Hi Matthew, thank you for taking the time to take part.
1) Matthew, many will know you for your book releases, but how did your book writing journey come about and who were your favourite authors?
I grew up in a house where words were respected and revered, which was a wonderful experience for a child who adored language anyway. My dad was a journalist for fifty years before he retired, and both of my parents have always loved reading, so I was able to appreciate fiction and its power. Someone once said to me, “Oh, so you were indoctrinated into words very young then?” and I had to fight the urge to clip them round the ear. No, I wasn’t indoctrinated at all; the flames were fanned, certainly, but the flames were already there.
There were three points in my life that then really built on that; my dad used to occasionally work from home, and he left me use his laptop – an early Mac, back in the days when laptops were still clunky and boxy models with the processing speed of a chicken farm – when he didn’t need it. So I learnt how to touch type on that, and learnt how to play around with words, scenes, and little vignettes just for fun.
Secondly, books were an open – aha – book in my house. There was no such thing as a book that was too “old” for me; I suspect my parents knew that, if they’d tried to ban anything, I would have still tried to read it, just at three o’clock in the morning instead. So I was allowed to pick up books that intrigued me, and then encouraged to ask questions, talk about them, and so on. There were a lot of crime thrillers in my house – my mum was worryingly interested in them, especially during my neurotic teenage years – and so I learnt the art of pacing, intelligent plotting, and craft from those sort of tomes.
And thirdly, a Year Six (fifth year in old money) geography was a turning point; Mrs Cooper, my teacher, recognised that I had completely switched off from the lesson (I never liked the subject, and still don’t), and so challenged me to write a story during the class. She gave me carte blanche to write about whatever I wanted – to let my imagination run riot – so I wrote about a cowboy who rode into space on the back of a dinosaur. It really did seem like a completely normal plot at the time, and the fact that I wasn’t challenged to write something more mainstream really kickstarted my interest in science fiction and fantasy – I’d been given permission, almost, to explore the outer limits of my imagination.
As for who my favourite authors are, I’ve got to start with Terry Pratchett; his prose have always lifted me up and been so intelligent. There are so many layers of meaning and intelligent discussion within the frame of a damn good story. The same could be said of China Mieville, who came onto my radar a couple of years ago, and again is a magnificent writer. Joe Abercrombie, Stephen King, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman … these are gods of writing, and I can’t state it any clearer than that. Looking back at that list, I realise that they’re all men, but please don’t think I’m excluding women, but sadly, they are fewer in the science-fiction / fantasy fields. When they appear – Ursula K Le Guin, J K Rowling, Anne McCaffrey – they’re exquisite, but don’t appear as often as men. I hope that changes.
2) You had two books published, Fall From Grace and Leap of Faith, how did the story idea come about. Will it remain at two or is there a third outing possible?
To be honest, because the two books are a duology, it was really easy to consider them both as one continual story line, in a round about kind of way. I remember reading a bible during my childhood and teen years – I’m not religious in the slightest now, but I was then – and then, when I lost my faith, found myself reflecting on the textual elements of the stories I’d read in the book. I wanted to express them in my own way, and look at an alternative history to the one suggested in the gospel. I’ve always liked a good story, and that seemed like too good an opportunity to turn up when the idea formed in my head.
How do I come up with the full story, though? Well, I’m fairly relaxed about when I start writing; I don’t often know precisely how it’s going to end. I much prefer to be guided by the characters; it feels right to let things develop as they should, rather than be too rigid in my planning. My characters feel more genuine that way, and it’s more fun as well. For the first book, I knew – funnily enough – how I wanted it to end, but I didn’t have a clue how I was going to get there. But the characters led the way, and they also made me change a significant part of the ending when the original plan I had didn’t work. It was easier to go with the flow.
There’s definitely no third part to this particular storyline! I utterly loved writing the characters, as I was – perhaps unconsciously – channelling a lot of my own psyche and personality into them. It was quite cathartic in a way, but I came to a natural end with them after the second book; I didn’t feel that I could take them any further. That’s not to say I’m not curious to know what the characters are doing now, but I prefer to leave that entirely to them; they’re content, I know that, so I prefer to leave them in peace.
3) It’s NaNoWriMo and you are putting pen to paper, how are getting on this year and how many years have you entered?
