Interview in SCAN (Lancaster University)

I’ve just had an interview published in the Lancaster University student newspaper, SCAN. Students and staff at Lancaster can pick up a free copy from all the usual locations, including the Library entrance. The issue will be available for the next three weeks. For those of you unable to get hold of a copy, the text from the interview is reproduced below.

Interview with M.J. Ryder published in SCAN (Lancaster University student newspaper), February 2019.
Interview with M.J. Ryder published in SCAN

Was there a specific moment in your life that inspired you to start writing, or is it what you’ve always wanted to do?

I’ve always liked writing, but it wasn’t until my early 20s that I realised just how much. I was walking home from college one day when an idea struck me that I though would make a good book. When I got home that evening, I started scribbling down ideas, and before I knew it a whole world started forming in my mind. That was some ten years ago now, and I’ve written several things since then, but I still recall that one moment walking home from college that really kicked it off for me.

What is your favourite literary genre and why?

Well, I’m doing a PhD on science fiction so it would be remiss of me not to say that’s my favourite! But I also like fantasy as well (hence the novel…). I guess you could describe my tastes as what some in literary circles call ‘Fantastika’.

Would you say there is a novel or series of novels that’s been a major influence on your work?

Oh, there are almost too many to mention! When I was younger, I remember reading Raymond E. Feist’s Magician for the first time and came away feeling more inspired than I’d ever felt before. Magician is still one of my all-time favourite fantasy novels, though some of the later books in The Riftwar Cycle are not so good. The first two sagas though are brilliant and well worth a read.

What was your thought process behind the world you have built? Has it evolved from what you originally envisioned it as?

Good question! The world itself wasn’t actually conceived in The Darkest Hour, but rather in the three (unpublished) novels I wrote before it. In a way, I see those early books as helping lay the groundwork for the novel and other works I hope to write in the future. It was also a great apprenticeship in the art of writing, and the sheer bloody-minded dedication you need to write the tens or sometimes hundreds of thousands of words that make up a book.

What was your favourite part of the creative process? Were there any characters or scenes that you always looked forward to writing?

As I mentioned, I had previously written some prequal books that helped establish some of the characters that feature in The Darkest Hour. This meant I had a good ‘feel’ for the characters and the way the world worked. This made writing some parts really easy, and even quite fun! For example, I really enjoyed writing the dialogue between Callum, Aaron, Lena and Kiera, because they remind me of so many of my own conversations with friends when I was much younger. I also love writing battle scenes, and I hope this comes through in the book. I just hope you all enjoy the climax at the end!

Describe your life with the title of a novel.

Erm… this is hard… I used to enjoy reading the Adrian Mole books when I was younger, so maybe The Growing Pains of Mike Ryder (*laughs*). Seriously though, I’m thinking maybe something from science fiction. I’m currently reading Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss. That title seems pretty apt!

What was, for you, the toughest part of the writing and publishing process?

I guess the toughest part of any writing is the fact you are exposing a small part of yourself to the world. I used to work as a professional ghostwriter, and that was nothing compared to this. Back then, the work I was producing was for other people, but in this case, everything you see in the book before you was created by me, and me alone. That’s a scary thing! I just hope people like it.

If you could have a conversation with one writer from all of history, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

Hmm… I’ve always wanted to meet H.G. Wells as I’ve always wanted to get a sense of where he got all his amazing ideas from. The same could be said for Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut. There are just so many to choose from, I think I might have to stick with H.G. Wells.

Are there any other writing projects you’d like to publish in future, or do you plan to expand on the world you’ve created in The Darkest Hour?

I always have something or other on the go. I actually wrote The Darkest Hour several years ago, and it took a while for me to summon up the courage to put it into print. I’m hoping this whole process will re-energise me for the process, as I have lots of ideas I want to expand on. I actually have a manuscript for a children’s book I need to do something with, as well as a small book for the very young. Outside of these projects, I’m just getting to the end of my PhD, and the next big project will be trying to turn that into a book. After that I have a few ideas for a modern-day comedy and maybe even some science fiction. I have a lot of ideas! You can find out what I’m up to at the moment on my blog www.mjryder.net.

If you could rewrite a classic literary novel, e.g. Great Expectations, which one would you choose and why?

This is another tough question! I was always really disappointed with Moby Dick, though the prospect of re-writing it fills me with dread. Actually, now I think about it, I’d really like to re-write The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis – the final book in the Narnia Chronicles. No spoilers, but the ending was a major let down. The ‘event’ at the train station definitely needs a re-write!

What’s your number one pet peeve in writing, whether in your own work or when you’re reading a novel?

My biggest pet peeve? Hmm… I have a lot of these! In general, I get really annoyed by the misuse of semi-colons, and people who confuse semi-colons with colons, and vice versa. More widely however, I have a few peeves with the publishing industry in general – in particular, the trend towards longer and longer books, where ‘value’ is measured in terms of word-count when it comes to popular series (Harry Potter, I’m looking at you…). You know, some of the best books in history are actually pretty short. You don’t need hundreds of thousands of words to make a compelling tale!

What would be your absolute number one tip for aspiring writers be?

Write, write, write, and write some more! Though it may sound obvious, this is the single best tip anyone can give you. A lot of people struggle to put words onto paper, and struggle to find motivation, especially when writer’s block kicks in. However, writing is definitely something you can improve with practice and a critical eye, and the more you do it, the easier it will become. Of course, you should also read anything and everything you can get your hands on…

Do you listen to a particular genre of music while you’re writing, or do you prefer to work in silence?

It often varies with what phase I’m at with my writing. I tend to have a couple of ‘go to’ albums I always listen to. These tend to include classical, neo-classical, rock and metal. Typically I will listen to a lot of Yngwie Malmsteen when I’m planning or drafting things by hand, and then things get heavier when I start turning my notes into a typed manuscript. When I read things back though I do it in total silence! It definitely helps to read things out loud, and so I don’t like to be distracted so I can get a real sense of how things sound.

Further information

The Darkest Hour by M.J. Ryder is available in paperback (RRP £7.99) and eBook (RRP £3.99), and can be purchased via Amazon and from all good book stores. For further information, see www.darkesthourbook.com. You can also borrow the book from Lancaster University Library.

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