Today I have the pleasure to meet Matthew Harffy, author of “The Serpent Sword“. Welcome on my blog, Matthew. Please tell us a little about yourself as a writer and as a person.
I have been writing on and off for the last 15 years or so. Before that I had tried the odd story, but I’d never seriously tried to write a novel before The Serpent Sword. I started that story back in 2001, then gave up after a couple of years when Bernard Cornwell brought out the first of his Uhtred novels, which are very similar in theme and style. Then, in 2012 I thought life was too short not to complete the story that had been whispering to me all those years. I sat down with a plan to complete the book in six months (I was already 26,000 words in) and I hit my goal. After a lot of polishing and editing, and dealing with agents and publishers, I published The Serpent Sword in April 2015. I have already written the sequel, The Cross And The Curse, which should be out later this year or early 2016, and I am now working on the third book in The Bernicia Chronicles, By Blood And Blade. I think it is safe to say that I’ve got the writing bug now!
When not writing, I like to spend time with my family, visiting some of the lovely villages, towns and historical sites of the beautiful are of England where I live. I love travelling further afield too, but there is never enough time or money to visit all the places where I’d like to go.
Until very recently, I also sang in a rock band and we gigged all over the place in pubs and clubs and even headlined a beer festival a few years ago. I love performing, but there was just too much going on in my life to focus on the band as well as family, writing and the full-time day job. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll join another band, but for now, I am going to dedicate my free time to writing.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
I’ve always been interested in fiction set in the past, be it medieval or the American West or Roman, it is all good to me. Each period in history is like a different foreign country that we can visit. I look at historical fiction as a way to travel to those distant times and places, to learn something about the people and get an entertaining story to boot.
The Serpent Sword is set in seventh century Northumbria in Britain. It is a fascinating time and place, with Angles clashing with the native peoples of the British Isles, and with other Angle and Saxon tribes. It was also a time of the resurgence of Christianity, and even that was a clash, as there were missionaries sent from Rome to evangelise and others coming down from Ireland, through Iona and then down to Lindisfarne and Northumbria. And of course, the people worshiped their old gods too, so that was another conflict. This melting pot of cultures, religions and warring kings has great scope for exciting tales to be told.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
I map out the main chapter structure and the synopsis in advance. I think that if I did not know what I was aiming for, I would never find the energy to complete a novel. Despite having the main bones of the story in advance, many of the scene details and even quite important characters appear during the writing process. One of the joys of writing is when an idea just comes seemingly from nowhere and transforms a dull scene into something brilliant. When the muse is on form, it is magical.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
This is something I am still working on! I wrote the second book while my agent was trying to find a publisher for The Serpent Sword, so I was not distracted. Writing the third book has been much more difficult, as I have been busy marketing The Serpent Sword and marketing can become a full time job in itself! I think the only way to do it is to compartmentalise and set aside some times to writing and other times to marketing, interviews, Facebook, Twitter, the blog and all the rest!
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
I have some good beta readers who find lots of errors and typos, then I do a good deal of editing myself. Finally, my dad gives it a final edit. In my day job, I often work as an editor for technical writers, so I have a good eye for detail. The thing you learn though is that no matter how many times you edit and review something, you’ll always find more mistakes and things you can improve.
What is your advice to new writers?
Don’t give up. Every professional published author started out as a keen amateur.
Who are your favourite authors?
Larry McMurtry, David Gemmell, Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Patrick O’Brian
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
The Betrothed Sister by Carol McGrath. I am reading an Advance Reader Copy of it on my Kindle.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
Much as I like music, I don’t like reading (or writing) with songs with lyrics playing. I would say some good classical music, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, or perhaps a great film soundtrack, like Howard Shore’s score for the Lord of the Rings movies.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
I would love to be like Beobrand, the protagonist of the Bernicia Chronicles. He is not a perfect hero, but he is brave, strong and confronts injustice and evil head on.
What makes you laugh?
Whatever is funny! My younger daughter is hilariously mad and often has me in stitches.
Who would you like to invite for dinner?
If I could choose anyone alive or dead, I think I’d choose Sir Richard Francis Burton. I think he would have been an interesting dinner guest! If you don’t know much about him, Google him. He’s one of my all time heroes. I would like to have actually been able to meet him and see if he lived up to my idea of him.
Salty or sweet?
How do you handle criticism of your work?
With gritted teeth! If it is constructive, I don’t mind it too much, but some criticism is very hard to swallow. Getting a good review is a wonderful feeling. Getting a negative review is horrible, but something that all writers have to learn to live with!
Thanks for doing this interview, Christoph. It’s been fun and made me think!
The pleasure was mine!
Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.
Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.
Buy The Serpent Sword: http://getbook.at/TheSerpentSword