SPFBO Semi Finalist Interview: Steven McKinnon

I return with another interview, and this one is a biggie! One of the semi finalists got announced recently and this one is Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon. I recently got the honor of reviewing one of the first semi finalists for this year’s SPFBO. I will leave the Amazon link down below, please check it out! Personally, I love this book cover and I’ve already added it to my TBR list. Expect a review in due course!

 

Check out a selection of past interviews down below:

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First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?

 

Action-heavy fantasy adventures with a dose of grit (and occasional humour). My entry for SPFBO is my first fictional book, Symphony of the Wind. My first book, Boldly Going Nowhere, is a true-life tale about anxiety and online dating and how I strove to turn my life around in the face of my personal demons. (But with a lot of humour.)

 

How do you develop your plots and characters?

 

By not planning well enough in advance (something I’m trying to remedy). Usually I get *most* of a character down pat, and only when I’ve spent time with them and got a sense for who they are through their actions can I go back and amend their dialogue/mannerisms. Also, sticking them in a the middle of a brawl and seeing how they fight/run/handle it helps me figure them out. It’s a good way to get to know fictional people.

 The plot usually fits around the characters and their dynamics; in Symphony, there are wider machinations going on, but everyone’s in the fight for their own personal reasons.

 

Tell us about your current project.

 

I’m currently working on the second volume of The Raincatcher’s Ballad… Details are secret just now, but it’ll have the same gritty tone, big action sequences and surprises in store. It’ll also delve deeper into the backstory of one of my favourite characters, who takes centre stage…

 

Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!

 

A 16-year-old orphan named Serena is the main character of the series, but she cuts about with a motley bunch of characters she meets in Symphony of the Wind. She’s a “Raincatcher”—the roughneck, working-class labourers who provide clean water for the desert kingdom. She dreams of captaining an airship of her own one day. Something of a loner, Serena has never known any true family, which contributes to her rebellious nature and lack of respect for authority figures. She might also be a little bit magic…

 

I like to incorporate archetypes in my stories, but make them fresh and unique. Hopefully I’ve struck the right balance!

 

What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?

 

Exactly that—‘Delve’ right in. Get your fingers dirty. Leave handprints all over the place. You’ll soon get a feel for what you’re good at and what you need to work on. Also, get in touch with friends or writing groups who can offer you constructive criticism. I did a part-time Saturday creative writing class at University of Glasgow and it did wonders for my writing. I recommend doing something like that over a more informal group, as (in my experience anyway), the in-class critique and analysis fine tunes the creative mind without stifling it.

 

What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?

 

I researched castles and war monuments, but the biggest real-life influence (I’m sorry to say) was ‘Unit 731’, a World War II Japanese chemical and bio weapons facility that involved a lot of human experimentation and abuse. It makes for some pretty grim reading… (It’s also the subject matter of the Bruce Dickinson song “The Breeding House”, and the Slayer song “Unit 731”.)

 

What inspires you to write?

 

My love of reading and genre TV and computer games! I want to contribute to the things that stoked my imagination growing up (and which continue to stoke my imagination). Also, as a sufferer of OCD and anxiety (not to mention episodes of depression), I like to explore mental illness—one of my main characters, Tyson Gallows, is in a deeply depressed state at the beginning of Symphony.

 

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

 

With my first book, writing biographical humour meant I didn’t have to invent so many details—that’s not true this time around! Giving the reader small details to build the world around the characters (like architecture and politics etc.) meant having to work some creative writing muscles that had atrophied a bit. Research can be a bit of a time-sink, though not necessarily an unpleasant one.

 

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

 

Ha! ‘All of them!’

Actually, my favourite chapter is probably chapter nineteen, as that’s where the narrative takes a turn, characters we’ve been following either meet or separate, and worlds collide…

 

Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?

 

I love writing action and chase scenes. Also, I learned how to demonstrate emotion better in my characters through actions—showing and not telling.

 

It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?

 

I just go where they take me. I’ll have an idea of what a character will say or do, but try as I might, they can change their mind and reveal a different facet of their personality that I hadn’t thought of…

 

What are your future project(s)?

 

More Raincatcher’s Ballad, if readers want it (I hope so). I also have one or two ideas that would work well in the same world, though concerning a different group of characters, as well as a pair of novels bubbling away that are still genre fiction but entirely different from epic fantasy. It’ll be a long while before I can focus on them, though.

 

If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?

 

I enjoy my student-facing admin job at University of Glasgow—I get to help students and solve problems. It’s a lot more hands-on and involved in what higher education is all about compared to other University jobs I’ve had. But to answer your question, a Robot Ninja Space Pirate.

 

 

What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

 

Preferably by a living sacrifice to Throzgaz Blood-Dancer, Undergod of the Damned—but failing that, I can be contacted via my website. I’m also on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter.

 

Cheers! Symphony of the Wind is available on Amazon. Subscribers to my newsletter get the prequel novella, The Fury Yet To Come, for free.

 

 

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