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!
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…
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…?
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.