Thursday, 14 February 2019

What Matt Whiteside learnt when he started writing

I recently did an interview on the YouTube channel of an enthusiastic and witty indie writer called Matt Whiteside. We had a lot of fun doing the interview and Matt's enthusiasm for writing and communicating with others is infectious and disarming. I knew he was busy trying to get his name out there, so I offered Matt a guest post slot on my humble blog. What he sent me was not the usual kind of post I get from writers. This is not just about selling his books (though I am sure he would love you to buy them). What Matt sent me is a lot more powerful and inspiring than a sales pitch. I hope you agree.

What I learnt the day I died

by Matt Whiteside

The darkness in the room was filled with the glow of a small light coming from my phone. It was the only thing that had kept me company in my prison of hell and misery.

I had only taken the time to get out of bed twice in the last couple of weeks to go to the liquor store to replenish my supply of vodka. I was consuming the stuff at a click of half a gallon per day.

The smell in the room would make any visitor jump back in disgust as the putrid sweat that poured from me was filled with poison. My body was failing me, and my mind had long since left.

I was closer to death than I had ever been. The type of death that no one really wants to talk about. The kind that sits in your mind and slowly pokes you. Whispering for your attention, for your money, your family, your motivation and hopes.  The kind that finally whispers for your life.

I was dying from alcoholism, and I saw no way out. I had come to the conclusion that the best I could hope for was to drink enough to not wake up. I tried, every night for months, but still, I woke.

That was eight months ago.

I start with this for a reason. I start my story here for a purpose.

I wanted to die, and so I did. The “ME” that hated himself for a lifetime of regret had finally died. In fire and flame, the version of me that could no longer be a part of this world passed on.

And so this is where my story begins, at the beginning of my new life.

Eight months later I am sober and the proud publisher of two books. Dead Heart: An Origin Story and Trent Foster and The Council of 10.  Dead Heart hit number one on an Amazon bestsellers list the first week it was out.

I wrote the two stories in three months. After getting sober and working a program, I realized it wasn't just the way I looked at life that needed to change, I needed to completely change the way I lived. My entire approach to living had to become something new.

So, I took an honest look at what I loved doing. I asked myself the question, "if you could do anything for the rest of your life and money wasn't an issue what would you do?"  The answer was clear to me: Writing.

I made a decision five months ago to trust that although I could not see a path to where I was making money as a writer, I had to follow the things that lit me up.  I could no longer live a life full of lies chasing after the material things, hoping that somehow they would fulfill me.

Instead, I decided to trust that as long as I was taking action on a path that lit me up, I would be OK. I mean, I survived the Hell of alcoholism, why couldn't I survive doing something I loved? The journey thus far has not been easy.  It is not easy being broke and without a real sustainable income, but it is worth it to me.

So, what does any of this have to do with what I learned from writing these books?  Well, I am glad you asked.  Because it has everything to do with it.

Starting with my first book, Dead Heart. I set out to write a story of inspiration about a man that lost his legs. What ended up coming out was a story of finding yourself after dying and becoming the person you were meant to be.

You see, Dead Heart is a story about a knight that gets killed in battle and is turned into a zombie.  But, he has to overcome his apparent shortcomings, such as not having legs - they were literally cut off - and being freaking dead!

I realized while writing that whether I write literally or metaphorically the truth will come out as long as I am open to writing what comes to me.  See, I didn't mean for the story to be a metaphor for dying from alcohol and rising as an alcoholic to go out in the world and try and prove my worth and become the man I was supposed to be, even with my obvious shortfalls.

But it happened.

My second book, Trent Foster and The Council of 10, was a lot the same.  I set out to write a Sci-Fi story about a man who finds out he has powers and is wanted by other alien species to use his abilities for their ends.

The story ended up changing my life, Trent Foster goes from being a man at the end of his rope, ready to throw in the towel on his life, to realizing he has unlimited potential; that he is seemingly capable of anything and everything, if only he could bury his past and let the things die that have previously held him back.

Again, it was not meant to be a metaphor for me realizing that by working a program of recovery and setting free the demons of my past I had an unknown ability to be and do anything.

Coming to peace with the horrible stories I told myself was a result of writing a children's fantasy novella and a Sci-Fi thriller. I was astounded by what came out when I just began to write the stories that I love. My story could not help but come out, it was being processed in my writing.

I learned that the most significant thing I can do for myself and others is to tell my story. It is my story and whether it comes out as a fantasy, a thriller, historical fiction or memoir. It is my story, and only I can tell it in the way I was meant to tell it.

Without judgment, without hate or disgust. I had to be willing to get honest in my fiction and learn to write as authentically as was humanly possible. Because whether you write fiction or non-fiction the stuff that grips us is authentic. It is visceral and real, sometimes it hits you square between the eyes and makes you want to call your loved ones, and maybe rethink some parts of your life.

