Interview with multi-genre author Andrew Mackay

Give me a summary of your life till now (education, work, etc.) and how it led you to write.

Ooooh, well, I’m a massive movie fan, so throughout my upbringing, all I ever wanted to do was make movies. I quickly discovered I was able to write very well. I dabbled in movie-making in my twenties (I wrote and directed a feature-length movie which is still unreleased), but the industry is so fickle due to other people talking a good game but not being able to follow it up, so I ditched the idea. I had to teach (English, IT, and business) to make ends meet – but I fell out of love with that in 2016, and so gave that up to become a full-time writer. I can write what I like and publish myself, and absolutely no one else is responsible for it. It’s all on me, which I love.

What inspired you to take a turn away from science fiction/fantasy and publish The Hunger Diaries? How has your weight loss journey progressed since the book came out?

To be honest, I am not really a sci/fi/fantasy writer. Star Cat is my only sci-fi series out of 20+ books, most of which are crime, horror, and satire. No matter the genre, my work always has a satirical edge – some social commentary on the state of politics and life today. I just can’t help myself like that! The Hunger Diaries was the result of my being bored one day and checking my body mass index — to find out I was teetering on the edge of obesity. Something inside me snapped, and I started the traditional “eat less” diet immediately. The idea for the book came on day two. So, the diet came first, and the book came second. Both ended up supporting the other. I figured writing a diary each day on how I felt would be fun. But it was almost 100% for my consumption (pun intended!) About halfway through the two-week adventure, I made some significant discoveries – both in my research on weight loss – and what was happening to me personally, and I decided I couldn’t keep it to myself. If you look at all the weight-loss books out there, there’s a distinct lack of honesty and first person-perspective for those who genuinely want to lose weight. I’m just like everyone else, and I thought it’d be nice to let others know that they’re not alone.

I set myself the goal of reaching 12 stone by my 41st birthday on October 7th. I didn’t hit it, sadly. As you’ll read in the book, my wife and I were about to move house, etc., and the deal went through the middle of August. I had three weeks of NOT fasting or anything. The curious thing was that during those three weeks of eating nothing but fast food, I didn’t put any weight on, because I was only eating once a day. As I write, I am 13 stone and 10 ten pounds. I weighed myself on October 1st and got that result. I will weigh myself on November 1st and see what the result is, then. I am back on OMAD (One Meal A Day) right now and water fasting in between, so I am hopeful that the Nov 1st will be a touch better than the last one. I have now set my goal of reaching 12 stone dead by Christmas. I think I have a shot at reaching it. Just goes to show — you have to adapt your lifestyle and eating habits to suit what you’re doing. The original deadline was too ambitious.

What’s your next project?

Now I’m settled into our new house, I have a writing room and office, which is taking some getting used to. I’ve just started writing my next book, Somnambulist, which is a neo-noir urban thriller about a black woman in her late forties who sleepwalks during the night when her family goes to sleep. One hot summer’s Saturday night, she gets out of bed and sleepwalks out of the house … and goes on an incredibly strange journey through Chrome Valley. She meets all kinds of weird characters, and she’s asleep the entire time. It’s an Andrew Mackay book, so stuff is going to get strange, and all climax with a mind-blowing finale. I have the story mapped out in my head, and the end – I think – will really mess with readers’ minds. Somnambulist is a slow burn. It starts “normal,” and the wild stuff creeps up on you without you knowing it. It’s quite different from my previous books. But if I had to pick one of my previous titles it’s closest to, then it’s probably Convenience.

When can we expect the last Space Race book? How are you and Charles progressing on that? Any more collaborations planned? Because the two of you are funny on speed!

Hmmm. I’m not sure when we’ll get that final, third book. Charlie and I have been stupid busy with our own projects. I know he’s been co-writing with others, and we haven’t spoken for a while (mostly my fault due to the intense summer I’ve had) — I think the steam in Space Race has run out, to be quite honest. I’ve decided I like writing on my own much better, but Charlie is a great friend, and I’ve enjoyed the process a lot. It’s been a real learning curve.

What’s your research process like?

I research what I need to research and little else. I’ve done a lot of research on various subjects for various books to ensure it’s acceptably authentic. But I write fiction in the main, and I don’t want to get overly prescriptive and tedious with the details. The Hunger Diaries was different, of course, because my own actions and body were the research! Of course, there was the science behind it all, and that was important. My research process is usually dynamic. You know, I’ll be writing the first draft of a Star Cat book and make a note in chapter 15 along the lines of “How does that pressurization chamber work? Find out!” — and keep typing. When I go through it again, I’ll do the research and readjust what I wrote.

