Interview with Author Fiona McGavin

Fiona McGavin bw

IP: When did you begin creating stories? Were you an imaginative child? What are your earliest memories of writing/being creative?

FM: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories. I remember being about 3 or 4 years old and being in bed making up a story in my head about a boy called Navy Blue. Apart from having to write stories at school, I probably started writing them down when I was about 12 years old. Paper was like gold dust in our house, and I wrote a long involved school story on a wodge of computer printout paper my Dad gave me. When I was a little older, I used to spend my pocket money on refill pads from Woolworths. I wrote an Adrian Mole type diary thing with pictures that was very roughly based on my family. It was the first thing I let them read and it made them laugh – I think that was the first time I thought I might be good at writing. Sadly, I didn’t keep that piece of writing. Sometime after that I must have started writing fantasy, but I don’t remember exactly when.

IP: What influences you most creatively? What were your original influences?

FM: All sorts of things influence me – books, TV programmes, quite often song lyrics or lines from poetry. I have a habit of scrolling through Pinterest looking for images to inspire me and I usually listen to music when I’m writing. Sometimes, a character from a film or TV will spark something.

I’ve always been intrigued by villains and anti-heroes. There’s a bit of a joke in my family that when I was little, the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was my favourite character and I felt sorry for him and that he was misunderstood

I read a lot of school stories as a child – the Chalet School books in particular and I think what I liked about them was the drama in the interactions between the schoolgirls and I think this has carried over into my writing. I remember watching Star Wars and Return of the Jedi and being completely enthralled but again, I think it was the characters more than the story that appealed to me. I think a lot of people say this, but once I read The Lord of the Rings, I knew I wanted to write a fantasy novel. I didn’t even understand it properly the first time round, but it definitely influenced me (the films too) if only to get me reading more fantasy novels.

As a teenager, I read a lot of anthologies of ghost stories. I took them out of the school library, and I think there was a series of them called something like Spectre 1 – 4. I read a lot of teen novels around that time. There was a book called ‘The Outsiders’ by S E Hinton that I loved so much I stole it from the school library. I still read the ‘The Chocolate War’ and ‘Beyond the Chocolate War’ by Robert Cormier every couple of years because I think the way he depicts the misuse of power is very powerful. Those books were probably the first I read where the good guys didn’t win, and the villain wasn’t punished.

When I started writing more seriously – in my early 20’s – I was reading more and more fantasy and writing more of it too. I read a lot of Anne Rice and at the time her lush, descriptive style appealed to me as well as her immortal characters. I was also reading Tad Williams’ epic fantasies and Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu trilogy and out of this mish mash came A Dream and a Lie. It also came about because I couldn’t understand why anyone (even an evil over lord) would want to live in Mordor – it’s horrible and uncomfortable there and orcs are not nice people to have around. That got me thinking of alternatives. So, the Big Bad in A Dream and a Lie lives somewhere that’s quite a bit nicer than some of the places where the good guys live.

ADreamAndALieOriginal Cover Illustration for ‘A Dream and a Lie’ Omnibus
by Ruby

The Wraeththu trilogy was important to my writing because I’d never read anything like it. I loved the characters, the plot and the setting but I also liked the way that it treated with gender. I’d been writing male characters that spoke and behaved in a way I felt was more female and I thought this was a fault with my writing. Reading the Wraeththu books showed me that there were ways round this, things I could do with the building of my worlds and without changing my characters’ personalities

IP: Several of your stories concern life in a humdrum office. Clearly, you have worked in such an office, and have experienced the pitfalls! Can you expand upon your inspirations for these stories?

FM: I’ve worked in a lot of offices, so I guess I’m just writing what I know. There are a lot of small dramas that go on at work and people get very territorial over desks and chairs and stationery. I’ve witnessed arguments over some ridiculous things and seen grown women revert to schoolgirls over whether to have a window open or closed (this resulted in someone very pointedly wearing a winter coat in the office in the height of summer.

There’s a lot of backstabbing and some quite despicable behaviour that goes on but is somehow condoned because it happens at work. In my story ‘Cosmic Ordering for Vampires’ the vampire kills someone because she gets given his desk at the window because she’s more senior than he is. This happened to me in one of the jobs I had, and it just seemed utterly petty to me. I didn’t complain, but I didn’t like it much and I may have harboured some revenge fantasies that have come out in this story! In that same office, the girl I was moved next to, very pointedly moved all her stuff to another desk so she wouldn’t have to sit next to me, and one evening someone took my monitor and chair and then when I came in the next morning I was told ‘no one here would do that’ when my empty desk made it obvious they had. They really didn’t like me there.