I’m getting on very well, thank you; I’ve finished, so that’s lovely. I actually finished really early on; really early, as I’d set myself a stupid, practically impossible target, and I achieved it. Never again, though; next year, I intend to go back to my usual pace of 2,000 words per day. That’s a far more manageable amount.
This is the fourth year, I think; I’ll confess that I don’t actually remember precisely, but then I have a terrible memory for most things. I belong to a Facebook group called Nano Kent (as that’s where I live), and it’s a pretty active group all year round – as well as being very friendly. We’re a great community, and it acts as an online writers’ group for all of us. I like it for that alone, and there are many more reasons to like it as well.
4) The idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days to many seems a scary proposition, how do you prepare for it and do you ever find yourself thinking why?
I can understand why NaNo doesn’t work for some people, certainly; some writers I know are very anti, and that’s fine. I think it encourages a lot of writers to write, and gives them a discipline that they might struggle with for the rest of the year – or just enjoy the social side, as writing can be quite lonely at times. I like writing with my peers from time to time, and NaNo gives me that good excuse – so that’s why I like it anyway.
My own prep is very minimal, usually – like I said earlier, I’m not a natural planner for my fiction, and prepare to go with the flow. That works for me, but some writers I’ve spoken to react with the screaming ad-dabs at the merest hint of doing that; they much prepare to plot every single point out. The actual writing of the story then becomes more of a process than a creative exercise – Frederick Forsyth works like that, so who are we to argue? – and if people find that easier, then whatever works.
I never wonder why for myself, because it helps me feel part of a wider community, but I wonder why for other people sometimes, especially if they’re totally unprepared for it and seem surprised by the time factor involved. Of course there’s going to be a commitment; you need to write a minimum of 1,667 words per day (or have the capacity to catch up), and if that’s not possible, then just write what you can. But the important thing, of course, is just to keep on writing.
5)Rounding off the subject of writing, what can we look forward to next from yourself in the terms of a published book and do you think everyone is capable of writing a book?
I’ve got my next book due to be published in September 2017, again by Inspired Quill, and it’s a complete departure from the contemporary fantasy I’ve written up to now. This book – that will have to remain nameless just for the moment – plunges into more classic science-fiction, and it’s lovely to face a new challenge.
I can feel fantasy calling me back, however; I’m currently working on a sequel to the sci-fi book, and then maybe I’ll go back to fantasy again. I hope so; I miss it, as much as I like science-fiction. I’m also working on a non-fiction book around dyspraxia as well; that’ll get published when the time is right.
Interesting point regarding your final question there; does everyone have a book in them? Yes, I would say so, but is every book worth writing? Well, that’s an entirely different conversation. I’m quite controversial; I don’t think every kernel of an idea can be expanded to a story; I know I’ve written enough false starts to realise that there are some stories that just need to stay locked away in the confines of my head. For some people, the concept is a non-starter for them, and that’s sad, but not every story is automatically a good one.
6) You were diagnosed as dyspraxic in your teens, how difficult did you find it in regards of getting information and finding others who were also diagnosed, especially with social media being limited?
Difficult, to be frank. I grew up in the eighties and nineties, when the internet wasn’t still understood as a mass engagement tool – the world wide web wasn’t invented until 1989, for heaven’s sake, and I spent my teen years with nothing more powerful than dial-up. Online information, and meeting people who were like me, was practically impossible.
Printed literature was the same; there weren’t many books for people with dyspraxia, except for a book by Dr Amanda Kirby – who, despite being neuro-typical (or non-dyspraxic) absolutely gets it. She’s still active now, and she works hard at the Dyscovery Centre in Wales to support people with the condition as well as raising the profile of it. I applaud it, but there’s definitely a huge place for dyspraxic people themselves to be at the forefront of public engagement about the condition.
Dyspraxia is, essentially, a disorder to do with the neural connections in your brain; in a dyspraxic brain, some of these connections aren’t properly formed, affecting things like movement, memory, coordination, balance, and so on. But it also gives you added creativity and an ability to think far outside the box, so in every cloud …
But yes, it was frustrating to try and get information; I didn’t find out I was dyspraxic until I was 15, and I didn’t meet another dyspraxic until i was in my late 20s, when social media began to bring people together far more easily. Suddenly, everything fell into place, and I felt a massive sense of relief, that I wasn’t alone any more. I never had been, of course, but this was a liberating experience.
