Welcome to the three hundred and forty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with comic fantasy (and a little horror) author Will Macmillan-Jones. 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, Will. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Will: Hi, I live in South Wales, a beautiful and myth-haunted area of the UK. Perhaps it’s one reason I’ve started writing. The inspiration seeps upwards from the very soil, and even manages to infiltrate my 50 something mind… when it can find room amongst the clutter, of course. The real reason I started writing? I love to entertain, but I can’t sing, can’t dance, and when I pick up my beloved guitar my dogs run howling for cover.
Morgen: My singing has the same effect on my dog. I’m not too bad on a keyboard (the beginnings of a few things anyway) but never tried the guitar. What genre do you generally write?
Will: Principally, I write comic fantasy. I grew up listening to the great radio comedy shows like The Goon Show, and Round The Horn, and love the wild, irrepressible anarchic spirit that runs through those scripts. I also write some children’s fantasy, and a little horror.
Morgen: I say I write dark and light so I guess we have a balance between humour and the creepy. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Will: So far, Safkhet Publishing have been kind enough to take my comic fantasy series, The Banned Underground. The first volume is already out, with the second released 15th April. I’m just moving towards the end of the third manuscript now. In fact, I’ve had to stop being silly for a bit to do this interview, and am struggling to be serious for you. Actually, I have enough trouble remembering my own name most days, so I daren’t use a pseudonym. Unless it was “Oi, You! Baldy!”
Morgen: A new book out this week, how exciting. “Oi, You! Baldy!” would certainly be an easy pen name to remember. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Will: Any writer who has finally got a contract will have had a lot of rejections. I’ve been under contract for a year now, and have just received a rejection for a submission I sent out 16 months ago. I could afford to laugh at that one. But, they always hurt a little. Most of us writers are just big babies who want to be loved by everyone. But that’s not going to happen. So actually, getting used to the rejections is great practice for when you launch your book, and then discover, inevitably, that there are some people who don’t like it.
Morgen: If you’re determined enough rejections do make you stronger and it’s clearly done you no harm. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Will: I used to participate regularly in a weekly Flash Fiction competition on the Authonomy website. The only prize for winning was to know that you had won, that week. It was great practice, and taught me a lot, and yes, occasionally, I did win. When the really good authors didn’t bother. Or the judging panel was drunk, or successfully bribed. Allegedly.
Morgen: Or both? It’s catching the right thing with the right person and they clearly liked what they saw. You’re published with Safkhet Publishing, do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Will: No, I don’t have an agent. The only rejection that truly threw me was one well-respected literary agency who told me that there was no market for comic fantasy in the UK. I’m going to prove them wrong… An agent is really good if the author has no trust in his / her business relationship with the publisher, or the author isn’t confident enough to get out into the market place to sell their own book to a publisher.
Morgen: But many now are going their own way, with eBooks for example. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Will: Yes, everything will come out as an eBook. It’s a big and growing part of the market. But, they are not to my taste, and I don’t own a Kindle. Probably never will. I’m in love with books, you see. The touch, the aroma, the visual impact. Like lovely women, they are all different, all special. A Kindle is a flat piece of plastic. Where’s the romance in that? Even the covers are just fleeting electronic images on a screen.
Morgen: I love books but recently bought a Kindle and it’s great having it out and about with me and knowing I have so much choice. I tend still to read paper at home so that’s not changed, just added actually. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Will: I do a lot. It’s part of the job now. Fifty years ago, a book was a rare event. Now it’s very easy to self-publish a book, so even authors with traditional contracts have to get out there and let people know about their book. Help to make it stand out a little in the crowd.
Morgen: Which is hard going. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Will: Sssshh!! They’ll be listening in, you know. They do that. Can’t trust the beggars an inch. I don’t really play favourites. As the author I’m supposed to stand above the fray, and let them get on with it. If you were to press me though, (you didn’t have to be that hard!) I’d love to see Grizelda the witch played by Dame Helena Bonham-Carter. I’ve admired her skills for years, ever since I saw her in a TV play with Martin Clunes about a stag do that went wrong. And maybe David Tennant as the junior Dark Lord. That would be fun.
Morgen: He would be great! I love the fact that you see your characters as real people. I’m very fond of mine too. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Will: The titles are all mine, although naturally Safkhet and I discussed them. The covers are their work, and whilst I love the cover on The Amulet Of Kings, the cover Kim has designed for The Mystic Accountants simply blew me away. Covers are so important. They are the first thing an interested reader sees. The cover can make or break a book.
