Welcome to the one hundred and fifty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with thriller novelist Michael Parker. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello Michael. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Michael: I have been married to Patricia (Pat) for 51 years. We met when she was fourteen and I was fifteen. I can’t imagine life without her. We have four sons and ten grandchildren. We are both retired and have lived in Spain for fourteen years, although we are planning to return to the UK once we have sold our house. I worked in a variety of jobs before retiring: office boy, merchant seaman, plasterer’s labourer, Royal Air Force (Electrician), Middle East, food manufacturing industry (maintenance). I enjoy football (watching sadly), snooker, speedway. I play the keyboard (badly) and used to be part of the Praise & Worship music group at my local, Christian fellowship here in Spain (English speaking). I have been an ardent reader from an early age beginning with many of the children’s classics and moving on to adult fiction in my early years. As a young, married teenager, no television, no money I was always back and forth to the local library seeking out new authors. One day I began doodling a scrap of paper and penned something that I knew would look good in a novel. Trouble was; I believed that only the ‘clever’ people wrote books. It never occurred to me that I could as well. I finally put pen to paper about eight or nine years later. My sister typed the manuscript and we both thought I’d done well, but we weren’t thinking on the same plane as agents and publishers. But my writing career, even in that fledgling state did not stop; I learned more about writing as the rejections piled up, but I just wouldn’t give up.
Morgen: And that’s what makes a successful writer, as the saying goes. And such a varied life is bound to give you lots of ideas. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Michael: My first novel was a thriller. My second a World War 2 story. My third was set in British East Africa in 1898. From then it has been thrillers but in different places and different decades.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Michael: North Slope; Shadow of the Wolf; Hell’s Gate; The Eagle’s Covenant; The Devil’s Trinity; The Third Secret and A Covert War. I had a signing session in a small bookshop in Hayling Island in 1980, so that was the first time I’d seen my work in a public shop.
Morgen: I bet that was thrilling. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Michael: Very little compared to those writers who have marketing professionals working for them. All my marketing is self-financed (I’m a pensioner) and consequently is limited. I need to aim at places where my work will be seen more widely. It is very difficult here in Spain because I have to rely on local, English language newspapers, and local, English language TV. This restricts the coverage to a smaller area (Costa Blanca), and because of the age profile of ex-pats out here, there are countless, second-hand bookstalls providing masses of reading material for a virtual giveaway price.
Morgen: Yes, that does sound tough. I must admit I’m only going the eBook route so I’ll be relying on online sales but I feel for authors with ‘real’ books to find ‘real’ readers for. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Michael: Two of my books won ‘Book of the Month’ awards on www.Acclaimedbooks.com.
Morgen: Oh well done. Ah, Acclaimed Books. Thriller / suspense novelist S. Eric Wachtel asked me if I’d heard of them and I pointed him in the direction of Jack Everett and David Coles who I’d interviewed back in August as they’d been published by them. I’m sure he’ll be interested to read that you have too. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Michael: No. I can’t see the point. I am who I am, and it is probably my working class upbringing that makes me proud of my achievements and to use another name would be counterproductive (to me).
Morgen: And your name is very easy to spell. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Michael: I had an agent for my first novel. He was with one of the top London agencies and believed I had potential. He won me a contract with Macmillan, but the publisher dropped me a year after my novel was published. I don’t blame the publisher for that; had I been an exceptional writer, he would have retained me. My agent gave up on me several years later. Agents are not necessarily vital for an author’s success, but they certainly help. Nowadays, with the advent of computers and with writers being able to knock out many copies of their manuscripts, publishers use agents to filter out the rubbish. So, in that respect they are necessary.
Morgen: Although I don’t have one, I do empathise with agents these days; their jobs must be so much harder than even just a few years ago with so many authors going the self-publishing route (in whatever format). Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process?
Michael: Two of my novels are currently available: North Slope and A Covert War. My experience of that is almost as exciting as seeing my first manuscript in print. It must be brilliant for first timers who have never had a book published.
Morgen: Like me. Do you read eBooks?
Michael: I own a Kindle and use it regularly.
