Interview with Michael Scott
Michael Scott, author of The Warlock (reviewed here) came along for an interview with yours truly, through the miracle of Skype. We’ve got an insight to the world of Michael Scott, the background to The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, and a sneak peak at what’s in store for Michael in the coming year.
I asked Michael, ‘How did you get into writing? What made you go full time with it?’ Going into a speech about his past and the various jobs he’s had, he told me, ‘Like most people, I was a reader and if you are a reader, one day you will wake and go, “I want to do this, I can better than this.”‘ He went on to tell us, ‘I never met a writer who wasn’t a reader.’ That’s tip number one for the writers out there!
‘I got a summer job in a bookshop and just simply never left,’ he said with a laugh. While looking at the hundreds of titles that fill the shop, he came to a realisation: ‘You don’t have to be famous to write.’ It was a while before he took it full-time, though. ‘It’s such an irregular job, it’s incredibly badly paid… Like most writers, I had my day job and I had my night job. I wrote at night.’
When asked about his writing habits, Michael told us, ‘I would take a year off every now and again, but then I discovered I get extremely bored at home.’ As he went on, the Flamel series ‘got bigger every time I worked at it. Eventually I decided I would try it. I left Hughes and Hughes… I worked at Who Want to be a Millionaire… and I as I was winding down, Flamel was winding up. Flamel just took off and took over… I’d write all day, I’d write every day.’ Five books later, it seems to have paid off!
‘My writing routine has changed – and a lot of it has changed because of the Internet… I’m of the generation now where readers do expect to find you online. There’s an expectation that if they write to you, you will write back.’ Continuing with that, he said to us, ‘Now, I would get up in the morning, I would check the Twitter feeds, I’ll check the Facebook, I’ll check the emails – I’ll answer as many as I can – and then I’ll start writing.’ Jokingly he added, when talking about The Necromancer, ‘The finished book was 90,000 words, and I think I’d thrown away 90,000 words, so actually I wrote two books just to get one!’
What advice would he offer to writers hoping to get published? ‘It’s sort of very simple: the old cliché is you have to read. And I know that sounds stupid and trite and all that good stuff, but if you do not read, you will not become a writer – you cannot become a writer… Writers read, that’s what they do.’
‘Next is to write. You write every single day…. Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% tapping your fingers on the keyboard… Learn how to type properly… Then get a really comfortable chair. You’re going to spend a lot of time sitting in it!’
I asked Michael, ‘When did you realise you could turn the legend of Nicholas Flamel into a series of books?’ He told us his old story behind the books. ‘I start writing Irish mythology… and I moved beyond into World Mythology… I began to develop this idea that I would use all the world’s folklore in one huge, monstrous story… Initially, it wasn’t Nicholas Flamel… It was Dr John Dee who was my hero. Queen Elizabeth the First’s magician, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, spy – the original 007. I’d written about Dee before, he was such a fascinating man, but he was never quite right for the story… Towards the end of his life [he] goes completely off the rails.’
‘One day I was in Paris… I ended up at the Rue de Montemorency and halfway down… there’s a house called Auberge Nicholas Flamel – the house of Nicholas Flamel… If you read a lot of European history, you’ll notice that Flamel [is] all over the place.’
He recalls the same criticism his books have gotten over the years. ‘Lots of people only know him because he’s…name-checked in Harry Potter, and I still get emails from people saying “Did you steal Nicholas Flamel from Harry Potter?”‘ Simple answer: no, no he did not.
‘What I loved about Flamel was that he was a bookseller… I loved the idea of turning a bookseller into a hero.’ With that, he tells us about the myth: ‘There’s a lovely story about Flamel… [he] buys a book written in a language he cannot understand. He spends twenty years travelling across Europe… When he returns to Paris… he is phenomenally wealthy. The story of course is that the book… had given him the two great secrets of alchemy – how to turn base metal into gold and… how to be immortal.’ With a chuckle, he adds, ‘The idea of a magical bookseller – it was a gift to any writer.’
