Todays author interview is with comic fantasy writer Will Macmillan Jones who lives in Wales. My virtual airplane and flight crew are ready and as we taxi down the runway I pull out my notes.
I met Will online in some writer groups and was charmed with his humor and irreverence. It is a delightful and healthy way to view the world that few master. (I’m sure he will outlive many of us.)
Wales is a lovely green, verdant land with a rich cultural heritage. He tells me he does his best to support this heritage by drinking the local beer and shouting loud encouragement whenever International Rugby is on the TV. A fifty something lover of blues, rock and jazz he has just fulfilled a lifetime ambition by filling an entire wall of his home office with full bookcases. (An admirable goal I can get behind.)
Will has asked that we meet at a pub he frequents: The Uplands Tavern, Swansea. He says it has a small band with two guitars and one harmonica. I just hope I can hear his answers but I’m game and it sounds like fun.
My virtual plane touches down a few hours early and I use the time to see some of the sights in the beautiful countryside. Living in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. I fully appreciate his lush green world.
I make it back to the pub by early evening and find Will at a corner table. This is a busy place with a lot of people around the bar, talking and laughing. There are photos and portraits of Dylan Thomas hanging about the place, with some famous lines painted on the walls at an angle as decoration. Nice spot!
Will had his favorite Hobgoblin beer in front of him. We had talked about the brew before I came. I’m not a beer drinker. The various American beers I’ve tried have left me less than ambivalent to the drink but I googled his Hobgoblin and it sounded quite tasty. It’s brewed with special malts and hops to produce “a full-bodied, Ruby beer that delivers a delicious chocolate toffee malt flavour, balanced with a rounded moderate bitterness and an overall fruity, mischievous character.” Yum, right? I get one too and soon we’re comfortable and enjoying the atmosphere. We manage the interview by adapting to the ebb and flow in the friendly din. During a break between sets we begin:
What experience do you want for your readers?
I think of myself as an entertainer, Holly. I can’t sing, can’t dance, and have been accused of sending my guitar tutor into depression. So I write to entertain. Not to move my readers to deep emotions, but mainly to make them laugh, and sometimes forget their cares for an hour. I know a lot of ‘serious’ writers who win proper prizes and stuff who frankly forget that bit of the craft: but for me it is the whole point of writing.
Are any of your character traits or settings based on real life?
I’m bone idle, Holly. That’s not a boast, but an acceptance of my character. So all my settings are based in real life, and all my characters are people I know, or have met. I may be a fantasy writer, but the very best fantasy is based on real life, don’t you think? Who knows what might happen if you take that small turning in the road that you haven’t seen before… where you might go…who you might meet… every day can be an adventure and every turn lead to a fantasy if you keep your mind and eyes open.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve presently got five different projects I’m playing with. There’s the sequel to Snort and Wobbles, my first book for children: the second in my paranormal/horror series about half finished, and of course I’ve always got a Banned Underground novel – or two- on the go. I also have a YA fantasy work with a cracking first chapter to finish.
Do you have any writing advice you would like to share with aspiring authors?
Yes: do NOT do what I did. My first release, The Amulet of Kings, was initially written over 30 years ago now. Once it had gained an inevitable and enviable collection of well-deserved rejection slips it lay mouldering under my bed for 30 years. What a waste. I could have become driven, exhilarated and frustrated (the normal gamut of emotions per day for most writers) much, much earlier if I had stuck at it instead of giving up.
But I would also advise writers not to rush to self publish. There’s a reason many manuscripts ( not all, of course) get rejected – and often it’s because they are awful. Mine was. Three rewrites later, it got me a contract, but it needed those three rewrites. And now I’d give my eye teeth to be able to rewrite it again, and make it so much better than it is. Be patient and practice . I don’t pretend to be any good at this, but I know that I’m better than I was three years ago. Keep writing, and you’ll get better too.
Tell us about your most recent release.
The most recent is Snort and Wobbles. This is aimed at children, aged 8 – 10 who love having bedtime stories read to them and are becoming confident at reading for the first time themselves. The story is about a young girl who loves dragons, and then meets one living at the bottom of her garden. I envy her every day, which is probably why I wrote her in the first place… There’s dwarfs and Goblins in the story, and a big brother to be rescued. It’s a traditional childrens’ fantasy, and seems to go down very well with the target audience. Possibly because there’s a little bit inside me that is still eight years old and looking out every day in the hope of seeing a dragon at the bottom of my garden.
