- How do the two of you tackle writing a book together?
Mick – It was a painful process to get to the fluent process we have now. We started with short stories back in the 70’s and all of those stories were a learning curve of course. What I don’t think we realized at the time was that we were both not only learning to write – and all writers develop at different speeds – but we were also learning to write with another person. Those two things combined certainly made for a combustible mix.
One way it would work was one would start a story, stop for a variety of reasons, hand it over to the other for them to finish. We then had a jointly written story. We decided very early on that each story should have one author voice – by which I mean more than just a style, although a cohesive style was important. Another way we did it was for one of us to completely write a story and then hand it to the other to edit, revise, as needed. That was when a lot of rows began. How dare he suggest changes to my precious story? We had a meeting place by the river, near the pub, and after a row, sometimes hours after, we would meet up there as if by pre-arrangement and come to an agreement about the story. Pregnant pauses were our specialty, with silence as a weapon.
Over the years we have smoothed it all out. We are open and honest with each other, and no offence is taken when change is suggested. I have a voodoo doll of Len at home with enough pins left to carry me over the next few years.
Taking it right up to the present day, when we write as many novels as stories, we each write the complete book/story and then hand it over to the other for revision which includes proofing, copy editing, as well as
revising if we feel it needs it. With each book we spend days at the end reading it together, page by page, for grammar, continuity, repetition and other flaws we find.
With the novels, each has been different. We find it is important that a book has a single voice – an author point of view, a narrative drive the reader can connect with. Luckily our styles have developed over the years into a single M&S style so there is never a case of anyone being able to see the joins. Although one reviewer did say they could – on a book one of had written alone. No wonder they couldn’t reply when I asked them where the joins were! We also got a review along the lines of – did it really take two of them to write this pile of **** – which was one reason behind the change of name to Maynard Sims.
So we write separately – we live about 25 miles apart – and send a finished piece via email. The other reads and proofs and revises. Usually there are typos of course and continuity issues but often paragraphs or whole chapters are added in.
Len – We wrote as individuals for a while then realized that we would be competing for the same markets, so the sensible thing seemed to be to pool our resources. And we’ve been writing together ever since. Initially we would finish each other’s stories and argue about which version was better. We’d spend hours discussing a
single word if we felt passionately enough about it.
We used to brainstorm, sometimes for weeks on end. I remember one novel we planned early on in our careers was discussed at length and completely story-boarded – a process that went on for weeks if not months. In fact it took so long to plan we both ran out of steam on it and it was shelved. We refined the process after that. I think we have been writing together for so long now that we respect each other’s strengths and recognize each other’s weaknesses.
When I write something I want to blow Mick’s socks off. That’s the challenge. That’s why I think we’re very fortunate to have this partnership. Sitting alone at the computer, writing away with no idea who your potential reader might be must be a very daunting process. I read a writing tuition book years ago and in it the author said that you must write the book for “the anonymous reader looking over your shoulder.” I don’t have to do that. Mick’s the reader looking over my shoulder, and I figure if I can impress him then I must be doing something right.
- If you could live in any world, real or imaginary, where would it be and why?
Mick – I don’t read Fantasy, never understood it, so imaginary worlds aren’t for me. I am quite happy in my own little world of writing, seeing daughter and granddaughter, occasional holidays, gardening, reading, TV, meals out, walking the dog, stroking the cat. I am very grounded in reality and happy to be who I am.
Len – I tend to be rooted in the past, but a past that is often seen through my own rose-tinted glasses. I’m sure it wasn’t really as good as I remember it, but I hanker for a world that was slower paced, when technology wasn’t all pervading, when you could go out for a meal or a drink with someone and they weren’t preoccupied with their Twitter or Facebook feeds, and you could have a decent conversation.
- Have you ever written yourself into a corner and asked the character what to do?
Mick – all the time. The characters that really stand out always take on a life of their own. I start to write, often with a very vague idea of who they are, and they flesh it all out themselves with their actions and emotions. I often feel as if I am just the conduit they need to present themselves to the world. It is one of the joys and mysteries of writing that what ends up on the page bears little resemblance to the initial thoughts that began the story. Often it is the merest of ideas that gets started and the characters take on the story and run with it.
Len – I do it all the time, unfortunately. I tend to start with a basic premise for a book, have a rough outline and then let the characters tell the story. Sometimes the characters aren’t all that forthcoming and I have to give them a nudge. The best way around it is to walk away and give the story some time to germinate in my subconscious. When it’s cooked I usually get an information dump to my conscious mind – usually at some Godawful time in the middle of the night. But that usually works.
- Would you talk about your upcoming books and their production schedule?