Morgen: Mine (a generic) sits gathering dust (it’s an old house) in my bedroom… surrounded by paperbacks. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Michael: North Slope was my first novel. Even now I get excited when my publisher (Robert Hale of London) accepts my manuscript. Sometimes I find myself not really believing I still have it in me.
Morgen: But they do… and your readers, hopefully. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Michael: You have to learn to deal with them. If you don’t, you are dead in the water. All my rejections hurt badly, but I had to be philosophical about it, understand that there were many, many wannabe writers suffering the same as me, and just get on with it. Put it aside.
Morgen: There are… doing these interviews is making me realise how many of us there are… and how supportive everyone is. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Michael: I am spending a great deal of time trying to rationalise my social networking as part of the promotion process associated with getting my work out on Amazon. It’s been a bumpy road and a bit frustrating at times, but still fun. In all that time I have been researching my next novel as part of my contract with Hale. It will be set on the American / Mexico border, and will be a thriller. Goodness knows when I’ll get it finished though.
Morgen: Oh how I know that feeling. I thought I was OK until I had everything back from Rachel (my editor) and it’s been back over a week. Mmm. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Michael: I used to write every day, but as you can see from the previous answer, that has dropped off a lot. Usually I write about 2000 – 3000 words (on a good day).
Morgen: That’s great going. Even just 500 words equates to 182,500 words a year. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Michael: I’m suffering from it now
Morgen: Oh no…
Michael: (not with this Q&A).
Michael: I believe most writers suffer from it; it’s natural. The only cure is to keep your backside firmly in your chair and keep writing.
Morgen: Because you never know what will come out – I think it’s to easy to say “oh well, there’s nothing there, I’ll go and…” I’m guilty. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Michael: Only God knows that.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Michael: All my novels except one were plotted, the exception being A Covert War. I started with an idea and literally made it up as I went along.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Michael: My characters are created from real people or celebrities. By that I mean I use an image of a celebrity or someone known to me and build my characters on the images. I prefer the names of my characters to be easily pronounced, which means less hassle for my readers. If I want a Spanish name for example, I wouldn’t use Txitxi, but more likely Manuel.
Morgen: Ooh I like Txitxi but yes, I agree, less confusing. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Michael: I am a member of Acclaimed Books. This is a group of writers who have come together to promote and help each other. Our plan is to open a website (due for October) that will attract readers, not necessarily to our own books, but to other high profile, and unsung writers. We have been working together now for something like eighteen months, and although we do have a website, it is being revamped by our co-ordinator, Peter Lihou.
Morgen: Oh, so fairly fledging. I bet it’s great to get in at ground level, so to speak. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Michael: My wife, Pat.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Michael: I have been fortunate in that all of my books have been professionally edited by an established, London publisher. This means that the paperbacks I release on Amazon need only a proof check to ensure no errors have occurred in the reprinting process. I am fairly lucky because I have a good grasp of English grammar, which means I can edit my own manuscripts before submitting them to my publisher. I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t any mistakes.
Morgen: I’m the same with Rachel but after three edits I read what I want to read so it has to go to her. And she’s tough. You mentioned research earlier. How much do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Michael: I usually spend about three months on research. I have only been corrected on a couple of occasions by readers when I have made a technical error. More often than not, the editor picks up those mistakes.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Michael: I’m terrible. The first thing I do is try and find an excuse not to write. I suddenly remember there is a small job I have to do that can’t wait. I check up on some of my research. Find a reason to ask Pat a question. Anything but get down to it and write. But once I start, I’m in my element.
Morgen: Me too. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Michael: Writing by hand is a much better way of producing what’s in your head, in my opinion, but I have used a computer for years. It is so convenient, what with typing errors, corrections, missing words etc. Anyone remember using carbon paper when typing? I once owned a typewriter that had a correction ribbon of black and white. Tippex? They were the days. That was much of the struggle with writing for an author.
Morgen: I studied at secretarial college on early electronic with the Tippex bit removed… and we had to type with carbon paper – that was mean. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Michael: I prefer peace and quiet.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Michael: Third person always for me. I’m not sure I really know what second person is; sounds like a lot of dialogue to me.
