We kick off with a fantastic interview with the ridiculously talented Matt Shaw….
We all remember those books from when we were younger – the adventure ones where you chose how the book went – ‘if you think that he should take the mountain path, turn to page 32.’ ‘If you think he should fight the yeti, turn to page 14.”
Matt Shaw, the prolific and bestselling author, has produced a grown up version – complete with his own personal and self-admitted brand of ‘sick’.
We got to chat with him...
So, Matt – a choose your own adventure book for grown-ups. What a brilliant idea, how did you come up with the concept?
I was chatting with some friends (yes, I do actually have some.... well, okay... it was a ‘friend’ but regardless, I was still chatting to them) about the books we used to read as a kid. The Choose Your Own range came into the conversation and, the more we were fondly recalling our experiences with them (I used to cheat) the more I thought it would be sweet to do a version for adults. Chatting with some of readers on my author page, some of them hadn’t even heard of this style of book but were still well up for having a blast with one.
It helps the E-Reader platform lends itself to the gimmick really well too. You don’t need page numbers, you don’t need chapters. Just sentences at the end of each ‘segment’ giving you a choice of what you want the main character to do next. All you need to do is click on the hyperlink (even more fun if you have a touch screen!) and you’re magically whisked away to the next part of the story. And it makes it really, really hard for the cheating gits out there who try and go backwards if they’ve made a mistake.
The book is not for the faint of heart. Are you particularly fond of horror as a genre?
I actually like comedy books best of all (one of my favourite books, I wrote, is ‘The Vampire’s Treaty) but I’ve found they don’t sell as well as ‘horror’. Early on, I found people liked the horror stories I did write so I’ve kind of gone on from there - following the market but I’ll never ignore the ‘funnies’ which is why there’s always a hint of comedy in my darker books. Yes the situations are particularly nasty (kidnap, murder etc) but, because I write through the first person perspective, it allows me to drop in the odd throw-away line or jokey comment. I think humour, even in horror, is important.
I was criticised for this in a recent review. Apparently the ‘humour’ stops my books from being truly horrifying but I believe sometimes it helps make the horror even worse when it does rear it’s ugly head.
The ‘Happy Ever After’ series of books are extremely dark but people loved the main character, Peter, because of his many quirks and witty, little thoughts he has through-out the story. I think, if you take those away, what you’re left with is just another tale of kidnap...zzzzzzzzzzzz
There seems to be a certain amount of glee in pushing boundaries and seeing how far you can take things. Would you agree with that and does that come out in your other writings or creative activities?
I was worried about this interactive story, ‘A Christmas to Remember’, because I thought I had pushed a scene too far. I don’t want to give it away but it involves a severed head. I sent the book to various people, so they could test it for me, and it came back with a mixed reaction. They all agreed it was shocking but seventy percent of them reckon they had seen worse so.... yeah... it stayed in the book.
Sometimes I have really dark ideas, for stories, but then I bottle them because I know it would turn so many people off my writing that it’s just not worth it. There is a fine line. Just comes down to being able to recognise where it is before you’ve crossed it. You only need to push as close as you can possibly get without falling over it.
If you’re not willing to push boundaries and take things as far as they can possibly go (before they turn ‘ridiculous’ or ‘extremely offensive’) then how are you ever going to write something which stands out from the rest of the published words out there?!
You are an astonishingly prolific author with over 25 titles currently available on Amazon. What is the secret to churning out so many novels and do you have any tips for aspiring writers who lack the self-motivation?
If you lack self-motivation give up now. That’s not me being harsh either. There’s just very little point in going for a career in writing if you can’t even be dedicated enough to sit at a computer and bash away at the keyboard. I’d even tell them to give up if they only have a little motivation too. You have to be one hundred percent dedicated to it or the slightest little upset will cause you to stop writing (bad review, bad feedback from a friend.... something good on the telly). Sometimes I’d like nothing more than to sit on my arse with a Playstation controller but I don’t dare. It’s taken me years to build up a readership and I fret that, as soon as I stop writing, they’ll stop following...
As for what I write: I used to write, about, a book a month. About. Roughly. That was whilst I was holding down a full-time job in Hell (not really Hell but... if Hell existed... it would have been that office). I gave that up a few months ago and now all I do is write. I have to as I have bills that need to be paid (and sometimes they aren’t!)
