Writing Superheroes: Matthew Harffy

Who is that hero in black leather with polished metal studs. and burnished sword of writing power? Read on and find out more…

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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?


There would be a montage of scenes of a geeky youth who loved fantasy, science fiction, movies and rock music (particularly the band, Queen). Key scenes would see the young Matthew walking his dog in the idyllic surroundings of rural Northumberland, on the banks of the Tweed and on the beach of Bamburgh. Another scene would show him travelling to Madrid, where his parents took him to live for a few years. Watching the movie, Highlander, at the cinema for the first time (heaven for me – swords, history, fantasy and the music by Queen!). Many hours playing Dungeons & Dragons and other Role-Playing Games. Reading Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Legend by David Gemmell and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. These events and many, many more, made me want to write and sowed the seeds of the Bernicia Chronicles series, which begins with The Serpent Sword.MatthewHarffy

I started a few stories before The Serpent Sword, but none of them got very far, and, as far as I know, there are no copies anywhere, which may well be a good thing!

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

Those who know me will tell you I don’t really have a mild-mannered side to my identity! One of the things I love doing when not writing is to sing heavy rock music with my band, Rock Dog. I am not what you would call shy and retiring!


Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

I do not have a sidekick, but my life as a caped-crusader (writer) would not be possible without the support of my lovely wife and two daughters. My wife’s superpower is always being able to keep me grounded (which is hard, as I am often trying to fly). My daughters have many superpowers, but they cannot be disclosed to an unsuspecting public.


Where do you get your superpowers from?

Who knows? I don’t feel like I really have a superpower, except perhaps for an abundance of self-belief and a positive attitude. I guess that comes from having loving parents when growing up and a supportive, loving wife and family. If you believe in yourself, you are much more likely to succeed, but that belief needs to come from somewhere.


Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

I don’t have a secret lair. I write wherever I am and whenever I have more than a few minutes spare time. I put on headphones and I just write. Right now I am on the sofa in the living room. I do lots of my writing in the spare bedroom, but I’ve written in my parked car, in airports, libraries, cafes, planes, trains, hotel rooms, you name it, I’ve probably written there! Maybe that is a superpower in itself!


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?

It is important to write frequently. It doesn’t need to be every day, but a couple of times a week at least. The more you write, the easier it gets. It is very like an exercise in that regard, but the muscle is your brain and whatever makes ideas flow. To ensure the writing is any good (I know that’s not what you asked!), I think you need to read a lot too. I read as much of the same genre as I write in the hope that better writers will influence me. When I read my own stuff, I can remember what I was reading by the style of my prose!


Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

All black leather and polished metal studs. I would wield the burnished sword of writing power (proving the sword is actually mightier than the pen) and for protection, I would carry a shield that deflects all negative reviews.


What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

My kryptonite is distraction and lack of time. Writing is tough when you cannot find an hour or two without someone clamouring for your attention. Working full-time, with a family, it is hard to be able to extricate myself from the other things that place demands on my time. I don’t always get the balance right, which is when my wife’s superpower of keeping me grounded comes in!


What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

Self-doubt, brought on by receiving rejections from mainstream publishers. It is an incredibly tough business, this writing lark, and I naively assumed that once I had an agent, I would waltz straight into a publishing deal for a fortune. When that didn’t happen, it was difficult to push through the inevitable doubt that began to surface. Was the book not good enough? Was I not good enough? I vanquished the self-doubt by sending the book to well-known authors such as Angus Donald, Manda Scott and others to see what they thought of it. I received several wonderful endorsements from a group of extremely talented and successful authors, which really boosted my morale and gave me the impetus I needed to publish THE SERPENT SWORD myself.


What important lessons have you learned along the way?

The writing is not the hardest part. You would think it is. And it is not easy. To write a novel of over 100,000 words takes a lot of time and dedication. But then you need to edit it, find suitable agents and send them query letters. You need to create a synopsis (which I hate doing!) and then go through the trauma of having your book read by editors from publishing houses, most of whom (maybe all of them) will reject the novel. Then, if you decide to self-publish, you need to be active on social media, create a mailing list, design a cover, set up accounts with Amazon, format the eBook and the paperback, and then market the thing – getting reviews, getting the word out there in a crowded marketplace.

The writing is tough, but being a writer becomes like another full time job on top of your day job!


What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

I think all the moments of validation really. When the first beta readers enjoyed my writing. Then an agent offering to represent me based solely on the strength of my writing. Then to receive praise from respected and successful authors was amazing. And the most recent thing is to receive positive reviews from complete strangers. Reading that others have read and enjoyed something I have written is truly inspiring. Reviews help books sell, but more than that, they inspire writers to keep writing.


If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

I would have finished THE SERPENT SWORD when I started it. I had written 26,000 words before Bernard Cornwell released the first of his Uhtred novels. When Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom came out, I could hardly believe the similarities with my own story. I allowed the fact that a successful author had written about a similar time and place deter me. I put THE SERPENT SWORD in a drawer and didn’t pick it up for nearly a decade. Looking back, I wonder what might have been if I had pushed on and completed it then.

Having said that, I am sure that those years in between have made me a better writer than I was back when I started, so who knows? Perhaps it is all for the best!


What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

The best writing advice is to just keep writing until the draft is complete. You can improve what you’ve written later, but you cannot edit a blank page. Too many writers get bogged down in trying to make every sentence perfect as they go. This makes completing a book all that more difficult.


Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

TheSerpentSwordCoverMy debut novel is THE SERPENT SWORD, a gritty story of a young man’s search for revenge and justice in a dark and troubled time. It the first in a series, the Bernicia Chronicles; action-packed novels set in 7th century Britain. Rather than me tell you why you should buy it, I’ll leave that to a much better writer than me, Manda Scott, who wrote the following:

“The Serpent Sword is a stunning debut: fast, confident, adrenaline-pumped, this story of a young warrior’s coming of age in the maelstrom of the Dark Ages has the flavour of early Giles Kristian or James Aitcheson: it’s raw, rugged and rich in colour and texture.  Beobrand is a hugely likeable character with just the right blend of vulnerability and heroism and his story is clearly set to run for a good, long, loveable series. I stayed up till after midnight to finish this.  What more could you ask for?”


What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I have already completed book 2 of the Bernicia Chronicles, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, and I am now halfway through the first draft of book 3, BY BLOOD AND BLADE. After that, who knows? More Bernicia Chronicles perhaps, or maybe something new…time will tell.




You can find Matthew at:





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