Posted on 09/30/2015 at 12:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
It seems fitting that a novel about the champion of underdogs — Robin Hood — would be the one that turned a small-town meter reader into a bestselling writer.
Author Steven A. McKay hasn’t quit his day job yet, but he’s certainly finding time to produce well-received historical fiction. His debut novel, “Wolf’s Head,” and its sequel, “The Wolf and the Raven,” both hit No. 1 on the UK war charts (among other claims to fame).
And the third novel in the series, which retells the Robin Hood legends, grabbed the top spot on Kindle’s biographical historical fiction rankings.
McKay took a break from his paternal and writing duties — a novella on Friar Tuck is in progress — to tell Fussy more about his journey.
SADYE: How long did you spend working to find a traditional publisher before you decided to go the indie route?
STEVEN: It was a few months, at first. I went to the library with my daughter and she played and looked at the books while I got the Writers & Artists Yearbook and picked out all the agents I could find. I then tried emailing a couple at a time.
You can imagine that was a pretty lengthy process considering most agents don't even bother replying to plebs like me. So I'd sit and wait on them getting back to me with a yea or nay; then, after a few weeks of hearing nothing, I'd move onto the next couple on the list and repeat the process. By the end only a handful replied and obviously they weren't interested.
So, I hired a professional editor who had worked with people like Ben Kane, Bernard Cornwell and Jilly Cooper and she really went to town on the first version of “Wolf's Head.” I redrafted it in line with her suggestions and tried again, submitting to some more agents with my shiny reworked book.
I soon lost patience with it, though — I was getting nowhere, and I was seeing the likes of SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty making a good living from self-publishing so I thought, “Sod it, I've had enough of this. I'll do it myself.”
SADYE: What comes first: the historical research or the plot outline?
STEVEN: Well, for my Robin Hood books, it was the historical research. There were already legends and stories about him and I wanted to stick as closely as possible to the original ballads as I could, while putting my own spin on the thing.
I also didn't know that much about the medieval period at that point since most of my reading had been about the Romans. So I had to do the research, on the period and on the Robin Hood legends, before I could even think about a plot.
For my next series, though, which will be set in the Dark Ages, I will be creating a brand-new character so I have more leeway with it. I've already got a lot of ideas for plot lines and scenes and what the character will be like. ... Before I sit down to write it, though, I'll need to research the period so I can get into the right frame of mind to describe the places and people and customs and so on.
SADYE: You’ve mentioned that historical fiction can sometimes lean too heavily on the history and not the fiction. How do you keep yourself in check, to avoid this?
STEVEN: To be honest, it comes naturally. The way I usually work is I write the whole book, then I go through some reference books picking out interesting little facts and pieces to use as color in the story. I then go back through the manuscript and add them in here and there. ...
Take a scene like the Battle of Boroughbridge that kicks off my second novel, “The Wolf and the Raven.” There are accounts of how it went down, but no one is an expert on every little event that happened that day. So I just write whatever fits with my characters and I mention things like one of the knights was stabbed in the backside when crossing the bridge.
It's just a tiny event, so no one gets bogged down in the dry recital of historical events, but it shows I've done my research and helps place the reader into the period.
SADYE: Now that you have several books out, which is your favorite?
STEVEN: I honestly couldn't pick a favorite because they all have different things to say.
However, “The Wolf and the Raven” is probably the one I look most fondly on. It seemed to write itself, and I knew when I was writing it that it was a good follow-up to the first book. It just seemed to be pretty effortless really.
After that, my novella “Knight of the Cross” was great fun to write but the first draft was rubbish and I had to do a lot of work to get it up to standard, which took a lot of the enjoyment from that project. Similarly, after the great success of “Wolf's Head” and “The Wolf and the Raven,” I felt quite a lot of pressure to come up with a really good sequel, while not just rehashing what I'd already done.
SADYE: What’s your proudest moment as an author?
STEVEN: Definitely appearing as part of Amazon's KDP bestselling authors panel at the London Book Fair 2014.
At that point I'd only published one book, yet there I was, a meter reader from a wee village on the outskirts of Glasgow, sitting, microphone in hand with the head honchos from Amazon and giving an audience of aspiring authors advice on how to be a successful writer. Just to be a part of that — it kinda felt like being a rock star for a few days, with the fancy hotel and everyone coming up to listen to what I had to say.
It really made me look at the world a little differently. I've never had a high-powered job or anything like that, so to go to something like that it really made me feel like I'd made something of myself.
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Categories: Author Interview