Author Interview: M.L. Mackworth-Praed
She is an artist, a model and an even brilliant author. Where usually people would prefer light and breezy romance for their first book, M.L. Mackworth-Praed had brought out a strong content that will not only make you stop and think but force you to take a look at your surroundings and urge you to question the world we live in and start noticing things that on any other day we would have happily avoided. A book with various layers, THE FUTURE KING: LOGRES is a true reflection of its creator, who herself is not far behind in intrigue level. Her words just unravel the amazing person she is. Catch M.L. Mackworth-Praed in a wonderful chat with us.
I happened to notice that you had the mention of both illustrator and model as being part of your career. So from that arc to being a writer. Was that something that happened completely unexpected or was writing something that you cherished from young?
It wasn’t unexpected, it was natural. Drawing is something I’ve done from a very early age, and writing was always there alongside it, be it through picture books I wrote when I was a child or scenarios and back-stories I imagined for my illustrations.
My interest in writing really came to the foreground whilst I was a teenager. I missed most of secondary school due to severe Idiopathic Scoliosis, so spent most of my time co-writing on online forums and working on my first book project, which is currently shelved. Modelling was never something I had planned to do but it was a great experience—I got to travel frequently and work on cool projects with some great photographers. It also gave me the freedom to work as an artist and to keep writing in my spare time.
I am probably going to sound rude for asking this but one major concern for me regarding the book was that I found that there were too many directions and yet not one particular path for the book. What I am saying is that the book touched upon a whole lot of subjects yet didn’t stick to one. What do you feel about this absurd claim of mine?
The direction of the book was pretty clear to me from the start. The decision to gradually introduce the dystopian element as the characters became more aware of the power abuses happening around them was deliberate, and I wanted it to reflect the process of a disconnected individual becoming aware of their world. Gwenhwyfar and her friends live life as normal until they can’t anymore, until the point where reality begins to infringe on their own lives.
I was keen to avoid a diatribe of the social and political situation: ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the literary adage. It was also important to me to start the novel off with a taste of a typical ‘high school drama’. I wanted the contrast of the school gossips and the societal issues to be there from the start. I also used Gwenhwyfar’s comfortable situation as an indicator for the state of the world in the book. As her circle would be one of the last levels of society to be affected by things such as austerity measures, discrimination and oppression, once Gwenhwyfar and her friends begin to notice infringements on their own rights, we know it is a mere scratch on the surface of the oppression that the more vulnerable people in society have been experiencing.
I think one of the most powerful things that touched me in the book was the passionate outlook towards the politics. I noticed that in many ways the voice is louder whenever anything related to politics is discussed in the book. Is that a reflection of your personal interest or just a part of the story theme that you chose?
I follow politics closely. The passion of particular characters for politics does sprout from my own interest in which way the world is headed. I believe it’s important to be aware of what the government of the day is up to—to have some idea of what the latest tax cuts are or which new austerity measures are being introduced—because it directly affects our lives. But my characters are all individuals with their own opinions and agendas. I would say that I agree with some things that are said in my book and not with others. Governments are elected to serve the people; they’re supposed to be influenced by how we vote. If we switch off to that we risk sleepwalking into a society we didn’t agree to.
What was the strongest thing that you feel the book aims at. I am asking this because a lot of things are discussed earnestly from plight of poverty, threat of a dictatorship and then the classic case of bullying and crossing its limits..these are some of the things that I noticed but as an author what did you wanted the audience to take away from this book?
Excitement. The notion that the power for change lies in your hands; the feeling that freedoms are easily lost and not so easily recovered. The legend of King Arthur traditionally starts in the Dark Ages, a period of injustice and social unrest. Arthur eventually rises up to become King and unites the nation under one banner. Obviously I’m seeking inspiration from the Arthurian legends, but my characters have become their own beings and will forge their own paths. I think that the strongest thing that the book talks about is the notion of identity. How do you define yourself growing up in a society that oppresses the individual?
In a lot of ways I feel that the book was a satirical approach towards politics and the world order. Am I somewhere right in saying so?
Yes and no. Though I touch on some concepts and situations that are either developed or are developing now, I’ve mostly rolled through a natural advancement of how I feel the world could look in the year 2052. This of course is fiction, but not an entirely unreasonable estimation of the future.
Probably this should be somewhere in the beginning or towards the last but I wanted to know what made you choose such a strong content for the book. It had sort of intrigued me because though you had taken high school and teenagers for your base of the book, it is way above these kids, its something that would resonate with a much wider and mature audience. Were you apprehensive whether it would find its true audience?
Any author is apprehensive about whether or not their book will resonate with readers, but I think it’s important not to underestimate the intelligence of your audience. Yes, the main characters in this story are currently teenagers, but that doesn’t mean the content is above them or anyone else their age. Lancelot is a character that has a strong grasp of what is going on in the world around him, and he feels powerless. But feeling powerless comes from the full understanding of what one is up against. I think many young people would be able to relate to the content of the book because it is a plausible future that they may be facing, and it may even mirror things in their present.
