Friends, you’re in for some fun and nuggets of writing wisdom today. My guest is British author of humorous, speculative fiction, M T McGuire.
About the author:
Hello everyone. I’m M T McGuire. I grew up on a windy down but now I live in Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk [UK] with my partner and our five year old son (who is rather more mature than either of us).
Despite checking all unfamiliar wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia I’m disappointed to report that I haven’t found one. When I do, I promise you’ll be the first to know.
If you like humorous speculative fiction you might enjoy my novels: Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Trilogy: Part 1 and The Wrong Stuff, K’Barthan Trilogy: Part 2. Both are available in pretty much any e-book format you like and also in paperback. The third book in the trilogy, One Man: No Plan, should be available in April 2014.”
Welcome, MT. To start off, please tell us how you began writing.
I don’t know really. I’ve always been away with the fairies and I developed a rich and varied daydream world – the precursor to K’Barth – way before I came up with it. My first attempt at a novel was called “Charles the Dragon Slayer”. Yep, even then it was spec-fic. I was five. Writing words takes time when you’re small so it was… hmm… how to put it? Illustration led. Charles was somewhat taciturn, but he had a way cool hat and knee high suede boots. And he killed dragons, yes siree. Like nobody’s business. And he ALWAYS got the girl.
Good for Charles! Are you self-published? If so, what made you choose this route?
I submitted to agents in 2009 when I finished writing my first book. It took me a WHOLE YEAR to get a polite no from five of them. Response times varied from 3 months to 24 hours. I decided that I would like to see my novel in print before I actualy died, and realized that I could spend the next 10, 20, 30 years querying agents and publishers without getting anywhere, or I could put it out there myself.
I have a background in brand management and a good grasp of how to produce print so I decided I’d have a pop at doing it myself. I knew it would be difficult, I was under no illusions but when it came to it, I still managed to be more clueless than I believed possible.
Ha! Me too! How do you develop your plots and your characters?
To be honest, I just set them up and see what they do. The starting point is usually a few lines of a conversation, often at a point of emotional conflict. Then I zoom in on who’s talking and what about. What is going on? Are they together or at loggerheads? Why? Soon, I have a whole load of back story. Once I know who the characters are and the denouement, I also know what characters will do when faced with choices. Even so, I often have to bin vast tracts of stuff, (60,000 words so far in the current W.I.P.) and strike out in a different direction.
Wow, 60,000 words? You have a whole new book there. I’m curious, do you research for your alternate reality stories?
Ah, this is the joy of creating my own worlds. I can make up any old crap and it’s true because I’M IN CONTROL! Mwah ha hahargh!
Er hem. Sorry. Seriously, I love science, especially things like quantum physics. The idea that everything is positive or negative and all the same at a basic level fascinates me. It follows that, if you get down there, you can build things back up any way you want. I also like this idea as an explanation of telepathy – if everything interconnects, of course we know what other people are thinking.
That said, it’s kind of happenstance that the stuff I’ve put in my book ties in. What I actually based it on were accounts of precognition. Sir Robin Get’s explanation of time and reality in Few Are Chosen, the first book of the K’Barthan Trilogy, is based on the experiences of precognitives dreaming things that come true. Turns out this fits with some theories about quantum and reality. Who’d have thought?
I’m a believer! The heroine of my first book is a precog, and I’ve had such dreams myself. On a more mundane note, are your books professionally edited?
All my books are professionally copy edited by a chap who does a pretty good proof as well. After that, I send them out to a handy group of eagle-eyed beta readers, one of whom is also a professional proof reader. After THAT I inflict them on the unsuspecting public.
Ahem, that’s an interesting way to put it. What about your book covers? Who designs them?
