We took a moment to chat with Keith McArdle;
author and sometime MAA client. We wanted
to know a little more about his life as a writer;
how he writes, what he writes and what drives
him. He was kind enough to take the time
to tell us all about it…
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I’ve been passionate about writing for as long as I can remember. I prefer writing action/adventure or dark fantasy. I enjoy carving out stories from my (sometimes) overactive imagination.
I spent almost a decade in the Australian Army (although I did do a short stint with the Airforce, but enough about that). I was deployed to East Timor (Army), Qatar (RAAF) and Afghanistan (Army).
Can you provide a short
synopsis of your latest book?
Sure, Havoc is the third novel in The Unforeseen Series. The series follows characters as they struggle for survival after an Indonesian invasion of Australia. The first two novels see the characters fighting the Indonesians, but in this instalment the Indonesians have been pushed into western Queensland and, with the help of the international military community, are contained there. Life in Brisbane continues as ‘normal’, with the help of food and supplies being flown in three times a week. But as normality returns, Australian looters begin to attack these food and supply convoys.
This is where we meet Ethan and his small group of soldiers; members of 4 SQN Special Air Service Regiment called in to help the authorities take control of the looting.
The novel is split into two parts. Ethan’s crew are involved in quashing the looting during the first part. In the second part of the novel, they deploy to Indonesia to capture the Indonesian president. However, the mission goes horribly wrong and they are left surrounded, outnumbered and fighting for their lives.
What motivated you to write this story?
I’ve always been fascinated with the invasion of Australia; with the drawing of ‘The Brisbane Line’ during WWII, Australia’s invasion was far closer to non-fiction than we’d like to remember. In more recent days, our relationship with Indonesia has been tense at best. When Tony Abbott began towing refugee boats back into Indonesian waters, the Indonesian Navy threatened there would be an altercation between our navies, and sooner than later. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But it goes to show that although we conduct trade, military training and supply aid, the relationship remains on a tightrope.
I know this type of story has been investigated in the past, in John Marsden’s Tomorrow, when the war began series. But as a former member of the Australian Army and having served overseas, I know that a bunch of teenagers would not only be unable to fight off an invasion, but would probably be killed within the opening hours or days of operations.
I wanted to write a series aimed at the adult market, where real men and women struggle, run, hide and sometimes die as they seek to resist or thwart the invading axis of advance.
How did your manuscript develop, both in your
initial thinking about it and in the revision/editing process? Do you plan what you are going to write?
The manuscript of this latest novel progressed well, although little did I know it was far from finished when I thought I’d completed it. After receiving feedback from The Manuscript Agency, I realised just how much more work I had to do.
George R. R. Martin once explained that in his view, there are two types of authors: architects and gardeners. The architect has a blueprint of the entire novel laid out before them before they start work, and they know where the final nail will be driven to complete the work even before they put pen to paper. The gardener, however, knows it’s an apple seed in their hand. He/she knows how to plant it, how to care for the sapling, how and when to feed it, water it. They know roughly how the tree will look once it is grown. So although they don’t have a stringent plan in place, they have a rough guide in their mind on which to meander. I’m more of a gardener. I hope that makes sense.
KIT: That’s a beautiful analogy! I hadn’t heard it before; thank you for opening my eyes to this 🙂
So, what happened in writing/editing process that you didn’t expect?
My editor (who I used before working with The MAA) is like a sledgehammer combined with a scalpel, if that makes sense. He knows exactly how to tweak the manuscript to get it moving. There’s usually always something in there I wasn’t expecting that either has me smiling or swearing (usually swearing!).
KIT: Editors tend to have that effect on people… but we do it with the best intentions!!
What part of the process (ie the writing, revision, editing etc) did you enjoy the most?
Definitely the writing!
You worked with The MAA in the development of Havoc, how do you feel that process helped shape your work? Would you suggest a service such as this for other authors?
This was such an incredible experience for me and helped me develop not only the novel I’d submitted for appraisal, but to improve my writing and story-telling in general for future books. Finally, I learned how to show, not tell. I’d heard this so many times over the years, but it was the appraiser who explained to me how to show, not tell. I’ll be forever grateful for that. It has helped me improve my craft exponentially. There’re always new things to learn, too, so I’m not at the top of the learning curve by any stretch of the imagination.
