An In Depth Interview With Will Macmillan Jones
What were you like at school?
Big shock here (not): I was one of the geeks, I’m afraid. Into aircraft – flying is a lifelong passion of mine – fantasy and bands others had not really heard of. Of course, that was the time that music was exploding as a passion for my generation, but I liked the Blues, which was unusual in that most people didn’t realise that this was the root source of the music they were all listening to. And I was mostly uninterested in sports, too. I used to go to cricket matches with my aunt, but that was more to keep her company. Whisper it very quietly behind your hand, but I was left with a mild affection for the normally incomprehensible sport of cricket. Mind you, I was quite good at Lacrosse and on the school team for that. This did once give me some mild and unaccustomed popularity when I ‘accidentally’ broke the hated French Master’s thumb during one afternoon games session when he tried to show off.
Were you good at English?
I don’t think that I was really very good at anything. I was in a private school full of genuinely bright kids, and spent all of my time working furiously just trying to keep one finger on their coat tails as they sailed onwards through their education. I was exposed at an early age to Dylan Thomas though; for which I will always be grateful to my English master, whose name I cannot recall. He also encouraged me to take Creative Writing as an option at A Level, which I did enjoy and pass. I still have the small collection of poetry I wrote one year, some of which is good enough to be classed as merely awful. One perceptive teacher commented that I was writing at my best when trying to be facetious.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
The house in the Caribbean, the yacht, the private jet… no: really, I’d be happy with peace and quiet to write in a book-lined room with a nice view, and someone else to do all the marketing for me. Which I’ve pretty much got now, come to think of it. Probably why I’m a happy man.
Which writers inspire you?
Richard Bach, the author of Jonathon Livingston Seagull and Illusions. A pilot, poet, and accomplished author. Graham Greene, for the quality of his prose. Reading Greene is like soaking your mind in a warm, scented bath of words. I love The Quiet American and The Third Man. Tolkien, for the depth of his imagination and extraordinary attention to detail; and Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE. Humanist, humourist, and possessor of a rare imagination and storytelling skill.
So, what have you written?
I’ve two books for younger children, (Snort & Wobbles and Return of The Goblins) aimed at the four to eight age group. These are about a young girl whose family move house. Her new home has an added bonus – a green dragon lives in a small cave at the bottom of the new garden. The books cover her adventures as the naughty goblins who live in the next cave along cause mischief. The first was a 2014 Wishing Chair Awards finalist.
Then there are some small collections of dark stories, poetry and flash fiction released as ‘Pocket Horror’ books. I’ve written quite a bit of Flash Fiction (stories of less than 1000 words) and one of them won the inaugural Northampton Literary Group National Flash Fiction prize. The head judge currently judges the BBC 2 Short Story by children competion, so knows a thing or two about what she reads. It is also the only zombie story I’ve written – so far – and was actually written as a joke for the birthday of an American friend who is fanatical about zombies.
Obviously the Mister Jones Mysteries collection I’m currently promoting.
Next, The Banned Underground: a collection of stories about a blues/rock band featuring a bogtroll on sax, a dragon on bass guitar and an assorted collection of dwarves. I know, and hang about with, quite a few musicians. I’m not saying that any of them or their antics have found their way into these books, but… The collection is loosely categorised as either humour or comic fantasy, as I use the fantasy characters in there – witches, dark wizards, and various mythical creatures – to create the framework of the stories about touring musicians and various other subjects close to my heart. I’ve touched, rather obliquely, on economics (The Satnav of Doom), personal morality (Have Frog, Will Travel – another Wishing Chair Awards finalist), prejudice and racism (Working Title) and relationships (Bass Instinct – long listed for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize). Oh, and they are also a vehicle for as many gags as I can dream up…
Where can we buy or see them?
All the books are available on all platforms, including paperback, and ebook; try browsing my website at www.willmacmillanjones.com or www.thebannedunderground.com
What are you working on at the minute?
