Interviews in Sherwood

STEVEN A. McKAY
Author of The Forest Lord Series

Conducted and transcribed by Allen W. Wright

Steven A. McKay was born in 1977, and he lives in Old Kilpatrick, near Glasgow, Scotland with his family.

In 2013, he self-published Wolf's Head, which was a number one best-seller in the War category on Amazon and a 20-top Kindle best seller over all. He has published four Robin Hood novels set in the 14th century as part of his Forest Lord series. The last of the novels was Blood of the Wolf, published in 2016.

Steven A. McKay's Forest Lord series also includes several shorter tales, the most recent of which -- The Abbey of Death -- will be published in September 2017.

He's working on a new novel set in post-Roman Britain.

He also sings and plays guitar in a heavy metal band.

Visit Steven A. McKay's website

This interview was conducted by messaging on September 21, 2017.

 

AWW: Growing up, what was your impression of Robin Hood? What appealed to you -- or did not -- appeal to you about the legend?

SAM: Honestly, I don’t remember being interested in Robin Hood at all. I think I must have been just a little bit too young to watch Robin of Sherwood when it was on TV so I wasn’t really exposed to the legend. I was more into the Greek myths because my mum gave me a book about them, and King Arthur.

AWW: What interested you in writing a novel series about Robin Hood?

SAM: I wanted to write something similar to Bernard Cornwell’s great King Arthur series – men and women out in the woods, fighting for their friends, love and honour, all that kind of thing. When I drove past a house with the name “Sherwood” I realised Robin Hood was the perfect character to write about. At that point I had no real idea about him other than the fact he used a longbow and “robbed from the rich to give to the poor”.

AWW: What were the most surprising things you discovered when you researched both the Robin Hood legend and medieval history?

SAM: Well, I was really surprised to learn just how deeply rooted in folklore Robin Hood is. There’s elements of the Green Man, paganism, rebirth…all sorts of things that most people have no idea are entwined into the legend.

    Perhaps most surprising to me was the fact the very first ballads took place not in Nottingham or Sherwood, but in Barnsdale Forest in Yorkshire! For all these years the legend has been associated with Sherwood which is fair enough because, as I showed in my books, the gangs must have travelled around a bit, but Yorkshire has just as much of a claim to Robin Hood.

AWW: One of the things I really enjoyed about your books was the relationship between the outlaws and Wakefield. Even though the Merry Men have friendly relations with villages in other version of the legend, the Forest Lord series depicts a greater sense of dependence. Is this something that came from your research of medieval outlaws, and what is your impression of the relationship between outlaws and society?

SAM: I think it would be impossible to live as an outlaw in medieval England without help from people in the villages. You couldn’t bake your own bread, forge your own arrowheads, make your own shoes etc so you’d NEED to have a relationship with the people in the towns and villages around you. I think it depends on what crime has been committed how society views an outlaw. In my books Robin and his friends are, for the most part, victims of the unjust medieval laws and those who enforced them. My research did show that sheriffs and bailiffs were commonly abusing their position – jailing people on trumped up charges simply so they could force the hapless captor to pay for their release for example. That sort of thing happened a lot. So of course, the people in the villages would be happy to help men who’d been wronged by the system – to this day people love to get one over on hated authority figures!

AWW:What was your process in adapting the original ballads into your own tales?

SAM: I knew I had to keep certain elements of the stories. The characters for example, had to be close to those everyone knows – Little John was to be a friendly giant, Tuck a portly chap who likes his meat and ale, Robin a seeker of justice with a more than a hint of steel etc. Also, the golden arrow that Hood wins, the knight, Sir Richard-at-Lee that helps the gang and, of course, the end, where our hero dies…

     So I had all those much-loved elements as a sort of framework and I just came up with my own ideas to flesh the whole thing out. Right at the beginning, my editor read the first draft of Wolf’s Head and said to me, “What’s the point of it though? What’s Robin’s motivation?” so from then on it kind of became his quest to win pardons for them all, so they could live as free men again.

     Whether he actually dies in the end, you’ll need to read the books to find out!

AWW: Which of your characters surprised you the most, and did any end up in a different place than you first intended?

SAM: Friar Tuck was great fun to write. I had actually planned on killing him off in the second book but, as I was writing the scene, someone else took the hit and Tuck went on to be a big part of all the novels, even getting a novella of his own which Amazon put out as a Kindle Single (Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil). I suppose he was something of a surprise because when I was planning the series I was thinking of these men as hard, brutal, with little loyalty to anyone outwith their own circle and quite willing to destroy any who got in their way. Tuck, of course, couldn’t be like that as he was a friar, a man of God. He became a good foil for the darker characters and actually helps some of them through some really hard times. I had enough “bad” or even quite evil clergymen in the stories so it was good to show one of them being nice (although he kicks ass when it’s called for).

