Please welcome Steve McHugh to The Qwillery. A Glimmer of Hope, the 1st novel in The Avalon Chronicles, was published on April 1st by 47North.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Steve: I knew I wanted to be an author when I was at school, so about 13 or 14, and my English teacher told me to go get some books from the library that were out of my usual comfort zone. I got Stephen King’s It, Terry Pratchett’s Men At Arms, and David Gemmell’s Legend. That was when I knew I wanted to be an author.
Fast-forward a few years, to when I was about to become a father for the first time at 25, and I knew I needed to start writing seriously. I didn’t want to be that person who said, “One day,” so I started writing. I joined an online writing group, and I learned the craft.
So, it was really a combination of wanting to write, and needing to write, but also the fact that I wanted to be able to say that I at least tried.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Steve: A hybrid, definitely that. Before I start a book, I sit down with a notepad and some pens and I go over the world-building and character creation. As I’m doing that, I let the story start to build, and I start jotting down bits that I want to have happen during the story.
By the time it comes to actually sit down and write, I’ll know the beginning and end of the story, and the main scenes that I want. The later of which, might not always be in the right order—and they have a tendency to change as needed—but it’s usually a good indication of where everything will finish.
So, when I write, I know what I want in the chapter I’m working on, and the next one after that, although it’s often a massive surprise to me when something happens I wasn’t expecting.
I tried just plotting everything out in detail, and it sucked. I got irritated that it didn’t go the way I’d planned, because characters don’t always do what they’re told. My hybrid way works for me as it allows me to keep the surprise of what happens, but gives me a framework to move around in.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Steve: Two years ago I went fulltime author. I was on book 5 in the Hellequin Chronicles (I think), and I had 3 years of work lined up, so I took the plunge. Turns out working from home is not the beautiful paradise land that I expected.
My TV is here. As is my PS4, and books, and all the cool stuff I could be playing around with when not writing. Actually forcing myself to sit down and get on with my job is something that isn’t always easy. I love being an author, it’s easily the best job I’ve ever had, but working from home can be an exercise in having to force yourself to get away from distractions.
There’s also the issue of being shut away in my office for days and weeks at a time, especially when I have deadlines, so there’s a constant need to remember to go see people. Now, that’s not so bad because I have a wife and 3 children, who are more than happy to remind me that I don’t need to lock myself away, but it’s still hard work to stay on top of seeing people outside of the house. I’ve gotten better at it, but that work/life balance, took some getting used to.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Steve: Short answer: everything.
It’s not really the most descriptive answer ever, but it’s pretty close to being accurate. Long answer; my wife, my kids, my friends and family, anime, movies, music, books, comics, videogames… the list really does go on.
More specifically, I’ve always been influenced by Asian cinema. I grew up watching a lot of films from Japan/China/South Korea etc, and as I’ve grown up, that love of the way they make action films and thrillers, is something that has continued. Same with Anime. Both of those things influence my writing, at the very least they influence how I write action scenes, and use magic in stories.
There are scenes from comics I read growing up, that inspired me to write one scene or another, and I’ve played videogames that did something I thought was cool and figured out if I could incorporate something similar.
Inspiration comes from all around me, which is probably why my brain rarely switches off.
TQ: In December 2017 the 7th and final book in the Hellequin Chronicles was published. Now you have a new Urban Fantasy series starting with A Glimmer of Hope, the first novel in the Avalon Chronicles. Do these Urban Fantasy series have anything in common?
Steve: Both series are set in the same world, and both have some of the same characters. The end of the Hellequin Chronicles left the world in a very different place to where it started, and while the first Avalon book takes because before that shift, the second and third take place after. They’re both action-adventure series with magic, monsters, and mayhem, and they were both a ton to write.
As someone who loves Mythology, it’s nice that my world has mythologies from all different regions and periods of history, so I can pick and choose which ones to use for which book. The Hellequin books had a lot of Greek, Arthurian, and Mesopotamian, but the Avalon books have a lot of Norse mythology.
So, while there are quite a few similarities, and the series take place in the same world, Layla is a very different character to Nate, so it’s been nice to write something different, but familiar at the same time.
TQ: What appeals to you about writing Urban Fantasy?
Steve: Mostly, because it’s fun. That’s why I write anything. If I’m not enjoying the genre, I probably won’t enjoy the story I’m telling.
I like the idea of taking characters from mythology and bringing them into the 21st century, sometimes kicking and screaming all the way, I like looking through myths and trying to figure out exactly what could be considered fact from fiction. For example, I had the idea that most of the stories regarding Zeus changing into animals to have sex with people, were made up by Hera in revenge for him being an absolute arse to her. It’s fun being able to twist the characters that most will have heard of, into something very different. And being able to then take that into a modern setting is a very interesting idea.