If you’re serious about your craft, I’d recommend using the services offered by The MAA, they are second to none. I’m so glad I went ahead and had my manuscript appraised. As I mentioned, it not only improved the novel I submitted, but my understanding of the craft for future works. An excellent, highly recommended service.
KIT: Thank you! It is so important to us to offer value to our clients 🙂
What are the reasons you decided to pursue publishing?
I’ve been interested in publishing since I was a boy.
What did you find easy, difficult, surprising about the publishing process?
Difficult: Finding an agent.
Surprising: The indifference directed towards authors by the vast majority of the industry.
Did you pursue traditional publishing, try to find an agent, or seek out self-publishing services?
I did try to find an agent to begin with, but that proved quite difficult. I submitted to several publishers who run unsolicited submissions, without success.
So I turned to self-publishing. I would never (ever) pay a vanity press to publish my work for me. They charge thousands of dollars for things an author can do. If you choose to self-publish and want to approach it with a serious attitude, you need to spend money on professional editors, cover designers, marketing strategies (and I’d also recommend manuscript appraisal agencies).
I ultimately decided to self-publish in order to maintain complete control and ownership of my work and take far higher royalties than a traditionally published author. I don’t have to work to a deadline (well within reason; I still hold some constraints upon myself) and can write what I want to write.
I also have several thousand subscribers on my mailing list, men and women with who I have direct contact. I’ve seen several traditionally published low–mid-listers not do so well in sales during a particular year. Their publisher has dropped them and they’ve been let go like a wet paper sack. The publisher owns the email addresses of their fans, and more often than not, they own the rights to their books as well. Facebook is all well and good, but a mailing list is so phenomenally powerful. Out of the few thousand people on my list, I have about 150 on my ‘Street Team’ who read the edited version of a novel months before it is released. They’re my sounding board, my voices of reason, who pick up small inconsistencies, or give me their views as to why a character or situation would or wouldn’t work, what’s realistic and what’s not. In turn, they have a very real place in the development of my work and feel a part of my team (which they most certainly are). This develops a great relationship between author and reader (it’s also a heap of fun).
I recently took a (marketing) course run by a man called Mark Dawson who is a self-made multimillionaire. His mailing list is close to 100,000 strong. He’s currently in talks with a Hollywood producer to have a series of his (self-published) novels developed into movies. My aim is to be half as successful as Mr. Dawson.
OTHER BOOKISH STUFF…
Do you usually read ebooks or traditional format?
Where do you mostly buy your books from?
I usually read eBooks. I only ever really read paperbacks either when there’s no eBook version available, or if it helps someone out. For instance, a mate recently had a book published (called, ‘Off Reservation’) and I bought a paperback copy from a bookshop as I know it’ll help his stats with his publisher. It’s a bloody good read, too!
Are there any writing forums, blogs, groups that you follow or belong to that you have found to be invaluable?
Yes, quite a few. I’ve found Mark Dawson’s group invaluable insofar as marketing is concerned, however, the general writing/author groups are great for support, not to mention venting, or having a laugh.
KIT: I hear that marketing is the toughest part of self-publishing,
so it’s great to have a wonderful resource and someone to look up to!
What’s next for you?
My next novel is of the Grimdark flavour. The main character (Vyder) is an assassin living in a world where gunpowder has only recently been discovered. After a particularly nasty knife fight, he err…well…he dies. I didn’t actually see that coming when I wrote it (remember, Mr. Gardener at your service here), but I managed to bring him back with the help of a Wiccan (witch) who manages to bind a nature spirit (Gorgoroth) to Vyder’s soul and draws him back into his body. So the assassin lives, but for want of a better phrase, he now has a split personality. Vyder has an important mission to complete (to rescue the prince, who has been taken hostage by a neighbouring kingdom), however, he has no control over Gorgoroth, who can take control over Vyder at any moment. And there’s only one thing Gorgoroth hates more than anything else on earth: Humans. Gorgoroth wishes nothing but to kill them all!
So, yeah, it should be an entertaining ride!