I never thought that the subject was too strong to write about. Though the legends of King Arthur have been written and rewritten over and over in various tones of lightness there are some pretty dark topics woven into them at their core—dark magic, all-reaching power, murder, war, incest and rape—yet also there is love, loyalty, friendship, brotherhood and equality. It would be untrue to the legends and to the world I have created to omit the more uncomfortable topics purely for the sake of focusing on one aspect of the legends, such as the romance. The Arthurian legends are far too rich and have inspired me too much to restrict them in such a manner.
You are a self published author and there would be no other person who could probably guide us to the obstacles that an author faces at the hand of marketing and publishing demands. What would you say were the troubles that you had to undergo?
The slowest part of the process has probably been post-publishing, when your book is ready to be read but for a long while nothing happens. Then when the reviews start to trickle in it’s a bit like the literary agent submissions all over again—it’s hard to distract yourself from the waiting and the anticipation. The early reviews really matter because it affects the rating and desirability of your book quite radically, and it probably takes a while to compile enough reviews to even out the average.
The most frustrating aspect of self-publishing was preparing my novel for ebook—I thought the print novel was the hard part! Getting the layout to behave on an e-reader was a nightmare. In the end I ended up resorting to HTML encoding. Fighting Internet piracy too can be wearing. There was a point when I was emailing five different sites a day with DMCA takedown requests. It’s really made me reconsider whether or not I’ll be publishing on ebook in future.
The most time consuming thing at the moment? Probably the marketing. Preparing events, paying for giveaways and scheduling posts takes a lot of time and dedication. Self-publishing gives you great freedom—you get to make all the decisions about how your book is going to look and where to aim it. It can be a risk, particularly if you’re working without the support from editors, graphic designers and professional proofreaders. Doing all the legwork yourself means you have less time for writing, which so far has been the only downside.
To a new author, would you recommend adopting self publishing or conventional knocking of publishing doors and waiting for a positive feedback?which do you think is more worth the effort and time?
It’s definitely worth applying to literary agents because, if you’re lucky, some of them will provide you with great feedback that will really help restructure your book. I would say give up on the traditional route once it is no longer educational or useful to yourself—these days a self-published book can look just as good and you can still reach a wide audience. Yes, you’ll lack the ‘seal of approval’ a traditional publisher would give you and the input from an editor, but with self-publishing you have full control of how you present your novel. For me this is particularly important because I have cover artwork planned for the whole Future King series. When submitting to literary agents I was generally waiting to hear back for three to six months and I usually had twelve submissions out at a time. I was happy with where my novel was and I wanted to move on so I decided to self-publish. Ask me in a year if it has been worth it financially, but so far—creatively—I feel that it has been worth it to go it alone.
Writing can be a tedious and completely exhaustive. Have you felt the same way or is there some kind of a mantra that you approach to ensure a hassle free writing process?
You’ve hit the nail right on the head. No, there’s no hassle-free way to write—it always takes up time, space and money. But so do many other things in life. I write because I have to, because I love it. Despite the need to read each draft three times, to redraft your novel six times, to realise that after all your hard work you’ve still missed typos—despite all that it’s worth it because you love doing it. The moments when you think of that fantastic solution that makes your novel work even better than it did before are amazing and make the whole process completely worth it.
This question is in again light of the book and a bit personal too. Reading the book I felt that very many places reflected your personal views . so I just wanted to ask. Are you politically inclined? What I mean to ask is that compared to a generation including myself who would have to google to see who their head of the nation is, area you more interested in the political developments and feel strongly about them?
I read the news frequently, and I do tend to gravitate to the politics, science and women’s sections. Generally I try to keep myself informed. It’s down to what you find important enough to include in your life, which for me is politics, the environment and the way the world is developing and the way the human race is headed as a whole. I feel strongly about politics because it directly affects the world we live in. Climate change, gender equality and workers’ rights all depend on ourselves and the people in Parliament. What issues get sidelined or prioritised are subject to what the population finds important enough to hold the people in charge to account for.
This may sound repetitive but I can’t help from asking , in the book I felt that you were sort of encouraging and sort of urging the students to be part of political movements. Question everything around you rather than following blindly. Is that just my observation or you indeed feel that the youth or anyone for that matter should be actively seeking and questioning everything around us?