Mick & Len – Samhain brought out a standalone ghost story novel in March – Stillwater. They have Department 18 book 5, Mother Of Demons, out in August and an e-novella, Convalescence, out in November. We have an erotic romance e-novella out in July from Siren.
We write standalone horror, the Department 18 series and erotic romances (under a pseudonym). In addition we write crime and thrillers. We self published three last year (Let Death Begin, Through The Sad Heart and Falling Apart At The Edges). We are in discussions with a new agent about a trilogy of novels set in the Bahamas and a new 1950’s set crime series (Jack Callum).
We have completed out tenth collection of ghost stories and strange tales and that is currently with a publisher.
We are co-editing an ITW anthology this year and are reading through submissions to that.
- How important are character names and how do you come up with them?
Mick – names are important. They help outline who and what the character is and what their stance might be. Some names are perceived as stronger than others – in books and in life. Think whether the character will be called by their first or last name as that will help dictate what they are called.
Len – I often fall foul of inconsistency with names. I tend to name them depending on the action or emotion within a scene. That might mean I call a character Len in one scene, Len Maynard in another, then Maynard, and often Detective or whatever their job / rank is. I have learned to stop myself doing that but it remains one of the main things Mick corrects when he proofs my stuff.
- Who are the authors that have influenced your writing the most?
Mick – Ed McBain, Tom Sharpe, Stephen Jones (editor), Don D’Auria (editor), H R Wakefield.
Len – I rarely read fiction when I’m writing, because I tend to soak up influences like a sponge and they end up coloring what I’m writing. But my early influences were Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch and British writers like Jack Higgins, Graeme Masterton, along with many of the ghost story writers from the golden period between the two world wars.
- Would you fill us in on the screenplays you’ve written? What’s up for the future?
Mick – I have written all of these. I have a friend who produces 3D films and he has asked me several times in the past to write screenplays based on his ideas. I have written four of those for him. In addition we have a few shorter scripts based on our ghost stories. A screenplay based on The Eighth Witch and one called Department 18 which is based on scenes from Black Cathedral and Night Souls. That one won Best New Screenplay at the 2013 British Horror Film Festival and we had to go up to London to receive the award. All very exciting at the time but despite some interest none of our screenplays have ever been produced.
Len – I have never tried to write a screenplay. I am happy with stories and novels.
Mick & Len – 2015 will see Department 18 book 5, Mother Of Demons, from Samhain. A Bahamas trilogy of adventure novels – Touching The Sun, Calling Down The Lightning, and Raging Against The Storm, has been completed. A new crime series, featuring DCI Jack Callum, has been started, and the first novel written, Three Monkeys. Current work in progress includes the second Jack Callum novel, a new standalone crime thriller, a new supernatural novel, and further romances. 2016 will bring the tenth collection of ghost stories and strange tales – The Dead Are Dancing Down Our Walls – which will include all ourrecent new stories, many of them unpublished.
- If you were able to trade bodies with one person for one day who would it be and why?
Mick – It sounds pompous or something but I wouldn’t want to trade with anyone. I love what I have and don’t hanker after anything more. I wish I was taller, younger, fitter, more clever, but if given the chance to swap I wouldn’t. Better the devil and all that.
Len – I’m happy as I am thanks. All that “be careful of what you wish for” stuff rings true for me. I dare say if I swapped with someone, I’d discover they had some undiscovered and very unpleasant disease or something. So I wouldn’t want to tempt fate.
- What are the next three books you’re planning to read?
Mick – Encore by Maynard Sims as that is the next one Len will finish (Jack Callum series book 2). The latest Mark Billingham. The next Peter Robinson.
Len – I have a whole shelf of books waiting to be read, but I’m writing at the moment, so they’ll have to wait.
- What five people living or dead would you invite to a dinner party? And I wonder, if you were to throw a huge bash together, who would make both of your lists?
Mick – All dead – I’m not very sociable. My mum and dad. Ed McBain. Winston Churchill. Florence Nightingale.
Len – My dad – that would be fascinating as he died when I was five, Harry Patterson (Jack Higgins), and a whole host of people from the world of music hall (vaudeville) world. Failing them, Roy Hudd, who’s books about the last subject are my constant “go-to” reference works.
- If you could claim one book as your own – think fame not fortune – what would it be?
Mick – I re-read the Ed McBain 87th Precinct novels all the time and love them all.
Len – The Furies by Keith Roberts.
- How do you want the world to remember you?
Mick – as a good husband, father, grandfather, friend and brother, and a writer who could entertain the reader.
Len – As a nice bloke and general “good egg”, a good father, grandfather, brother and son, and as a writer who sought to entertain without the pretentions of being a great literary talent.