Also, urban fantasy lets me have my cake and eat it. I can write about Hades living in Canada one chapter, and then have another realm, which is linked to earth, but is more epic fantasy in nature. The ability to write a fantastical story that incorporates different genres I love is something that makes me happy to work with the Urban Fantasy genre.
TQ: Tell us something about A Glimmer of Hope that is not found in the book description.
Steve: It has one of my favourite actions scenes I’ve written to date. It starts with a car chase, and ends with a run through the woods while monsters are chasing them. It’s was a huge amount of fun to write, not just because of the action and fighting that take place, but also because it’s the introduction of one of my favourite characters from the Hellequin Chronicles to this book, and the first thing he says is a line from Terminator.
Whenever I write a book, I like to make sure that no matter what it’s about, it has elements to it that make me smile, and that one chapter pretty much made me smile the entire time I was writing it.
TQ: In the A Glimmer of Hope who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Steve: There are a few which were quite easy to write. Most of the cast from the Hellequin Chronicles are easy now, considering I’ve spent so long with most of them. Tommy the werewolf star wars geek, and Remy the… well, Remy, are probably the easiest two as with Tommy I get to let lose my own Star Wars nerd, and with Remy I get to write all the things people probably shouldn’t say out loud, and he just does.
The hardest was probably Layla to begin with. As the main protagonist of the story, I needed to get her right, and make sure that she was interesting to follow. She hasn’t had the easiest of lives, and has some issues she’s avoided for a large part of her life, so it was difficult trying to figure out how a 21 year old woman, who had gone through so much, would react to these massive changes in her life.
TQ: Which question about A Glimmer of Hope do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Steve: That’s a hard question. Probably, who is your favourite character that was created for the A Glimmer of Hope?
That’s a great question, Steve’s brain. Probably Harry. I like Harry a lot. Harry is the son of a Chinese-American general in the US army, and a British doctor mum. He’s in his 20s, and his entire life plan is to stay in further education as long as possible so he doesn’t have to go and get a proper job. He’s one of the few humans in the book that become involved with the story as he’s one of Layla’s best-friends. Harry is just a genuinely nice person who is amazed at everything he discovers about a world he had no idea existed, and it’s interesting to have him just think everything is so cool and not freaking out over having met werewolves, sorcerers, and the like.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from A Glimmer of Hope.
Steve: The first one is from Tommy, just after Layla discovers the world she knew isn’t exactly the full story: This world will crush you if you think you’re a monster when you’re not. There are enough actual monsters out there already.
The second is Layla thinking about her job, which in many ways was a cathartic moment for me to write as it mirrors how I felt about a job of mine at the time: “It wasn’t that the job was hard, or that the people were bad; it was just a combination of boredom and a complete and total apathy from those in management. It was as if they didn’t care what happened to the majority of people who worked for them, and it created a “them and us” scenario that made work feel like she was constantly trying to do a good job for no reason whatsoever.”
TQ: What's next?
Steve: I have a few things that are next for me. The second and third Avalon Chronicles books will be out in July and October respectively (A Flicker of Steel, and A Thunder of War). Seeing how they’re both written and off to my publisher, I’m going to be spending the rest of the year writing the first book in an Epic Fantasy series I’ve been wanting to work on for a few years now, as well as the first book in the series after the Avalon Chronicles. So, I guess I’ll be kept busy for a while yet.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Steve: Thank you for having me.
A Glimmer of Hope
The Avalon Chronicles 1
47North, April 1, 2018
Hardcover and Kindle eBook, 351 pages
From Steve McHugh, the bestselling author of The Hellequin Chronicles, comes a new urban fantasy series packed with mystery, action, and, above all, magic.
Layla Cassidy has always wanted a normal life, and the chance to put her father’s brutal legacy behind her. And in her final year of university she’s finally found it. Or so she thinks.
But when Layla accidentally activates an ancient scroll, she is bestowed with an incredible, inhuman power. She plunges into a dangerous new world, full of mythical creatures and menace—all while a group of fanatics will stop at nothing to turn her abilities to their cause.
To protect those she loves most, Layla must take control of her new powers…before they destroy her. All is not yet lost—there is a light shining, but Layla must survive long enough to see it.
A Flicker of Steel
The Avalon Chronicle 2
47North, July 3, 2018
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook
Avalon stands revealed, but the war is far from over. For Layla Cassidy, it has only just begun.
Thrust into a new world full of magic and monsters, Layla has finally come to terms with her supernatural powers—and left her old life behind. But her enemies are relentless.
Sixteen months after her life changed forever, Layla and her team are besieged during a rescue attempt gone awry and must fight their way through to freedom. It turns out that Avalon has only grown since their last encounter, adding fresh villains to its horde. Meanwhile, revelations abound as Layla confronts twists and betrayals in her own life, with each new detail adding to the shadow that looms over her.
As Layla fights against the forces of evil, her powers begin to increase—and she discovers more about the darkness that lies in her past. As this same darkness threatens her future, will she be ready to fight for everything she holds dear?