STEVEN A. McKAY
Welcome to an interview I conducted with my first author from Scotland - STEVEN A. McKAY. Steven hails from Old Kilpatrick, near Glasgow in Scotland and has been heavily influenced by the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Doug Jackson, Anthony Riches, Robert Low et al. His first book, Wolf’s Head, is set in medieval England and is a fast-paced, violent retelling of the Robin Hood legends. According to Steven, 'I think my take on the theme is quite different to anything that’s been done before.'
Welcome, Steven ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I'm a 36 year old married man from Glasgow, in Scotland, with a 6 year old daughter and a 1 week old son. I published my debut novel, Wolf's Head in July this year and have been shocked at how well it's been doing.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I always loved to write. Even when I was a teenager, I would write stories and song lyrics for my friends to read. I originally planned on writing something about the Holy Grail and the life of Jesus – I even did quite a bit of research for it. But then The DaVinci Code came out and I thought it was too late. Looking back now, right then would have been the ideal time for what I had in mind, but I was a lot younger and less focused back then. Maybe one day...
WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
To an extent, I plan things. If you don't have some idea of where you're going, it leads to writer's block and you sit staring at your keyboard with no idea what to do. That said, once I have a very vague idea of what's going to happen, I let the characters pull things in whatever direction they wish. I had planned to kill off a character in my new book (the sequel to Wolf's Head), but when I was writing the scene it ended up being a different person that took the hit, and I went with it. It added a whole new strand to the plot that I hadn't planned on.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
See the previous answer. It's just so enjoyable to lose yourself in a different world. As a reader, you have the same feeling to an extent, of being drawn into an unfamiliar time or place, but as a writer you have the freedom to actually mould your surroundings and it's great fun!
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Nothing really. Finding time to do it can be a struggle at times, but overall I've been loving the journey.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I still work a full-time day-job for G4S. I've also worked as a fork lift driver for the J&B Whisky factory and as a steward in Dumbarton Castle.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Wolf's Head topped the Amazon UK “War” charts, that was pretty special. The fact it's stayed in the top 10 for the past couple of months with books by people like Bernard Cornwell and Chris Ryan is also incredible.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I'm about two-thirds done with the sequel to Wolf's Head, which will be called The Wolf and the Raven. Hopefully, new baby allowing, I can have it finished for around the turn of the year.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
My family. The pride on my little daughter's face when she saw my book in the local library was one of the best experiences of my whole life.
On top of that, the fact that people actually enjoy my book is great inspiration to continue – the UK Amazon page for Wolf's Head has 49 reviews with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5.0 stars, which, for me as a debut author...it's pretty incredible.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Historical fiction. I might, in the future, try my hand at fantasy – something along the lines of David Gemmell who was a big influence on me.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Stick at it, even when it feels like no-one cares. As long as you care, someone else will and in this age of easy self-publishing there is nothing to stop you getting your work out there apart from yourself.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
No, not really. If I'm on a long drive or something like that I spend the time working out plot ideas in my head, so when I get a chance to sit down at the laptop I know in advance roughly what's going to happen in a scene and it usually writes itself.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Not at all. Working full-time and having two small children it's not really feasible to stick to a schedule and I'm not really like that anyway. I write when I have something planned in my head and when I can be bothered.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Well, I wrote almost all of my novel sitting at my dining room table looking out onto my back garden, but I've realised (after years!) that it's causing a lot of pain in my upper arms and shoulders so I'm looking at finding a new favourite writing place. Or at least a lower desk!
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Reading something back and realising that, hey, this is actually pretty damn good! It's impossible to tell as you write it, so it's always good to go over it as a reader and feel like you've come up with something people will enjoy.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I don't really have one favourite. It depends on my mood and, often, what music I want to listen to at the time. Bernard Cornwell has been my biggest inspiration, because he seems to be able to bring history to life in a very believable way, while still telling a great story.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
Someone said they thought they were going to have a heart attack when they were reading Wolf's Head because it was so exciting. Another reviewer called it a tour-de-force which sounds really impressive, so I had a big grin on my face reading that one!
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Yes, there was one particular section involving a young girl and her father and I wrote it by trying to put myself in his place and thinking about my own little girl. I hope it made that part a lot more powerful as a result.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Obviously my family, but apart from that I love to play guitar and sing. I'm mostly a (very) heavy metal fan and when I play with my band that's what we do, but I've also jammed acoustic songs in pubs. Singing Led Zeppelin's “Gallow's Pole” was fun. I write my own music too – playing a song you wrote yourself, with a full band, to a busy pub full of people getting into it is a great feeling.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes. My original draft of Wolf's Head included fantasy elements like a mystical old wise woman who appeared to Robin in times of need, but my editor (who had previously edited books for Bernard Cornwell, Jilly Cooper and Ben Kane) advised me to take it out, which I did. She also gave me a list of improvements, almost all of which I followed, but my final draft is all down to me. I couldn't afford to have it edited again, so any mistakes are mine!