Morgen: Not really. Try changing I or He/She to you and see what happens. OK, it’s not that simple but I love it. If you get stuck you could always try using some of my 2ndpov sentence starts. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Michael: A prologue is simply another writing tool. When you want to create a time gap between the beginning and the rest of the story, a prologue is a useful tool. An epilogue sounds too much like the end of a bible reading; bit like the last thing at night before turning off the light and going to sleep. I’ve used prologues twice, I think, but can only remember using one epilogue. I changed that though in the end if I recall.
Morgen: I’ve never used an epilogue but once changed a chapter 1 to a prologue but I’m not convinced that it won’t go back. I’ll find out early next year. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Michael: My older sister, who typed my first manuscript all those years ago, came across the typescript recently after moving house. She sent it to me. I couldn’t resist it; I read it through, front to back. It will never see the light of day.
Morgen: But it’ll hopefully show you how far you’ve come. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Michael: Favourite is finishing the manuscript. Least favourite is getting through the middle section. That’s because I usually have a beginning and an end, but never a middle.
Morgen: Ah yes, the saggy middle… I have a couple of those (two novels that will probably both end up being novellas). If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Michael: Just how many people like me there are out there.
Morgen: It’s astounding, isn’t it? But then they say everyone has a novel inside them and I think people aren’t waiting until they’re retired now to start writing them. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Michael: Read as much as you can, particularly the authors who have reached the top in the genre in which you want to write. And most importantly, never give up!
Morgen: Here, here. What do you like to read?
Michael: Where do I begin? I read thrillers, crime, historical novels. One author I would recommend is C.J.Sansom. Brilliant.
Morgen: Ah yes, my boss is reading him at the moment, he really likes him too. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Michael: I watch football and speedway on TV. I play snooker. I play my keyboard. I go to my local, Christian Fellowship. I go shopping with Pat (no choice about that!). I do a bit of D-I-Y, but not a lot since I’ve had my hip replaced. I watch some TV programmes. Quite normal really. Too old for party tricks though. Well, not the kind of parties I go to!
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Michael: My own website: www.michaeljparker.com. And The Writers and Artists Year Book.
Morgen: Yes, definitely. TW&AYB is a must for me too. I usually update mine every other year (that and the Writers’ Handbook although I prefer the former). In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Michael: I live in Spain and believe this has hindered the opportunities that would otherwise be available to me.
Morgen: But you’re moving back to blighty soon… Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Michael: Forums are good for guidance, picking up ideas about where or how to promote yourself, so in that sense they are a valuable source of information. I am currently on Kindle Boards, Goodreads and Acclaimed Books Readers’ Forum.
Morgen: Acclaimed is new to me but I’ve heard Kindle Boards and Goodreads many times… I must look properly. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Michael: There will be less ‘mystique’ about a writer because there will be so many people producing their own books. Books on-line will be so abundant that readers will need to seek out reliable and genuine on-line bookshelves for the quality product, and to avoid the rubbish. I think the major publishing houses will take the lead in this and restore the literary world to the status quo that existed before POD and Kindle came into existence.
Morgen: I still think that customer reviews will win the day. An author can only have so many friends and family… can’t they? Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Michael: Please go out and buy my books and tell everyone about them!
Morgen: I’ll try to tell everyone… it’ll probably be a few hundred to start with if that’s not too shabby? Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Michael: Bearing in mind how many on-line blogs there are that feature writers and books, how important do you think they are to the writers like me, and what impact do you think your blog has the book-reading public?
Morgen: A very good question. From a reading aspect I’d say that things like this equate to an in-person author – you get to meet and chat to the author (albeit via the interviewer’s questions) and get a feel for them as well as their writing… hopefully also the passion that they show for their writing and in many cases (not straying too far) their humility.
One thing I’ve learned recently is how many people read my blog posts (c. 150-200 a day) but how few (by comparison) stop and comment. This isn’t a complaint by any means but I think it would be easy for an interviewee to see he or she has few (or no) comments and think no-one cares. It’s not true at all. Of course I could spend my time letting every interviewee know how many times each day their page is viewed (and believe me I’d love to) but it’s just not practical. I was interviewed recently (10 days earlier than when this interview airs) by Marja McGraw (Marja with a hard ‘j’ ) and whilst I received comments from 13 other authors (many of whom I’ve interviewed!) to-date Marja tells me I’ve had 686 hits in those 10 days which I think is astounding. I know of some sales that have definitely happened because of these (because the author or buyer has told me) and I’ve had a few tell me that their blog hits have ‘spiked’ since they’ve appeared here. Coincidence? I don’t know, maybe but it’s like playing the lottery or bingo – if you don’t take part you’ll never win anything but it only takes 5 people to read your blog who tell their 5 people and so on. As the saying goes “you have to be in it to win it” and if it’s fun in the process (it is for me) then ‘winning’ is a bonus. A long answer to a quick question (I should have warned you). Thank you Michael.