Morgen: That’s funny because I prefer The Amulet of Kings cover (sorry, Kim). I love cartoons and he’s cute (and probably very cheeky). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Will: I’ve got The Vampire Mechanic, the third book in The Banned Underground series in the final stages at the moment. I’m having fun with it, but at the same time I’m determined to make it the best one yet. I’ve also got three other projects bubbling away.
Morgen: There must be pressure (even if just on yourself) to make each book better, and I guess some readers will want (expect?) that. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Will: I do write something most days. If it isn’t on my series, I’ll try something on one of the other works, just as a change. Yes, I sometimes get a block. Then I’ll go and do a bit more Flash Fiction, or even try something totally different. For me, the trick is to write through the block. If what I write is total rubbish, I can always throw it away.
Morgen: Flash fiction does it for me. I hope you don’t throw it away because you never know… I’ve gone back to early work and thought it’s not actually that bad (although I’ve gone back to ‘good’ stuff and despaired ). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Will: I’m a plotter. I don’t like to start writing a book properly until I have a strong idea of where it’s going to go, who will be in it, and what they are going to do, and when. I even draw out timelines. I usually play with a big cast of characters, so I need to keep track of who is where and when. Unfortunately, my bunch of characters like to wait until I’ve got everything tidy, and throw a spanner in the works by doing something odd.
Morgen: I love that. Do you have a method for creating your characters, what do you think makes them believable?
Will: Most of my characters are people I’ve met down the years. Changed a bit of course! But they are believable, because they are, somewhere, real people. Even the trolls.
Morgen: You’ve mentioned your novels and flash fiction, do you write any other format?
Will: I also have an album of song lyrics around, that might just get finished someday. Although what I could do with it, I’ve no idea.
Morgen: I’d love to write song lyrics. I have a book but never get round to reading it. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Will: I write a lot when I’m just in the right mood. And sometimes, I’m writing very fast. So, yes, I have to edit a lot. Because I’m a plotter I don’t usually have to worry too much about plot holes when I’m editing, so I’m normally looking for typing mistakes or poor grammar. I like to think that when I do deliver the text to the publisher, it’s pretty clean.
Morgen: Maybe Kim could tell me that… no, she wouldn’t, she’s too much of a lady. Do you have to do much research?
Will: No. Most of my rubbish is purely a work of my imagination, and I write about locations that I know quite well – or that I’ve invented.
Morgen: Me too. I’m not a fan of research (although the internet is wonderful) but all my (yet-to-be-edited) novels are located in or around Northampton, where I live. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Will: Usually, it’s third person. Writing in the first person wouldn’t really fit the series. But I have used the first person quite a bit in the short stories.
Morgen: Third person does tend to be the most popular with readers (and therefore agents ). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Will: I thought that The Amulet of Kings was one of those! It lay dormant on a shelf, or under the bed, for thirty years before a few ideas just sparked, and it took on a new life.
Morgen: Wow. I interviewed crime novelist Sheila Quigley last November and it took her 30 years for her first book to be published although I think it was actually out in the world that long. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Will: I adore sitting at my desk, writing the jokes, and imagining readers falling about laughing at them. I will admit to being surprised to find out that actually happens. The day someone tells me I’ve made them fall off a chair laughing, at my rubbish, I’ll be a happy man.
Morgen: They probably do but you don’t know about it. I love having reader feedback and had an email from one today saying how much they liked my second-person short story (The Dark Side), which was such a thrill. I put all my reviews and feedback on the relevant blog page, including the 1*s – it makes me feel good if no-one else. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Will: Don’t give up. You will be knocked back, rejected, ignored and dismissed. And that’s only by you bank manager if you tell him what’s going on. Keep going. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but all the knock backs are part of the dues you have to pay. Starve in your garret, and you’ll… at least not have a weight problem.
Morgen: I have that to look forward to. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Will: Ah, it would have to be the musicians: oh, Roy Orbison, Gary Moore, maybe Bird? And what else are you going to give them but curry and some beers?
Morgen: Sounds like a good plan. I’d come for the curry but bring my own drink (Southern Comfort being my favourite). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Will: I’m sure Safkhet think that there’s one or two that I over-use. Better ask them.
Morgen: Kim, that’s your cue. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Will: Not really, to be honest. I haven’t the spare time.