But, I learned that this is what makes great storytelling. As unreal as the scenarios may be, the truth will speak through your writing if you let it.

Think of it as an anchor to keep your ship from being tossed around during a storm The story is the storm, the truth and authenticity is the anchor.

The revelation that came from writing these books propelled me to write a third, I am currently 60,000 words into my next novel, and my life has transformed.

I mentioned how it is tough being broke, well, that is true. You know they say money: can't buy happiness. I believe this to be true, but it can make being happy more fun!

I now get to spend every day doing what I love, and I can see a path forming on which I walk each day. I can see that the sun is shining a beautiful array of colors directly in front of me, inviting me forward.

I know with 100% certainty now for the first time in my life I am on the right path. And it is because of my program of recovery, but also writing that led me to that realization.

I must be willing to die each day, shedding the old Matt, and be reborn each morning anew with all the possibilities and opportunities I could ever imagine staring me directly in the face.

So what do I do now?

Well, I write a spiritual, motivational blog every morning. I record funny and inspirational podcasts with my girlfriend almost every day. I write every day, working on my third book, The Incredible Rhett Smiley.  I interview authors such as the gracious Matthew Harffy for my YouTube channel UniWeb Productions. I lead meetings and sponsor other alcoholics. I review video games on my channel, Suck On Hard Gaming, a channel for people who suck at video games.

I spend time with my children, my girlfriend, my mom and my friends almost every day. My life is fuller and happier than it has ever been because….

I learned that the greatest gift I can give to the world is my story. So, I will allow the magic of the story to flow through me however it must to clear the channel for whatever gifts lie in the words I write.

Writing is a gift that everyone can learn. I know all I need to do to be a writer is to write. If I want to be a good writer, I must write a lot and get better every day. However, we can all write and when we become willing to tell our stories, the world becomes a better place where every person has a voice and inherent value.

Check out all the ridiculous crap I get into at the links included here. Thanks and have an awesome day.

I made a video as well so that you can watch me and try and work out what the hell I was trying to say in writing.  Enjoy.


UniWeb Productions: We do entertaining author interviews, live book readings, and reviews and have one hell of a time.

Suck On Hard Gaming:  A channel dedicated to throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. I also play a lot of games on here. Meaning I spend a lot of time getting cussed out by 9-year-olds.  Enjoy watching my failure.

Matt Whiteside's Blog:  Every morning I write motivational, inspirational, and recovery based articles about better living and finding your purpose.

Matt's Podcast, This Won’t Work:  A radio show looking for purpose and speaking the truth that I uncover every day in a fun and silly way with my girlfriend. I record video and audio to go along with this writing, so you could hear me, see me and read me. I don’t like giving people an excuse not to hear my story!

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattWhiteside3

Video Interview with writer Matt Whiteside

A few days ago, I did an interview on a new YouTube channel run by indie writer, Matt Whiteside. It was a fun interview and we talked about lots of things including writing, getting published, history, castles and swords. And I even read a few lines from my very latest work in progress, Dark Frontier.

Check it out and subscribe to Matt's UniWeb Channel for more author interviews.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow

Yesterday I went on a road trip with Blue, my puppy. We travelled into deepest Wessex to visit one of the sites that inspired part of my most recently written novel.

Watch the video to see how we got along.

Here is the image of the information board that I mention in the video, so you can read the history of the place.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Dark Ages Heroes - Who's yours?

To coincide with the hardback release of KILLER OF KINGS, I recently wrote an article on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog about heroes of the so-called Dark Ages.

Who do you think I wrote about and who would your hero (or heroine) be?

If I were to ask a group of people to name a hero from the Early Medieval period, the era more commonly known as the Dark Ages, who do you think they might mention? Alfred the Great perhaps? After all, he is the only king to be known as “Great” that Britain has ever produced.

Read the full article here:

Christmas in the seventh century

Ever wondered how people would celebrated Christmas in the time of the Bernicia Chronicles?

Well, wonder no longer. Fellow historical fiction author Mary Anne Yarde asked me to write something about Christmas on her blog.

Here is the result:

"Come, remove your sodden cloak and take a place on the bench. The fire is warm and there is food and drink a-plenty." The bearded man looks at you askance. "Even one who has travelled so far to be here tonight."

He ushers you towards the long bench where others are seated around the central hearth. The feast is already well underway and the men raise their cups and drinking horns to you as they slide along, making way for you to sit. 

"I see from your apparel that you have come a long way to be here in our Lord King Edwin's hall at Gefrin," says the steward as you settle onto the wooden bench. "I note you have no eating knife. I will fetch you one." And with that he is gone, bustling away through the servants and thralls who attend the revellers.

