What is your genre? Why did you choose it?
Hi Glynis. Thanks for inviting me over. For those who don’t know (which will be almost everyone of course) I write fantasy, and a little horror. Both are purely imaginative and very closely linked genres. Horror is a bit new for me, but fantasy has been a part of my life for, well, all of it really. My father started me off with Enid Blyton books about an Enchanted Wood (anyone else recall those? I still have a copy of one book that’s older even than I am!) and then at age eight school introduced me to The Hobbit, and I was lost to Middle Earth… Everyone advises an author: ‘write what you know’ and what I know is fantasy. The horror crept in behind as it is supposed to, as a way to let my darker side loose on the world.
Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?
I do, quite often. Because I’m under contract with Safkhet Publishing to produce a new Banned Underground (that’s the comic fantasy series) book every six months, I have to write one of those every six months. But, like everyone else, if they are being honest, I occasionally hit a block or need to clear my head to allow the story to move forward. I deal with that by writing something else entirely, either some flash fiction or the next horror book, or even children’s stories. A change is as good as a rest they say and I’ve found that to be true for me.
Do you work with a writing/critique group?
I am very lucky indeed. Before I landed my first contract, I found my way with my first manuscript to a site called Authonomy. There I joined a bunch of like-minded loonies called The Alliance of Worldbuilders. We are a bunch of fantasy writers who help each other out with beta-reading and critiques and advice. I’m a huge fan of such online groups, which can offer you the most constructive criticism. I think that it’s easier to be harsh online – when it’s needed, and sometimes it is – than face to face. I’ve also joined The Gumbee Fantasy Writers Guild and that’s a helpful resource too. The image of a lonely writer, typing in an attic far into the night is so romantic and attractive, isn’t it? But a peer group is a terribly helpful thing to have!
Can you remember your first reading book?
The first book I can recall as mine – my father was a primary school teacher and the house was always full of books – was one by Donald Smee called ‘The Flying Bike’. A boy dreams of a racing bike of his own, but his parents can’t afford one. So he blags an old second hand push bike and discovers that it can fly. See? Fantasy again, even at six years old. And yes, I still own that book too.
I hadn’t heard of that one. Lovely that you still own the book.
Do you nibble on snacks while writing? If so, what is your chosen treat?
I’m a good boy. No, I don’t nibble. Actually I’ve been growing a little, well let’s just say that if I did nibble my teenage daughter would be quickly pointing my weight out to me. So any chocolate I have is just in my imagination, right? After all, I’m a fantasy writer …
Ah, chocolate … yes, in my imagination all the time, too!
Tidy desk or a bombsite? Describe your writing area with us.
Bit of both. I do like having my cake and eating it. My desk is a bit of a bombsite. Both my writing and my day job share my desk, and keeping them apart can be a challenging task. However, I don’t always write on my desk. In the evenings I prefer to sit on the couch being pestered by my teenager, and I do like to keep the living room tidy. (Quiet at the back there. It’s true, I swear it!)
Are you published in the traditional manner or self published? Share your journey.
I’m traditionally published, with two indie (as in not Big 6) publishing houses. I am incredibly lucky because my European – as opposed to American – publishers have extended my fantasy series indefinitely. First they signed me for four books, then extended that to eight: we are all having a lot of fun with it, and they’ve now told me just to keep going! At two per year… Getting a contract with a publisher is not an easy task. It’s hard, dispiriting, frustrating work that demands persistence and meticulous research. Even now, many authors send their lovingly crafted manuscripts to agents and publishers who are totally uninterested because they don’t work in that genre. Or aren’t open to submissions at all. Then the authors get frustrated at being rejected. Research, patience, and continuous effort are the key to a contract – plus a generous slice of luck. I was just in the right place at the right time, and got very, very lucky in finding two excellent publishers with whom I have a good working relationship.
Who would you say have been the three most influential authors in your reading/writing life?
Three influential authors. Wow: just three? Well, Tolkein, obviously. The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings are deeply embedded in my psyche, as I suspect they are for many fantasy lovers. Next, I’ll cite Alan Garner. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. This is just the most brilliant children’s fantasy tale, and it is the book that made me want to start writing. In fact my first ever book started as a homage to that novel, before I realised I had to do something original and of my own. But the traces are still there if anyone was to search deeply for them. Finally: Richard Bach the pilot, journalist and author. His books have echoed my love of flying, and are simple yet thought provoking. I almost always have a copy of one of his works, Illusions, near at hand.
What advice would you like to share with other writers/authors with regard to preparing a manuscript.
