Monday, November 18, 2013

Interview with Iain McChesney, Author of the Curse of Malenfer Manor

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of reviewing this book. Now, I am sitting down with the author, Iain McChesney, to talk about his family's rich history, his process, and what's ahead for him as a writer.

Don't forget to check out the tour wide giveaway below, where you can win your own copy, and where U.S. entrants can win these awesome charm book marks:
And now for the interview!

Mara: You were born and raised in Scotland, and your family has quite a history there with the World Wars. What can you tell us about that history?

Iain McChesney: Most families have a collective experience from any time of war. Ours is not so special in that regard. There are many families who suffered more. Glasgow was bombed and its children evacuated – I got those stories – but it is the photographs I remember most, relatively young men in faded black and white, all done up in uniform. They lined the shelves and hung on the walls where they never grew old. If you are ever in Scotland, you can go to the capital, Edinburgh, where there is a large castle high on a rock above the city. You can’t miss it. In a room in the centre there is a room full of books that lie open on grand tables. Each book has the hand-written name of every Scottish soldier ever killed in war. I said hello to my grandfather who died at Normandy, and to my great grandfather who died in World War I. They weren’t easy to find; the books were so big and so plentiful. I couldn’t remember the name of the ship on which an uncle went down, so he was lost and never found – again – the irony didn’t escape me. Last year I visited the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial in Washington DC – the stone with all the names inscribed onto it. It was a little bit like that castle room. In such places you get a weight, an impression of the immensity of history, and what those losses did to all those families. Things that should never be forgotten.

MV: A family rich with history like that must be full of stories. What stories in particular did you draw from for inspiration when you were writing The Curse of Malenfer Manor?

IM: My family always seemed to be getting killed, so there weren’t a lot of first-hand tales of war around the dinner table. Growing up, I was amazed at what different people tell you about the dead. They are mosaics, these men that never came home, pasted into the mind of a child. I tried to get a bit of that across in the book. All the heroes have flaws and all the villains something redeeming. Life is full of complexities. The war scenes were composites of history books and research of veterans’ experiences.

MV: You went on to study History and Geography at the University of Glasgow. Is your interest in history what drew you to writing fiction?

IM: Despite the best efforts of my grade eight teacher, I’ve always found history fascinating. No, I don’t write fiction because I’m interested in history, but it certainly colours what I write about. Give anyone the choice between a dry academic textbook full of dates and names and a colourful piece of escapism, and you’d be nuts to go with the former. But that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to teach anyone anything – though if you find out something you didn’t know, I won’t be disappointed. A great thing about history is that it affords the writer extraordinary settings in which to spin a plot, and this stuff really happened. Fiction is a time machine. It can take you any when.

MV: In 2010, you and your family moved to Bali, Indonesia for a year, which is where you wrote The Curse of Malenfer Manor. What made you decide to make the move, and what made you choose Bali?

IM: Ha! You’ve been checking up on me. Guilty. Yes, I did. The move to Bali was about a lot of things – showing the kids a different sort of life; exposing them to different cultures outside of North America. But I won’t deny I harboured the intention to use the move for writing. I get a lot of questions (I’m sure any author does) about how one writes, or how one finds the time. For me I had to take the plunge. I had to leave a perfectly good job and take the risk that my family would be okay long term. And I’m very glad we did. My accountant is not so sure. Bali? Why Bali? That’s a longer story. A great deal of luck is the short answer. Besides its physical charms (it is a tropical island in the Indonesian archipelago – what’s not to like?) it is a very creative place. “I quit my job to come and write.” “Hey, so did I. Ain’t it great!” These conversations are not common anywhere else I’ve lived. I kept a diary during my year there, “Letter from Bali,” which you can find at http://mcchez.wordpress.com/. Anyone thinking of quitting their job might want to give it a read.

MV: What can you tell us about your writing process? Are you more of a pantser or plotter?

IM: I thought I was a pantser – make it up as I go along. I wrote Malenfer with a pantser’s methodology and I remain, in a sense, one at heart. But let me tell you, there is a lot of road kill as a pantser. The clean up in the editorial stage made writing the book twice the work. I’m guessing I wrote a solid 150,000 words for this novel of which almost half was put in recycling. That was my experience of writing free thought – it worked, but it went everywhere, and everywhere wasn’t good. I have since adapted. I haven’t gone entirely the other way, though. I heard a story that William Golding, he of Lord of the Flies fame, was so detailed in his planning that when he was finally ready to write, he sat down and wrote the book straight through. One sitting. Urban legend? I don’t know. But that is not me. What I am happy with (at time of press) is a ‘goalpost’ process of writing. I have enough of a plot that I know who I want in a chapter and where they have to get to by the end of the next twelve pages – what hints or events need to take place, where they must go. Then I let it fly. I give the characters their freedom so long as they pass through the goalposts at the end. It works for me.

MV: Can you tell us anything about your other two projects, The Calling and Krator?

IM: Krator I promised the kids. It is a genre jump, so my publisher is not as keen. :-p The Calling (or whatever it ends up being called – for the title of Malenfer I put it to a vote on the blog) will be another Gothic mystery. Anyone who enjoys Malenfer will find The Calling to their taste. In Tweet speak: A varied group is invited by a reclusive industrialist to a remote Scottish island in the 1920’s. Bad things happen.

MV: You were published by Wayzgoose Press. How did you discover this publisher and what made you decide to go with them?

IM: Sort of like Bali, I found Wayzgoose by good fortune, and I have been very happy with what they have done for me. You hear the stories. New writer goes door to door around agents and/or publishers and gets plenty of rejections. I was not immune, but remained positive. I was being asked for a full manuscript by a few of them. What happened was that a publisher I had submitted to eventually declined, but asked if they could show it to Wayzgoose. I am very glad they did. Wayzgoose liked the writing and were not put off by the problem of genre fit. (Is it a mystery or historical fiction, or horror, or romance, or or… what is gothic, after all?) I have been very happy with my editor there, she put in a lot of good work and the book is far better for it.

MV: What was the last book you read that absolutely blew you away?

IM: I don’t get “absolutely blown away” easily. But it happens. There have been a lot of good ones, but Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell took me there. I love how it was sewn together from different torn parts – very inventive. And it had a big theme. I’m a sucker for ‘life, the universe, and everything’ books. The movie didn’t do too bad a job.

MV: What authors inspire you?

IM: I have this love/hate thing with other authors. I like reading quality work, but then it risks plunging me into despair. I can’t read Henry James without wanting to burn my own pages. Ditto for Somerset Maugham. <Insert expletive of your choice.> Here is an idea for a story: Struggling gothic writer is taunted by the ghosts of his betters and peers. Inspiration of a sort.

MV: What’s ahead for you as a writer?

IM: Degeneracy and oblivion. Or soccer practice for the kids. I’ll have to check the calendar.

Big thanks to Iain for giving me the chance to interview him! You can follow him on Facebook or Goodreads. Don't forget that you can purchase The Curse of Malenfer Manor on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes for just $0.99!

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