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Jan 05 2014

Writing Superheroes: Steven McKay

superhero copyDon’t be fooled by his guitar, there’s a superhero lurking there!

If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?
My first attempt at writing a proper short story was when I was about thirteen or fourteen, in school. I wrote a fairly elaborate silly piece, complete with drawings and jokes only my friends would get. The teacher gave it a very good grade as I remember, but it was clear he wished Steven McKayI’d stop acting like an idiot. In terms of writing Wolf’s Head, my first draft had quite a few fantasy elements – the finished book is quite a bit different although I suspect some people would have liked it better the way it was originally! To be honest, I don’t feel embarrassed about anything I’ve written – we’re always improving, even day to day, so we always cringe a little when we look back at our work. Hopefully my new novel will be a big leap forward from Wolf’s Head.

 All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

I sing and play lead guitar and bass in a heavy metal band but the mild-mannered part would come in when I sit down and write folk songs on my mandolin or twelve-string acoustic. From blasphemous death metal to beard-y folk music, that’s my Bruce Wayne to Batman…

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
My children, particularly Freya. Her superpower is her ability to inspire me. She’s been learning about settings in books at school recently and her love for writing and reading was never more apparent than when she saw my book in the local library. The pride on her face was, to me, like Spiderman being bitten by that radioactive arachnid!

 Where do you get your superpowers from?
I didn’t have the chance to make the most of my potential as a child. I left home at 15 and went into a menial job, and a horrible house in a horrible part of Scotland not long after, where I’d spend every night drinking so I wouldn’t be frightened of the things that were going on outside my window or at my front door. Those experiences, while I would never want to inflict them on my own children, made me who I am now. I couldn’t settle for a life like that, so I’ve pushed myself ever since to continually improve my lot. My writing – “my superpower” – is simply an extension of that.

 Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?
How it looks isn’t the important thing, since I’m always focused on the laptop screen anyway. What matters is how it SOUNDS. When I’m writing I like to listen to music that has very little melody – white noise almost. Anything with a hook, or a melody, or a beat I want to tap my foot to completely distracts me from my writing – I just want to pick up a guitar and jam along! So my secret lair is a place filled with the sounds of black metal. Which, I suppose is probably even scarier than the Bat-cave to many people… 🙂

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?
Read as much as I can. I take inspiration from all sorts, not just my genre (historical fiction). Little sections in HP Lovecraft; a phrase in Tolkien; the lyrics of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull…It’s the same when I write a song: I like to take things from different genres to come up with something people probably wouldn’t expect.

Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?
To be honest, if I had enough money I’d buy one of the reproductions of the Judge Dredd uniform from the 2012 film DREDD 3D (NOT the Stallone abomination!). I’d be happy wearing that all day every day.

What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?
Time! I work a full-time job and, with a 6 year-old and a 2 month-old baby son I just can’t find the time to write at the moment. It’s taken me three weeks just to write this sentence!  Once our baby, Riley, is a little bigger I can hopefully get back into things.

What important lessons have you learned along the way?
Don’t be disheartened when your nemesis (agents and publishers) defeats you. You can get your work out there for people without their help via self-publishing, and make a decent living from it too. In all seriousness, this question is a very good one in terms of the “superhero” analogy – Bruce Wayne didn’t give up when his childhood world was destroyed by the fledgling Joker. Similarly, no matter how many times Judge Death or the Soviets come back, Dredd always has that granite chin and sorts them out without any self-pity or self-doubt getting in the way. The author has to be the same when they suffer rejection after rejection – don’t accept it! Polish your work as best you can and get it out there yourself – if you don’t believe 100% in yourself, why should readers?

 What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
In general, waking up to a review that says someone enjoyed my book more than any other version of the Robin Hood legend has been fantastic. Glowing reviews are always very much appreciated, they really make my day. Doing an interview with the local radio station (YOUR Radio) was probably the most memorable experience because, although I’ve performed live on stage with a band, I’d never been on the radio before. The best experience has been selling so many copies of Wolf’s Head and riding so high in the charts for the past 5 months, it’s been pretty surreal actually.

 If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?
I wouldn’t do anything differently – when you change something, who knows how it will affect things? Wolf’s Head has been more successful than I could have realistically hoped, so whatever I’ve done must have worked. Even a negative, like, for example, the first copies of the paperback were formatted wrong and the right hand margin wasn’t “hard”, it was ragged. I was upset when someone from the Historical Novel Society noticed, but now I have half a dozen of that original pressing which might become collector’s editions one day.
I wouldn’t change a thing, the whole experience has been incredible.

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.
I can’t pinpoint one sentence but in terms of overall “theme” it would have to be the idea that you have to push yourself – even when it’s really not in your nature – to get anywhere in life.
You’re scared of flying (as I am)? Well, if you don’t force yourself to do it, you’re going to miss out on so much.
You have to put yourself into dark, scary places to grow as a person, otherwise you’re just going to be like every other couch potato in the world, hating your lot but without the strength or courage to do anything about it.

wolfs head coverTell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.
Well, my new book The Wolf and the Raven isn’t quite complete yet, but the first, Wolf’s Head is a re-telling of the Robin Hood legend. I tried to make it as historically accurate, and as close to the very first ballads, as possible. It has over 100 reviews on the UK Amazon site in just five months, with a 4.4 star average so it can’t be too bad. You’ll have to read it yourself to see!

 What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?
Hopefully, baby Riley permitting, I can have The Wolf and the Raven out in early 2014, then there will be either one or two more books in the Robin Hood series depending on how the characters develop themselves. After that, I hope to start a new novel based on Sir Richard-at-Lee who, in my series, is a Knight Hospitaller.

Thank you for having me Maria, I really enjoyed the superhero angle despite the fact my own favourite comic-book characters are Batman and Judge Dredd, neither of whom have any “super” powers!

You can find Steven online at:

Facebook~~Website~~Amazon

 

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  1. Mike Reed

    Hi Steve.

    What a great interview. If this can’t inspire anyone then nothing will.

    You confront doubt in a similar way to me. If the elements that were against me said to me that I can’t do this or that, well, if it didn’t make me more determined to prove them wrong, I often asked myself why I couldn’t do it, knowing nearly all the time that these doubters just simply tried to block me from achieving the great things I knew were there.

    So I spent most of my life shoulder-barging them out the way and that is, not only did I achieve what I’m pleased with having now, but I thought, well, those achievements are only waiting for me and no-one else so I might as well collect them now, so I did!

    I will read Robin Hood one day. I think that no matter what you do – your publishing, your wife and children or your rock gigs and how well related all of these are, they seem to all inspire each other. I’m glad they have given you the happiness you deserve, you’re such a nice guy. Thank you for being my Facebook friend, I am proud of this in the way you ought to be of your achievements.

    Very well done, I really enjoyed reading this interview.

    Mike Reed (Calvus from Legion VII Claudia Pia Fidelis based in Madrid, Spain).

    1. Steven McKay

      Sorry Mike, it’s taken me two years to spot your comment! Thank you for your kind words and I hope you read my book eventually 😊
      Cheers
      Steven

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