Author Spotlight: Steve McHugh
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Steve McHugh!Steve is a bestselling author of Urban Fantasy. He was shortlisted for a Gemmell Award for his novel, Scorched Shadows, and is a father of 3. The latter of which is also the reason why he’s an owner of a lockable office.Steve was born in a small village called Mexborough, South Yorkshire, but now lives with his wife and three young daughters in Southampton.
Thanks for joining us today, Steve, and congratulations on yesterday’s release of A Flicker of Steel. Tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’m quite far behind on my reading, so I’m still catching up on stuff that came out over the last few years, but the last really good book I read was The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. I know it’s not fantasy, but I tend to flick between genres depending on my mood.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’d like to say wizard. Because… well, it’s a wizard and throwing lightning from your fingertips would be awesome. But I’d be a liability as a wizard, because I know I’d just end up hurting myself. So, I’ll go with a rogue. Primarily because staying out of the fight, sneaking around and stabbing the bad guy in the back sounds like a good strategy.
As for weapons, twin blades, for no other reason than they look cool.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I do a bit of both. I hand write notes. I have a collection of fountain pens, so I ink 3 or 4 up with different colours, grab my notebook and get working. But when it comes time to actually writing the book, it’s all typing. I couldn’t write a whole book by hand, I’d just irritate myself.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I haven’t tried the damned souls of a thousand shrimp, primarily because that sounds like a lot of work to organise.
Other than sealife, I tend to listen to music. Usually it’s movie or videogame soundtracks, depending on what I’m working on, but after a while I tend to switch off to everything around me, so it doesn’t really matter long-term. I’m happy to write in silence too, although having three young children makes that option somewhat more difficult when they’re home.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
I should try a deep-sea diver’s suit. I think it would be hard to press the key you want and not just mush your hand on the keyboard. If anyone asks why I wrote utter gibberish, I could say it’s just experimental art.
I do a bit of both. I plot out a rough idea of what I want to happen, and in what order, but I don’t get right down to it. I usually know the beginning, end, and any massive plot details I need to work toward, but everything else comes on the fly as I’m writing. I’ve tried doing it more structured, but I just get bored and change my mind.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
There are loads. Star Wars, which would probably be obvious from anyone who ever meets me (I know it’s sci-fi, but it’s fantasy too). There are a lot of anime, like Fullmetal Alchemist, Naturo, Ninja Scroll, and countless others that have influenced me over the years, especially when it comes to action scenes and the inventive use of magic and the like.
A lot of comics over the years have influenced me too, even taking out the superhero aspects, there’s Conan, Usagi Yojimbo, Demon Knights, Tellos, Fables, Pretty Deadly, Rat Queens, and countless others.
And on top of all of that, there are the videogames like Bloodborne, which just made me want to write a story set in that kind of setting.
I find my influences come from all kinds of different media, and to be honest, I think my writing benefits from it.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
I watched Big Beasts: Last of The Giants on Sky One. It’s all about the largest and usually most endangered creatures on our planet, but it also shows what their prehistoric ancestors were. I think stuff like that is fascinating, so I’m really enjoying it.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
I would get through some of my videogame backlog, read some of my book backlog, and spend time with the family. Not necessarily in that order. Despite being a full-time author, and having hours that suit my need to write, which is not necessarily when the kids are at school, I try not to work weekends to spend time with my wife and them. Doesn’t always work out that way, but more often than not it does.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Bullet points. I’ve done my fair share of bullet points in presentations over the years and to get back at all the times I had to go to pointless meetings where people talked about the most boring things on earth, I think bullet points would be my choice.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
It’s the first book in the series that follows on after the Avalon Chronicles, and it’s about the return of Nate Garrett. He’s been living in a small US town for 2 years, and he’s getting anxious about it and wants to return to his old life, but he’s been told to keep his head down and behave. But seeing how it’s Nate, trouble follows him wherever he goes.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
I’d like to write something with Greg Rucka. He’s mostly known for his comic work, and I think he’s one of the finest comic book writers working in the medium today. I don’t care if it’s a book, or a comic, but I’d like to work with someone I’ve admired for many years.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Most useful was probably that when you’ve got a book finished, and it’s ready to go, get started on a new book. I usually have more than one book going at a time anyway, but it’s useful to always think a bit in the future as to where you want any sequels, or new stories to go.
Any advice that tells you to write one way or the other is junk. I’ve heard a lot about the rules of how to write a book, and it’s all utter crap. Find what works for you as an author, and write that way. There are lots of ways to write a book, lots of rules and advice, the trick is finding those that work for you, not shoehorning yourself into how someone else does it.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Ancient Greece. The birth of democracy. Great minds, great art. I wouldn’t want to live there or anything, because I like things like plumbing, electricity and not catching diseases that are now curable, but it must have been a truly fascinating time to live.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
If I have a deadline, that’s usually an excellent motivator. Otherwise, I just sit down, write something and the words usually come. If they don’t after half an hour, it’s not meant to be and I go do something else. I can’t force it.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Mike Carey’s Felix Caster books. They’re essentially Hellblazer the comic in book form, and they’re utterly wonderful. They’re very dark urban fantasy, but they’re very funny, and have great characters, and are great fun.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
Well, that escalated quickly.
So, okay, I write books where mythological creatures and deities are real, where they’ve lived in secret for thousands of years, pulling the strings of humanity, and now everyone knows they exist, and the people who were meant to protect humanity have decided they want to rule it instead. Layla Cassidy has joined a rebellion to help make sure that doesn’t happen. Also, there’s a three-foot fox-man who likes to tell people to fuck off.
Me and my new shark friend are going to go get something to eat. Once it’s finished picking out the last author from its teeth.
Brilliant. Thanks again for joining us today, Steve!
Steve McHugh is the author of the Hellequin Chronicles and the Avalon Chronicles. Book 2 of the Avalon Chronicles, A Flicker of Steel, is out now.