Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Writer - Mike Harrington

Welcome to my interview with writer, Mike Harrington.  Enjoy.

Mike Harrington

Hello Mike.  Can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Mike Harrington.  I live in Ravenglass, on the Cumberland coast, and I am a member of Whitehaven Writers.
How long have you been writing?
I have been calling myself a writer since I got early retirement at the end of 1993.  Before that I did plenty of writing in a professional capacity as a university administrator.  A lot of that was very formal – minutes, reports, business letters and so on – but I did enjoy the time that I spent as editor of the University of Liverpool prospectuses.  I wrote a certain amount of copy as well as editing and taking charge of the publishing process.  Later I was asked to write the university’s manual on Student Disciplinary procedure.  All that is very different to the stuff I write now but I have had experience of writing in widely differing styles.
What first got you interested in writing?
I was an avid reader as a child.  I read adventure books and non-fiction works about things that interested me.  I also did well in English composition at school, so it was only a matter of time before I thought, ‘Other people get books published.  I should write a book.’
You mentioned earlier that you attend a writing group.  When did you start going there?
Since 1998 I have been a member of Whitehaven Writers, which started as a creative writing class but is now independent.  My first experience of a writing group was with Crosby Writers in 1994, between retirement and moving back home to the Lake District.
Why do you attend a writing group?
Briefly, I like the opportunity to meet like-minded people of all ages, share my work with them and enjoy their work. 
What is the most valuable thing you've taken away from your writing group?
Encouragement and the ability to enjoy the work of others. 
What genre(s) do you write?
Barry MacSweeney, our first tutor in Whitehaven,  first turned me on to poetry and I still write the occasional poem but I would hesitate to call myself a poet.  My big project at present is a fantasy novel but I have also written news articles for the local press and contributed to Cumbria Magazine.  I have written accounts of my travels but not published them. 
Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
There are a few that I would not try:
Crime and detective novels, because I don’t know enough about police procedure and don’t wish to make a tit of myself by making fundamental errors.
Spy novels.  I have no experience of work with the intelligence services either.  I’d rather enjoy the work of those who have.
Mills & Boon-type stuff, because I wouldn’t like to write to their formula.
Horror: it’s been done much better than I could do it by writers who have a fertile but disciplined imagination and much worse by those who haven’t. 
You mentioned earlier that you write poetry and articles.  Do you write anything else?
A few of my poems have been published, read by me in public and even read on the radio.  I have written short stories (none published so far), news articles and interviews with local personalities that have been published.  Right now I am concentrating on the novel.  The first draft runs to 375,000 words – far too long – but fortunately it can be carved up into at least three books.  If they are taken up, I shall eventually have to start writing Book 4 of the trilogy.  Book 1 is now ready for submission.
Have you had anything else published?
Yes.  I mentioned the news articles and interviews.  I have also had the occasional ‘Disgusted of Ravenglass’  type letter about local issues published in the press.  I am also editor of a local annual village newsletter. 
Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers?
I have made only one submission so far.  The publisher made it easy by inviting submissions online.  I’m waiting to hear but not holding my breath.  Meanwhile it makes sense to start using the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook to find agents who may be receptive. 
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?
I would consider e-publishing.  It’s a new and promising market.  Not self-publishing.  Friends who have tried it reported that it involves too much outlay and effort in marketing for a very uncertain return.  I would rather leave the commercial risks to others in exchange for a reasonable cut.
I am interested in e-books.  I have a Sony Reader and my partner has a Kindle.  They are handy things to carry when travelling and they can hold an extensive library.  My Reader has encouraged me to read many of the classics (out of copyright and free on the installation CD) that I neglected when I was younger.  ‘Real’ books don’t have their disadvantages of batteries that run down and they are more pleasant and relaxing to use.  I enjoy them and I do not believe that e-books will ever replace them entirely.  Both have their place.
Who/what influences your writing?  Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from many sources.  My degree is in Classics, so I am interested in history and the ancient world.  Other sources are personal experiences, news and ideas shared by fellow writers.
Influences: I could name Terry Pratchett, Bernard Cornwell and the writers of Star Trek, for the sheer breadth and depth of imagination that they show in their work.  I would not claim to be the equal of any of them but their writing has taught me many useful ways of handling plots and characters. 
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
Sometimes I work them out gradually.  Sometimes they come out of the air and demand a place in my work. 
