Hello, Steven, and welcome at FLY HIGH! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions about your “Wolf’s Head”. My first question is ... please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what are the best and the worst aspects of being a writer. Well, that is more than one question but, can you please, answer?
Hi Maria, thank you for having me I really appreciate it! My name is Steven and I'm from Scotland. I'm new to the writing business, but so far the best part has been realising that people have really enjoyed my book. When you're writing you think you're coming up with something pretty good, but it's only when other people start reading it you find out what it's REALLY like. So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with lots of great reviews on Amazon.
The worst aspect is probably the amount of work – and time – it takes to try and make a success of it. It can be hard to juggle the writing with family stuff, as I have a 5 year old daughter and I love to spend as much time as possible with her, but I hope the hard work will all be worth it in the long run.
Second question must be “Why Robin Hood”? I mean, what is it that you find so appealing in this ancient legendary hero to write a book about him?
It was purely by chance that I ended up writing about Robin Hood. I wanted to write about a British hero, like King Arthur, and I happened to drive past a house called “Sherwood”. It seemed like a sign from above, divine intervention almost, so...I started to research the “real” Robin and it became clear there was plenty of scope to do something a little bit different with the character. In general though , he's a man's man – a fighting machine, with interesting friends and enemies, hiding out in the woods with his ale and venison! It wasn't hard to get caught up in the possibilities.
I visited Nottingham and the Sherwood Forest two years ago in summer because I wanted to be in the places linked to the ballads of Robin Hood I had read (and taught about), the movies and TV series I had watched and the atmosphere there was magic (especially in the forest). However, you decided to set the adventures in your novel in Yorkshire. Why?
Like I say, I went back to the very earliest ballads, and, in those, Robin and his men actually came from Yorkshire and the forest they operated in was Barnsdale, not Sherwood. This is what interested me, and made me think I could do something new with the legend rather than just repeat what other people had done.
Some of the real history tied in in surprising ways – the Sheriff around the time of my novel was, in reality, the Sheriff of Nottingham AND Yorkshire for example. Also, I wondered who would have been the lord of Wakefield (Robin's home village) at the time and, when I looked back at the records, it turned out to be a person I had already decided would befriend Robin in the story. Little synchronicities like that really intrigued me and told me I was on the right track.
What of the Robin Hood character in your book differs from the one from the tradition ?
A lot of the modern versions of the tradition have Robin as some nobleman, or a returning Crusader, but my character is a simple yeoman from Wakefield, as he was in the original ballads. I tried to make him as realistic as I could – he has human fears and, as he's so young, has severe doubts about his own abilities. The middle-ages were a brutal time, which doesn't always come through in the movies, and the people had to be tough to survive so my Robin isn't some chivalrous knight, he can be cold-blooded and very violent at times.
What were your main sources while writing “Wolf’s Head” and what was your research work like?
Professor JC Holt's book was my main source, but I also used Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman's book on Robin. There are some useful maps and things like that in both of those books as well as a high level of scholarship, particularly in the Holt one.
There are lots of non-fiction books about the legend out there, and I think I read most of them. There was one in particular, The Green Lord of the Wildwood, by John Matthews which I found interesting – it's more about the spiritual, folkloric side of the legend and I thought it was refreshing to read some new, and, to most people, probably quite unusual ideas about the legend. I just dipped into all these books and lifted little bits here and there if I thought they could make an interesting addition to the story.
To be honest, I had my own idea of how I wanted to develop the characters, so much of my research was just on the medieval period in general – the people, clothing, weapons, food, housing, musical instruments and all those sorts of things. Hopefully I managed to create a believable setting for Robin and his companions to populate.
Robin Hood has been adapted for screen many times. Was the way you figured him out in your mind and wrote him down on the page influenced by any of the adaptations?
Maybe not so much Robin himself, but I love the TV series “Robin of Sherwood”, and I couldn't help thinking of Little John and Will Scarlet as I was writing Wolf's Head. I don't really have a clear mental image of Robin in my head, which might surprise some people – to me every reader will have their own picture of him anyway and that's the way it should be. But Clive Mantle and Ray Winstone will always be Little John and Will Scarlet in my head!