When did you decide to become a writer and why?
I didn’t. It just sort of happened. I started writing stories and poems when I was eleven, and never really stopped. After I had left school I did a lot of writing at work, although of a more technical nature. Thinking about it, since I worked as a taxation advisor, I suppose it was mostly still fantasy even then. And of course I wrote the first draft of Amulet of Kings in my mid twenties. One thing I do regret: I made up a lot of stories to read to my kids at bedtime, and never wrote them down. I’ll have to try and recover them from memory some day.
What inspires you in your writing?
Places, mainly. I love the Lake District in England. If you have never been, google it – it is one of the World’s most beautiful areas. In fact the characters for the fantasy collection (The Banned Underground) came to me one day when I was lying in the sunshine on top of a rather large hill called High Street. Actually, the highest Roman Road in the UK runs along the top of the hill, as a matter of interest.
I do a lot of solo hill walking, and being in the wild places, alone with your thoughts and a notebook: well that’s a brilliant place for any writer to find themselves.
Who is your favorite author?
Sir Terry Pratchett. Not just a great author, but an immense human being and an inspiration to anyone who picks up a pen or opens a laptop. His books shine with his humanity and warmth, and the way he has dealt with the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease is astonishing. Interviews are pretty much beyond him now, but I once read a piece in which the interviewer asked him why his later books dealt with themes not present in his early books: his reply – When I first started writing I didn’t have the tools to do what I can do now. Who would not want to be blessed with his talent and his humility?
What is your favorite movie and why?
The Rocky Horror Motion Picture Show. Why? It’s irreverent, hilarious and anarchic. Perfect.
Describe yourself in three words.
A bone-idle dreamer.
Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?
I still earn money as an accountant. Will that do? Writing is an escape from the mind-numbing boredom of accountancy. Without writing as an escape, I might have easily grown up. What a tragedy that would have been.
How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?
It’s huge. My father started reading Enid Blyton books to me when I was young. He loved the stories about elves, goblins and wizards as much as I do. The Magic Faraway Tree, for example. Still available now – and why? Because it is a lovely childrens’ fantasy book, of course. I guess I started reading fantasy by the time I was six, and just never stopped. One of the very few regrets I have for my life is that my father died whilst I was still young, and he never got to see my published books. That would have been something he could have really understood.
Do you admire your own work?
No. I know I can do better, in fact one reason the books take longer to write than you might imagine is that I’m always trying to do better.
What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
Yes, I’ll have the next book ready for the deadline. (My publisher knew I was lying though, so it’s all right.)
Do you research your novels?
You do know I’m a fantasy writer, right? Of course I research my work. Normally in my dreams, with the help of late night cheese or a glass of Merlot.
Actually I research the locations quite carefully. Everywhere my characters go, I’ve been. Since I write about musicians, that means I have to go into loud pubs and clubs to listen to a wide variety of bands play whilst drinking alcohol. Which is research. And hence tax deductible, right? Right!
While Will and I enjoy our Hobgoblin beer and the fun evening I’ll let you read a bit about BASS INSTINCT : The Banned Underground 1V
(Break is over and the band begins the next set. Companionably we sit back and savor the brew and the music.)
The Banned Underground are a dwarf rhythm-and-blues band, led by a luminous green, saxophone playing bog troll with a passion for mushrooms, beer and pizza … and more beer … and for playing jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll, of course. The latest addition to the group is a bright red Welsh dragon that plays bass guitar. But he’s in trouble.
Dai the Drinking Dragon has been kidnapped by the Dark Lord for nefarious purposes, and by the Dark Lord’s dragon receptionist for even less reputable reasons. Without their bass player, the Banned Underground are now in deep trouble with their record label. They have to produce a set of recordings for an album, and someone has stolen the tapes from the last gig. Can they make some more recordings, or will Freya, the renegade dwarf bass player hired by the Dark Lord, distract the boys whilst the Dark Lord’s evil schemes come to fruition?
The Dark Lord has found some thugs to help him in his latest plan to invade the underground Dwarf Mansion he would like to own (as an alternative to his garden shed as a place to hide from his wife), but they have other things on their minds – like looting and pillaging the locals – and it’s all going wrong for him again.
Review:Described on The Guardian newspaper’s book review pages as ‘Lord of The Rings as written by stand-up comic Milton Jones to the soundtrack of Led Zeppelin IV’, The Banned Underground series is an underground hit, full of both crackling one-liners and more subtle jokes.