I sit at the computer early in the morning and stay there until late at night. If I’m not writing a story, I’m pushing my books on different book groups on Facebook or chatting with people who are members of my author page. Facebook being the only real place I actively utilise. I’m a member of Goodreads but.... only so I can keep an eye on what people are saying about my work! If I’m not at the computer, I’ll be on the settee with my notebook - scribbling down ideas from the dark recesses of my damaged imagination (some of which go onto become books, some of which just sit there until the ink fades on the page). Basically, I’m always ‘thinking’ stories. To give you an idea of how long I am at the computer for - I have to change my keyboard batteries once a month, if not more.
But there’s other little factors too which help me knock out the books quickly too...
I never do ‘re-writes’. If a book I’m working on isn’t working out. I jump ship and start something else. Once I’ve finished writing the book, I pass it onto someone else to edit (NEVER edit your own work). They pass it back, I give it a once over.... and release.
I keep them short and sweet. My books are usually around 90-150 pages in length. Novellas. I like them like this because they’re what I call ‘quick reads’. Sometimes people don’t have time to sit in a book for days in and days out and they want something quick they can read. A story they can start and finish - without ageing another year in the process. The length of my work is reflected in the price - I don’t charge over £3 for a book. Some of my books are even as little as 77p. See, I think it’s important to keep prices low to encourage people to give you a go (another reason why I’m always offering free book promotions and giving books away on my author page.... I want people to give me a go!)
I once had a lady send me a book (please don’t do this) about werewolves. Now, I know I’m no Stephen King but, honestly, this was proper bollocks. It was poorly written, dull, flat characters.... she was adamant she wanted to release it so I talked her through the process and told her she’d be best off keeping the price low if she wanted to sell any copies as people are reluctant to fork out big money on Kindle.
“No way!” she said. “My work is worth at least £9.99...”
Last I heard, she sold one copy. To her mum.
Just realised that has nothing to do with this. Let’s move on....
(Goes off to get some toast, whilst contemplating moving on....)
You once had a column in NUTS Magazine, and are a cartoonist. With your irreverent sense of humour you are not the normal image people have of an author. What did you want to be when you were at school and what do your friends from that period think of your success these days?
My friends thought I’d grow up to be a serial killer or some kind of psycho. Seems apt that I write about those kinds of characters, really.
I always wanted to be on stage, in films or writing screenplays. I only turned to writing books because people used to love my stories and I figured I’d have more chance selling a novel compared to a screenplay. When self-publishing came about, I didn’t think twice - especially having wasted so much time sending off to publishers and agents.... people who wouldn’t even LOOK at my work.
As for the ‘success’ of selling books at the moment - I’m happy with where things are headed (could always be better) but my friends don’t know. Don’t talk to them anymore. Not since I killed them.
Which authors work do you most enjoy and what, if any, genres do you dislike?
You know, I rarely read. How bad is that? I’m more of a cartoon kind of bloke. Love the work of Gary Larson (‘Far Side’) and, of course, Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes). If I read a book it’s normally one of mine because they’re THAT amazing. Cough. Not really, I like autobiographies - like ‘My Booky Wook’ by Russell Brand (follow-up was wank, though). And if you haven’t read ‘Billy’ by Pamela Stephenson, you really need to!
If I’m in the mood for stories, I always look for the darker stuff of Roald Dahl. His short stories are just about long enough to hold my attention and are awesome! I love the way he throws a twist at the end. He inspires me (or did anyway, he’s dead now ever since that train accident.....) Guess that’s why I like writing short stories and novellas too with a nice twist in the end!
Finally, Matt – as a writer what are the feelings that you are trying to provoke in your readers when they close the final pages (e-close, naturally) on one of your books?
Goosebumps. To me the ending is the most important aspect of the book. The opening gets their attention. The ending makes them buy another. Can’t remember who said that (might have been my Nan) but... ‘tis very true.
I had a message, the other day, via a psychic medium (not really, was on Facebook). Some nice lady, on my author page, who said she was sat in the car reading ‘9 Months - Book One’ when she suddenly screamed at the ending. Apparently the driver nearly crashed. Obviously I don’t want my readers to crash in horrific accidents but, if they scream.... I’m good with that.
One review (I read them all) has mentioned how the ending has haunted them for days after they finished the book. I call that a result.
Thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed by us today, Matt.
No. Thank you.
For the record, the toast I mentioned earlier - I burnt.
So, there you have it. A gruesome, grotesque Choose Your Own Adventure book. No doubt your interest is piqued so, will you:
- Buy it immediately from here
- Check out Matt’s other titles on Amazon.
- Check out Matt's Facebook Page