Ah, a subject close to my heart. I used to be an artist. Before McMini [MT’s darling little boy] came along I could paint like ringing a bell and I did OK money-wise. However, when McMini arrived, I found that the kind of creativity I use in my painting is the same kind I use to get a small boy from point A to point B without tantrums. Thinking up ways to make putting on shoes, dressing and getting ready for school interesting enough for us to actually… well… get to school, drains my creative painting juices.
However, that doesn’t stop me from behaving like an artiste with attitude when it comes to my book covers. For me, a cover has to do four things:
1. Show readers what’s inside.
2. Persuade them that it’s interesting and exciting.
3. Stand out from all the other, similar books.
4. Display all the shorthand indicators of its genre and type. The readiest example of this is the use of a male torso with abs you could break rocks on to signal a hot romance. Actually, Lyn, I think you do this really well with your books, because the artwork has all the indicators but it’s different from most of the others I’ve seen.
The artwork on my books is kind of 2000 AD meets the backgrounds on a cartoon TV series, Danger Mouse. It’s informed by film posters and pop culture, and this may be where I’ve gone wrong. You see, I don’t like that many book covers in my genre. I liked the Harry Potter books, but I’m not so keen on the monochrome covers, all grey with a splash of olive green, burnt sienna, Moorish gold, or aquamarine.
So along I come, all bouncy and bushy tailed thinking, “but we have digital presses these days, we don’t need to save money by doing black and white and one spot colour! We have the whole rainbow!” The result is an explosion of primary coloured madness that I LOVE! However, I’m not sure other people do. Should I change it? Probably. Will I? No. Partly because, if the books take off, I have a lot of way cool ready-made merchandise… but mainly because, rather pretentiously, I think it’s art.
MT, you just taught a condensed course in cover design. You rock, girl! OH, and thanks for the compliment. (I used to be an artist too.) So, when you’re not writing, creating book covers or being Mum to McMini, how do you unwind and relax?
Putting aside the people I hang out with, who are my main relaxant, I love telly and music. I watch 1960s rubbish like the first StarTrek or things like the New Avengers and the Man from U.N.C.L.E., James Bond, that kind of thing. I listen to lots of music; from Pink Floyd to Mozart, Bach to the Beatles. I put on the CD, sit back, close my eyes and watch the pictures in my head. Later, I write them down.
Then we come to cars… driving, admiring, tinkering…. To say I am an incurable petrol head is a bit of an understatement. I can fix a shorting electrical system armed with nothing more than some tin foil and a pot of Vaseline… well… actually it was Atrixo but no-one’ll know what that is. As for the ride, few things feel better than driving a finely designed auto. When you put your foot down it should shout like James Brown. You know you’re driving a proper car when you have to keep turning the stereo down so you can listen to the engine. Hmm … you can see how I came up with the whole snurds thing now, can’t you?!
Go snurds! What aspect of writing makes you happiest? What frustrates you most about writing?
The happy moments are when it’s going well. I love telling stories, I love the texture and rhythm of words on the page and it sounds a little bit crazy, but even I don’t quite know what’s going to happen until the end so I really like finding out. That probably is the biggie. The other is when I sit back, having read it through, and think, “Blimey! I can’t believe I wrote this!”
The frustrating thing is how long it takes. It’s a bit like sitting down to watch a movie and having someone come in, switch it off and tell you that you can’t watch the end for four years. The thing is, though, I am a wife and mother and being those things can take a lot of time. It takes me two years to write a book. I get to write no more than about an hour and a half a day during school terms. Over holidays I have to shelve it completely, so there’s always a settling in time at the beginning of each term as I get up to speed again. The endless stop-start of momentum makes it difficult to keep big projects moving. Writing a trilogy was not smart in this respect.
I understand your frustration. Can you describe what it’s like to be an author in three words?
Fan bloody tastic.
Too right! What advice would you give beginning writers?
· Make sure your book is ready before you publish it. For years I showed my books to everyone who’d look at them, desperate to hear “this is wonderful.” When I finally wrote a decent one it was like scales lifted from my eyes. Suddenly, I just knew it was alright. You will too when you’ve cracked it.
