With me today is Will Macmillan Jones, author of The Banned Underground series (and the Alliance of Worldbuilders’ resident Comedy Goon, as noted above). He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, though without the aid of the Spanish Inquisition (and I’d so been looking forward to calling them up – no one expects the Spanish Inquisition! :D).
Tell us about yourself.
My bio will tell you that I’m a fifty-something lover of blues, rock, and jazz, and have (sadly) spent much of my time working as an accountant. Some of my friends suspect that I’m a covert adrenaline junkie as well, having crashed hang gliders, done a little sailing (didn’t like capsizing), fallen over on the way up several hills and crashed the odd motorbike, and put various cars into ditches. Er, there seems to be a bit of a pattern forming there. . .
Have you always been interested in writing, or is it a recently developed passion?
I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was a small child. My father was a primary school teacher and read to me every night from a young age, something I’ve done with my own kids, too. It’s brilliant fun! So when at grammar school I was encouraged to write, I loved it. But then it took a back seat for many years, until I discovered you could get a minor flesh wound from a pen instead of crashing into things, and I haven’t looked back since.
Can you tell us a little about some of your other writing projects? Are they all fantasy, or do you write in more than one genre?
As well as the fantasy, I also write some paranormal books, on the edge of horror. The first of these has been very well received indeed, and so I’ve a sequel in the works. There’s also a children’s fantasy and a YA fantasy coming along. I think I stay pretty much round worlds of pure imagination, because it’s so satisfying to create something that can be made to feel real.
What inspired you to write The Banned Underground series?
I’d recently reread The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Alan Garner. Just brilliant.) and I felt a deep desire to be able to produce something like that. So the first draft of The Amulet of Kings (Book 1 of the series) came along over two months. And it was awful. So awful that after the inevitable rejections, it sat under my bed for twenty years; gone, but never quite forgotten. Then one day I was sat on top of High Street Fell in the Lake District with my then partner and I started whistling a blues track as I looked around at the stunning scenery. And the book started to rewrite itself then and there, with a different twist on the characters as they came to life inside my head for the first time. The gits must like it there, as they won’t go away. . .
The series is set in Wales, much to the satnav’s disgust. Do you see Fungus and the gang heading out on the road to someplace more exotic in future books?
Well, it’s not entirely in Wales, of course. The whole of the first book is in the Lake District, where the baddies live, and the dwarfs keep their dilapidated underground mansion, the Helvyndelve. Bass Instinct moves to my old stomping ground of Manchester and Rossendale, a beautiful pennine valley. And yes, I can see other places creeping into the series as it goes along, too, as long as they are places I love myself (whatever I actually say about them in the book!).
As someone who spends tax season buried up to her eyeballs in numbers, I get a real kick out of the Grey Mage and company. What made you decide to have the baddies be accountants?
I’ve been in accountancy and tax for thirty years. Making the evil ones be accountants was payback. . .
In The Vampire Mechanic, you describe a show jumping competition in hilarious detail. How often does your own life bleed through into the lives of your characters?
It does all the time, really. I do like to think I’ve an eye for the funny moments in life, and whilst in general I’ve got a terrible memory I can always recall some instance where someone I’ve met has made themselves look silly and build that into a scene. And as I’ve not always been the most sensible person on the planet, some of the things might well have been my fault, too. . .
As a writer, I am my own worst critic, something I think every writer deals with. Is it worse for humor writers? I imagine coming up with all those jokes is no easy feat.
The fact is that life is ridiculous. The only way to cope is to see the joke, isn’t it? Once you’ve done that, the rest of it follows on. I find myself unable to take very many things seriously at all. Sir Terry Pratchett got it spot on for me in his book Moving Pictures: “Why are all of Mr Dibbler’s pictures made against the background of a world gone mad?”
“Because Mr Dibbler is a very observant man.”
Says it all. . .
What is the hardest part of writing, in your opinion?
The deadlines. We are trying to launch a new comic fantasy series, which isn’t the easiest thing to achieve. The best way to convince buyers and bookshops that this is a real, ongoing series with potential is to produce books. It isn’t easy to stand in a bookshop saying, “I’ve got this series, you know,” when you are only holding one book. Get to four, and it’s suddenly a bit more credible. So Safkhet and I agreed we’d bring out one book every six months for a few years and see what happened. Of course, that means I have to write two books a year. I must have forgotten that bit when I agreed. . .
Do you have any advice for those yet unpublished?
Yes: Don’t give up easily. It’s very easy to go down the self-publishing route these days, and (without wanting in any way to criticize those who have) if you believe that you have written something really worthwhile, you owe it to yourself to see if you can validate that feeling by winning a contract. I think there’s something extra special about seeing your book published by someone, be they big or small, and I’ll forever be in Safkhet’s debt for taking me on.
The other advice I’d give is to always read the submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. They are there to allow the agent or publisher to reduce the huge tide of submissions they receive to a manageable level by weeding out those authors who can’t (or won’t) read the guidelines. Be warned.
And finally, if you could recommend one book, which would it be and why?
One book?? Just one book?? Do you know what you are asking? I’ve got five overflowing bookcases at home, and could recommend every volume. Oh, dear. OK. Fellwalking with Wainwright. Read it, then go out and find some hills. The hills made me write, so you never know what you might find up there. . .
(Ha, you didn’t guess THAT one, did you?)
If you would like to find out even more about this wonderful author, then feast your eyes on the links below:
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- Bass Instinct by Will Macmillan Jones [book review] (mithrilwisdom.com)