Steven A. McKay - Dark Age Adventure at its Gripping Best
Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history - the interesting bits, not so much what they taught him in school. He decided to write his Forest Lord series after seeing a house called "Sherwood" when he was out at work one day. He has been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn't come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well...It felt like a message from the gods and his rebooted Robin Hood was born. His current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80's TV show "Knightmare", and their version of Merlin that got his ideas flowing. Steven was once in a heavy metal band although he tends to just play guitar in his study these days. He is sure the neighbors absolutely loves him. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, The Druid.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Druid is about.
It’s mainly about a quest to rescue a kidnapped child. Princess Catia is taken by raiders and our hero Bellicus must follow them and try to bring her home somehow. The journey goes all the way from Northern Britain down to Stonehenge with plenty of adventures along the way, for both Bellicus and Catia.
Why did you set this story in Northern Britain, AD430?
I really enjoy reading novels about the Romans, but I wanted to set my story in a time when they weren’t around to continue their persecution of the druids. So it made sense to set it in a period when the Romans had officially left Britain. Of course, there would still be legionaries living in the country and some of their culture and infrastructure would be holding on so this allowed me a “best of both worlds” kind of thing. The druids were pretty much wiped out in the southern part of Britain by then, but I thought it realistic to have them still operating around the northern parts of the island, in what we now call Scotland. In the fifth century, you also had new peoples – Saxons, Angles, Dalriadans, and so on – coming to settle here, along with the new Christian religion pushing for dominance. It meant a lot of upheaval and conflict and a chance to explore those varying relationships and issues.
How much research did it require from you to make the history ring true?
A lot! I had previously been writing a series (The Forest Lord) set in medieval England and many aspects of that period were similar to the so-called “dark ages”, but others such as tribal and place names, languages, weaponry, clothing, and societal structure, were quite different. I always like to read a LOT of history books about my chosen period and really get a feel for it before I ever start writing a new series, so that’s what I did here. And, of course, the research never stops. I am continually buying new books and searching them for little pieces of information that can be used in my fiction. It’s not exactly fun, but it’s interesting and actually throws up great ideas for plots or characters more than I ever expected before I started this writing business.
What was the most interesting aspect of this research?
I do like reading, or at least skimming, all the various books but the most enjoyable research I did for the Warrior Druid of Britain series was taking trips to places like Dumbarton Castle, Dunadd Hill Fort and Dunnottar Castle. I took my family to a couple of them and we stayed at a hotel and stuff to make it more of a nice adventure and it really made things fun, as well as giving me ideas for the books. You can see photos of my trips on my website.
Who is Bellicus. What makes him so special?
When most people think of a druid, they think of an old man with a long beard, like Gandalf, Getafix, or Merlin. So I decided to do something different and make Bellicus young, almost seven feet tall, and he’s as much a warrior as he is a spiritual leader. He is driven to help his people but, because he’s young, he finds his outlook on life-changing over time and with the things he sees. There is no fantasy-style magic in my books – Bellicus is a regular man, just with some extra skills and a lifetime of learning. He also has a couple of loyal war-dogs to help him if anyone gets in his way...
Tell us more about princess Catia. What makes her tick?
She is just a little girl, but she’s brave (most of the time) and doesn’t bow to her captors even though they’re pretty scary! She’s smart, and the things she sees and hears during her abduction will be very difficult to come to terms with.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I play guitar and sing (a bit). I used to be in a heavy metal band playing covers of stuff like Metallica and Megadeth as well as our own tunes. I actually wrote some lyrics and music for folk songs that appear in The Druid, like “Rhydderch The Red” which you can hear on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lG_A41dWw8
Readers describe The Druid as fast-moving and intense. How did you pull this off?
I think it’s just my natural writing style. I like to read books that have a lot going on, rather than pages and pages of description or dialogue. Some of that is necessary, but I like to have an argument, or a fight, or some unexpected revelation happening all through the book. I want my readers to be entertained first and foremost, while enjoying the historical setting and detail second. So, even if I start a chapter with a few pages about the political landscape and a meeting of noblemen and women, you can be sure something more exciting will be happening soon!
The book contains some twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
No, I don’t really plan things. I generally just get an idea for some interesting events, then build a book around those, fleshing things out as I go along. I find inspiration hits me once I really start work, or I might even change something I HAD planned because a character works better doing something different. Going back to the research, quite often I’ll be writing a book and discover a really interesting historical fact or event that moulds a whole new section I’d never have expected.
Among the wealth of characters in The Druid, who was the most difficult to create?
I don’t think any were hard to create, really. The hard part is making them all different enough to be memorable without simply making baddies “evil and cruel” and goodies “honourable and caring”. When you’re writing a book about big, armoured warriors, you need to give them different, realistic personalities so readers know what’s going on and really get into the story. Also, in this book, I had two different dogs so, again, they had to have different traits. It can be difficult, as a man, to write realistic female characters but my daughter was about Catia’s age when I wrote The Druid so I try to put my own experience and relationships into each character to make them as realistic and interesting as possible.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Creating stories that I find interesting. We all love to read a good book, but it’s a step beyond that to be able to create your own adventure – it’s almost as good as being there, moulding events!
What are you working on right now?
I’m just finishing up book 3 in the Warrior Druid of Britain series. This follows The Druid, and Song of the Centurion. I have a title and a fantastic new cover so I’ll be revealing both very soon on my website at stevenamckay.com
After that, my standalone Roman slave-girl novel LUCIA - which was bought by Audible and has been exclusively available on that platform - will be published on Kindle and paperback in October. Then I’m planning on doing another mystery/thriller novella in my medieval Forest Lord series which should come out around Christmas. Very busy!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I am on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/StevenAMcKay
Twitter handle @SA_McKay
And, if you would like a FREE Forest Lord short story, along with chances to win Audible codes, signed books, posters, mugs and other goodies, sign up for my email list here: https://stevenamckay.com/free-forest-lord-story/