· Always get your books professionally edited. Some people can proof read their own work, but they are rarer than unicorn poo. I believe it’s always best to work on the assumption it’s impossible.
· Always get a professional to do your cover, even if they are working from your own drawing.
· Start knocking about online before you publish your book. Get to know other authors and ask them questions. They are often keen to share information; things like the name of a good editor or cover designer. This is how I found my editor. If you want to start somewhere friendly visit Kindleboards, or meet readers on Goodreads. There’s a great group here: (http://bit.ly/1axiyK8).
· Think hard about what you say online. Never post in anger or say anything you wouldn’t say to the person’s face. Remember, you are the brand and mistakes are hard to undo. Don’t expect to sell much from your online activities at first, but don’t discount them. Writing is a solitary profession and the internet is your water cooler.
· The e-book world is ever changing and unpredictable as the recent temporary withdrawal of all self published books from Kobo has shown. It’s worth making a print version of your books if you can. I sell many more print books than e-books. Aaron Shepherd’s books explain how to do this very well. I can recommend Print on Demand for Profit, and Aiming at Amazon.
Such great advice! A definite keeper! Please tell us what project(s) you’re working on now.
One Man: No Plan, K’Barthan Trilogy: Part 3. I confess I am having an absolute gas and I can only apologise that it’s taking such a long time. Real Life is a bit intrusive right now. I am creeping towards the finish and am hoping it will be out in Spring 2014.
Lyn, thank you so much for letting me witter away on your blog!
My pleasure, MT! Now readers, here’s a taste of Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Trilogy: Part 1:
Charming outlaw with own transport and limited social skills seeks lucrative, employment at minimal risk.
When you’re running from a murderous government and work for an equally murderous gangster, accidentally torching his apartment is a bad move.
All The Pan of Hamgee wants is a quiet life but destiny has other plans.
In the cellar of The Parrot and Screwdriver, in the dim gleam of a guttering candle the pub’s two septuagenarian landladies, Gladys Parker and Ada Maddox were setting up a machine. It was cobbled together from bits of a fully functioning original (which had met with an accident) a biro, an old saucer and some of the red elastic bands the postman always left on the step.
“Are you sure this will work, dear?” asked Ada, her voice full of concern.
“Yer. Trev went down the Business Side and found some longer elastic bands.” Ada wore a blank expression. “’S bigger parcels in business and more post,” Gladys explained. “It’ll wind longer, so’s it’ll get up more speed and run longer.” She was busy with a small wooden propeller that had a hook in it, twisting it round and round. One end of the larger elastic band under discussion was attached to the hook; the other was attached to the central spindle of the wobbly home-made contraption. As Gladys wound the elastic band, Ada held the machine steady with one hand, while in her other hand was a tuning fork.
“Ready dear?” asked Ada.
“Yer. What’s yer note?” Gladys asked.
Gladys sniffed. “Should be an A.”
“I know dear, but I’m sure I can find an A.”
“I hopes so. Does you have the jar?”
Ada checked that the jar of Gladys’ homemade chutney was within reach, towards the edge of the only clear surface available for them to set up their apparatus; the lid of the freezer.
A curt nod. “Hmph. You knows what’ll happen to the chutney if we done it.”
“Yes dear,” said Ada, who was aware, or at least partly aware of what would happen to the chutney – partly, but not wholly, on the grounds that while she knew the chutney would disappear, neither she nor Gladys had a clue where it would actually go to.
“I is going to count three.”
“THREE!” shouted Gladys, letting go of the propeller. Everything happened very quickly. By some miracle of science, the wobbly gyroscope began to spin with remarkable stability. Dim bolts of electrical charge flickered between the machine and the chutney jar. They gave off a green glow, while the machine itself hummed; a low bass hum. Ada bashed the tuning fork on the table, put it to her ear and sang:
Gladys grabbed a thing which looked a little like an upholstery needle and stuck it into the green flecks; moving it towards the jar. The note emanating from the machine changed. As the elastic band wound down, there was just time for the green flecks to turn blue before it ceased to spin.
