I discovered Wilf's book, The Assassin's Wedding during the time I spent on Completely Novel.com, where it was posted for free reading. Wilf's book is a great example of the power of a good cover. I haven't read thrillers since I trudged my way through Steig Laarson's Millennium trilogy. The ultra-stylish cover (features of all Wilf's books) caught my attention immediately- I scanned the blurb- and dove straight in.
And what a discovery. The book begins at a wedding, with the main character, Mike, introducing us gradually to his covert world of assassinations. Very rapidly we get a sense that this is going to be an atypical (and funny) journey with Mike. The humour is subtle for the main, built (in true British style) around awkward situations, splendidly drawn characters, well-observed cultural differences and irony. Wilf's particular strength is in his pop-culture references, of which there are plenty.
There is a strong cinematic vibe that runs through the book, both in the evolving plot and the way the scenes are set. It is most apparent in flashback chapters of Mike's life, which are written like scripts. It felt odd initially but it works well, taking some potentially dark psychological scenes and making them readable.
The plot progresses in a wonderfully intricate way, with twists and turns that get Mike further and further into trouble. Perhaps it was the aforementioned cinematic tinge to it, or perhaps it was the dark humour and assassins, but the book brought to mind the classic Grosse Point Blank. The assassin aspect to it varies in its dominance of the tale, ultimately it is a story of relationships, truth and trust.
So that's enough of my rambles- I interviewed Wilf Morgan about the book and about his journey into self-publishing. He gave a fantastically detailed interview:
Me: I was struck by the very cinematic nature of your book, The Assassin's Wedding. Was that intentional or just a by-product of how you write?
Wilf: Being into films (like most people!), I'm definitely a fan of the cinematic style. I always imagine things very visually so that's how I write them, too. It's not that I'm just trying to write a 'film on paper' - prose has very definite differences to screen and some very definite advantages, so you'd be foolish to simply try to recreate one medium in another. But I do like reading things that flow in that very dynamic, visceral way. I'm also a big comic fan. Comics are kind of a halfway house between film and prose - they capture that visual aspect as well as being presented via written word. So between film and comics, there are definite influences there for me.
Often, in books, I find that action scenes (for example) are quite slow and overly intricate, even when they're meant to be fast and desperate. That's partially down to the very nature of reading words off a page - you can only process words so fast. But I've tried to take lessons from certain writers (Doug E Winter's 'Run' for example) as well as certain comic book writers regarding brevity and allowing the reader to fill in the blanks in their mind. You won't have to describe everything in endless detail, slowing down the action. And because people are so used to watching films, they tend to fill in the details using that visual language. That's probably one reason why books written this way do tend to feel somewhat cinematic.
Another big thing I'm into is having a strong concept or 'point' of a story and then wrapping it in action. It's just a stylistic thing I like and it probably comes from watching too much Star Trek! On the surface, a typical episode / film of Star Trek is about people flying around in starships fighting Klingons or some other menace - and all the associated explosions and gunfights therein. But in reality, the stories are always 'about' something - getting older, dealing with grief, innocence of childhood, accepting bad choices in early life etc. Those two aspects are what I really enjoy in films/tv I watch and books I read. So I definitely try to recreate that in my own work. In The Assassin's Wedding, for example, we have an assassin taking on various targets and getting into all kinds of scrapes. Yet, the story is really about 'can a person accept that who they are isn't necessarily the best thing - and do they have the maturity to recognise that changing for the better isn't necessarily 'selling out' but 'growing up').
So yeah, I think it's a big mistake to simply write a book to reflect what you think you'd see on the screen - but, if what you're writing lends itself to it, I think there are definitely some elements from the visual media that can make prose work in a more dynamic way.
Me: The comedy-crime tone of your book was very well done. What writers in the genre inspire you in your writing?
I'm not sure I can think of too many writers that inspire me from a style perspective but there are some definite people that inspire me just generally;
Iain M Banks' stuff is great because it pulls you so completely into a fully realised world (or, I suppose, galaxy). It feels totally real and it's almost like you're simply reading a 'diary' of events that have really happened (ditto Tolkien with Lord of the Rings and R R Martin with Game of Thrones). Robert Rodriguez is my favourite film director / writer because of his brevity, speed and dynamic approach to even the most potentially boring of scenes. I'm also a massive fan of dialogue so I really like Quentin Tarantino and William Shakespeare (yes, I did just put them both in the same sentence!). Both writers do brilliant, witty, clever and flowing dialogue. In the same vein, I'm also a fan of comic book writers Mark Millar and Peter David. But my favourite writer right now (and hopefully for a long time to come) is Patrick Ness. He wrote the Chaos Walking trilogy as well as 'A Monster Calls'. They are Young Adult books but written with a kind of maturity that a good number of adult books lack. Quite simply, he knows how to tell a damn good story.
With regards to the dark humour in The Assassin's Wedding, I think I adopted that tone because making an assassin your main character (and hence someone you're meant to root for) can be a very difficult thing to pull off, especially if you're going to be 100% serious about it. At the end of the day, these folks kill people for money - that' just not nice! Adopting a kind of black humour means that I'm not really taking everything too seriously but still allows me some space to address some of the darker, more serious aspects of the story (Mike's family history, for example). Also, my previous book, Lost Angels, was so serious and so dark, it almost sends you into depression reading it - so I was determined to write something that was more fun this time around!
Me: What made you decide to establish 88tales and where do you plan to take it? What is it about self-publishing that appeals to you most?