Read on here:

Sunday, 4 November 2018

I couldn't NOT write if I tried, and other cliches!

I've often read the cliches quoted by other authors about how they couldn't NOT write or how their characters speak to them. 

I've always thought such things were nonsense. After all, I have now written six novels, so I can speak with some authority as an author, but I have published all of them since turning forty. The fact that I went for the first forty years of my life without feeling compelled to write has sometimes made me feel like a bit of a fraud. Perhaps only real authors cannot avoid writing. Maybe for real writers the compulsion to put pen to paper is stronger than I had ever felt.

But, as with so many cliches maybe the truth is that you only really understand them when they happen to you. Recently, I wasn't able to write for a couple of weeks and suddenly I got it. I imagine it's like an athlete who suffers an injury and is unable to compete in their chosen sport. As anyone who knows me will attest, I'm no athlete but the frustration at not being able to sit down and write was very real. I didn't hear the voices of my characters whispering to me, and I didn't dream of the stories that I must tell, but I did have the nagging feeling that I should be adding words to my current work in progress.

People occasionally ask me if I enjoy the writing process. This is a very difficult question to answer. It is extremely taxing to write a novel-length piece of prose, particularly one that others are going to want to read. There's the research and planning, and then, of course, the seemingly endless hours of writing page after page of the first draft, followed by yet more hours of editing and polishing. This is then followed by further edits and tweaks that are needed after my editor, copy editor, proofreader and test readers have all had their say. So I think to say that I enjoy the process would be a stretch. But the simple fact is I do enjoy the final product of the creative process and I especially like hearing from people who have enjoyed reading the books.

I recently got an email from a reader that made my day. It was a message thanking me for writing the Bernicia Chronicles. This isn't that unusual, and I always love getting emails like that from readers. What writer (or anyone for that matter) doesn't like receiving praise? But this email in particular stood out from the norm in that the sender seemed to fully understand how difficult it is to actually wring the stories out of my brain. He likened my writing to giving him a time machine, an ability to lose himself in the past as depicted in my stories, taking him away for a brief time from the humdrum day-to-day life of the 21st-century.

What made the email even better was the timing. It came after this extended period when I had been unable to write and I was facing the uphill struggle of getting back into the swing of the writing process. This was a very welcome boost, reminding me that there are many people looking forward to reading my next books. And this email, from someone I do not know and will probably never meet, provided me with a much-needed lift. For although I now understand the writers who say they could not NOT write, because I too feel as though I always have homework that needs to be handed in tomorrow, it doesn't make writing any easier!

So what am I saying with this whole rambling post? Perhaps this is just a way of avoiding carrying on with the writing! I'm sure that is true, but I also think I'm trying to say two things: first, don't dismiss cliches, as usually they are true, at least for someone, and secondly, if you have read and enjoyed a writer's work, don't underestimate the power you have to lift their morale with an email, tweet, Facebook comment or an online review. Writing is by its very nature a solitary pastime, and as the writers are alone for a long time during the gestation period of each book, it is all too easy to lose sight of why we do it.

So thank you to everybody who has taken a moment to contact me either directly or indirectly via reviews, it is really appreciated!

And now I'd better get back to writing my new book, which will be the first novel I have written outside of the Bernicia Chronicles series. I can't put it off any longer, I've got that nagging feeling that I need to get on with it. Those characters are calling to me. I couldn't NOT write it now even if I tried!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

REVIEW: THE DAMNED by Tarn Richardson

The Damned (The Darkest Hand Trilogy #1)The Damned by Tarn Richardson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In THE DAMNED Tarn Richardson brings us a devilish melange of historical fiction, thriller and horror, all blended together with copious amounts of gore against the backdrop of the early days of the First World War. Richardson's writing is fluid and literary, but without pretensions, and the plot is as action-packed as any airport novel, or even graphic novel (I am pretty sure there are nods to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's fabulous Watchmen in the story's denouement, which I don't think I imagined). The protagonist, Poldek Tacit, an embattled and flawed Catholic Inquisitor, is a powerful creation, but he would be weaker without the rich cast of supporting players. Here there are strong, sexual women, pompous cardinals, altruistic and pious priests and nuns, English Tommies, trying to maintain some semblance of dignity while their thoughtless, callous military leaders send them onward to certain death. Richardson's descriptive prose paints equally vivid images of mud-clogged trenches as sun-drenched Italian fields glimpsed during flashbacks into Tacit's troubled past. THE DAMNED is a truly genre-busting novel, with characters to root for and villains to despise. Highly recommended. There are two more books in the DARKEST HAND series, so this can be seen as the first course in what I am sure will be a delicious and wholly satisfying, if somewhat dark, angst-filled and gore-splattered, meal.

View all my reviews