I’ve two books that I’m working on right now. The first is a Young Adult adventure based on one of my short stories. In this adventure, two teenagers, recently deprived of their mother, are drawn into a hidden world. Guided by an enigmatic figure somewhat reminiscent of Chaeron, and possessing similar transportation, they must undergo and succeed in a number of challenges in order to escape back to their own home. My cover artist learned that I wanted her to draw the enigmatic boatman and actually squealed in delight. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with.
The next is a science fiction romp. I grew up on reading this sort of book; when a small press invited me to write a short piece for an anthology they are preparing in this field I jumped at the chance, wrote the 6000 word short story for them and was having so much fun with it that I forgot to stop. Before I realised what was going on, I had an entire novel on my hands. A summer release, I think.
What genre are your books?
Apart from the Snort & Wobbles works for children, everything is available to any age. There’s no explicit sex, no swearing, nothing unsuitable for any age group, really. The horror books are probably older teenager upwards, The Banned Underground comic fantasy is for anyone who hasn’t lost their sense of humour (not supplied with the books, I’m afraid).
What draws you to the genres?
I love fantasy because it allows an author to break boundaries and write about real characters (who might be disguised as dwarfs, or dragons, or wizards or whatever) in real if somewhat exaggerated circumstances. There is a lot of comic potential in the clash between people’s preconceptions of characters and proper reality, and it is in that clash that I can have a lot of fun.
The horror work: well. I’m proud to be one of the Tin Plate Poets collective, based in the Gwendraeth Valley in Carmarthenshire. As I worked hard on my material, to try and keep up with the other two poets (yes, I was the one playing catch up to the other two talents again! Story of my life, that) I found that I was increasingly drawn to the darkness that exists on the edges around our comfortable lives and to the darkness that exists inside us all to some degree. After the first two horror books, the BETA readers were clamouring for more and telling me that I had a real feel for frightening people. I’m not sure quite how to take that, but probably it is best to see it as a compliment. So I will.
How much research do you do to add depth to your works?
Most of my work is pure imagination, so the research mainly consists of feeding my imagination then letting it roam free. However, The Banned Underground collection does require some research for accuracy of the work about a touring blues band, so I am forced to spend a lot of time in noisy pubs listening to loud music while drinking beer. Being a writer is a tough job, you know? But I will suffer for the readers and hope they appreciate it…
I also have in intermittent progress a piece of general fiction that I’m not going to talk too much about yet. But this does require some meticulous research at times over very specific matters of fact, and visits to unspecified places to get a feel for locations and atmosphere. Let’s just see how that goes, shall we?
As well as being a performing poet, I also do some traditional storytelling, which is great fun. There are some YouTube links around, which might get attached to this, perhaps… anyway, telling these traditional Welsh stories based on local folk tales or stories from The Mabinogion does have me out and about in the hills and valleys here, soaking up the atmosphere.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I set out, in my twenties, to write what we would now classify as a YA fantasy. So I did. Mostly in my lunchtimes while at work. And yes, it was truly horrid. The MSS and the rejection slips are under my bed somewhere.
Why do you write?
Because I cannot not. My head teems with ideas, characters and plots all the time and if I didn’t write them down they would probably start coming round to the house when I’m trying to relax and shout at me through the windows or something.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part time. I also have a small business that I run three days a week. That gives me time to write, plot, contemplate – or as my partner remarks when passing the study door: doze off.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? Normally I write first thing in the morning. I’m fresh, the thoughts are fresh, and I’m not likely to be interrupted by the phone or the postman or something. Occasionally I’ve been known to wake up with an idea, and come into the study in the small hours and start typing.
Do you write every day, 5 days a week or as and when?
I do try and write something everyday. I see that as essential, it is a big part of who I am now.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
Stephen King, who knows a thing or two, advises writing words a day. I know people who do a lot more, others who do a lot less. Usually I start a day with a scene in my head, and write that until the scene stops playing in my head.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I type direct onto a laptop. But I also carry a notebook everywhere I go. Sometimes if I get a particularly good idea I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and just write it down, so I don’t lose the idea for later.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I use both methods. Despite appearances, some books have been meticulously plotted. Others: well, I just wound up the characters, dropped them in the mire, and let them go…
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Creatively, I’m unsure. Better ask a reader or two. But I do know that I’m better at the job than I was. I’d love to rewrite my first ever book, The Amulet of Kings (The Banned Underground #1) but as the publisher pointed out – comparing that to the work you do know demonstrates how you have evolved as a writer. A backhanded compliment, if ever I’ve heard one.