The interview moved closer, then, to the characters in the books. ‘When you read history, you find a lot of these amazing characters. I made a rule [that] everyone in the book had to be based out of history… The only two created characters are Sophie and Josh.’ He adds, quickly, ‘The mythology of every country in the world has twins.’
Once he had his characters, he told me, ‘Then it was a matter of finding the right location for the story… Here I had Alcatraz – a prison island within a mile of San Francisco… I knew I wanted to move my characters back to Paris because I wanted Flamel to visit his old house and if my twins are in Paris they need another bodyguard. So they needed the ultimate French warrior, which led me to Joan of Arc.’
The idea sounds simple enough, until I asked him about the research he did. ‘There was ten years of research before I set out to write a single word… The rule I made was that everything I put in it had to be correct.’ Michael’s not one to get caught up over a fake account of someone’s life, so everything is verifiable! We went on, ‘When I travel, I photograph everything, thousands and thousands and thousands of photographs which provide me with a visual record.’ To writers he says, ‘If you’re researching Paris, if you’re writing Paris, you really need to go to Paris.’
‘Before I set out to write the series, I plotted in huge detail… There were six very natural breaks in the story, which gave me six books.’ But that didn’t explain the magic: by the time we reach The Warlock, everything becomes more real. He quotes Arthur C Clarke: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ‘The technology is Flamel… is not magical… I wanted to have a cost and I wanted to have a rationale behind [the magic].’ That’s why you won’t find a thousand and one different phrases for magic in his books!
So, who was his favourite character? ‘It’s always the villain.’ Of course… But loving all of the characters, he added, ‘I had to be careful doing Scathach, because she’s such a great character to do but when she appears on the page she does tend to dominate.’ His all-time favourite, though: ‘It’s always been Dee. He’s the one who has, I would suggest, the biggest journey in the books. He is, of course, completely barking, which is always great fun!’ Thinking about the series finale, he said, ‘I’ve got a big ending for Dee.’
‘The great joy I’ve had with this series is that I’ve been able to put in all of my favourite characters… Virginia Dare is a wonderful character to write about; the first European born in America. The wonderful thing about [her] is, we have a record of her birth and then she vanishes from history, the whole colony she was born into just vanished!’
We finally got to a point where I could ask Michael about the future of his books, beginning with the series finale. ‘The Enchantress brings the story full circle… By the time we reach [it], just under two weeks has passed since the start of our story… We will get to see the legend, one to save the world, one to destroy it… All the secrets will be revealed. I’ll tell you who everyone is.’
Is this the end? Well, I asked Michael about the possibility for a film or television adaptation. His first point to make, ‘There is a movie, but Hollywood grinds incredibly slow… Lorenzo di Bonaventura (PZ: a producer behind the Transformers films!) got the rights… It’s been drifting between whether to do it as a huge big movie or as a TV series. I’m quite attached to the idea of a TV series because it gives you what somebody said to me, ten hours of story versus ninety minutes of spectacle.’
The books don’t end there. ‘I’m already beginning to write the next series, which will be the Earthlords series. That’ll be a trilogy, beginning to appear next year.’ As well as that, Michael has an adult horror novel coming out, The Thirteen Hallows (December 2011), another book focusing on mythology, but much more sinister than what we’re used to from this teen-fiction author!
An interview on The Phantom Zone can’t be complete without finding out about the secretly geeky habits of the interviewee! He’s expressed interest in Babylon 5, the new Battlestar Galactica, Serenity and The Shield, but adds, ‘The problem is, when I’m writing… keeping all [the information about the series] in your head is tricky. So you sometimes don’t want anything else intruding.’
To find out more about the mythology in his books, Michael suggests looking at Robert Graves’s book on Greek Mythology, Encyclopaedia Mythica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, his own website and the fan-forum; he has plans to update the online codex to provide a full background to the characters and the monsters that fill his books!
You can find him online at his website – http://www.dillonscott.com/ – which has links to all his social networking sites. I’d also like to take this chance to thank him for his time – The Phantom Zone is more than happy to showcase this fantastic author!