Morgen: I know that feeling – I used to wake up every morning working out how many hours I had before I had to go somewhere. I’m not so bad now I don’t have a proper day job. I get up just as early (6.30ish) but keep on top of my emails better (54 at the moment which is good for me). What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Will: Well, I have a treasured Les Paul that I play (badly) and I love walking on the high fells. When my daughter goes to university in a couple of years, I’m going to get another hang glider. That’s a risky sport, yes, but such a rush…
Morgen: My brother has a Les Paul – I think it’s his favourite (and probably went into mourning when Les died). I’d watch you hang glide and wave from terra firma. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Will: I’ve never really bought any books on how to write. I’ve got a couple of useful qualifications from when I was at school, that’s all. But I was unbelievably lucky. I found my way by accident to authonomy.com, and there I joined a writers group called The Alliance of Worldbuilders. What a fantastic bunch they are. Find us on Facebook, or even our own webpage now. Without the help and friendship I’ve had there, The Banned Underground would probably never have seen the light of day.
Morgen: I used to be on Authonomy but couldn’t give as good as I got time-wise so had to come off, likewise You Write On. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Will: Obviously, there’s the Alliance on Authonomy. And I use Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, all the usual suspects for marketing. But if I am stuck on anything and need help or advice, I’ll head for the Alliance and the friends I’ve made there.
Morgen: It sounds like a great resource. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Will: Excitement! Fulfilment! Writing is just such fun, that I feel privileged to be able to do it.
Morgen: Oh me too. I love it when I create a line I like and sit there clapping – my dog thought I was mad but really he’s just as nuts as me so after 10 years together we’re like an old married couple (if only it were legal ). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Will: I’d just like to say how grateful I am to have found Safkhet Publishing, who manage to put up with my foibles, and occasionally laugh at my jokes. Seriously for a moment, we get on very well, and that is so important.
Morgen: I went to Sheryl Browne’s book signing a few weeks ago and she was full of praise for them (and I’m not just saying that because I’m interviewing Kim and Will Sutton, it’s obviously a happy (and very supportive) team. Thank you, Will.
I then invited Will to include an extract of his writing…
Much photographed and adored by the professional photographers, and hated in equal measure by those who had to carry the equipment, the mighty Lakeland Fell of Helvelyn stood tall against the storm, the delicate tracery of the attached Striding Edge laughing at the rain, whilst using the lashing water to make sure that the tracks became a nightmare for the next to assay the passage whilst burdened down with responsibility. (And four camera, two tripods, assorted lenses, and lunch.)
Down the slopes into the next valley of Borrowdale lay the ancient Bowder Stone, rumoured to be the trysting ground for various supernatural, mystic or uncanny beings, and in fact the Front Door to the Helvyndelve, the Ancient Dwarf Halls which lie beneath the frowning fells of Helvelyn. And quite a few other fells too, of course, the Mansion of the Dwarfs being frankly enormous (and difficult to heat). On a night such as this, who would have been surprised at the sight of a large group of eldritch beings, dwarfs, trolls, half-elves and so on swathed and huddled against the rain, gathered together there? Their conversation could have been, should have been, mystical, magical, occult or paranormal, or indeed all of them at once.
“I don’t care who you are, if you ain’t got a ticket, yer can’t come in,” said Security.
“But I’m with the Band!” said the first in the queue.
“They all say that,” replied Security, in the form of two dwarfs clad in full body armour and bad attitudes.
“I’ve got a T shirt on.”
“All it says is ‘Let me in ‘cos I’m with the Band’,” pointed out Security.
“See?” insisted the would be concert-goer.
“£9.99 at the supermarket. Everyone’s got one.” The dwarf opened his cloak and revealed a badly fitting t-shirt stretched over his armour.
“Come on. Some of us behind you are getting soaked, waiting out here!” came a complaint from further down the queue.
“Not my fault they didn’t put up any awnings,” replied the ticket-less one.
“Show us yer ticket, or go away,” insisted Security.
“Alright, I haven’t got a ticket.”
“Should have said so. Then you could just have bribed me straight off, instead of standing out there getting wet.”
There was a chink, as several coins passed hands. A derisive snort and several more joined the first set vanishing into Security’s secure pockets. The queue moved on.
Will is a fifty something lover of blues, rock and jazz. He presently lives in South Wales, and has just fulfilled a lifetime ambition by extending his bookcases to fill one entire wall of his home office. Working as a professional tax consultant, he writes to escape the stultifying boredom of his job.
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