Do you ever get writer’s Block?
Sometimes, yes. Either the scenes do not flow, or the characters don’t seem real enough to me for me to tell their story, whatever. Then I go and write some Flash Fiction, the really short stories, for a day or two. That usually clears out whatever is stopping the story coming through for me, and I can carry on. What I do NOT do is stop writing.
What are your thoughts on writing a series vs stand alone novels?
Pratchett showed us, as modern authors, the way here. If you start writing a full blown series, and a potential purchaser in a shop can only find book two or three, then that is a good reason not to start with the series. So stand alone books, within a collection or overall story arc, are a much easier sell. Anyone can jump into a collection at any point and go forwards or backwards from there as they wish.
Of course, the advent of ebooks does change the situation there, but the whole thing has to be about making it easy for readers to buy into your work.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I always prefer hardback books for my personal pleasure, and have a slowly growing collection. My partner said to me the other week:
“That’s a new bookcase in the living room, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I confessed. They are bit hard to disguise, aren’t they?
“It’s nearly full already, too!”
“Yes. Well, that’s what it is for, isn’t it?”
What book/s are you reading at present?
Currently I’m reading Agatha Christie. It’s always worth reading how a master of her craft structures and paces a book.
Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
Let’s get rid of this chestnut at once. An author CANNOT edit/proof their own book. You are too close to it, too attached and too inclined to see on the page what you saw inside your head as you wrote, rather than what actually appeared on paper. For example, in Demon’s Reach, the fifth Mister Jones Mystery, I thought that I had planted some clues to a plot development. Well I might have done, but none of them were picked up by any of my BETA readers who promptly told me in no uncertain terms that the plot development was unbelievable. My editor would have been even less polite if it had reached him first. So it is back to the drawing board.
Do you let the book rest – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
I like to let the book rest for a while yes, then not edit – rewrite it, picking up the errors and plot issues as I go along, before sending it away for proper treatment.
Who designed your book cover/s?
I use a friend who is a very talented artist. She talks to me about the book, then goes off and produces something that normally makes me feel very insignificant.
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Yes, of course. We do always judge a book by its cover, we humans are a very visual species.
How do you market your books?
Badly, I’m afraid. I do love going to book fairs and conventions and selling direct to readers, but other than that I’m just not very good at it. In fact I’m amazed that you are reading this now. If you are. Hello? Hello?
How do you relax?
Hill walking, mainly, with the dogs. We have rather a lot of dogs, and they do love walking on the hills and beaches round here. Sometimes I take time off entirely and climb a proper hill. In fact the other year I went off into Snowdonia with the camera in search of a view I had seen in a magazine, and somehow ended up having climbed Snowden by accident.
What is your favourite motivational phrase?
Imaging five different ways to disembowel the writers of motivational phrases.
What is your favourite book and why?
I need at least five. Maybe ten, as it does change, regularly. I’d need Tolkien, Pratchett, Gaiman, Lindsey Davis, Robert Rankin, Bach, Zelazny…
What is your favourite film quote?
‘Frying tonight’. From Carry On Screaming. Which might tell you more about me than I’d really wish anyone to know.
What is your favourite film and why?
Stranger Than Fiction. A writer finds that the character she is trying to kill off has come to life. Emma Thompson at her brilliant best.
Where can you see yourself in 5 years time?
Behind a slightly nicer desk, giggling at something I’ve just written.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Start writing earlier! And this time don’t stop.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Sir Terry Pratchett. In a pub. Only I’d probably become tongue tied with hero worship, which wouldn’t be good.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Buy a copy of Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’. Best advice you will ever get anywhere.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to answer all of these questions! It is a true honor and pleasure to have gotten to know you!
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