The old ladies waited in silence. The chutney stayed where it was.
“Oh dear! I thought we had it that time,” said Ada. Gladys and Ada had been paying regular visits to the cellar to work on their project for some time. They planned to make contraband equipment with which they could establish an escape programme for the blacklisted; a ticket to a new identity and a new life. A one-way ticket, of course, because they couldn’t come back, but then, why would they want to? Where they were going, there was no Blacklist and nobody was vermin. The original scheme had gone swimmingly for two years, until Ada had dropped a vital piece of equipment and Gladys’ son Trev had trodden on it.
Gladys and Ada were on the brink of giving up on their plan and informing their colleagues that they had failed; that the organisation must make do with only very occasionally transporting people to safety using a far more dangerous means. It could be done, but only by people with enough special training. No, not people, a person – Sir Robin Get, the last of the great Nimmists, the last hope of the nation –nobody else could do it, nobody who was alive any more, anyway.
Sir Robin was, as Trev would put it, ‘knocking on a bit’ and Gladys and Ada were keen to get their disposable transport system up and running before he, or they ‘pegged it’ (Trev again). It had taken some hours to get the machine going, and several apparently successful attempts to set up the chutney jar had failed, when, for all the hopeful signs, the chutney remained stubbornly in position. This latest attempt was no exception.
“That were the note.” Gladys scratched her head. “We isn’t doin’ this wrong. I is sure.”
The two regarded the jar thoughtfully. Always a chutney jar and always full, because that was the only thing in the Parrot and Screwdriver that gave a suitable reading for conversion.
“I don’t understand it. Why won’t it go?”
“’S gotta be an expla-… expla-… reason.”
Ada picked up the jar and turned it over. Nope. Nothing. The chutney remained stolidly where it was, except the jar was different. She held it in front of the candle.
“Has it changed shape a little?” In the dim light it was difficult to be sure but, it seemed to have acquired a waist. No. Surely not. She handed it to Gladys who tried to take the lid off. It wouldn’t turn.
“’S stuck.” Gladys banged it on the side of the freezer and removed it without further trouble. She stuck her finger in the contents and licked it.
“’S not done the chutney no harm,” she said, proffering the jar to her friend with a definite here’s-the-bright-side ring to her tone. Ada stuck her finger in and tasted some. A fine kick there – a little more than usual, perhaps – or was that simply down to age?
“I think it might be a tad richer than before,” she said.
Gladys put the jar down and they both looked at it for a moment.
“I is not surprised. We has been working on this jar a long time an’ given it time for aging. It’s good for aging, my pickle.”
“So what are we doing wrong?”
Gladys sucked a breath in through her teeth. “It’s something blindin’ obvious I reckons. Or we is missing a step.”
There was a noise, small but growing louder and louder. Like the sound the water used to make running out of the bathtub upstairs in Ada and Gladys flat, before Trev and his mate Stan the Plumber had ripped out the old stuff and replaced it with something better – a noise like soapy water gurgling and screeching through ancient, decrepit pipes. And a pop.
“Ooo!” said Ada.
“Yer,” said Gladys.
The chutney had disappeared.
Something in Ada’s mind floated to the surface, something from a science lesson at school all those years ago, about vacuums. Of course it had disappeared. It would probably have done so long before now, she thought, if only they had taken off the lid.
Where to find M T McGuire online.
Amazon (wherever you are): http://Author.to/MTMcGuire
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/16oqU5K
Twitter profile for easy following http://bit.ly/1a41QoT
Tumblr: http://bit.ly/170MG31 caveat, I’ve no idea what to do with Tumblr but WordPress offered to add my blog posts and it seemed churlish to refuse.