7) Together with your friend Barbara Neill, you set up The Two Dyspraxics that started with youtube videos. You also have a facebook page with 1369 likes, how has the response been to the page and how has the group taken off on facebook.
Yes, it’s been a wonderful experience so far, and it just proves what I’ve said in the previous answer; that people with the condition want to understand the practicalities of how to deal with it and realise their potential. We set up the The Two Dyspraxics Youtube channel not long after we met and discovered a mutual frustration with the lack of information out there in the ether, as well as a mutual appreciation for public communication and a shared sense of humour and love of the absurd.
We’ve discussed so much on our channel so far, and are always looking for new ideas. As for our The Two Dyspraxics, it’s really taking off; people feel really supported by it, and it’s sparked up some wonderful friendships as a result. We get new members every week, and it’s really grown since it started with just the two of us – again, doesn’t that show the demand that’s still out there?
We’re very proud of being a part of this engagement work, and it’s really key; we need to make sure the condition is better understood and valued. I’m also getting to work with one of my best friends on something that I absolutely love doing.
8) WIth The Two Dyspraxic work, do you intend to expand more or keep it with just the two of you and recording more youtube information videos?
I think this is something that’s best kept as just the two of us; that’s not to say other people haven’t got a valued part to play, but our part of the spectrum is something that works best with our own dynamic. We have genuinely big plans for T2D, including setting it up as a charity and spreading the message through as much media as possible; books, videos, talks, training sessions, and whatever else we can possible think of – so watch this space. You heard it here first, T2D is branching out! There’s so much more work to be done.
9) The Two Dyspraxic work isn’t the only charity involvement.You are involved in TG Pals, you did a walk earlier this year, could you tell us more about it?
TG Pals is a charity focused on support for transgender people, who have either transitioned, are in the process of transitioning, or are questioning their gender. We’re also going work on raising awareness of transgender as being something that’s entirely normal; so many people are trans, and there’s so much bigotry and misunderstanding about the spectrum, that TG Pals is badly needed. We’re looking to broaden our capacity in the future to offer a full support service, counsellors, and a lot else besides, but that costs money, of course.
As a trustee, my involvement in the day-to-day of the charity is limited – of course, there are experts for that – but I can use my profile to promote it, as well as helping to raise funds. You mentioned the marathon I did earlier this year, but I won’t pretend I did it alone; there were six of us, and it was a lot of fun. We based it on the Monopoly board, walking round every point, as well as the utilities, community chest, chance, etc. It was actually the second year we’ve done it, and were sponsored by so many people; the generosity we saw from people was overwhelming, and every penny goes straight to the charity to help people.
The suicide rate amongst trans people is massively higher than in the population at large, and that’s a horrible statistic; every death under such terrible circumstances is a life lost and a family devastated, so whatever we can do to change that, the better it is for all of us. We become a better, more inclusive society, and a trans individual becomes able to accept themselves far more easily.
10) Finally and continuing the the walks theme, you are known for doing various charity marathons, how do you manage to keep going and keeping up with them all. Do you ever think about just raising funds on a more relaxed method.
Relaxed? Gosh, that sounds rather boring to me. I like to be active. I’ve completed eleven marathons so far, plus a half marathon and various other shorter walks for charities, and they’re all brilliant – night marathons, colour runs, a half-marathon where my friend and I came first and third … yeah, they’re brilliant fun.
How do I keep going? Well, you get into a habit after a while, and I adore doing them. They’re a brilliant way to keep fit, they raise money for causes, and I know I’m contributing to excellent outcomes. I don’t do it alone, though; every marathon I’ve done has been with one of my best friends, Diana, who is an absolute legend. We support each other during the marathons, especially when we hit the wall; we’ve never let the other one give up. We did the annual Shine marathon at the end of September 2016 for the fifth time, and I hit the wall at about mile 20, but Di just pushed me on past the pain and made me remember why I was doing it. I soon got over the wall and carried on like nothing had happened … aside from the aching muscles.
It’s a privilege to be healthy enough to take part in these events, and for as long as I possibly can, I intend to keep going. Me – take it easy? Where’s the fun in that?