In one team I worked in we did a lot of overtime in the evenings and at the weekends. A couple of times, I got there before 8 am on a Sunday morning and there was hardly anyone else in the massive building. It was quite eerie. The lights were on a motion sensor so only came on when you walked under them, past all those empty desks with papers and coffee mugs left on them as if their occupants were expected back at any minute. There were lots of creaking noises and any footsteps from upstairs were amplified because it was so quiet. It was always the same group of people doing overtime and we got to be quite a close knit group. At some point, I thought I’d worked out how to defraud the bank and I was pretty sure at least one of my colleagues would have helped me. So, from all that, I got the ideas for ‘Cosmic Ordering’, ‘The Lottery Lady’ and ‘We Are Not Who We Think We Are’.

I also really enjoy reading about people at work and apart from some chicklit and a few crime novels, I haven’t come across a lot of stories set in offices, so I’ve had to write my own. I’d be interested to know of any fantasy or horror stories set in offices.

9781907737992-Perfect.inddLord of the Looking Glass Cover
by Danielle Lainton

IP: Your stories of a post-apocalyptic world are vivid and strange. How did this world make itself known to you, and what are your plans for it in the future? Could you tell us about your favourite characters in this world?

FM: I’m not sure where this world came from. I suppose it might have come out of what I was reading at the time that I started to conceive of it – the Wraeththu books, Elizabeth Hand’s ‘Winterlong’ and ‘The Stand’ by Stephen King. I was at school during the Cold War and in English lessons we were studying works with a Cold War theme – novels, poetry and short stories and we watched the film ‘Threads’ in class. I don’t remember being very interested in the bomb blast, but in what would happen in the centuries afterwards when there was nothing left but ruins of our world.

I do have plans to write more about this world. The world of ‘The Census-Taker’s Daughter’ appeals to me a lot and I’d quite like to expand this short story into a novel length piece of writing. I’d keep the Sleeping Beauty theme and the talking animals and include the back story around what happened to Maya’s mother. The idea of there only being a finite number of people left in the only inhabitable place in the world, and then an extra person being half glimpsed in the shadows, really interests me.

I’ve also got an idea for a portal fantasy where several cities are interlinked and where one of these is a post-apocalyptic city. I’ve started sketching out a few ideas in a notebook, but it’s a slow progress.

IP: Are the stories of the Blood twins associated with the same world as that of the Walking Man?

Originally, they were, along with the ‘Ginevra Flowerdew’ and ‘The Plague Doctor’ stories. I wrote the stories to try and get some ideas of this world clear in my mind.

The Walking Man is a character/concept that particularly interests me – I’m not sure if I’ve ‘borrowed’ him from a film or a book, I have a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that something inspired him, but I can’t remember what. The idea of a stranger just walking and walking and not actually going anywhere but creating his own mythology along the way appeals to me. I have an idea for a novel that mixes the vampire from ‘Cosmic Ordering for Vampires’ with the Walking Man that really excites me, but I think it’s probably unpublishable.

I’d also like to write some more about the Blood twins, and I can see that having them encounter the Walking Man in one of his many incarnations might be interesting.

IP: How many of your stories are inspired by events and people in real life, and are there any anecdotes you can share about them?

FM: The bridge in ‘Bridge 52’ is a real place in Milton Keynes which is apparently haunted by an Irish labourer who was murdered, and his remains walled up in the supports.

I was part of a lottery syndicate until quite recently and we rarely won anything, and I got the idea for ‘The Lottery Lady’ from that. The mortgage fraud in that story is a little like the fraud I thought I’d worked out how to carry out, and when I was working in that same team, a colleague and I found a staircase in the building we’d never noticed before one day, despite having worked the building for years. All that found its way into ‘The Lottery Lady’.

There are elements of someone I used to know in the character of Terz in ‘A Dream and a Lie’ – the idea that you can get away with doing something despicable if you can make people laugh and you’re fun to be around.

IP: You’re currently working on a revised edition of your trilogy ‘A Dream and a Lie’. Could you talk about how you’ve felt coming back to those novels after quite a long time away from them?

FM: I had mixed feelings about revisiting it. My initial feeling was that it was written and done with and I wasn’t particularly interested in looking at it again, but when I flicked through it, I could see that there were still parts of it that excited me even though it’s probably not what I would write now if I was starting a fantasy novel from scratch.

