Interview with Steve McHugh

Hello everyone!

Time for another author interview. This time it’s the turn of Steve McHugh, a rather prolific author, best known for his Hellequin urban fantasy series.

I’ve been reviewing his book, No Gods, Only Monsters as part of the Escapist Book Tour – and was lucky enough to ask him a few questions.

The Interview

Hi Steve,

Thanks so much for doing this interview! I’ve had a great time reading No Gods, Only Monsters as part of the book tour and I’m delighted you’ve agreed to answer a few questions!

Onwards, we go!

On Writing

So, first of all – I wanted to ask some questions on behalf of all budding fantasy writers out there.

You write within the fantasy genre – How do you go about creating your worlds?

Thankfully because it’s urban or historical fantasy, a big chunk of the worldbuilding is done because it’s set on earth. I have written about places not earth, with different realms and the like, and because a lot of those realms are based on mythology, I try to take parts of that mythology in the creation of the world. Sometimes that’s easy, like the Norse realm of ice, but there are always harder ones too, like Valhalla. I like to think that the worlds not earth come together naturally as the story is told.

What authors have inspired you? (please include any other genres/art forms that have inspired you too)

Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, and David Gemmell were the first three authors I read who made me want to write. After them a lot of my inspiration comes from comic writers like Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, Noelle Stevenson, and Kathryn Immonen. 

On top of writers, a lot of inspiration comes from video games, so Amy Henning, Tim Schafer, Drew Karpyshyn, and Hidetaka Miyazaki. 

I think that having inspirational people from a variety of genres and mediums has really helped shape my writing.

What is your favourite perspective to write from? (1st/3rd or omniscient – I’m going to assume it’s not second – but maybe I’m wrong)

Definitely not second. I don’t really like reading second either. I write 1st and 3rd, and while most of my work is in 1st, I don’t really have a favourite.

How do you go about your line by line editing? Some writers talk about the rhythm of their sentence structure – others like their work to be sparse and edit out the unnecessary. Where do you fall on this?

I’m not great at line by line editing. It’s something I’ve gotten better at, but honestly having an editor do that for me is probably one of the best things about having a publisher.

I prefer to edit out the stuff that either slows the scene down, or repeats stuff that’s unnecessary. Using the same adjective twice in quick succession is a big no too, but I guarantee if I did my own line editing I’d leave in so many mistakes.

In terms of drafting – can you go through this process. Some writers have a first draft that is almost complete, other writers only do the bare bones of the story and their editing is a lengthy process. How long does it take you to edit a novel comparative to how long it takes for you to write the first draft?

Every day that I write, I read the previous day’s work and edit it as needed and by the time I’m done, I’m back in the mindset for the book and can continue. Because I edit as I go to a degree, my first draft is usually pretty clean in terms of story. There will be stuff I need to explain, or bits to remove, but the overall story is usually the same when I hand it to my editor as it is when I get the edits done. 

It takes me about 3 months to write 100,000 word book. And then with editing probably another 3 months, depending on the edits. 

I don’t like the idea of having a barebones book on a first draft, that would drive me bonkers. It’s the same with those who don’t write in chapter sequence. That makes my brain twitchy.

How are you managing work/life balance? When do you find time to write around other commitments?

I write Monday to Friday, usually from about 9 or 10 am until 4 or 5pm depending on how it’s going. I try not to write weekends so I can see the family and actually do stuff, and I usually go to the gym in the morning or to my martial arts one or two evenings a week. It wouldn’t work for everyone, and sometimes it’s hard to get the motivation to not just sit on the sofa and play videogames, but it’s worked out so far.

Have you ever had writers block? If you ever do, what works to get you back into the writing zone?

Never really had it. I have two issues, one is writers procrastination. I know what I want to write, but I ended up researching something for 5 hours instead, or I ended up playing a videogame for longer because it hooked me in. Neither happen too often, and I don’t beat myself up over them. 

The second issue is having too many ideas bombard me. That can be in an issue when I’m trying to write a book, and my brain is trying to tell me about all the cool new stuff I could be working on. Happens with every book, and I mostly ignore it until I’m done, but it can be a real distraction if I let it.

Do you listen to music while you write/edit? If so, what music is on your playlist.

