A triple wammy this week on the Roaring Mouse. Last year,when I was digging around forums on the Authonomy website, I met a
author WillMacmillan-Jones, who contributed far more frequently than I on the (infamous)Alliance of World Builders. Will had just been signed up by Safkhet Publishing,a small press based in UK . His first two books, The Amulet of Kings and The Mystic Accountants, have since been released and I had the pleasure of reviewing the second for Fantasy Book Reviews earlier in the year. With the third Banned Underground book hovering in the ether and ready to materialise any day I thought it a great time to badger Will for an interview. Cambridge and now London
The Banned Underground books follow the misadventures of a rock band whose member include a bog troll and several dwarves. Associated with the band are two human children, the nephew and niece of a rather cranky witch called Griselda. The first book is set in the
Lake District, in the current day, wherein the home of the dwarves (the Helvendelve) has come under attack by sinister sorcerers (Caer Surdin, who happen to be accountants). What follows is a witty and chaotic adventure which rapidly establishes the bizarre hidden magical world in which the protagonists live.
The second story shifts the action to
and introduces us to an alcoholic dragon called Dai (of course). We see more of the beer loving Tuatha (drunken faeries) and the Edern (High Elf managers who talk about CEOs and the Board all the time). Wales
I’d always been touchy about fantasy humour. Unlike many people I know I’ve never read Pratchett—it just never appealed. I think, common to many fantasy fans, I’m rather protective of the genre. There just seems so many things to take the piss out of in it. But Will has a definite love and respect for fantasy which shows in his work. His characters are well written and funny, and his wit shines in the dialogue. The gags range from double-entendres to astute satire of teenagers, corporations, music and, of course, accountants.
Book three, The Vampire Mechanic, is coming very soon and I look forward to reading and reviewing it. In the interim, go and treat yourself to a copy of The Amulet of the Kings—it’s a perfect antidote to the gloom of George RR Martin and the current wave of dark fantasy.
Me. Hi Will. Thanks for joining us. Where did you first dream up the idea of the Banned Underground?
Will: Hi Ross, the hard questions first, eh? I love fantasy, and have one ever since I can remember. It was just a natural progression to want to write a fantasy novel myself. And when I did, it was awful! I mean truly dreadful.(Hands up who said ‘No Change there, then’! No sweetie for you afterwards.) But in the writing of that book, the characters that would form the basis of my series came to life inside my head. It wasn’t long before they had taken over, and forced me to completely rewrite the whole book from a new perspective. Their perspective. The Banned Underground were born…and already rocking.
As to where, well there was only one place for me to set the start of the series. The Lake District. Possibly my favourite place in the world. A lot of the ideas for the first book started to arrive whilst walking there on the high places. It’s no surprise to me that lots of writers have found their inspiration in the Lakes, and it’s an ambition of mine to one day be able to spend a lot of my time there, writing…
Me: Is this a series which will run and run, or do you have a finite number of books in mind?
Will: I’m a very, very, lucky boy. I’ve got a publisher who loves what I am doing, and has signed me for a whole series of eight books. EIGHT! Some days that’s a terrifying idea, on others it is an exhilarating prospect. The third book, The Vampire Mechanic, is about to be released, and I’m trying to finish the fourth book –Sax & Thugs & Rock N Roll as we speak. The submission deadline is November. The fifth book – The SatNav of Doom - is planned and started, and I have the concepts for the sixth and seventh books now. The pressure really is to try and make each book better than the last.
Me:Anyone who writes fantasy and humour will inevitably face comparisons to Pratchett.Are you a fan of his work?
Will: Ah, the brilliant Sir Terry. With a friend, I was privileged to hear the great man speak at the Hay Literary Festival this year. How can anyone not be a fan of his writing? He is warm, witty and so very human. His books shine out like a beacon to those of us aspiring to write comedy of any sort, as a perfect example of it should be written. And more to the point, how to write a series. Look at the Discworld books. Each is a complete story in itself, and if you read them out of sequence, it doesn’t really matter that much does it? And THAT means that if the shop you are in doesn’t have them all, well that doesn’t stop you buying one does it?
Me: What's the current work in progress? And feel free to tell us about new book!