Do you have a writing routine?
Sadly, I have no routine.  I write when I am free to write.  I am not creative early in the morning but I have been known to stay up writing most of the night. 
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I always have an idea but not a complete one.  The original idea is a skeleton that has to be fleshed out as more ideas develop from it. 
Do you have an editing process?
Yes.  It’s essential.  A friend from student days has been reading the novel during its development and making comments.  I also read my work aloud to myself.  That helps to reveal any awkward use of language.  I try to make my work pleasant to hear as well as to read. 
I also have to be as critical of my own work as I can.  It is not easy to be ruthless with oneself but it is necessary. 
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
The thing I enjoy most is appreciation by others.  Least: destructive or dismissive comment. 
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Very important.  Good feedback is encouraging.  So is constructive criticism. 
Have you ever entered any writing competitions? 
Yes, several, but the first was the only one that I won.  The task was to submit the synopsis and first chapter of a novel.  I submitted the entry to Crosby Writers just before I moved away from Merseyside.  The prize was a very small amount of cash and (more valuable) critiques from two or three of the judges, who were published writers in the group.
Yes, it was the same novel that I am now working on. 
Have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
Not yet, but I wouldn’t refuse an invitation. 
What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
Express yourself in a way that will inform and entertain others, but don’t go into writing just to earn loads of money.  You won’t, unless you have exceptional talent and luck. 
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Don’t be diffident.  Join a writing group, share your work and learn from others. 
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Travelling, exploring the Lake District, computing, driving, motorcycling, walking and messing about in boats.  I am also a First Responder and secretary of Ravenglass Village Forum, a local amenity group.
What types of things do you read?  Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I enjoy historical and fantasy novels, including sci-fi.  They inevitably influence my writing by providing models to aspire to.  A few wrong choices at the library also show me what sins to avoid. 
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Small Gods or The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett. 
Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotations?
‘Cheer up, my heart.  You’ve put up with a lot worse than this!’  Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. 
What are you working on at the moment?
I have mentioned the Great Novel.  The main character is a present-day walker doing the Coast to Coast Walk.  On a mountain top he is struck by lightning and blasted back to 68 AD.  That’s near the end of Nero’s reign, when the Roman frontier in Britain was still some way south of the Lake District and its inhabitants were preparing to resist any extension of Roman power further north.  My hero has to overcome suspicion and win freedom from captivity, then earn his place in a warrior society that will soon come up against the greatest military power in Europe.  He also becomes involved with devout pagans of different persuasions and a young woman who has her own extraordinary powers of survival in adversity. 
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Just thanks for the invitation to contact another writer.
You're more than welcome.  Would you be able to provide a short piece of your writing?
The book is called Lightning Rider.  This short piece describes the hero Sam’s first encounter with an ancient Briton.
The next thing he knew, he was lying in wet grass and gazing at the wrong end of a very mean-looking spearpoint.  A foot prodded his ribs then a young face, badly in need of its first shave, came into focus above the spear and began to question him aggressively.
                Sam blinked stupidly and said nothing.  He could not make out a word that the boy said.  Meanwhile the blade of the spear remained steady, about ten inches from his face.  He focused his eyes on it, while he wondered vaguely what he should do next, and noticed irrelevantly that it was rather graceful, shaped like a laurel leaf and decorated with a flowing design.  It was a weapon to admire, as long as it was not being thrust into one's face by an excited teenager.
                The pain in Sam's head gradually intruded on his wandering thoughts and he wondered what else might be damaged.  He remembered running from the lightning, then a sudden explosion, then....  Well, at least he was still alive, even if he had no right to be.  As he tried to sit up and examine himself, the boy shouted and jabbed the spear nearer Sam's face threateningly.  Sam relaxed deliberately on the ground and tried to think.  Why was he being threatened with a spear by a young lad dressed like an actor in a costume drama?  Was some film or TV company shooting in the area?  Was the director aware that one of his younger actors was prancing round the fellside, threatening strangers with a spear that looked as if it could do real damage?  Sam looked his assailant steadily in the eyes and asked, `Why don't you help me up instead of acting like a silly prat?'             

© Mike Harrington
28 October 2012
Thank you very much Mike.

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