Tag Archives: the writing life

Interview with Maz Evans, author of WHO LET THE GODS OUT

Because I love you all so very much, today’s blog post is epic – in all senses of the word. Yes, dear ones. It’s time for an Author Interview!

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Photo Credit: Lulu Höller Flickr via Compfight cc

All right, all right, calm down. So, you see, one of the many perks of being a children’s-book-writing type these days is the immense joy of meeting other children’s-book-writing types, even if it’s only online. This is how I met the fascinating and lovely subject of today’s interview, Ms Maz (Mary Alice) Evans, a woman who not only writes books, but teaches others how to do it too in a variety of fun and exciting ways using her wonderful-sounding Story Stew, and is a total hoot to boot. The first book in her new series, entitled WHO LET THE GODS OUT, is forthcoming from Chicken House in February 2017, and so I was honoured that she took the time to talk to me about the book, her writing life, and what powers she would like if she could wake up tomorrow morning as a goddess.

On with the show!

Hi, Maz, and welcome to Clockwatching… Towers! Firstly, let’s hear about your book. What’s the scoop on WHO LET THE GODS OUT?

Well now… Gods is the first a four-part comedy adventure series for middle grade. Our hero is Elliot Hooper, a 12-year-old young carer whose troubled life is thrown into further disarray when he collides with the chaotic modern-day immortal community. Accompanied by the haughty teenage Constellation, Virgo, Elliot accidentally releases Thanatos, Daemon of Death and must enlist the Olympians if he is to avert mankind’s doom…

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Cover image for Maz Evans’ WHO LET THE GODS OUT (Chicken House, 2017); image courtesy Maz Evans

That sounds amazing! Where did your interest in gods and mythology come from?

When I was eight, I won an award at school – the prize was a book on Greek Mythology. I was hooked. I’m not a woman of religious faith, but I could buy into polytheism – I love that there’s a go-to God for any situation. That said, eight-year-old Maz was pretty peeved that the runner-up got a massive tube of Smarties. On balance, it probably worked out better this way.

Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an author. Did you always want to write?

For me, writing self-selected because I suck at every other field of human endeavour. I am supremely untalented, but I’ve always written. My career has been rooted in journalism, taking detours through copywriting, scriptwriting and academia, before establishing my own creative writing business, Story Stew. Writing and I are like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton – we’ve always got back together eventually.

WHO LET THE GODS OUT has had a fascinating route to publication. Can you talk a bit about that?

I say in the Gods acknowledgements that it’s had more lives than a recycled cat – it’s a bit of a long story, so settle in…

I wrote the uninspiring prototype, Elliot and The Immortals, back in 2009. I’d just had my second child in 15 months and could feel my brain turning into an Annabel Karmel puree. So in the 3.7 minutes per day when both kids slept, I wrote. I sent it to the literary department of David Higham Associates (I was repped there as a scriptwriter) and waited for my enormous advance. Instead, I got a very encouraging rejection. I responded maturely – with a massive strop and writing very little for five years.

By 2014 life – and publishing – had moved on. Most of my kids were at school, I was running creative writing workshops for schools and festivals and self-publishing was now affordable. So I rewrote Gods and published 500 copies, thinking I had the rest of my life to sell them. After launching it at the Hay Festival in May, all were gone by September. So I printed 2000 more. They went by Easter 2015.

Around then, my scriptwriting agent Nicky Lund enquired if I was still alive. I told her what I’d been up to and she passed Gods to a literary colleague. The gorgeous Veronique Baxter snapped it up, sent it out… and the moment I met Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon from Chicken House, I knew Gods had found its true home.

A funny little twist to the tale that I hope might give heart: Veronique – my brilliant agent… She was the same person who’d turned it down in 2009!

When writing, do you come up with characters, plot or setting first, or do they come as a package?

Who knows! I wish I had a process… For my tuppence, your plot should always evolve from your characters and they pop into my head all the time. Comedy set pieces often spring to mind – I find dialogue and comedy come quite naturally – plot structure, much less so. I find novels infinitely harder than scripts – you have to fill in all the white spaces…

You’re a mum of four (ye gods!) Do you find it tough to manage your career and your family, and do you have any tips for writing while parenting?

Absolutely not. I breeze through as a flawless parent and author – doesn’t everyone…?

HA!!!!!!!!!!

People talk about spinning plates – my life is like a Greek wedding. Every day is a mad, chaotic, shouting scramble of a disaster waiting to happen – and frequently is. I don’t find it tough – I find it nigh on impossible to find a balance. But my family and my writing are my two great loves. I have an incredibly supportive husband, I run my own business and I always have prosecco in the fridge – between those, somehow it happens. [Prosecco in the fridge is a genius move… I’m incorporating that one into my life, stat! SJOH]

What, for you, have been the best and worst parts of the publication journey? How do you stay balanced amid it all?

