M J Logue – Author Interview
M J Logue is the subject of this week’s interview. M J Logue is the author of several historical novels set in the 17th century. She’s one of only two authors I know that write about Roundheads.
M J Logue has been passionate about the English Civil War since writing her first novel over 20 years ago. After a brief flirtation with horror and dark fantasy, she returned to her first love, historical fiction, and now combines the two. She has a degree in English literature, trained as an archivist, and likes Jacobean theatre, loud music, and cheese.
When not attempting to redeem the reputation of the Army of Parliament, she lives in Cornwall with her husband and son, three cats, and a toad under the back doorstep.
M J Logue – the interview
1. How long have you been writing for and what made you start writing?
Meh, just about forever. I went through a phase of not-writing. I tend not to write when I’m unhappy. I used to sit under my grandparents’ kitchen table when I was very little and tell myself stories about my two imaginary friends – two horses called Napoleon and Josephine. Oddly, my son does the same thing, except that his imaginary friend is a little boy called Thomas Rainbow. Which probably means we talk about people in history too much at home!
2. Do you write for a living, or do you also do other work?
I have done – I spent a period of time as a professional copywriter (which was dull) and then at one point I was editing and producing an indie horror and dark fantasy magazine full time, and supporting myself by writing.
Actually, I hated it, because I like being able to please myself, and I can’t be having with all the self-promotion and self-publicity that goes with successful full time writing. (It’s also why I self-publish!) As I have a “proper” job which is desk-bound, I can spend my breaks plotting and researching dark deeds in 1644, and then go off and write the things on the night watch.
It’s also quite difficult to explain to a five year old boy that mummy can’t play with him in the school holidays because she’s writing, and that it does actually count as work…
3. How did you get into being a professional writer, and how much effort did it take to be able to write full time?
It takes a phenomenal amount of discipline and effort – which is why I don’t do it any more. You have to commit yourself to sitting down and writing what people want to read, and not what just happens. If I was more professional, Rosie Babbitt would be a dashing but slightly rascally Royalist gentleman, irresistible to the opposite sex, and something like Errol Flynn in a buffcoat. As it is, he’s a married, middle-aged rebel with an arthritic wrist, and I don’t sell nearly as many books as I deserve *insert smiley winky face HERE*
4. Were you always good at telling stories, or has it come to you as an adult?
Very. Especially when I was coming in late on a Friday night from nightclubs and trying to explain to my parents where I’d been….
5. Were you good at English in school?
I have a degree in it… so I guess so! I do remember my English teacher telling my parents that I wrote like a young Dylan Thomas, which is a pretty daft thing to say to a 10 year old, but my dad was incredibly pleased. One of my earliest memories is of the Richard Burton reading of “Under Milk Wood” on the record player. Dad used to try and read “Fern Hill” in a Dylan Thomas styl-ee. Not good.
6. What do you read for enjoyment?
Rubbish!! Trashy historical romance novels, mostly, for the sheer joy of trash. I am a great fan of Diana Gabaldon, which is deceptively well researched.
- Edmund Crispin detective fiction – fantastic, clever, witty, post-war detective work, with a detective who is also a professor of English Literature.
- Georgette Heyer – because who doesn’t?
- Simon Scarrow.
I used to read Conn Iggulden but I think he’s gone off the boil lately, and someone once said Hollie and Luce were the Macro and Cato of the English Civil War, which was rather nice. What that makes Russell and Venning, I do not like to dwell, and the idea of the Earl of Essex as Vespasian is frightening.
7. What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
Don’t read about it. Ignore everything everyone tells you, and keep writing.
Like riding a bike, you learn very little by reading about the technique, but it’s amazing how much you can discover by being rubbish and falling on your bum a lot.
Find time, take a notebook, describe things in your head. Remember stuff, not the great epic plotlines but what things feel like, smell like, taste like… live in your body, not your mind.
8. What is the most useful advice you’ve been given?
As above. And Oliver Cromwell’s advice (almost) – “I should rather have a plain russet-coated captain, who knows what he writes for, and loves whereof he knows, than that which is a fantasist and nothing else.”
9. What is the strangest advice you’ve been given?
“Make Hollie Babbitt sexy.”
