Stephanie: Steven A. McKay is a writer from Old Kilpatrick, near Glasgow in Scotland, heavily influenced by the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Doug Jackson, Anthony Riches, and 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. His take on the theme is quite different to anything that’s been done before. It is available NOW on Kindle as well as paperbacks from Amazon.
The second book in the trilogy is coming along and should be available not too long after Wolf’s Head…
Hello Steven! Welcome and thank you for chatting with me today. So tell me about your book, Wolf’s head. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about your story.
Steven: Hi Stephanie, thanks for having me on your page! Wolf’s Head is my reinterpretation of the Robin Hood legend, but rather different from other versions of the tale. It’s set in Yorkshire, rather than Nottingham, and in the 14th century rather than the 12th. The old familiar characters are mostly there, but hopefully I’ve given them a fresh new slant. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and it’s showing up incredibly well in the Amazon charts so I really couldn’t be happier with things.
Stephanie: Really interesting that you change the dates. I’m looking forward to reading your story. When did you fist become interested in this legend and when did you know you wanted to write your story?
Steven: To be honest, I was never particularly interested in Robin Hood. I mean, I thought he was an interesting character, but I wasn’t drawn to him any more than other mythical figures. I wanted to write a novel about someone like King Arthur, I just couldn’t think who should be the protagonist. Literally two minutes after I started to think about it, I drove into a street and saw a house called “Sherwood” and, well, my decision was made for me! I couldn’t ignore a sign like that.
Stephanie: That is great! You definitely couldn’t ignore a sign like that and it looks like you made the right choice. There seems to be quite a lot of historical aspects to your story. What is some of the research you did and what fascinates you most about the period this story is written in.
Steven: Again, like the previous question, I didn’t really choose the period to set the story in. My first task was to look back at the very first, original stories about Robin Hood and his men. I was surprised to find these ballads said he lived in Yorkshire, around Barnsdale Forest, and the evidence suggested he lived around the time of King Edward II. I didn’t want to simply tell an interesting story – I wanted to make it as realistic and historically accurate as I could, so my period was chosen for me by those ballads.
I read whatever non-fiction books on Robin I could find, watched a lot of “Robin of Sherwood” which was great fun, and I read general history books. Two of my favourite sources were Ian Mortimer’s “Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England” and Terry Jones’s (of Monty Python fame) “Medieval Lives”. Both are scholarly history books, but they’re also fun, with lots of silliness and bizarre facts, I highly recommend them!
Stephanie: That is clever you chose your period by those ballads. And I had not realized that he lived around the time of Edward ll. How fascinating. I adore Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s guide! Fantastic read! I will have to check out Terry Jones’s book.
In the blurb on Amazon about your book it says, “Wolf’s Head” brings the brutality, injustice and intensity of life in medieval England vividly to life, and marks the beginning of a thrilling new historical fiction series in the style of Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow and Anthony Riches.” What fascinated you about these three men and how do they impact your writing?
Steven: I wouldn’t say I’m fascinated with them – I just thought comparing myself to them might sell a few books! No, seriously – the biggest inspiration for me to write a historical novel was Bernard Cornwell and his King Arthur books. I just loved how he took a well-known old legend and made it fresh, vibrant and somehow REAL. He continues to lead the way in the genre with his Saxon books – he’s the MAN when it comes to this sort of fiction. Simon Scarrow and Anthony Riches both write quite straight-forward ass-kicking books with interesting characters, in interesting locations, and in a contemporary style. I’ve greatly enjoyed their books over the years. I had one of my early reviewers telling me what I’d done with Wolf’s Head reminded them of Simon’s stuff, and another suggested if Bernard tried writing Robin Hood it would be something like mine. I wouldn’t class myself among those guys, but I was very pleased to get compliments like that.
Stephanie: I really want to read Cornwell’s King Arthur books and his Saxon books. The other two authors sounds intriguing. I will check them out. Well, I’m sure your book is among the class of theirs from what I hear.
What is the most challenging thing to write about Historical Fiction and what advice would you give someone who is considering writing in this genre?
Steven: I read a lot of histfic and it seems many authors either don’t put in enough of the historical background, or, more often, too much. Ultimately, a reader wants a great STORY, not a history lesson. But if you’ve researched your period it can be tempting to throw in random facts here and there, just to prove you know what you’re talking about. To an extent, I think that’s fine – but I’ve read books recently that must be about 140,000 words long and they could have been told much better in 100,000. One of them in particular started with a description of a Templar going down some stairs to an underground meeting – the walk took him about three chapters!
