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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

SPFBO: Interview with David MacPherson (Interviewed by D.C. Stewart)


Official Author Website
Order Here Be Dragons over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Here Be Dragons

David MacPherson is the author of one of Fantasy Book Critic’s SPFBO semi-finalists, Here Be Dragons, and is a full-time writer out of Edinburgh, Scotland. David loves dragons, donkeys, and defying genre and the publishing industry. David was kind enough to sit down with FBC contributor D. C. Stewart to speak about his SPFBO entry, his great loves, and the meaning of life.

FBC] Hi David. Thanks so much for hanging out and answering some questions. Your book has made quite an impression on the SFBPO. What can you tell us about yourself? Is writing your full time gig?  From where do you hail?

DM] No problem. It’s been brilliant to see people enjoying Here Be Dragons and SPFBO has been a great experience right from the start. I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland, sometimes I say in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not really true. The Highlands is definitely Somewhere and a special Somewhere at that, particularly for a fantasy fan. Crumbling castles, towering mountains, haunted glens, spooky stone circles and murky forests, it was all on my doorstep so maybe it’s not such a surprise I have a taste for the fantastical. It’s also a place with great heart and a knowing, bone dry wit, which I like to think have both influenced my writing.

I live in Edinburgh now, another fantasy capital, and just a few months ago moved to writing full time (at least until my savings hold out). Over the last few years I felt I’d really progressed and I hit some big milestones so this summer I decided it was time to go all in. And so far it’s going surprisingly well (that should set the hubris hippo stirring).

FBC] It’s interesting that you say that because so many of us, particularly in these “new” United States, have the same desire for those fantasy castles but a real lack of them. How long have you been writing?

DM] It’s a funny thing calling yourself a writer. I have been working my way towards that title for about eight or nine years and it’s only recently that I feel comfortable saying it out loud. I spent a long time waiting for permission and then I eventually realised the only person that could give me that permission, was me.

FBC] Do you have any formal training? Do you see writing as your “real job?”

DM] I have done the odd writing class or writing retreat here and there, but most of my learning has been through self-directed reading and lots and lots of practise (much of it probably pretty awful). And lots of feedback from trusted friends.

FBC] How does it feel to be compared to Terry Pratchett?

DM] Humbling. And happy because I wouldn’t be who I am without him. And sad because I miss him.

FBC] You’re not alone there. Where did the inspiration for Here Be Dragons come from (and my sincere apologies for bringing up Shrek in my review, even if I think it might have given you a laugh)? Why tell yet another story about dragons (I am in no way reprimanding you for this as I would like to see dragons in everything, even textbooks)?

DM] Now there’s a question. I must admit, I started the book so long ago I’m not actually sure where the exact inspiration came from. There are lots of different things that fed into the finished novel – people I know, societal themes like the rise of the reality TV star, and fantasy tropes that I just wanted to play around with – but I guess the main inspiration was to write a book where the heroes were ordinary people. People without any superhuman skills or magical powers, but who become heroic through the force of their intellect, their heart and their compassion for others. Because those are the kind of people who have been the heroes in my life, and in the glut of superheroes at the cinema and on TV, I think sometimes we forget that.

And no worries about the Shrek comparison. It’s a great movie, although I reckon Thunder is more of an Eeyore.

FBC] A fair point. I certainly never heard Eddie Murphy in those italics. Aside from Pratchett, who inspires you? Who are your favorite authors?

DM] I like to read widely, across genre and non-fiction too. So while I love the fantasy big-hitters like Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson and Neil Gaiman, I also like to read Becky Chambers, Margaret Atwood, Michael Faber, Iain M. Banks, Emily St John Mandel, Roald Dahl (the children’s ones and the adult stories) and Patrick deWitt. I’ve just finished Robert Harris’ trilogy on the life of Cicero and loved it. It’s like a House of Cards for the Roman Republic and his writing is so good you can’t help but race through it. And inspiration comes from more than other books: the TV show Blackadder is a huge influence on my work, particularly the final series set in World War One. Richard Curtis and Ben Elton did an amazing job of letting you think you’re watching something fun and light, and then at the end just crushing you with the reality of the characters’ situation. I think that was an important lesson for me, that comedy lets you ease into really dark subjects but if you go down that route eventually you’ve got to let reality hit.

FBC] Do you have any plans for continuing with the characters or world in Here Be Dragons? It reads as a stand alone, but you have built a world that people want to see more of. Are you a fantasy author, through and through, or do you branch out?

DM] I am planning a follow up. It’ll be in the same world but not necessarily the same characters. I don’t want to say too much yet as I’m still working it out myself, but I know it’s going to involve the arrival in Drift of a certain class of people known for wearing capes, masks and underwear outside their trousers.

FBC] Oh boy. That might be a new genre. What made you decide to enter into the SFBPO? Have you ever submitted before? Have you tried traditional publshing?

DM] I was the lucky victim of good timing on that front. I first tried to get Here Be Dragons published traditionally about three years ago. After a lot of trying and failing I essentially gave up and left it to gather dust on my computer. Then at the end of last year I met a couple of friends who had tried self-publishing and had nothing but good things to say about it, so I thought, why not give it ago. I’ve very glad I did. I started getting the manuscript reading for publishing in Spring and searched through lots of self-publishing blogs and guides to find out the best route. Once I published in April I kept looking at those blogs and Facebook groups and that’s where I first saw SPFBO mentioned. Last year’s final round was still going on, so I started to follow it and read some of the finalists.

I’d been told by an agent in one of my many rejection letters that "there is no comedy fantasy market, there is only a Terry Pratchett market" but reading the SPFBO entrants and following the community I quickly realised that statement is a load of donkey droppings. Here was a whole community of people hungry for all kinds of fantasy, with far more variety than even the well-stocked book shops of Edinburgh were offering. That’s the great lesson of self-publishing for me, if you’re interested and passionate enough to write about something, chances are there are lots of people out there interested and passionate enough about the same things to read about it. My job is just to make sure it’s the best I can do and make sure they can find it.

FBC] That’s inspiring as hell (sincerely). If judging this contest has taught me as a reader anything, it’s that traditional publishing is missing some gems. Where does your cover art come from, and why is it such a perfect fit for this book?

DM] My cover was designed by Rachel Lawston. I found her through a site called Reedsy which is kind of like AirBnB for publishing freelancers. I found my proof-reader there too. I submitted a design brief to five designers and when Rachel came back to me and I discovered she’d actually worked on some of Sir Terry’s covers (the recent Johnny Maxwell reissues) it really had to be her.

We went through a lot of drafts of the cover because I knew I needed the design to make the tone of the book immediately clear. There’s little worse than picking a book thinking it’s one kind of story based on the cover and then finding out it’s something very different. Even if it’s still a good story, it throws you and it can be hard to get back into it.

FBC] What are you working on now?

DM] I am trying my hand at TV screenwriting at the moment and working on a pilot script for a series based on an oil rig. It’s about a rig off the coast of Scotland that gets mysteriously cut-off from all communications and the crew are forced into survival mode. There was a shipyard that built oil rigs near where I grew up and my dad works on them, so I’ve always been fascinated by what life is like out there.

FBC] What will you do if you win the SPFBO?

DM] Woah hubris hippo, woah girl… I’m not really sure. I’d certainly want to give something back to this great community, so I’d be doing a giveaway day for sure. And do some major celebrating of course (board games party anyone!). Then it’d be back to writing. The contest has already given me a massive jolt of energy and I’ve got lots more stories I want to tell so I need to get cracking.

NOTE: Sir Terry Pratchett picture courtesy of Boris Spermo & Toronto Star.

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