The current situation in the UK sees young people unfairly disadvantaged. High property prices, low wages and astronomical student loans—it’s all tipped against the young in this country. People should absolutely be questioning everything around us. Why are we prioritising the profits of a few oil giants at the expense of the environment? Why isn’t higher education free when it was free a few decades ago? Why are house prices so inflated that the majority of people in their twenties and thirties will never be able to afford their own home? Why does the government need unrestricted access to everything we do online, everything on our phones? You may agree with what their reasoning is for such invasions of privacy, but at least take the time to ask the question and to inform yourself before deciding that you’re OK with them having unquestioned access to all your thoughts, leanings, relationships and private affairs.
Now to ease the air, what else apart from modeling, illustration and writing had found a special place in your life?
So many things! Music, more specifically classical. Having said that my tastes are quite broad and I do love a good power ballad every now and then. I don’t go to the theatre as much as I would like to but I do love it—there’s nothing quite like the anticipation in an auditorium before a play. I’m keen on film—I did my foundation course at UCA Epsom in New Media Studies and really took to editing—though these days I just use what I learned there to appreciate mainstream film and some of the classics. I embroider when I can but freestyle: I only use the stitch types used in the Bayeux Tapestry. I’m into heraldry and family history, would love to play the piano more artfully and plan on learning the violin once I’m no longer confined to living in an apartment block. I enjoy poetry, the outdoors and probably spend far too much time gaming. I also spend a lot of time between Belgium and the UK—I lived in Belgium for two years and I love it out there.
As an author how do you find the role of reviewers? are they more like bullies these days than an actual contributor and how do you cope with the negative feedbacks when it is just your starting days as an author?
Reviewers are important. It’s obviously disappointing when you get a negative review but so rewarding when you get a good one—it’s like you’ve made a connection with that person because they get your book. You wrote your book, so you love your book. When someone else loves it too it’s really great.
A book is like any other piece of art, a person is either going to connect with it or they’re not. So far I’ve had great reviews which has been really encouraging, especially as I self-published partly to test the water and to see how my novel would be received. I look for the positive in a negative review where it can be found. So far even in the slightly more critical reviews I’ve been able to find compliments—and I don’t let the negative rule me.
Reviewers are essential for getting the word out. As long as criticism is constructive, I’m happy to receive it; and am of course thrilled when I get positive feedback.
What are the future projects that you have set your mind on ?
Writing the rest of this series. The overall arc is epic—so far I have between five and seven books planned. I do also have a children’s picture book that I’d like to see to fruition this year, but like all things it’s just finding the time! I’d like to draw more and get started on some ambitious projects—maybe finally experiment with oil paints or work on a larger embroidery, perhaps portraiture in thread. My first project however will be writing Logres: Volume One Book 2 and self-publishing it.
Lastly, for anybody who wants to pick up a pen and start writing a book, what would you suggest should be the first step or a rule that he/she should follow diligently?
Follow your own rules. Everyone has their own approach and their own way of working that suits them. Ignore the ‘How to write a novel and get published’ books, they’ll teach you how to dance to someone else’s tune and you’ll struggle to find your voice.
Going from my own personal experience however, I would tell people to just start writing and don’t stop. Finish the whole book if you can before you seriously read back through it and try to change anything; you can make it perfect later. There’s no better way to learn how to write a book than to actually write a book. Writing takes patience, organisation and practice—you definitely shouldn’t expect to get everything right the first time you try it.
Once you do finish your novel, even if you never do anything with it, at least you’ll have a story you love even if no one else ever sees it. And if you do eventually find the courage to release your novel into the wild, you may find that others love it too—and that really is magical.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I write, I illustrate. I am an artist, though recently my art has been the written word. I have embroidered segments of the cosmos, but currently I embroider family crests and heraldry. I have just embarked on the massive task of digitising over 20,000 slides documenting my grandfather’s life work (he was a conservationist). Most recently I have finished the first part of one of my projects, a series about the Arthurian legends. The first installment is available here.
I’ve had two modelling careers, one as a teenager and one in my twenties, and though I did relatively well as a fashion model the success was of the non-paying and therefore unsustainable kind (high fashion magazines rarely pay you anything, don’t you know). I waste a bit of time on video games every now and then, but most of my time is spent either drawing or writing.
Favourite food, currently stoofvlees met frieten. Favourite movie? The Indiana Jones films (I’m an established and life-long fan of Harrison Ford). I was also particularly impressed by Terrance Malick’s The New World. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a favourite book of mine and I always greatly enjoy The Mists of Avalon, though I wouldn’t be able to identify a particular favourite author. Ashamedly I’m only just catching up with the works of Jane Austen and H. G. Wells, but am always keen to read anything Arthurian. I have a general interest in fine art, sculpture and craft, and appreciate things that are done and made well. I occasionally read poetry, and though I mostly listen to classical music I do love some 80s synthesizers every now and then.
Currently I’m working on a children’s book and the next installment to The Future King whilst temping in office roles. You’ll soon find that I’m poor at blogging at regular intervals, so if there’s a long gap, just assume that I’m getting on with writing Logres, Book Two.