Do you have any odd writing habits?
Not exactly odd, but I like writing to music, and it’s almost always black metal. It has little or no melody and no-one would try to sing along so it’s basically like white noise. I find it really allows me to focus and block out the world around me, letting me almost go into a creative trance. Some might find that ‘odd’, but if something like Def Leppard or AC/DC was to come on I’d want to stop writing and pick up a guitar to jam along.
My other habit, or ‘tip’ even, is using an ‘x’ to mark places in my story that I need to research. I HATE breaking my flow to go and research a date, or a name, or what a Roman banquet might have consisted of, so I just put down an x with a space either side and continue writing. Then, later on, I leisurely go through those x’s with Word’s ‘find’ tool and research whatever is needed.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
I write historical fiction so the big name that really inspired me at the start was Bernard Cornwell. It was my dream to write something along the lines of his King Arthur trilogy – that was what got me writing my Robin Hood stories. Others, like Simon Scarrow, Douglas Jackson and Ben Kane taught me how to write a book that is well researched but also filled with exciting action.
I’ve tried to widen my horizons a little recently, and read (well, listened via Audible) to books like Jane Eyre, Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. They were nothing like I would normally choose to read, but I thought they’d help my writing, and they really did – my current work-in-progress, Lucia, is more like one of those than my usual action adventure fare.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
It’s hugely important – no-one wants to read a novel, or a full series, that follows a character with a really weird, five-syllable name that’s hard to get your head around, do they? I know I don’t. So I try to choose snappy names that roll off the tongue – like Bellicus, or Duro, or Catia, all from The Druid. Of course, writing historical fiction, they also need to be correct for their period or reviewers will give you a hard time.
I don’t really place much stock in meaning, but this morning I had to come up with the name for a child one of my characters had lost. I did choose something that had a nice meaning, (elf friend) as well as sounding pleasant. It just seemed appropriate and somehow important.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
As a writer, it’s hugely satisfying to get nice, 5-star reviews for my books. And being taken on by an agent from a New York-based agency was a big thrill too. But, probably my greatest accomplishment is being an Amazon UK “All-Star”, twice. That’s where Amazon KDP award the very bestselling authors for a particular month a cash bonus. Only the top 10 or something in the entire country get this, and, somehow, I managed it twice! As an indie author, I thought that was really a cool achievement. Publishers might not have fancied my Robin Hood books, but quite a few readers did.
The bonus money was rather nice too!
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
Yes, I read ALL the reviews and sometimes they are useful. A guy left a review for one of my earliest books, complaining that the combat was getting a little bit repetitive. I hadn’t noticed it, and no-one else had mentioned it, but, looking over the book again, I realised he had a point. So I’ve been careful to vary it more in subsequent books. Little things like that mean it’s worthwhile checking every new review.
I’ve had a few nasty, one-star reviews over the years and it felt like a punch in the guts the first time. But I learned to not let it bother me so much as time went on. Some people are never happy and they only want to comment on something that annoys them.
So take reviews with a pinch of salt and don’t let them get to you. Just ignore the cruel ones and bask in the glory of all the good ones, ha!
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I’m putting the finishing touches on a novel about a slave in Roman Britain, Lucia, which I mentioned earlier. Unlike all of my other books, it’s not centred around action, or fighting, or a quest, or battles, or even a man – I’m sure my usual readers will be surprised when they find out. They were probably expecting something like Spartacus! Instead, it’s about a girl who spends her life as a slave, with all the challenges that brings over the years. I’m really excited about it and I think readers will be surprised by it but hopefully in a good way…
Do you write naked?
Are you kidding? I’m from Scotland! It’s far too cold to sit about the place in the nude.
Have you ever gotten into a fight?
Yes, when I was younger, and used to go out to the pubs – drunk people will start a fight over the smallest thing. Which is why I tend to avoid drunk people nowadays. I would say, I’ve never lost a fight. I’m a fast runner.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
The pyramids in Egypt. I have always been inspired by them, but I really don’t like flying. I managed to visit Rome, and that was amazing. One day, though, I would like to get to Giza and have a chat with the Sphinx.
Do you have any scars? What are they from?
I got hit by a car when I was a teenager and my leg was snapped in half. So I have all the scars from that – a big metal frame was screwed into the bones to put them back together, it was hellish. I’m alright now though thankfully – the thing that surprised me, and comes in handy when writing battle scenes, is how little pain I felt. There I was with the bottom of my leg flopping about and I don’t recall feeling any pain at all as my body had gone into shock, it was weird.
I cried like a baby later on though.
What do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
I don’t have recurring dreams but I do sometimes suffer from sleep paralysis. It’s happened to me since I was a teenager, with one memorable episode being when I saw an alien, of the classic ‘grey’ type walk into my bedroom and stand looking down at me, then wander away, back out of the room.
Unless it wasn’t sleep paralysis at all, and it really happened…!?
Steven A. McKay
Northern Britain, AD430
A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted.
In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose.
With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions.
Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.
This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song.
As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mould the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever. . .
. . . THE DRUID.
"Steven A. McKay's archetypal villains and heroes step vividly onto the page from a mist-veiled past of legend to battle for the life of a princess and the fate of Britain.
Dark age adventure at its gripping best." - MATTHEW HARFFY, author of The Bernicia Chronicles
Bellicus drew the knife from its sheath at his waist and jumped headlong from the table, using the momentum to propel himself through the air at one of the nearest invaders. He crashed into the man, a great bearded brute with flashing eyes, and hammered the blade into his neck. The wound erupted in a gout of blood which drenched the druid’s hand, but Bellicus moved on without stopping.
“Cai! Here, boy!” The muscular hound slipped through the confused, shouting mass of people and appeared by the giant’s side as he fixed upon another target. “Attack.”
The dog lunged forward and fastened upon the man’s wrist, powerful jaws crushing the bones and drawing a scream of pure agony which was cut off as Bellicus punched him in the mouth, knocking him backwards to the ground. Cai moved then from arm to throat and, again, like some avenging demon, the druid’s huge robed figure moved on, searching for more of these attackers to kill, the lean form of Eolas now at his rear.
It wasn’t going well for the invaders, he could see. Some of the local men, and women too, had shown their courage by fighting back, despite the fact they wore no armour or carried war gear and now, only three of the intruders still stood.
One of those was beset by both Coroticus and Nectovelius and it was clear the man, tiring as he was, wouldn’t survive long, especially as the king’s guards were moving to surround him.
Another fell as Bellicus watched, borne down under the weight of four or five furious locals whose knives rose and fell in a bloody spray.
The third, a short barrel of a man, stood in front of the doors, almost as if he was guarding them, and Bellicus’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Why wasn’t the fool escaping? His companions were beaten and he’d be killed soon too if he didn’t get away.
A shiver ran down the druid’s neck. Something was amiss here – this was no simple raid gone wrong.
“Take him alive!” he shouted, but as the cry left his mouth someone threw an empty amphora at the stocky swordsman, the pottery smashing into pieces on the unfortunate’s skull.
“Alive,” Bellicus roared again, but the people were too enraged to heed his words and they set about the downed interloper with fists and feet and whatever else they could find.
The screams didn’t last long. The hall was far from silent though, the babble of fear and confusion almost raising the rafters as everyone wondered what to do.
Men eyed the smashed doors, wanting to run to their homes and gather their shields and swords and axes, but fearing what might be out there waiting for them.
The king hurried across to Bellicus and together they peered at the doorway, trying vainly to see what, or who, might be waiting outside for them.
“Can’t stay in here all night,” the druid growled, and Coroticus nodded grimly.
“Guards, form up behind me.”