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Going a walk somewhere fun in the morning with my wife and children, hunting for “treasure” or building a snowman or something like that. Writing a little in the afternoon, then, in the evening, playing a gig with good friends and a few beers.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Lemmy from Motorhead. He must have some great stories to tell, I think he'd make the time go by pretty quickly.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
What would be the point in saying anything? They're all out for themselves, none of them live in the real world. Our MPs in the UK award themselves huge pay rises every year to fund their lavish lifestyles while huge numbers of children are forced to live in poverty. I'd just try and sell them my book if I met them – they'd probably claim it on expenses anyway.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Hopefully continue to build on the momentum Wolf's Head has built up and try to forge a career for myself as a writer. It's a dream but I fully believe I will make it a reality.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
Nah, not really. I wanted to make my characters heroic, but realistic. I'm realistic, but I don't think I'm very heroic.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Not really. Sure, it was extremely depressing to be rejected half a dozen times by agents and have them tell me there was no market for my book. But I've sold plenty of copies of Wolf's Head by publishing it myself on Amazon so obviously there IS a market. Things are going fine for me.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
No, never. I was crushed when I had my first rejection, and when more came in it was devastating. At that point, I had suffered some extremely difficult family tragedies and it felt like life was beating me down, to the extent I started to honestly wonder if someone had cursed me. So many things kept going horribly wrong. But even then, I never thought of quitting, it just made me more determined to get Wolf's Head out there and see what it could do. I was confident in it and it actually helped me through those dark times.
WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I just hope they enjoy the story and feel like they were able to lose themselves in the world I've created for a little while.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
To be fair, my subject – Robin Hood – kind of dictated the cover without TOO much effort from me. I wanted a medieval longbowman in a forest, it was as simple as that. I hired a design company to come up with some artwork and what you see is the result. Lots of people have commented on the quality of the cover so I've been really happy and glad that I didn't cobble some crappy piece of Photoshopping together myself! Trust me – hire someone good to work on your artwork, it will be worth it.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
Ideally I would like to be able to pack in the day job and spend more time with my family. I'm not materialistic, when it comes to money I just want enough to pay the mortgage and to be able to go on holidays – not even abroad, just around Scotland – with my family. Those are the times I think of when I'm feeling down, and it's really my dream to be able to do stuff like that more often.
WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I am grateful that I started early on Facebook and made a page to promote Wolf's Head long before it was finished. By the time I got around to releasing the book I had built up a fair bit of buzz so when it became available to buy quite a few people bought it, which pushed it up the charts, which in turn made it more visible to buyers and so on. That, I believe, was the one thing that's made the book such a big success.
Other than that, I love doing interviews like these, they're always really fun because it's a relaxed atmosphere in which to talk about your book. The local radio interview I did on the other hand...it was fun, but I was really nervous!
Ultimately, I don't mind asking people to read or review my book, to the extent I will be a little bit pushy. However, shoving it in people's faces is a turn-off (Twitter users please take note, no one appreciates direct messages with links to your book).
I've just started trying out paying for small ads online – you can see some of my thoughts on my Wordpress page.
WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Lots of things, I can't really say any one thing. But as I get older, oddly, the mellower I get. When I was younger my workmates used to laugh at how much I complained about stuff and how I always had a scowl on my face, but now I'm much more accepting of things and people. I mean, years ago someone cutting me up in the car might have resulted in me chasing them along the road, gesturing at them. Nowadays if something like that happens I might still gesture at them but I'll do it with a grin on my face!
WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
I'm actually reading three at the moment. Robert Low's Crowbone in bed, Spartacus by Ben Kane is on my phone for when I'm out and about and Sword of Rome by Douglas Jackson is in my work car for my tea breaks. All are quite different in terms of writing styles, but all are fantastic reads. Before those I was reading one of David Gemmell's novels – that man really knew how to write a hero!
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you for having me, Clancy. I'm always very grateful when people give me the space to talk about my book and myself.
Amazon UK - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolfs-Head-Forest-Lord-ebook/dp/B00DSCDZFY/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1372869572&sr=8-1
My Wordpress website - http://stevenamckay.wordpress.com/
My Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/RobinHoodNovel?ref=hl
My book trailer - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_lApbZB3kY
Clancy's comment: Well done, Steven, and thanks for sparing the time. Great interview. Good luck with the new baby. Try and get some sleep.
Think about this!