I listen to soundtracks while writing (Videogame mostly; Halo, Doom, Bloodborne, Horizon Zero Dawn, etc) as I can find a soundtrack that fits the mood and just have it as background music. 

When I’m editing, it’s a bit different. The first big edit, is probably soundtrack stuff again because things need changing or moving around.

But when I do my line and copy edits, I just put on whatever’s on my play list. I end up tuning it out anyway, so it doesn’t really make much difference, and normally the tone of the scene is already set from the previous draft so the songs don’t interfere with what I’ve written.


Getting Published

Lots of writers out there are currently in the submission trenches. Can you tell us about your road to publication?

It’s a long road, and not an easy one, and I have the upmost respect for those who are currently going through it, especially during a pandemic and shift in world everything. 

I started writing seriously at 25, wrote a book, tried to get it published, but it was rubbish. Wrote a second book, tried to get it published, got lots of “we really like it, but” rejections and ended up deciding to put it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award. Got to the quarter finals, decided to self publish it.

Crimes Against Magic was out on April 2012, the sequel, Born of Hatred, out in Dec 2012. Got an email from a publisher in Jan 2013 asking if they could republish the first 2 and everything else. I said yes, and 47North became my publisher. Got an agent a year later.

It was a really roundabout way of getting published, but it all worked out in the end. 

What advice would you give to new authors today?

Write. Keep writing. If you have a book out on submission, write something new while you wait. If you’re rejected, you’re already working on something else.

It’s a long, hard process, but those who work hard and keep trying are a lot more likely to succeed than those who don’t.

You’ve previously been published with 47 North but are going Self Published with your new series. What are your thoughts behind this? What have you preferred about going Self-published?

It was originally going to be a novella that I was going to self-publish, but it turned into a novel and I decided to keep it self-published. There was a time last year where publishers were interested but it didn’t work out, so I went back to the original idea. 

I think being a hybrid author of trad and self publishing is where I think a lot more authors are going to end up. Indie or self publishing allows you to tell stories that maybe a publisher wouldn’t want to tell. I think both forms can work alongside one another.


No Gods, Only Monsters

Without giving any spoilers, what can you tell us about this world?

It’s Ancient Rome. About 200 A.D near Mesopotamia. So, it’s our world, but one where all of the pantheons of the world are real (except instead of being gods, they’re just various magical beings), so there are Roman, Greek, Norse pantheon members in the same book.  

What themes (if any) are you exploring with this work?

The biggest theme in the book is how even when you don’t think you need anyone, when you push people away, there will always be people who care about you. Diana is in a bad place at the beginning of the book, and the book is about her accepting the things she’s done and trying to make the world a better place. 

Is this going to be a series – if so, how many books are you planning?

I originally thought of it as a trilogy, so that’s still the plan. 

In terms of creating a brand-new world like this – how long does the preparation work take you (i.e. what work are you doing before putting pen to paper)

I have notebooks full of worldbuilding notes, notes about characters, about where the story starts and ends, sketches, doodles, the whole works. I don’t plot the book out, but I do write down the main story beats I want to hit. That all takes a few months with new worlds so I can develop the main character in my head, but with No Gods, I’d already written books with Diana in, so I was ready to go much quicker.


Who is on your current TBR list?

I’m currently reading The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker although I’m not very far in.

But apart from that, my TBR list has Peter McLean’s Priest of Gallows, Anna Stephen’s The Stone Knife, The Pariah by Anthony Ryan, A few volumes of Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, and Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero. Probably a bunch of other stuff too.

My TBR pile is epic.

What is your favourite book that you have read in the last twelve months?

Probably The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, which was both a brilliant fantasy story, but also really creepy and quite unnerving. Highly recommend it.

Thanks for answering so many of my questions! I had a great time reading No Gods, Only Monsters (see my full review on the 1st May) and good luck with your new series. I’m looking forward to reading the next Diana instalment.

Author Bio

Steve is a bestselling author of Urban Fantasy. His book, Scorched Shadows, was shortlisted for a Gemmell Award for best novel. Steve was born in a small village called Mexborough, South Yorkshire, but now lives with his wife and three young daughters in Southampton.

If you like the sound of his stories, keep your eyes peeled for the Escapist Books blog tour!

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