This has actually been said to me on more than one occasion. Sorry, but the Babbitt bedroom door stays closed. And Rosie undressed just means he’s left his sword downstairs…
10. How do you deal with the stranger reviews?
I haven’t had any really random ones, sad to say!
11. Who do you write for?
Oh, me, for sure. Me for starters, and then for other people after that.
12. What sort of things do you write?
Sweary historical action-adventure with a political bent.
I think Hollie Babbitt’s great appeal is that he is an ordinary man who just happens to be a Parliamentarian officer in the English Civil War. He misses his wife and daughters, he occasionally drinks too much, swears when he forgets himself in company, has a few good mates in the Army and one or two people he can’t be having with at all.
13. Do you do much research? If so what is your favourite source?
Oh yes just a bit!
First of all I’m a re-enactor so I do quite a lot of “method” research. I can promise you that any of the references to 17th century food in my books are based on personal experience!
I’ll give you an example. The new book – “The Smoke of Her Burning”, Selby 1644 – it started out as the first chapters of the Marston Moor book. And I sketched out a rough timeline of 1644, where my lads would be if they had started out with the Eastern Association under Cromwell at the beginning of the year and then been forced by circumstance to scuttle off to Fairfax in the early spring.
So far, so good. And then of course I stumble across a group on Twitter who are trying to get the Abbot’s Staith in Selby taken on as a community space, the Staith being one of the monastic warehouses in Selby, on the edge of the Ouse. And, you know, I’m passionate about local history, communities owning their own past, so I contact the people who run this group asking about the Staith and of course the next thing you know I’m getting maps of 17th century Selby and discussing whether or not Belasyse might have used the monastic warehouses as a powder store.
(Which, in the book, is what he does!)
And then I published an excerpt from the new book on a review site and was contacted by one of the local librarians, Debby Foulkes, and we’ve been chatting about stabling horses in the Abbey and whether there were cobbles in the streets and how deep the fields flood round those parts…
So. Yes. Research. I do quite a lot but it tends to be quite personal, very grass-roots local history.
14. What do you have in the drawer? (i.e. what have you written but not yet published)
Book five and six of An Uncivil War – 5 (The Serpent’s Root) is due out next year, set in Cornwall with Fairfax, and book 6 (Babylon’s Downfall) is Marston Moor, which is just too grim for words: except when it isn’t.
Working on the Thirty Years’ War stuff, which is a collection of short stories.
A series of older children’s books about the English Civil War, which is a very long-term project to make history accessible to children and young people. Not in terms of “dumbing it down” but the fiction equivalent of the Horrible Histories – small chapbooks which children can buy with their own money.
Halfway through a 1660s detective story, which may, or may not, be the first in a series, which is being touted as a cross between “The Thin Man” and “Forever Amber”, which is called “A Broom at the Masthead”. Interestingly, I have had a nibble from a well-known publisher requesting the full manuscript of this one, so it may be that Hapless Russell gets into mainstream print before one Captain H T Babbitt…
And we’re researching a non-fictional biography of Thomas and William Rainsborough, who are a fascinating pair of lads.
15. Describe your writing process, what, where, when and how please?
Bedtime straight on through till midnight, every night.
On the laptop in the spare room, with Aubrey-cat’s chin on the keyboard, and the Trib-cat behind my knees under the blankets.
A can of fizzy pop – Pepsi Max for preference – on the bookcase next to me, and probably a piece of bread and cheese as a midnight snack.
And as much as I can get done in that four-hour slot!
16. What is your best method or website for promoting your books?
I’ve actually no idea! I’m a bit random as far as promotion goes. Very hit and miss. When I remember and when I’ve got something useful to say.
17. What question do you wish I’d asked you?
Who would you cast in the Hollywood film?
- Christopher Eccleston as Babbitt, a young Julian Sands as Thankful Russell (moody, intense and perfectly barking) and probably some young unknown as Luce. Who actually looks like a dear friend of mine who is not an actor!
- Venning, my beta reader reckons Stephen Fry for the build and the accent, but …. not quite sandy enough, and not freckled enough. Another one who I always see as looking like a mate of mine.
- And Dougray Scott was inspired casting as Fairfax in “To Kill A King” so we’d stick with that.