What surprises me now is the hugeness of the world I created and the sheer number of characters. I didn’t have any plan when I started writing it – I just wrote it without any idea of where it was going. I don’t think I intended on writing something so epic when I started it. The first three or four drafts were hand written and there were a lot of characters (Traize, Nym, Nightshade) who were late additions. Every time I added a new character, I had to start rewriting again at the beginning to weave their story into the plot. Revisiting it now, I can remember those first drafts and how I began to slowly realise I was writing something that might actually go somewhere.

One thing that’s struck me on revising it is the lack of strong female characters in the original, so I’m trying to address that. The beauty of having a shape-shifting, gender-fluid race of people is that this isn’t as problematic as it might be though it hasn’t been as simple as just changing ‘he’ to ‘she’. What’s struck me is how something like changing the gender of characters can change the whole feel of certain scenes. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there’s one particular thing that has a completely different feel and much more interesting slant to it when the gender of one of the characters is changed from male to female.

I’ve enjoyed revisiting it and I’m glad I’m doing it. I love it when I come across something that I’d forgotten I’d written, or a description or turn of phrase that surprises me and I find myself thinking ‘Wow, I wrote that’.

IP: What unfinished works and ideas do you have awaiting further development?

FM: Lots of ideas, some that I’ve already mentioned – a vampire/walking man novel; an expanded version of ‘The Census Taker’s Daughter’ and the portal novel I mentioned. I’ve got a crime type novel that I wrote at the same time I was developing A Dream and A Lie that I’d like to do something with and an angels and demons novel that I wrote and have some plans for. I’d also quite like to revisit the world of A Dream and a Lie and write a bit more about what happens next to some of the characters. I started doing this a few years ago but rather infuriatingly I can’t find the file.

IP: What is the strangest/weirdest thing that has ever happened to you?

FM: When I was very little, maybe 3 or 4 years old, I was in the garden with my Dad and there was something grey and metallic in the sky that only I could see. I can see it very clearly in my memory – it looked a bit like a sideways metal pyramid. I pointed at it and asked what it was, but my Dad couldn’t see anything. Strangely, I’ve never given this much thought or questioned what it was or if I just imagined it.

Generally, nothing particularly odd has happened to me – I think I write strange fiction to fill that gap.

IP: Please give details of all social media you’re involved in, so that people can keep up to date with your work.

FM: I’ve got a Facebook page and a Facebook author page that I’ll endeavour to keep up to date. I also have a website at fionamcgavin.co.uk where I’m keeping a weekly blog about my reading, writing and other stuff that interests me. I’ve also got a Good Reads author page.

Is your author website a commercial website?

 

You write books. You have a website, where you offer those books. You also write blog posts and you consider your website to primarily be an information site. Actually, however, its a commercial site and the reason its a commercial site is because you are selling books on the site. If you sell a single product on your site, you now have a commercial website. The reason I bring this up, is because I think for many authors they don’t necessarily think of themselves as owning a business. They’ve written a book, and that’s what they think it is…a book, but the book is much more than just a book. It’s a product, a commercial good with your name on it.

Recently I was contacted by Getty Images because of a picture I used on one of my websites. You can read the story here. In their letter to me they explained that my site was a commercial website (which is true because its a business), but it got me thinking about my other website and I realized that was a commercial website as well and that the criteria for establishing if something is a commercial website seems to boil down to whether or not you are using the site to sell something (ergo you run a business).

You may not have thought of your website as a commercial site, but its worth considering that even if you don’t other people do, and this consequently effects you in certain ways. You may not be taking full advantage of business deductions related to your site or products. You may also not be accurately reporting information that needs to be reported for the purposes of taxes. It’s important that you recognize what your site is and treat it accordingly, as well as recognize that you don’t just have a commercial website, but also a commercial enterprise, albeit one that may be limited to selling copies of your books.

Another reason you want to be clear about this is because if your site is deemed commercial it can limit what you can use on your site. For example if you are using pictures on a site, but your site is considered commercial you need to be careful about what pictures you use and make sure that if you are using “free” pictures that they are free to use even if you are a commercial site (with proper attribution). That’s just one example of how website being categorized as commercial can effect your choices of what content you are putting on the site. So take a look at your website. Do you want it to just be an information site or do you want to sell your books on it. Know what the distinction is so you can make the appropriate choices.

The Reality of Amazon in Publishing

Amazon

Every so often, one of my authors will email me or instant message me and ask about something that has occurred on Amazon. Maybe they can’t find their book or maybe their book is being offered at a discounted rate, or maybe its something else. What they want is for me to solve the problem. However what they don’t realize is just what a complicated relationship there is between Amazon and publishers. Actually that’s true of distributors and retailers in general. The following may shed some light on the realities of dealing with any retailer, as well as some specific aspects of dealing with Amazon.