The way the outlaws interacted with each other in Robin of Sherwood also greatly influenced me – they had a real sense of camarederie that went beyond just friendship and, despite their hard existence, they also had a lot of fun. I wanted my characters to share a similar bond.
What was the scene you most loved writing? What about the one you had to work the hardest on?
I really liked writing the part where there's a minstrel performance. The real medieval entertainers were pretty wild, and it was fun researching that stuff. The idea of performing as a musician, in a torchlit old manor house, really appeals to me as a guitar player. I'll probably never get to do it in real life – playing in a Glasgow pub isn't quite as romantic, trust me! - so I had fun writing that section.
The hardest parts to write were the ones I wanted to be very emotional – there was one scene in particular which I hoped readers might even shed a tear at. It was hard to write something like that, because you don't know if it will come off or not. Every word has to be right, to provide maximum impact – I just hope I managed it to some extent.
Is there a Lady Marian in your story or another love interest for Robin? What is she like?
Yes, he has a girlfriend called Matilda – again that came from the early sources. Marian doesn't appear until hundreds of years after the original ballads and tales were told but there was a real person called Robin Hood who was married to a girl called Matilda. My Matilda, like Robin and unlike the usual modern tradition, is just a normal villager, who's been a friend of Robin from childhood. She isn't some noblewoman, or an Amazon who can hold her own in a fight with Little John – I didn't think that would be particularly realistic given the period, and I didn't want her to be just another one of the boys anyway. So, she's smart and strong in her own way, and I hope readers will see her as an interesting and believable character.
You write books in the historical fiction genre, Steven. But what kind of books do you like the best as a reader?
Historical fiction! When I was younger I really enjoyed fantasy books, like the Dragonlance series and, of course, Lord of the Rings. I also devoured hundreds of sci-fi books by Asimov, Dick, Clarke, Heinlein and so on – the older guys. In recent years though, I've found myself being drawn more to historical authors like Bernard Cornwell and Douglas Jackson. I really like to read action tales set in past times, particularly the Roman period – it was such an incredible civilisation, and it still has enormous power over our imaginations. Rome is definitely the most amazing city I've ever visited, so I really enjoy seeing what authors can do to bring that whole era of the past to life again.
Wolf’s Head is meant to be the first instalment in a saga. How many books have you planned ? Are you already working on its sequel?
My plan was always to make it a trilogy and I'm more than half-way through the sequel The Wolf and the Raven already. I read through that a few days ago though and I started to think I should maybe make the series cover four books...I'm not sure. I don't really plan things too far in advance so I'll let it go where it will, as long as it doesn't feel like I'm stringing it out just because it's easy or whatever.
I have ideas of what I'd like to do after The Forest Lord series (of which Wolf's Head is part 1) is finished, and it will be more in the historical fiction genre although perhaps not set so much in England...
That’s all, Steven. Thank you very much for being my guest. Good luck with this series and best wishes both for your life and your writing career. See you soon for presenting book 2 and … I’m off to read Wolf’s Head right now!
Thank you again for having me, Maria. I hope you enjoy the book!
Author bio note
Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. He is married with a daughter, Freya, and is currently working on the sequel to "Wolf's Head". Keep up to date with him here on his site or on his facebook page
About the Book
“Well researched and enjoyably written, Wolf’s Head is a fast-paced and original re-casting of a familiar legend. McKay’s gift as a storyteller pulls the reader into a world of violence, passion, injustice and revenge and leaves us wanting more!"
Glyn Iliffe, author, The Adventures of Odysseus series
When a frightened young outlaw joins a gang of violent criminals their names – against a backdrop of death, dishonour, brotherhood, and love – will become legend.
ENGLAND 1321 AD
After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals.
When they are betrayed, and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends seeks bloody vengeance.
Meanwhile, the country is in turmoil, as many of the powerful lords strive to undermine King Edward II’s rule until, inevitably, rebellion becomes a reality and the increasingly deadly yeoman outlaw from Wakefield finds his fate bound up with that of a Hospitaller Knight…
"Wolf’s Head" brings the brutality, injustice and intensity of life in medieval England vividly to life, and marks the beginning of a thrilling new historical fiction series in the style of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow.