Having read and enjoyed Michael Wood’s books (For Reasons Unknown, Outside Looking In, A Room Full of Killers), and conversed with him on twitter – where he has a delightfully dry, self depreciating and gentle style – I couldn’t resist asking if I could interview him for my blog. Being the true gent that he is, he readily agreed and his answers are below. I hope you’ll enjoy this insight into the life of Michael Wood as much as I have and, if you haven’t already done so, please do take a look at his books.
Q1. When did you write For Reasons Unknown?
For Reasons Unknown was written many years before it was finally published. The finished product is very different to the original draft, though the main plot is the same, the characters, the settings, the protagonist, all of those changed throughout the many versions. I think I called it something different too, but I can’t remember what.
Q2. What are the best and worst things about being an author?
The best thing is having a book published, having people read it and, hopefully, enjoy it. It’s wonderful to meet fellow writers and readers. The worst part is the actual writing. It’s incredibly lonely. One aspect of writing I enjoy is the research when it comes to a new novel. I love finding out new and bizarre aspects of policing or forensics I can put into my books.
Q3. There is a theory that every writer has an uncompleted novel tucked away in a drawer – do you? If so, why did you abandon it and do you think it will ever see the light of day?
I certainly do. I showed it to my agent who liked it and gave it a good going over with a red pen. It’s been edited and updated. Fingers crossed it will be published one day. It’s different from my Matilda Darke novels and it’s not set in Sheffield.
Q4. Who would you say is your biggest literary influence?
There are three crime writers who I first read many many years ago whose books I loved and realised I wanted to be a writer: Minette Walters, Val McDermid and Reginald Hill. High class novelists. I’d devour every word they wrote.
Q5. I love Matilda Darke, did the character come to you all at once or did it change as you wrote?
Matilda Darke started out as a man. However, when I was writing him, I realised something didn’t quite work and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Then I saw a competition in a magazine for unpublished crime writers to send their work off. One of the judges was Ruth Rendell. One of the rules was that the protagonist had to be a woman. That’s when I realised my main character should have been female rather than male. I created Matilda and slotted her into the book and it worked. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline for the competition.
Q6. If you could liken yourself to one character from your books, which one would it be and why?
I’m very much like Matilda. She’s full of angst and self-doubt. She’s good at her job but she lacks confidence. That’s definitely me. She also has a house full of crime fiction novels, again, which is very me.
Q7. You are fantastic at crime fiction, do you see yourself sticking to this genre or is there a different style that you fancy taking on?
Thank you for the compliment. I do have an idea for a literary drama that I’d like to write at some point. Crime fiction is taking up a lot of my time at present, but maybe one day I’ll get time to write it. It’s a story of three unconnected people facing a personal battle on the same day in London. At the end of the story they are drawn together through one massive event. I’ve got it all mapped out I just need to write it.
Q8. Which do you prefer:
– Wine or beer? Beer.
– Cats or dogs? Dogs.
– Mac or pc? PC.
– Tea or coffee? Coffee.
– Morning or evening? Evening.
– Harry Potter or Northern Lights? I haven’t read either.
Q9. Who is your favourite author?
This is tricky as I have so many favourite authors. The work of Charles Dickens helped me a great deal as a child. I’ll read anything Minette Walters and Val McDermid publish. Reginald Hill will always have a special place in my life. Peter James is a wonderful author and I’m a massive fan of Ruth Rendell, Elly Griffiths, Henning Mankell, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Peter Robinson, Mark Billingham, Alex Marwood, Sarah Hilary, James Oswald. The list is endless.
Q10. There are lots of aspiring authors out there and it’s well known that being ‘spotted’ by an agent or publisher is difficult; how did you get your big break?
I’m still waiting for my big break. I wasn’t spotted. I had to work bloody hard to get a publisher and an agent and I’m still working hard now. It’s not easy. You need a thick skin, determination, and the ability to put in the long, lonely hours required to write a book and get it accepted by an agent/publisher.
Q11. Where and how do you prefer to write?
I make detailed hand-written notes on my plot, subplot, recurring characters and new characters before I sit down at the computer to write. This initial step is done anywhere; on the sofa, in bed at night, in a coffee shop. Once that stage is finished, I sit at my desk and write non-stop until the first draft if complete.
Q12. How long did each book take you to write?
I have no idea. I try not to keep count of how long it takes as if one book only took six months and the next took nine months, I’d wonder why one took longer than the other.
Q 13. What is your best cure for writers’ block?
A dog. The best writing companions ever.
Q 14. What sort of child were you at school and did your English teacher have you pegged as a future author?
I was very quiet at school; head down, work in on time, never pushing myself forward. School days were horrible. I loved English, especially when we had to write short stories. I don’t think my teachers realised I was there as I was so quiet. I think I was just a name in the register.
Q15. When I finish reading a book that I’ve loved I almost feel a bit bereft as I miss the characters in my life. How do you feel when you’ve finished writing one?
The same. I miss Matilda and her team as they’re great characters. They all have something special about them. Matilda is struggling personally and trying her hardest to get through life. Rory is fun and cheeky and enjoying life. Sian is the strong, stable mother-figure. Adele is a wonderful friend to Matilda; she’s lively and bubbly. Scott is thoughtful and serious. I love them all. I have back stories for each of my main characters, some of which won’t even make it to the novels, but it’s for me to know who they are, what makes them tick and react to certain situations. I have plans for them all too. They all have an end story.
Q 16. Where do you get the ideas from for your crimes?
Everywhere. Other novels, the news, newspapers, magazines. My mum often cuts out real life stories she reads and magazines and gives them to me in case I was to use them. I have a folder full of inspiration. It’s strange how you’ll be having an innocent conversation with someone and an idea will pop into your head. I do a great deal of research and talk to detectives, doctors and pathologists. They sometimes say things that give me ideas too.
Q17. I’ve only been to Sheffield a few times, if I go there and look for the places mentioned in your books will I find them (are they real)? A kind of ‘Matilda Darke Murder Tour’ if you will!
Definitely. All the places mentioned in the books are real. Occasionally, I’ve altered the geography of Sheffield and in The Hangman’s Hold I created a whole new road as what I wanted for the finale wasn’t there, but about 98% of the locations exist.
Q18. What is the best/worst job you’ve had?
Best job is what I’m doing now. I love writing. Worst job was as a PA for a director within the NHS who never came off her phone. I only lasted three days. I hated it.
Q19. What is your favourite TV show?
This is difficult as I don’t watch much TV. Programmes I own on DVD which I watch regularly are: Blackadder, Wallander, Waking the Dead, Red Dwarf, The Sculptress, Warriors, Dalziel and Pascoe, Great Expectations.
Great interview! I hadn’t realised Matilda was originally conceived as a man!