1. Publishers make prices, but retailers can change prices. A publisher can decide that a book is worth $20.99 and that’s what the book will cost on the publisher’s website. It’s also what the book will cost if you buy it direct from the author. But if you buy the book from Amazon or some other retailer, you may note that the price is sometimes discounted. Sometimes the discount is small and sometimes its large. This discount can effect royalties authors receive. The publisher has little control over the discount, because the book is being sold by a third party.

2. Kindlelicious. Another service Amazon provides is Kindle. Publishers can sign up for different types of kindle accounts. For example, you can sign up for a kindle account where you only offer e-books through kindle or you can sign up for one where you offer e-books through other sites. Obviously Amazon prefers you sign up for a kindle only account. There are some features you will get with Kindle only, but its always a toss up because not everyone wants to use Kindle.

3. Subscription based reading is becoming a reality. Amazon has set up a subscription service where you can read over 70,000 titles if you pay a monthly fee. The books aren’t free (the subscriber is paying a fee) but you won’t get as much royalties as you’d like because its essentially a library. This will become more of a reality for the publishing industry and you can’t do much about it because the retailer is still paying you for the content.

4. Publishers print the books and ship them out, but retailers sell the books and hold the balance of power. Publishing has always been an industry where the retailer holds the power. The retailer is the middle person in the equation and as such is for the most part dealing with the customers. Publishers accept this because of the exposure books get, but also accept that as a result retailers set a lot of the rules for the relationship.

Even if you self-publish, you still end up dealing with retailers of some type. For example, if you write a book and want to sell it, where do you go? Amazon, because you know amazon provides you an opportunity to get in front of your audience. But when you do that you also understand that Amazon is dictating the terms because you need them more than they need you.

My point in writing this post is just to explain that while publishers can and will do their part to represent their authors interests, they nonetheless have to deal with the retailers and that relationship isn’t an equal one by any measure. Knowing that can help you the author understand why some things occur on amazon and other retailer sites.

Ten Years of Non-Fiction at Immanion Press

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Ten years ago, give or take a month, my book Pop Culture Magick was published by Immanion Press. That was the start of the non-fiction lineup, which eventually became the Megalithica book imprint for Immanion Press. When I first wrote Pop Culture Magick, I shopped it around to the big Pagan and Occult publishers. None of them wanted the book. I was told it had no market appeal, and that the topic was considered too controversial (Ironically enough now the topic of pop culture magic is quite popular and one of those bigger publishers has published books along that theme of thought). So I took the book to Storm Constantine, who had started Immanion Press up in the next year and asked her what she thought I should do. She looked the book over and told me I should publish it with Immanion Press. While it was true that they were publishing Fantasy and Horror, she thought the book should be published and she felt Immanion Press would be a good home for it. To this day, I’m grateful to her, because she not only helped me get my first also book published, she also got me involved in the world of publishing.

A few months later, Nick Farrell asked me if Immanion would publish his book Gathering the Magic, which was about group dynamics and leadership in magical orders. Although he had books published by bigger publishers, none of them wanted that book. I passed his book onto Storm and she OKed it, but afterwards she asked me if I would like to actually head up the non-fiction line. She realized that it could grow and that people already knew me. I agreed and became the managing non-fiction editor. Shortly after we published Nick’s book, Lupa gave us her first book Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic. Later on we published Tony Mierzwicki’s Graeco-Egyptian Magick. Years later, he would tell me that he’d shopped the book everywhere and gotten tons of rejections and had just about been ready to give up, when he came across us and sent it out one last time. We accepted his book and later on that helped him open some doors with larger publishers. Since then we’ve published over 3 dozen non-fiction books on esoteric topics that are for intermediate to advanced practitioners and cover specific niches or focus on social justice issues in Paganism, and we’ve got more books on the way!

When I think back to ten years ago, I remember how excited I was to open the first box that contained copies of Pop Culture Magick. Here at last, in manifest form, was the book I’d written, ready to be shared with other people. I still feel that way every time a box of books, and not just my own books, but the books of the authors who’ve chosen to publish with us. To know that Immanion can be part of the process for the writer is a humbling experience. I feel blessed to be able to participate in the writing and publishing of the books sent to us by the authors we work with.

Happy anniversary to the non-fiction line! It’s been quite a ride up to this point and I look forward to continue that ride for many, many years to come!