Today I’m welcoming a great guest to my blog. It’s another medieval writer, Steven A. McKay, author of Wolf’s Head and The Wolf and The Raven.
|Steven A, McKay|
The novels have a hero that everyone has heard of: Robin Hood. Both books are having a debut at the same time: Wolf’s Head has just been released on Audio and The Wolf and The Raven came out in April 2014. Steven is also including a Giveaway with his visit. Leave a comment at the end of this post to be in with a chance!
Welcome, Steven! Can you tell us a bit about your take on the Robin Hood legend in your novels?
|Wolf's Head on Audio|
Enter a comment- you might win!
When I first started thinking about writing a novel with Robin as the central character I knew I would have to do something different. The legend these days seems to centre around certain things, like the time period being the 1190's and the setting being Sherwood Forest. My research suggested that the original Robin, the “real” one if you like, actually lived around the early 14th century and was based in Barnsdale Forest in Yorkshire. Also, most modern versions of the legend have Robin as a displaced nobleman, but he was far more likely to have been a regular guy. So, with all that in mind I was able to put a fresh slant on one of our most enduring folk heroes.
What made you originally decide to pick Robin Hood as a hero?
I wanted to do something similar to what Bernard Cornwell had done with King Arthur, but couldn't think what road to go down. I knew I wanted to keep it within Britain, but I had no idea how. I'd just started to think about it and was close to giving up on the idea when I drove past a house with the name “Sherwood”. Divine Providence! Of course, when I saw that sign the idea of using Robin Hood as my main character seemed ideal and, from an author's point of view, it really has been. He, and his mates, are so much fun to write!
|(C) E.M. Powell|
Writing's great when it's fun, isn't it? But I think every writer has an area they find most difficult. For me, plotting came easily but it took me a while to really get to grips with characterisation. What area challenges you the most?
Starting a book is hard for me. It's a slow process because I don't really plan things out very much. I have a basic idea of how things are going to pan out, but, until I really get a good few thousand words down and the characters have shown me where they want to go, I struggle. I'm just starting the next book in the series now and, because I work a full-time job and have a young family, I don't have much time to write so...I'm not getting much done. Once I get about 15,000 words things will start to move quicker, I hope.
Now, we both write medieval and that involves hours of research. I have traipsed my family around innumerable castles as well as hours ploughing through written material. How do you approach research?
I was always into history, but mostly classical, so when I decided to write about the 14th century I had to really look at the politics, culture and people of the time. As well as the usual textbooks, I used things like Medieval Lives by Terry Jones which is a really fun book and gave me a real insight into some of the stranger sides of the people of that period. Books on the Robin Hood legend were very useful in providing plot ideas as well as an idea of the sort of weaponry the outlaws would have had available to them.
|Robin of Sherwood|
Books are all well and good, of course, but my favourite piece of research was watching all the DVDs of the old 80's TV show, Robin of Sherwood. It's not very historically accurate, or realistic, but the sense of camaraderie and brotherhood between the gang of outlaws really helped me get a feel for how things might have been for these men, forced to live like animals in the forests of England, with the law always trying to kill them. Such a life would have been incredibly stressful, and, as a result, powerful bonds of friendship and loyalty would have formed between them. I'm a huge fan of that show now.
I always love to visit castles of course, I even worked in the one in Dumbarton for a while which was a good experience.
And I believe you have taken delivery of your own bow. Who’s a better shot- you or Robin?
I'm rubbish, just a beginner! In my defence, though, I didn't start shooting a bow as a child, like Robin would have. I did manage to hit a bullseye the first time I tried archery, but modern recurve bows are much easier to use than the huge longbows Robin and his men would have been shooting. An archer friend made me some period-correct arrows and I was shocked at the size of them. Even a knight in plate armour wouldn't have been safe from these things, they're massive. Even just holding one you get a sense of the potential deadly energy emanating from it.
|13th Century Conwy- a damn fine castle!|
(C) E.M. Powell
You’re a keen musician as well. Do you have a playlist for when you’re writing?
Yeah, black metal or death metal! I did a guest post for Roz Morris recently about this. I can't write to most of the music I like because it's too distracting. Iron Maiden or Jethro Tull or something like that has too many hooks so when I listen to them I want to play guitar or sing along and it makes focusing on writing impossible. So, before I settle down to begin a writing session I put on something by Behemoth, Enslaved or Bathory because they're a lot less melodic than most rock or metal and it acts almost like a Gregorian chant or someone meditating to the word “om”, allowing me to block out the outside world and really lose myself in my novel.
There’s been some great reviews for both books. Do you read your reviews? Is there anything you’d like to say to reviewers?
Yes, I read every review and, although I've probably had more than 300 in total so far, I still get butterflies when I notice there's a new one, wondering if it will be good or bad. I find them mostly helpful. If someone makes a valid point about my writing, and I think they're right, I'll try to do something about it. One guy wanted to see more variation in the combat, so that's something I'll actively strive for in book three.
The main thing I'd say to those who've left good reviews of my books is: “thank you so much for taking time to leave such positive feedback.” It really gives me a good feeling when I read a new 4 or 5 star review and the person has obviously enjoyed my work – it's amazing to know you've been able to entertain someone for a few hours and they've liked it enough to tell the world.
The one thing I get a bit annoyed about is when reviewers say, “people didn't use the F-word in medieval times!” or, “The dialogue is too modern, they didn't talk like that back then, it's not realistic!” Well, what do you want? If I wrote the book using the language people actually spoke back then no one nowadays would understand it, and that would make for a really crap novel.
I'm writing for a modern audience, I want my books to be easy to understand and that means using language we all use today, including the F-word. Did people not curse back then, even when a big hairy-arsed outlaw was trying to shove a sword through their face? Of course they did and, to get the same sense of danger or anger or whatever across to a modern audience, it is, to me, acceptable to use the swear words we use today, especially one like the F-word which probably was in use in medieval times.
|Hmm...outlaw? Or re-enactor?|
(c) E.M. Powell
You have two books in The Forest Lord series. Are there going to be any more?
Yes, I was planning on it being a trilogy but the second book went off in its own direction which left me with a lot of things I still wanted to write about. So there will be four books in total now. After that, I'm not sure where I'll go. A few of my characters seem like they could “star” in novels of their own, particularly Sir Richard-at-Lee, the Knight Hospitaller, so I have a few options. For now, though, I'm just aiming to have the next book in this series out around early 2015, with, hopefully, the audiobook version of The Wolf and the Raven ready to go before that.
June is Audiobook month. To celebrate that, you have Audiobook/download copies of Wolf’s Head to give away to readers of this post. What do people have to do to win a copy?
Easy, just share this post on Facebook or Twitter and leave a comment here to say they've done so! A winner will be chosen at random by 30 June 2014.
Many thanks, Steven. And best of luck with the next stage of the saga of The Forest Lord!
Thanks for having me Elaine, it's been fun!
Steven A. McKay was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland. He lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children.
His second book, The Wolf and the Raven was released on April 7th 2014, at the London Book Fair where he was part of the Amazon stand. His début novel, Wolf's Head, was also released the same day as an Audiobook.
Wolf's Head is a Kindle top 20 best-seller and The Wolf and the Raven was the “War” chart number 1.
He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.
Amazon Author Page:
The Fifth Knight is a #1 Bestselling historical thriller. Find it here on Amazon.comand here on Amazon.co.uk. The sequel, The Blood of The Fifth Knight will be published by Thomas & Mercer on December 09 2014. Find it here!