Wilf: Eighty8Tales simply came about in the same way as plenty of other self-publishing ventures are coming about nowadays - in response to two main developments; the rise of print-on-demand and also the ease of web-based presence. Before POD, I was restricted to home A4 print-outs of my stuff for my own viewing. Then I discovered POD (lulu.com and then completelynovel.com) and was suddenly able to produce actual, real books! I've always been into my art and design so I was able to get my arty hat on and do my own covers, too. Throw in a website (in my case www.88tales.com) and bingo - you're your own publisher!
Yes, I still send my work to mainstream publishers in the hope of getting a deal, but that's almost just a reflex action, now. I found, very quickly, that I love the freedom of doing it myself. Yes, you don't get the same penetration in the bookstores (assuming you're one of the writers your big-name publisher decides to push, that is) but you do get to reach people online, through social networking, blogs like this one etc. Crucially, you can decide what kind of books to produce (full length novels, novellas, short story collection, whatever you fancy). Cover design, visual identity, tag-lines, the back-cover blurb - it's all down to you and you can do things that a 'real' publisher might never let you do in a million years (I made one collection 'The Greatest Show on Earth' look like a circus poster and I want to do another one to look like a vintage music album). At the end of the day, building a line of books under the Eighty8Tales banner is just total and utter fun..!
Of course, the challenge is not to look amateurish and sloppy - the stereotypical image of the self-publisher - but it's a challenge I enjoy trying to overcome.
If I got offered a deal by a 'big' publisher, would I take it? Well, I suppose I'd just have to see at the time. But producing things under my own 'label' is really exciting - and knowing there are loads of people out there doing the same thing is even moreso.
Me: You have several books under your belt now. What advice would you give to starting out authors?
Wilf: Boringly enough, my advice is the same as many other writers' - write every day. It's advice I don't always take! But it's very important. The two main reasons for writing every day are;
a) It hones your technical skills. Just like kicking a ball or playing a violin, you sharpen your physical abilities and make them more ready to carry out whatever twisted tasks you come up with for them!
b) Stories almost never come fully formed out of your head and onto the page. It's a big process of layering. Throw whatever's in your head out onto the page. Don't stop and re-read and edit as you go...just keep moving. Don't look back! When you've done a big chunk (a chapter or three), then you can go back over it. It may well be a pile of crap (excuse my French). But that's good. Because that's the way it works. You go over the crap and it gives you ideas that you didn't initially have. Sometimes small, sometimes large. And then you refine and refine and refine. Until eventually, you end up with the finished well-written product. Always remember that it's much easier to turn crap into something good than it is to turn a blank page into anything at all.
Well, that's how it is for me, anyway..!
Me: What's your opinion on social media as a marketing tool? Is it something you've considered?
Wilf: Social Media is an absolutely brilliant thing regarding marketing of your work. I have to admit to not having used it to its potential yet. But even in the limited way I have used Facebook and Twitter (in particular), I have seen the benefits. Creating a Facebook page for your book and posting a link to it on your friends' pages, for example, is a great start. And as friends link to you, so their friends are made aware of it and so on. But that is only a start. You still have to do more work such as advertising online (eg. Google Ads), joining in forums and participating in blog conversations and so on. But if you funnel people from those activities to social media pages then any interest they show will be automatically broadcast to others. (On that note, the Assassin's Wedding is on Facebook - search for it! Yes, I know, totally shameless...)
Social Media is a great tool but it certainly won't do all the work for you (unfortunately!). I'm a typical writer in that I'd rather spend all my time writing and designing the books themselves and have someone else shout about them and tell everyone how brilliant and great they are and go and buy a copy right now etc..! Unfortunately, if you can't force yourself to jump into that stuff, all the work you do in writing will be for nothing because no-one but you and your mum will read it. Leveraging social media in conjunction with your book's (or publishing venture's) website can definitely yield results.
One last thing on the marketing / publicity aspect - I think it's a good idea to offer large chunks of your work for people to read online for free. As an up and coming writer, your greatest currency isn't money - it's word of mouth. One hundred people who know about you is worth more than fifty people buying your book. Because (assuming you are successful in capturing their interest and imagination through your work) they will tell others and spread knowledge of your stuff to others. If that keeps happening, the purchases will come naturally (especially when you realise that the vast majority of people much prefer to read a physical book than off a screen - so having your work available to read free online isn't going to really hurt you financially that much - unless you're J K Rowling!). Of course, it's down to each person to figure out the balance of what to give away and what to charge for. What works for one person won't necessarily work for another's marketing style, content type etc.
Me: What's your latest project/WIP?
Wilf; At the moment, I'm writing my first children's book. My kids have long pestered me for something they can read and I foolishly gave in. Writing a kids' books is really, really hard! I had to figure out what age range I was aiming for and then find their level of comprehension; what kind of sentence structure they like, what they find funny, what they find boring etc.
I finally settled on aiming it at 9-12 year olds. It's called 'Arthur Ness and the Secret of Waterwhistle'. Arthur Ness is sent to live in a Nottinghamshire village (called Waterwhistle) during the blitz. He soon discovers that everyone there is scared of something. Something they can't see. There are guardians there, keeping everyone under a strange kind of control and only Arthur - a naturally very scared young boy - is free from their machinations. Only he, therefore, can do anything about it - if he can only realise the most important thing about fear and how to conquer it.
You can check Wilf's booksite out at 88 Tales
The Assassin's wedding is available on Kindle UK here for £0.88... a bargain!
As is his book The Cotton Keeper here, for the same price.
In the USA click right here for the Assassin's Wedding at $1.36 and on this bit here for the Cotton Keeper at the same price.