My advice, for what it’s worth, is to do your research, but never lose sight of the fact you’re telling a story, and don’t “over egg the pudding” with too many words.
Stephanie: Three chapters?! Oh, my! That sounds like it would be daunting to read. And I completely agree with your advice.
How long did it take you to write, Wolf’s Head and who designed your book cover?
Steven: I started researching the book about three years ago. At the time I was doing an Open University degree, so I waited until I completed that, then I started writing my novel. I work full time, and my daughter was only 2 or 3 years old at the time, so I didn’t have a lot of spare time (or energy!) to write. Then, during that period we suffered some very difficult and upsetting events and, at times, nothing seemed important, especially not writing. But the closer I came to finishing it, the more determined I became to do something with it, especially after I hired a highly-respected editor to go over the manuscript.
In comparison, I’ve been working on the sequel, The Wolf and the Raven for about six months and its half-finished already, so fingers crossed that will only take one year rather than three!
The cover was by the guys at GB Print (you can find them on Facebook). I loved Gordon Doherty’s cover for Legionary and he told me who’d done it for him, so I contacted them with a basic idea of what I wanted and they came up with what you see now. It was, I think, worth every penny. It’s eye-catching, striking, and looks professional which is important for a self-published author I think.
Stephanie: Crossing my fingers it won’t take that long for the sequel and I’m sure it will be great! Well, they did a great job on the cover! And I agree, the cover is important!
How often do you get a chance to read for pleasure and what is the name of the book you have just read?
Steven: I try to read at least a little every day. I’m re-reading Glyn Iliffe’s King of Ithaca just now, since his newest book is due out soon, and I’m also reading Ben Kane’s Spartacus, after just completing Robert Southworth’s great book of the same name! All are highly recommended.
Stephanie: Goodness my reading list is getting longer from our chat! But I’m not complaining one bit!
Are you a paperback or e-reader sort-of guy?
Steven: Well, if you’d asked me a month ago, I’d have said paperback every time. But I own Ben’s Spartacus on both formats and the weird thing is, I haven’t touched the paperback, I’ve been reading it on the Kindle app on my tablet. So, I suppose I’m a convert to e-readers.
Stephanie: Wow! You’re the first I have interviewed who has said that about what format they prefer to read in.
Do you write reviews for all the books you read?
Steven: I try to now that I’ve realized how important it can be to an author. Although there have been times recently where I just didn’t enjoy a book very much so I haven’t left a review, rather than giving it a kicking. Obviously I don’t have a great deal of free time, so if a book doesn’t grab me within at least the first third I’ll move onto something else. Leaving a review for a book I haven’t even finished wouldn’t be on. I’m not saying no one should leave bad reviews- just that- as an author, I don’t think it’s my place to do that. However, if I genuinely enjoy a book, I’ll be more than happy to tell everyone that will listen about it!
Stephanie: I agree. Where is your favorite reading/writing spot in your home?
Steven: Bed! Beds are great places for all sorts of fun things – like watching TV or sleeping. I put my earphones on so I can’t hear “Big Brother” or whatever other nonsense the wife’s got on the TV and lose myself in another world for a while.
When I’m writing I do it in the dining room, where I can see our back garden which is mostly flowers, bushes, trees – nature basically. When you’re writing about life in a medieval forest it’s nice to be able to look out at a nice view like that and I’m thankful to have it.
Stephanie: I like to write and be able to see out a window as well. I have a really big maple right outside my window. It’s nice….
What are some of your thoughts on the self-publishing industry and where do you see it in five to ten years?
Steven: Before I published Wolf’s Head I was desperate to find an agent and a publisher, but none of them were interested and at first I found it crushing. It feels like you’ve wasted years of your life working on something no one wants to know about. However, since I self-published the book I’ve been blown away by the response. People DO want to know about it, and, unlike what some agents suggested, there IS a market for Robin Hood. Without the ability to put Wolf’s Head out there myself the manuscript – and my dreams of becoming a writer – would have been forgotten. I think writers today are very lucky to have the opportunity to do this sort of thing and they should grasp it with both hands.
Hopefully the market will continue to grow and in five years readers all over the world will be able to buy affordable books – lots of people aren’t able to pay £20 for a hardback, so it’ll be good for everyone to have access to the same book on an e-reader for £2 or £3 or even less. Let’s get the whole world reading!
Hopefully they’ll all buy Wolf’s Head…
Stephanie: I feel that publishers/agents don’t always know that readers want and I’m so glad you decided to publish anyways and congrats on a good job well done!
Steven: Thank you!
Thanks for having me, and for such interesting questions, it’s been fun