16
Jan

My readers are normal, everyday people… they can identify with someone like Robin who has the same hopes and fears as they do

A brilliant debut writer who knows how to set the tone and the pace for the reader. Introducing Steven McKay to IBR readers. His book Wolf’s Head is the journey of legendary Robin Hood, from a fun-loving young boy to a forest lord. Almost. This is the first of the series.

– Shana Susan  Ninan

Shana: Action from the word go. How exciting was it to write an action-packed novel as yours?

Steven MacKay: How exciting is it to READ an action novel? Well, double that. Writing a novel is an opportunity to let your imagination run free. Of course, I’m not writing fantasy so there are limits, but in general, Wolf’s Head was so much fun to write that it never became a chore until well into the editing stage. When we read a book we place ourselves in the shoes of the protagonists, but actually creating the protagonists is even more exciting. Working a full-time job, as I do, then coming home and spending hours writing a novel would be impossible if the writing wasn’t so much fun. Come on – how hard can it be to write about a 7 foot tall giant like Little John, kicking everyone’s ass about a forest and drinking ale with his mates?! I loved it!

SSN: So many versions of Robin Hood’s story out there in the world – in classics, movies and cartoons. How does your Robin stand out?

SM: I think my Robin stands out because he’s different to all the versions people are familiar with nowadays. The modern version of the myth has become all about a disinherited nobleman, or, like Angus Donald’s, some kind of medieval gangster. The original ballads were about a normal man, a yeoman, not a nobleman – that was all a much later addition to the legend. My Robin is a frightened teenager who slowly grows in stature until he and his friends eventually become local heroes. Wolf’s Head isn’t a story about a rich man trying to regain his wealth and property from more rich men, it’s about a normal young man fighting to survive and live a regular life without being hunted down and killed like an animal.

SSN: The violence and the gore, I enjoyed it. But I’m sure a lot of readers might find that not too easy on the eye or the mind while reading. What do you feel?

To be honest, I haven’t thought about it. A few of the reviews on Amazon have complained about the swearing, but none have mentioned the violence. When I was writing the book, right from the start I wanted it to reflect reality as much as possible. The middle-ages were a hard, extremely violent time and people today are used to seeing that violence recreated in movies or described in books by guys like Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow. I don’t want to offend anyone, and I certainly don’t want to stop people reading any future books of mine but, honestly – being hit in the face by a sword can’t have been a pleasant experience. I hope the pain and terror of something like that comes across in my writing.

SSN: What’s your writing schedule like? And how easy/ difficult was it with your debut book?

I don’t have a set schedule – I simply write when I get the chance and I’m in the right frame of mind for it. Wolf’s Head was, for the most part, easy to write because my daughter would be in bed by about 8pm and I could spend time working on the book. I’m finding it much harder with the sequel, The Wolf and the Raven,  because we now have a beautiful little baby boy and he doesn’t seem to realise bedtime is 8pm! Thankfully he’s started to sleep right through the night and I’ve been able to get back to writing more regularly but, again – I have no set schedule. I fit my writing around my family and my job. One day, soon hopefully, I’ll have sold enough books to write full time rather than driving around the streets of Glasgow in the pissing rain and then I can come up with a proper schedule….

SSN: As a writer, which is more important to you, the setting of the plot and the narrative according to your own findings and research, or writing to suit the reader?

That’s a hard question. It’s impossible to write to suit a reader, because every reader wants something different. Ultimately, the only reader I can strive to impress is myself. A lot of writers (most maybe?) like to read what they’ve written regularly – I mean, after every writing session they look over what they’ve come up with and edit it. I don’t do that – I don’t read my work until I’ve almost finished the whole novel. Thankfully, the two books I’ve worked on so far have been – to me – really good fun to read! If I hadn’t enjoyed reading Wolf’s Head I’d never have published it. So, to answer the question, although setting and research are hugely important, the thing that’s most important to me is that I enjoy reading my book.

I read a lot, especially historical fiction, so if I can’t enjoy my own work, no one else will. By the same token, I know a good book when I read it, so if I think I’ve come up with something like that hopefully others will enjoy it too.

SSN: A lot of authors interweave romantic sub plots into historical fiction or thrillers. Does that work for the overall mood of your book?

I think so, because I never overplay it. Although I tried to steer well clear of the old “men in green tights, Robin and Maid Marion” stereotype, people coming to a book about Robin Hood expect certain things and a girlfriend for Robin is one of those things. Again though, I made her a normal person, not a noblewoman. My readers are normal, everyday people, like me, and hopefully they can identify with someone like Robin or Matilda who has the same hopes and fears as they do, and just wants to find someone they love and to start a family with. The second book, The Wolf and the Raven has much less of the romantic sub-plot in it. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing I’ll find out soon enough. I hope it works!

SSN: In Wolf’s Head, which was the character most difficult to pen, and why?

SM: Probably the sheriff. Originally I had written him as a much nastier, more stereotypical “baddie”, but my editor suggested I make things less black and white as it’s not realistic to have things so clear cut. But trying to write a bad guy who’s not really that bad is quite difficult if you want the reader to take the side of your hero. I suppose the trick isn’t in making the baddie really hateful, it’s just in making the hero more identifiable, with thoughts and goals that mirror those of the reader.

SSN: What can we expect in the sequel?

SM: I’m in the early stages of editing it. The story has been written – it’s finished. I just need to tidy things up and make it all as exciting as possible with chapter breaks and that kind of thing. I would like to hire the editor I used for Wolf’s Head again, and then I’ll ask my cover designers to create another eye-catching image and we’ll be good to go. I’d say The Wolf and the Raven will be out within two or three months, baby allowing!

SSN: What should debut writers be wary of, while working on their book?

SM: I think it’s human nature to think your work is so fantastic that everyone – especially agents and publishers – will recognise your obvious genius. Let’s be honest, would anyone spend years writing a debut novel if they didn’t think it was brilliant? The harsh reality is, agents will tell you your book isn’t what they need, or, even worse, that there’s no market for what you’ve written. I suffered half a dozen rejections with the first draft of Wolf’s Head and it killed me. I was going through a horrendous time – our baby had been stillborn amongst other things – and faith in my book was one of the things that kept me going. To hear someone saying there was no market for a book I’d spent almost three years working on was, literally, like a punch in the face. But, ten thousand books sold in six months would suggest that particular agent was wrong.

So my advice to debut writers would be to have faith, and never lose heart when you suffer rejections. It might be that your book isn’t ever going to sell, but nowadays that isn’t up to an agent or a publisher to decide – it’s up to YOU to self-publish it and do everything you can to get people reading.

Thank you Shana for your great questions!

Oh I totally enjoyed the book, and the interview. Looking forward to the sequel now.

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My readers are normal, everyday people... they can identify with someone like Robin who has the same hopes and fears as they do, 7.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 16th, 2014 at 6:07 pm and is filed under Authors, Historical Thriller, Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

comments

1
  1. January 16th, 2014 | Steven A. McKay says:

    Thanks Shana!

    Here’s a link to the Amazon page for the book which should take buyers to their own country’s page.

    http://smarturl.it/2636

    Steven

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