Firstly, I haven’t stayed balanced at all – and that has been the worst part. I was prepared for the graft – and wow, do you have to be – but the emotions… they have totally caught me out. The crippling self-doubt, the anxiety, the waiting – oh GOD, the waiting! – the uncertainty – none of this plays well with my personality.

But the best part? Everything else. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and now I am. How many people get to say that? I still can’t quite believe it myself.

If you could be a goddess, what powers would you like?

Flushing the toilet from afar. My children leave our bathroom like a Turner Prize entry. [Well, if it works for Tracey Emin… SJOH]

What’s next on your agenda, writing-wise?

I’m just finishing Book 2 – Book 3 is due later this year and Book 4 next, so that should keep me quiet. I have two adult novels I am desperate to write and a series of kids’ picture books, as well as lots of scripts that are waiting for Mummy to come back. And my tax return. Better get onto that.

Ah, yes, taxes – the eternal leveller! Thank you so much, Maz, for these great answers to some intensely nosy questions. I can’t wait to get my hands on WHO LET THE GODS OUT; it publishes on February 2nd, 2017, and it is the first in a series of four novels about Elliot and his godly chums. You can find out more about Maz and her books on her website, or her publisher’s website, and you can (and should) follow her on Twitter, too.

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Mary Alice (Maz) Evans, author of WHO LET THE GODS OUT.

Nightmare

I woke last night at about three thirty a.m. straight out of a terrifying dream. For long minutes afterwards I was convinced that noises I was hearing in my room, and from the road outside, were part of the dream-vision I’d just been wrapped up in, and it took me a long time to separate them out into their constituent parts. My own breathing. The thud of my heartbeat. A single, trilling song from a solitary (and early rising!) bird somewhere outside. A distant motorbike engine.

Not voices screaming for help. Not the boom of an explosion. Not the cracking of bones.

I’d dreamed I was in the middle of a warzone, and I was being followed. There were guns. There were rocket launchers. There were bodies, and downed planes, and a man with a wide-brimmed hat, his face in shadow, who was everywhere. He had a low-pitched voice and a sardonic tone, and he knew I could never outrun him. There were razor-topped fences too tall to climb, dotted with gates too far apart (and which were locked, in any case), which led me, funnelled like an animal to slaughter, down to the killing fields along with hundreds of other people. Our fate was sealed.

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

This dream was too easy to picture. I see images like this every single day. The news headlines, the papers, the internet, even movies; all of them fed into it. I know having a dream about a situation like this pales in comparison with actually living through it, and I’m not trying for a second to suggest they’re the same thing, but I wonder in some ways whether we’re not all under siege, no matter where we live. If we’re not experiencing these terrors first-hand, we’re experiencing them through our media, 24/7, burning out our minds as we attempt to come to terms with what’s happening in other parts of the world, wearing ourselves thin as we realise that there’s nothing we can do. People are dying, every single day, in abject horror, and there’s nothing we can do.

And I wouldn’t want to swap with them. Not for anything. And that makes me feel like the worst sort of human being.

It took me a long time to fall back to sleep. I was afraid of re-entering that same dream; this happens to me, sometimes. I preferred to lie awake, listening to the night, than to slide back into that dark world. As a result, I’m a bit less than my best today, but at least the dreadful terror passed with the rising sun. The world is back to normal, now. I am lucky, and I know it. For many hundreds of thousands of people the nightmare never ends. I wish, with everything I have, that it wasn’t so.

I’m not the kind of person who thinks dreams ‘mean’ something (as in, they’re not prophetic, or in any way significant, of course – they’re just a by-product of the processes of your mind), but I do think they can reveal a lot about how you’re thinking and feeling. In my case, then, I shudder to think what my dream reveals. It’s strange how you can be living your life, feeling reasonably okay (and having had a great weekend, during which your country felt like Carnival, with the beautiful weather to match!), and yet your mind finds a way to tell you that there’s fear, and doubt, and anxiety, deep inside you which needs to be expressed. I feel rather like a fraud these days: I’m not particularly happy with most of what I’m writing, and the bits I am happy with are going so slowly that they’re practically glacial. My other work is better left unmentioned. I’m worrying about my future, again, and where I’m going – not to mention where the world is going.

Perhaps this dream was a useful wake-up call, in more ways than one. It’s not good to keep trundling on regardless; it’s not good to squash away your fears and stresses, expecting them to just go away. I’ve seen before that this doesn’t work, and I have no idea why I keep doing it.

So, here’s what I’ve learned: I don’t have to write at the speed of the wind just because other writers do. I don’t have to compare myself with anyone else. I don’t have to work in a particular way. I don’t owe anyone anything.

Well, that’s not quite right. I owe myself the sanctity of a peaceful mind. I owe the world my best self. I owe my work – all forms of it – my utmost effort. I owe my mind its best chance at uninterrupted sleep. But I don’t have to explain myself or account for my existence, or feel like an unworthy person. I am not being hunted.

And now. I all calmness and control, it’s time to get back to work.