I then invited Michael to provide a short excerpt of his writing and this is from his next POD paperback: ROSELLI’S GOLD:
He pushed himself up on to one elbow and looked again. There was nothing he could see but gently rising and falling sand dunes. He was dead, he had to be. He felt movement on his hand and watched as a fly moved quickly on to a wound he had there. He was aware then, of several flies buzzing around him. They seemed to hover for a few seconds then dart on to a part of his blood-stained clothing or on to his exposed flesh. It didn‘t take his fuddled brain long to realize that he was indeed covered in flies as though he was dead meat, a decomposing body.
His senses, as numbed as they were, rebelled against the horror of becoming a home for the maggots that would certainly devour his mortal flesh, and he lashed out, thrashing against the dark cloud that was invading him.
Almost immediately the pain and effort was too much and he slumped back on to the sand, crying in pain. And as his mouth opened in gasps, the flies invaded that too and he had no way of stopping them. He gagged and slipped into unconsciousness.
Update July 2012: Well, we’re still living in Spain. The collapse of the housing market here has meant that we are likely to be staying put for sometime yet. In the interview I said that me and Pat had been married 51 years. Well, it’s now 52 and climbing!
I have had some good fortune in the literary world. Harlequin books have taken up my latest novel, THE BOY FROM BERLIN and will be publishing it in paperback in North America and Canada. Its release date is January 2013. This is great news for me because I have never been able to crack the American market, and this now gives me a foot in the door. Hopefully this will increase my readership in much the same way as Kindle is doing (more later). THE BOY FROM BERLIN was published by Robert Hale in December last year (2011), so the uptake from Harlequin was very quick indeed. Hale will be releasing the eBook version in November.
The Kindle revolution has done wonders for me personally compared to my record over the previous years. The Kindle Select programme has given me the opportunity to sell over 7000 eBooks on Amazon since March this year. The bubble burst for all writers shortly after the launch of the Kindle Select programme and has now settled down. My average, eBook sales on Kindle are currently running at 25 per day. But there has been a downside to this; editing! Because I have never needed to edit my books, I relied on others to format a couple of my books for Kindle. The poor results were leapt on by the Amazon reveiwers, which meant I had to learn how to convert my files to Kindle (not easy) to make sure I was happy with the final result. I have to say that the blame for the earlier problems lies entirely with me because, as the author, I am responsible for my work. It’s a tough lesson to be learned, and I hope any budding Kindle author will take note.
I have been invited by Nancy Duci Denofio to be interviewd on Page Turners On-line radio station, BTR (Blog Talk Radio) in October this year. Naturally I jumped at the chance. The interview will probably happen sometime in November because me and Pat are planning to visit our son and his family in Australia during October. Looking at their website, they have interviewed a lot of well known writers, so it’s nice to know I’ll be in good company.
My latest manuscript is gathering dust in my room, not even half-finished because of the amount of work I’ve been doing in getting three of my books on Kindle and the subsequent rounds of on-line promotion etc. It’s all time consuming. I have just finished converting my book, HELL’S GATE to Kindle and POD paperback, while my son is working on the book jacket. Once I have made that available to Amazon I can knuckle down and get back to what all this is about: writing. Incidentally, I will be asking for a proof copy of the POD paperback before I allow it and the Kindle to be released for publication. I don’t want any slip-ups this time.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome critique for the four new writing groups listed below and / or flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays. For other opportunities see (see Opportunities on this blog).
The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
- Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group (http://novelwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/508696639153189)
- Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group (http://poetrywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/388850977875934)
- Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group (http://scriptwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/319941328108017)
- Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group (http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/544072635605445)
We look forward to reading your comments.