Advice? From me? You serious? That would be pointless. I can’t type well and in my view only got published by a couple of strokes of sheer luck. So instead I’ll pass along advice from one of my publishers. First, finish your book. Seriously, people do try to get published with books that are not even complete. These days, unless you happen to be a major celebrity, that’s not going to happen. Next, have the book edited. It is pointless sending a poorly spelt, badly typed work to anyone. One look at the first page will be enough to have your work binned. I’ve seen Self Published work on Amazon with spelling mistakes on the covers, on the first pages…if it puts off a buyer it will put off an agent. Now, I’m a terrible typist. So I edit my work ferociously before I submit it, and often I even hire an editing service to run over the work for me. Yes, my publishers use editors: but I’ve some self respect – enough to make me wish to send them the best work that I can. And I’m under contract already– if you are looking to get a contract, the work needs to be polished. Do not trust your word processor, do not trust yourself; you need a pair of outside eyes over your work.
Next, research the agent or publisher. Don’t bother sending a horror book to
an agent or publisher who doesn’t touch horror. They won’t even look at it however good it is. That’s why I have more than one publisher: Safkhet who deal with my fantasy work do not want horror so I have to place that elsewhere. It sounds basic: but Safkhet (a small house you may never have heard of) get over 100 unsolicited submissions a week. A proportion of them they are for genres they do not touch. What was the point in that author’s submission?
Every agent/publisher is overfaced by a tidal wave of submissions. That’s a fact. They can only take so many new works every year. Another fact. So, they all have detailed guidelines for submission. Find out what they are, and follow them to the letter. You ma have written the next Harry Potter, but unless you can read instructions, no one is ever going to know as the guidelines are there to reduce this huge tide of unsolicited submissions to a manageable size… do what you are told. It will be good practice for later!
Very good advice, Will. See, you did have something up your sleeve!
If the movie rights to your novels are purchased, who would you like to play your main characters?
I have so many characters… so many favourite actors… I could see Richard Wilson as my Dark Lord. He knows how to play characters with marital issues who are frustrated with their achievements. Johnny Depp would have to be in there, and I reckon Helena Bonham-Carter would do a cracking job on my witch! What a dream it would be, and what a hoot, to be on a set with that lot!
What a brilliant team to have onboard! Laughter all the way.
I was on my way to the supermarket, when … Do you have a tale to tell relating to an everyday, boring event?
And finally, yes, an everyday event. Well, too many years ago I was busy learning to fly hang gliders on a hill slightly to the north of Rochdale, in sunny Lancashire. A brilliant sport, to which I may well return soon. Anyway, this particular day was sunny and warm: but with little wind. Hence, when I launched from the top of the hill (a feat requiring some unaccustomed exertion I might add) I started an inevitable but not unpleasant descent to the bottom of the hill to join the last couple of pilots to essay the warm gentle air. Those of my friends still on top of the hill rushed to the edge of the hill to wave cheerily as I sank briskly towards the landing area.
Selfishly, my friends had chosen to land in the choicest areas of the lower moor, leaving me the less attractive spots. The area having a bleak natural beauty, had of course been casually employed in the last World War as a gunnery range. If the gunners could practise until they could hit an actual hill ran the argument, there was a slight chance they might subsequently manage to hit something a bit more useful when in combat. The practice (they missed the five hundred foot high hill quite frequently, it seemed) had left the landing field peppered with enormous shell holes, about twelve feet across and twelve feet deep. Into one of which I sank with unerring accuracy. The glider’s twenty-five foot wingspan settled comfortably across the shell hole, and I hung comfortably underneath. In the hole. How my friends laughed when they lifted me free a mere twenty minutes later…
Fantasy writer I am, but that one’s a true story. Oh dear.
Oh, I didn’t laugh while reading this … fingers crossed behind back.
Well, I’m on Facebook as myself. A bit unimaginative, but there we are. I try to save the imagination for my fantasy series, The Banned Underground. So I’ve got a couple of websites.
www.thebannedunderground.com. Guess what you might find there? Yes, all the fantasy books and a taste of the awful jokes I insist on cramming in to them on the grounds that sooner or later you are going to laugh at one of them. Hopefully. Anyway, go and have a look at the only series I know about a dwarf rock n roll band and their (mis)adventures.
www.willmacmillanjones.com You’ll find a lot more stuff on that one. All the other books and anthology pieces I’ve done.
www.willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com The blog. Yes, I blog. It’s almost
like a disease isn’t it? He’s an author, he must have the blogs. We’re all at it, but I do try not to mention the books. Not in every line anyway.
Twitter. Yes, if you’ve no social life you can see what I post on there as @macmillanjones. Sorry. Shall I go now?
Thanks, Will. It was fun having you, hang around for Monday’s meet the author if you wish. You will then meet Bette Stevens, author and illustrator.