Have you moved yet? That was a substantial side story in The Hunger Diaries.

Yes, we moved. See the answer above!

What’s your writing routine? Do you have a dedicated office, or do you write at the kitchen table? Do you write longhand or type everything? Do you outline your stories or let the characters take you where they want to go? Do your characters speak to you?

I have a dedicated office now. Thank God! Previously, I was writing in an open-plan living room, which I shared with my wife. Now I have a door and can shut myself from life, which is important. I never, ever write longhand. I rarely make notes with pen and paper. I spend a few days daydreaming the beginning, middle, and end for each story. Get a general idea of where I start and end. Take Somnambulist for example … I know how it starts and how it ends. I have a couple of events that play a movie in my mind from segments of the story, but I have no idea how they all connect. As I write, I’ll figure that out. If it’s a screenplay, I will plot it out furiously … but with a book, I love the idea of the story being malleable. I don’t want to rigidly stick to an outline only to discover I have a better way halfway through and don’t take the opportunity because I want to stick to the outline. It’s a liberating way of writing: less stress, less pressure. A lot of Star Cat was made up at the last moment. Especially in Killer Instinct (Star Cat 4) – as I was writing a later chapter, I suddenly gave Maar Sheck a heart attack. I had planned to do something else with him when I sat down to write, but my fingers just danced ahead of me, and before I knew it – BAM! – Maar has a heart attack. It just felt right to do it. I didn’t worry about how it affected my future plans because I have enough faith in my ability to write myself out of a corner, or out of trouble — trouble I usually cause myself by changing my mind at the last minute. That little change informed the remainder of the series, and it became much better. Often then, last-minute choices are the best. Most of the very best events in Star Cat were last-minute. You remember that game you played at school where you have a sheet of paper, and you draw a head, and fold it down, and pass it to your friend to draw the body, and they fold it down, and pass it to someone else to draw the legs? Yeah, that. But with writing the first draft. Your first self-edit is your opportunity to smooth over all the glaring inconsistencies.

What writers do you admire, past or present?

Douglas Adams springs to mind (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I love Doug Naylor and Rob Grant (Red Dwarf). I’m a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson, Harper Lee … most of my creative idols are not book writers. I love film directors and screenplay writers like David Mamet, Paul Verhoeven, Larry Cohen, and I adore Stanley Kubrick.

What do you like best about being a writer? What do you like least?

I don’t have a boss. Or, rather, I do — me. I’m a horrible boss, but I can’t take out a grievance against myself with the personnel department. I’m often right as a boss. I should be writing. But the lazy-ass side of myself hates the boss side of myself. I love not having to travel. I love not having to wear a suit. I can take a dump whenever I need to, or a smoke break. If there’s one thing I dislike, then it’s the fact that all my success is on ME first and foremost. It’s a burden. But being a writer is better than having a job, and it’s certainly better than being a teacher. I can’t believe I wasted over a decade of my life teaching. I developed an intense dislike for children while I was a teacher, and I grew to hate the classroom. Teaching morphed into a bureaucratic nightmare over the years. A lot of the false virtue-signaling made me want to vomit — ripe material for satire and taking the piss. I couldn’t take any of it seriously because my colleagues, managers, and jobsworths were taking it too seriously. People take things too seriously. They’re miserable as a result.

What little personal quirk would you like to reveal to your readers?

Pfft. I dunno, I’ve always had a bit of a reputation as a funny guy or a joker, especially as a teacher. I’ve often been told I should give lectures about this and that, that I am a motivational and/or persuasive kinda guy. And I guess they’re right. But when I approached forty, I realized two things — one, other people suck. Two, I don’t have time for their bullshit. So, I decided I wanted to be alone. Just write. I can’t tell you the effect it’s had on me after three years of writing. I’m less stressed now. I’ve avoided untold hours of nonsense from other people. It’s been great. I reveal this as a quirk because, if you have ever met me, or talked to me, or conversed in any way with me, this may come as a surprise. For someone so ostensibly amenable to others, who’s funny and very easy to get on with, deep down inside burns the desire of someone who just wants to be alone and do their thing.


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