Will: Right at the moment, I am very, very excited by the imminent release of The Vampire Mechanic. Yes, my take on the vampire stories so popular at the moment. And, to kill two birds with one stone, the festive season gets a few knocks too as Santa’s Sleigh gets borrowed by His Little Helpers to get them to a gig by The Banned Underground. But on the way, they crash into a hillside. Now, they need some help getting The Sleigh fixed, and The Banned get dragged into another adventure. All the usual cast of my characters get involved, and a simple situation quickly gets complicated. Sax & Thugs & Rock N Roll (thanks to the great Ian Dury for the title!) is well in progress for the release date of next April. Girls always get in the way,don’t they lads? And this time there’s agirl who is determined to get in the way. She’s got something to prove, and a big bass guitar to prove it with…This one is a bit more about the characters,and a bit less of the usual wild romp. But a wonderful new character gets a cameo, and book Seven to himself! Fear not, the Dark Wizards get the fifth book to themselves when they get sent on a dangerous quest to recover The SatNav of Doom…
Me: Ever considered a graphic novel of the Banned Underground?
Will: I’ve never considered a graphic novel, to tell you the truth. They have worked well for Neil Gaiman though, haven’t they? Actually,thinking about it, the books could do well in that medium. A lot of the humour is quite visual really,and would translate easily. Any offers,anyone?
Me: Your love of music shines through in the books. Put together your seven song dream soundtrack for the movie of your book.
Will: I’ve been a music fan all my life, and I have music playing almost all the time. I work from home, so the stereo is always on,playing blues, jazz, and Rock. To pick so few songs is a real challenge, as mood plays such a huge part of my selection on any day. Well, here goes.
Jailhouse Rock. (Elvis) Classic Rock N Roll. Elvis will always be the king, and Scotty Moore – his guitarist – knew everything about timing a groove.
Johnny B Goode. (Chuck Berry) Every band worth anything can play this. And do. Why? Because that riff is hard wired into the heart of Rock N Roll.
Rock N Roll. (Led Zeppelin) From the moment Bonzo hits the skins this one takes off, and the greatest Rock Band ever are flying.
Jumping Jack Flash (Rolling Stones) Yes. Just yes.
Back to Black (Amy Winehouse) Such a talent, such a loss.
Whole Lot Of Rosie (AC/DC) And a classic riff from Angus.One for my funeral play list.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (Dusty Springfield) A voice to melt chocolate. And me.
Me, Myself, I (Joan Armatrading ) Because it says a lot about where I am personally at the moment.
There you go. Problem is, if you ask me tomorrow, you will get a different list. I’m presently learning The Green Manalishi,and that would make the list, as would…
Of course, that’s rather my current list. At heart, the guys are a blues based dance band, and that’s what they would play. Can you see a bearded, slightly drunken dwarf crooning ‘Will you still Love Me Tomorrow?’ convincingly?
Me: For the newbies in the world of publishing have you any sage-like words of wisdom on how to get your book out there, or even garner a publishing deal?
Will: How to get your book out there? Well there’s more choice than ever now, isn’tthere? If you listen to traditionally published authors, a lot of them are extolling the virtues of self publishing. The ‘snobbery’ that used to be attached to self publishing has been eroded, especially by the emergence of the ebook and the way Amazon and Smashwords have made it so easy for anyone to produce a book. And everyone wants to see an actual copy of their own book on a bookshelf, and again CreateSpace and Lightning Source have made it possible for anyone to have that at a reasonable cost. Before going down that route though, everyone is going to research agents and publishers and try to get a traditional contract. But you need to have the right book, and be in the right place at the right time…I’m not going to pretend that my books are way better than anyone else’s. I was just lucky with my publisher. They are a small house, yet they get over 80manuscripts sent to them every week…
The advice I’d give a prospective author is this: select your publisher or agent carefully, then read everything you can about them: then follow TO THE LETTER the submission guidelines they post. If you do not, you will be rejected with your work unread, however good it may be.
Me: You're published by Safkhet publishing- tell us a bit about them and how things are going there.
I think I’m really lucky with Safkhet Publishing. They share my sense of humour and we share the same ethics and goals. They are committed to getting some really great fantasy and rom-com books published in a professional manner, and have made a brilliant start in their first full year of operations. We get on really well as people too, and that is important. If you can talk to your publisher as a friend as well as a business partner, then the relationship is going to be fruitful for both parties.
This is going to be a really exciting second year for Safkhet Publishing, and I’m pleased and proud to be a part of that.
Thanks again for an awesome interview there, Will. Here are some of the links to check out Will,his website and his books!
The Banned Underground website
The Banned Underground website
Will's Amazon author page in the US of A
(Banned Underground band image (c) Sam Dogra. Used with permission)