I’m a 34-year-old Glaswegian writer with four books to my name. Most of my work is within The Raincatcher’s Ballad, an epic fantasy series set in an industrialised world. The first novel, Symphony of the Wind, was selected as a finalist in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off in 2018, and nominated for Booknest.eu’s Best Self-Published Fantasy in that same year.
Q: Tell us what you’re working on at the moment.
A: I’m currently working on the final book of the Raincatcher’s Ballad trilogy, and recently finished a short story kinda, sorta set in the same universe. I’m delving back into writing after a long break where I was undertaking some small personal business, such as purchasing and moving into a property and getting engaged. (Being an adult is hard.)
Q: How long have you been writing? What got you started in the first place?
A: The first thing I remember wanting to be was an author, so I suppose the short answer is, “always”! I always enjoyed the written word and preferred reading and writing over every other subject at school. I’d written bits and pieces, but it wasn’t until I went to college in 2005 that I started taking it seriously. And it only took 10 years to release my first book! (*Starts weeping*) In between times, though, I undertook Creative Writing courses at Glasgow Uni to sharpen my desire into an actual skill-set.
Q: Tell us about a book you’ve read recently that you really enjoyed.
A: I’ll tell you about an entire series! Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding is great fun. It combines a fantasy world with a bit of Steampunk/Dieselpunk and a healthy Firefly vibe. I recommend it to anybody who likes sky pirates, dogfights, swashbuckling, breakneck action and morally grey protagonists. Also, the whole “harnessing daemons” thing is cool.
Q: Would you say you’re a violent writer? Do your characters suffer or do they get through their adventures relatively unscathed?
A: Yes! My characters definitely do suffer. I’m not a masochist, but by putting my characters through the grinder, they show me what they’re really made of. Tyson Gallows, in Symphony, is stricken with grief, depressed, and in a very dark place. It’s only when he goes through further trauma that he recognises a desperate need to survive – a man who starts off by aching to die but ends with a need to fight back.
Serena – the teenage girl and apprentice Raincatcher from the same book - starts off as very independent but also pretty naïve. She’s desperate to be taken seriously and be seen as an equal among her crewmates, and only when the shit hits the fan does she learn that it’s okay to ask for help (as well as finding an inner strength she didn’t know of, and seeing how capable she really is). There’s been some criticism that there are too many action sequences in these books – which is fine, I see where that comes from – but each one is there for a reason. My characters find their inner strength and overcome their flaws when their lives are on the line, and accomplish things they didn’t know they were capable of. That’s what desperation does to the human psyche, so I love exploring that, and it means my characters often surprise me.
Q: Which of your characters do you connect with best? Is that because you can empathise with them or because they’re there to do your bidding?
A: Hmm, probably between Gallows and Damien Fieri – both characters are borne from mental illness; Gallows’ depression and Damien’s dark compulsions.
I’ve been treated for a form of OCD called “Pure O” – it’s different for everyone but it boils down to intrusive thoughts and images, and the coping mechanisms we put in place to stop them. But it’s a bit like someone saying, “DON’T THINK OF A PINK ELEPHANT!”. What happens? You immediately think of a pink elephant! So, it becomes a vicious cycle of building more coping mechanisms that actually make it progressively worse. Thankfully, I’m just about cured of it – it’s all about learning how the mechanics of the illness works and removing a cog to bring the whole thing grinding to a halt. In my case, the cog is trying to fight the intrusive thoughts; learn to let ’em pass, because they’re totally harmless.
Q: Plotter or Pantser?
A: Somewhere in the middle! Ultimately, both are viable options and every writer is different. Experiment and see where your comfort zone is.
Q: Tell us what really (really!) matters to you when you’re world building. What features, in other words, are you likely to obsess about?
A: The point of view of whatever character’s eyes we’re looking through – each character will see things differently. Describing a crime scene from the perspective of a cop and a victim will lead to two different interpretations of the same thing; the cop might enter the scene of a burglary and see a widescreen TV but notice empty jewellery boxes and surmise that the thief was in a hurry and likely to have left a trail, meaning they’ll be easier to catch. The victim, however, will lament the loss of personal heirlooms and, worse, see their own home differently and never being able to feel safe again, regardless of whether the thief was caught.
Or an optimistic character might listen to a politician’s speech and be filled with hope, whereas a cynical character will hear the same recycled lies repackaged and retold. So, I suppose what matters to me most about world-building isn’t so much the details, but the varied ways in which each character views them.
Q: If you got chance, what film or TV franchise would you write for? What would you have happen in it?
A: Oh, man… I’d love to see more of Dredd, the 2012 movie. I’d love to write a story within that continuity and keep the harsh vibe, tension and kick-ass action. Or the Marvel/Netflix Daredevil and Punisher shows. Like Dredd, they’re brutal, violent… And a ton of fun.
Q: Is there a sport you enjoy? (I seem to remember seeing you mention boxing somewhere?) Does it have any impact on your writing? I’m thinking fight scenes especially.
A: I do enjoy a bit of boxing! I’m not an authority by any means – I can’t reel off statistics or guarantee a fighter in any given bout – but I enjoy watching it, and seeing a live bout gets the adrenaline running. I’ve done a bit of boxing training, so that helps getting some details right when writing a fight scene or when a character adopts a stance.
I absolutely recommend going hell for leather on a punching bag if you’re feeling frustrated.
Q: What role suits you best in Dungeons and Dragons?
A: I’m woefully inexperienced in D ‘n’ D, but I do have an ongoing game where I am a beast of a female tiefling and kick ass – so I kind of tank/fighter character who leaps in and swings weapons – leave the magic to the folk hanging back!
Q: Following one from the previous question; Steven the Warrior. What’s he like? What weapons would he use?
A: Haha, good question. Hmm… Probably the opposite of my tiefling character. I’d chuck a grenade in and run away – leave the fighting to the folk at the front!
Q: Does being Scottish have any influence on your as a writer? In terms of the national culture, its literary traditions or the way of life generally?
A: Not particularly, though perhaps out sense of humour. We like a bit of gallows humour…
Q: Who have been the writers who have influence you? Any specific books?
A: Terry Pratchett and Roald Dahl, for sure, their humour got me into writing books. Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie are definitely literary influences. On the non-fiction front, I enjoy a lot of Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace stuff – their real-life stories are hilarious, and definitely inspired the tone for my first book, Boldly Going Nowhere.
Q: Social media is a thing writers need to understand and commit to it. Do you? What purpose does it serve?
A: It connects readers, writers and bloggers – we sit at different corners of the world but we can talk for hours about our mutual loves and hobbies. I have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and they’re all great for different reasons.
Q: You probably get asked this a lot, but we have some people in this community who are just starting out – what advice have you got to anyone who wants a writing career?
A: Research the pros and cons of going traditional or indie and pursue whichever you think is best for your book. Develop a thick skin early on – not everyone is going to love your work, and that’s okay. Exercise the muscle by writing short stories, getting feedback from other writers and editors – and of course, keep reading! Not just in your genre, but all genres. Get a feeling for how language differentiates between authors, genres, styles, eras, etc. and find your niche.
Q: Where can people find you on the internet? Give us some links.
A: Surely! Drop by, say hello, buy all of my books
Website address: www.stevenmckinnon.net
Amazon page: http://author.to/AuthorPage
Twitter page: https://twitter.com/SHRMcKinnon
Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/shrmckinnon
Thanks for stopping by Steven and for such a great conversation!