AWW: You begin Blood of the Wolf with Robin Hood and Little John as roving bailiffs. What interested you in telling the tale of an outlaw who can become an enforcer of order?

When I was researching the legend I read Graham Phillips & Martin Keatman’s book about it and they mentioned a historical Robin Hood who had been an outlaw then ended up working for the king. I thought that was in interesting way to take the stories – how would men who have hated the law for so long react to being made to enforce it? They would want to do it fairly, to see justice served rather than taking bribes or being horrible to people just because they had a bit of power. But, of course, power corrupts as they say, and it led to a few twists and turns in that final novel…

AWW: What were experiences in self-publishing? And how do those experiences differ from Amazon serving as an official publisher of The Abbey of Death?

SAM: Well, the main difference was how long it took for Abbey of Death to be ready to publish. When I self-publish something I have the cover made in advance and, as soon as the manuscript has been edited and proofread I publish it. But a traditional publisher works rather slower and also they do a lot more copy-editing and proofreading than I did on my own. If I’d been self-publishing Abbey of Death it would have come out six months ago because that’s when I thought it was ready. I’m sure it will have been worth the wait though as we tightened the manuscript up considerably and it reads better as a result of that extra layer of polish.

     To be fair though, even as an indie writer, I used professional editors and cover designers so the overall process is much the same. I was paid an advance though, which was exciting and made it all seem more real, you know – “Someone likes my book enough that they’ve paid me for it before it’s even been published!”

AWW: What can you tease about The Abbey of Death?

SAM: Well, it’s about Will Scaflock or Scarlet as everyone knows him. This is at the end of the series so the gang have all gone their separate ways and Will is lonely and kind of lost his way in life. He becomes a monk in the abbey at Selby and, well, anyone who’s read my books can guess how it might pan out. He’s got a temper and he’s better suited to fighting than praying and those qualities are going to be needed because, as I mentioned before, some of the clergymen in those days weren’t as good and holy as they should have been and it all goes to hell quickly!

AWW:I understand that The Abbey of Death will be your farewell to the Forest Lord series. What's your next project?

SAM: Yes, I don’t have any plans for more Forest Lord book although people often ask me to write more about Sir Richard-at-Lee who had his own novella Knight of the Cross so who knows, maybe one day…

     Right now though, I am finishing off the first draft of book one in my new series which is about a warrior-druid in post-Roman Britain, around 430AD. He’s a really great character to write about, being kind of an amalgamation of Robin, Little John and Tuck – a giant, ass-kicking druid, I mean how can that not be fun to work with? So he’s on a quest to rescue a princess but of course there’s a lot more to it than that and Merlin and Arthur even make an appearance as side-characters.

     The period when the Romans left Britain and the Saxons started to arrive is shadowed in mystery so it’s been hard to research but that means I have more freedom to do what I want. There’s no pre-existing myth I have to work around this time, I can have my druid be who he wants, go where he wants, meet who he wants and use fabled characters like Horsa and Hengist however I want.

     Or course, I’m sure there will be some out there who will find fault or tell me “druids weren’t really like that, they were like this” but no-one really knows anything about them so I’m doing it the way that feels right to me.

     An agent, Josh Getzler, from the HSG agency in New York, has read the unfinished first draft of the book and liked it enough that he’s taken me on as a client so hopefully this series will find a traditional publisher. It’s been quite a journey and I hope my readers who have been so supportive really enjoy the new books.

    Thanks for having me, Allen, I’ve been a big fan of your site since I first came across it a few years ago, anyone wanting to learn more about the Robin Hood legend should take a look!

AWW: Thank you, Steven. For both the interview and the highly enjoyable Forest Lord series.

If you enjoyed the Steven A. McKay interview, you might also like:

 

Buy The Forest Lord series on Amazon

The novels, novellas and short stories are available in print, Kindle and audiobook format on Amazon. Also, you can get a free exclusive short story, The Rescue, on Steven A. McKay's website.

Amazon.com

The Novels

The Novellas and Short Stories


 

Amazon.co.uk

The Novels

The Novellas and Short Stories


 

Amazon.ca

The Novels

The Novellas and Short Stories



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Interview text, © Allen W. Wright, 2017.

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