It’s meant I’ve not been able to work as much as I’d like on my new book and even the last one took longer than it should have.

In general a novel takes me about a year from start to finish. I don’t really rewrite anything much. I tend to ADD things rather than rewriting them.

I seem to be really lucky in that respect – a lot of writers can spend all day working on a chapter then bin the lot because it’s crap! If I write a chapter it ends up in the book pretty much as I wrote it in that first sitting.

8) How important is feedback from your readers?

It depends. I really appreciate constructive criticism that I can do something about – for example someone said in a review that my new Rise of the Wolf audiobook had a line that repeats. So I’ve been working with ACX and my narrator this weekend to get that sorted. That was invaluable feedback.

I do read EVERY review that appears on Amazon and I take in what’s being said. I’ve adjusted plots or even just character traits as a result so yes, I do take feedback on board. I’d be daft not to.

9) So far you’ve stuck with writing about Robin Hood and the other characters within the series. Do you ever think you’ll move away from them onto something new?

Oh aye! I’ll write one more Robin book to finish his story off, with perhaps another novella using those characters, but then I’ll move onto a completely new series. I’ve got loads of ideas for it – a main character, titles, plot lines, even the books I’ll need to research the period!

10) Linking in nicely with the previous question.. Future plans? I’d definitely like to know what you’ve got planned for us next

I’ll be sticking with Britain as the setting but going a few hundred years further back in time from my Robin Hood books…I plan on making the next series about a druid but he’s more like a cross between Little John and Friar Tuck than the old white-beard from the Asterix stories! This guy will be a hardman who’s a real product of his time, so possibly something of an anti-hero…

I can’t say more because I’ve not really planned anything out. I need to tie up the Robin Hood series

first so, next year, 2016, keep your eyes peeled!

Thanks for this Steven! Very much looking forward to reading more books from you in the near future 🙂

If you didn’t know Steven’s latest novella is available now! and it’s perfect for Christmas. Click the image below to head to Amazon where you can get your copy!

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10 Questions with… Matthew Harffy

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

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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

 

The Serpent Sword is available now for a limited time for only £0.99/$0.99. Click the picture below to head to Amazon to buy the book!SeptemberSaleSerpentVersion2