He's recently published a fantasy anthology called Kings of Under-Castle with IFWG Publishing. It's a book I plan to read very soon, when I finally emerge from the cross-eyed atmosphere of my writing cave. Here's the blurb:
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Kings of Under-Castle is an anthology of short stories featuring two rogues, Pickel and Weasle, who live in the drains beneath the King's castle.
Pickel and Weasle encounter the officious Courtier Bland, the macabre Surgeon Strichnin, the Keeper of the Royal Bloodhounds, and the deadly Hanging Judge. They meet up with the King and Queen, the lovely Helena von Gosporin, the cheery jailer, Drossum, all the while being supported/hindered by two cheeky urchins, Joe and Ferd.Pickel and Weasle are quick to purloin valuables to make their life in the dark tunnels more comfortable, nor are they fussy about what they eat, as long as it's meat.
Their hilarious adventures get them into many sticky situations which test their ingenuity and they usually, but not always, end up on top.
Let's get crackin'! Michael, tell us a bit about your home in Tasmania and what you do when you're not writing about quirky fantasy characters.
Home in Tassie is just outside Launceston, the main city in the north of the state. Nice rural setting near the Tamar River, where I can still see wallabies and kookaburras when I go walking around the neighbourhood. No Tassie Devils I’m sorry to say. A hundred years ago the area boasted the largest apple orchard in the southern hemisphere and there are still acres of apple trees nearby. When I’m not working part-time (as most writers seem to have to do to survive) as a Reader in a printing firm, I’m looking after a productive vegetable garden, working in the garage, playing with grandchildren, reading and of course dreaming of where I’ll be cruising to when my book reaches the top of the best seller list!
Tell us a little about the writing process for this book. Did you plan on it being an anthology, or did you decide to put the stories together after you'd written a few?
I didn’t actually have any plan in mind when I started. I’d been part of a small writing group – the Gunnabees – for several years. One of the challenges for the next meeting was to write a short story about two nefarious characters. Pickel and Weasle snuck into my subconscious while I was sleeping and next morning they jumped out of my head and into their first adventure fully formed. After that the adventures kept coming and I kept writing. I really didn’t have any thought at that stage of having them published - I just enjoyed writing about them and the new characters they kept meeting. The two urchins, Joe and Ferd, the officious courtier Bland and of course Ben whose only vocabulary was ‘Yeah’. Amazing how creative you can be with just the one word!
I eventually sent some of the stories to a marvellous editor with IFWG Publishing who came back positively, saying he would love to publish them but needed more for an anthology - which was no great impost as the Kings of Under-Castle had a life of their own. So the first fifteen stories became an anthology. I’m still documenting Pickel and Weasle adventures for future telling.
I read this blog post (yes, I'm nosy) that you were in the process of writing something else when these characters came to mind and wouldn't leave you alone. Obviously, you surrendered to their prodding, but what were you working on, and do you plan on continuing it?
Ah, yes, my ‘something else’. I’m over halfway through the second novel in my adult fantasy trilogy Masters of Scent. The first book was shortlisted in the Australian Olvar Woods Awards which was a great boost to my writing aspirations and encouraged me to continue with the trilogy. That first book has now been polished through over ten drafts and has been seen by a couple of agents but has not yet been picked up. I’ve been told that publishers want to see a first, partly completed second and third novel of a trilogy fully planned out before they’ll consider it seriously, so that’s what I’m working towards.
I’m also into the fourth draft of a YA fantasy novel as a joint author – working with another creative author to produce, dare I say, a good novel has been a very rewarding, exceptional learning experience.
What stories/authors (if any) inspired these tales?
For once I’m at a loss. I don’t really know the answer to that one. I read widely and have done since I was a child so would have been influenced by so many authors. One review says they’re a little bit "Ghormenghast", a little bit Terry Pratchett, but ……. I’ll leave others to decide.
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My biggest challenge has been PROCRASTINATION. Having a deadline, whether for my writing group, a competition, or my publisher, forces me to focus, so I put off mowing the lawn, harvesting the veggies or finishing a good book, and get down to writing. Time is always a challenge. I like to spend time with my family, particularly my wife Kim, so stories sometimes have to wait. Plus having to work for a living takes a fair chunk of the week. As far as Kings of Under-Castle is concerned IFWG has been an excellent and supportive publisher to work with so I can’t say that there have been any real challenges up till now. However I’m now faced with the promotional side of things and that’s going to be a personal challenge which I’ll just have to get on with
You do realize I have to ask a random question to every
victim participant. Here's yours:
When was the last time you did something for the FIRST time? What was it?
It’s difficult to recall when I last did something for the first time so I’ll go with one which was spectacular. I jumped from a light plane over the beautiful city of Queenstown in New Zealand – the land of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. My tandem skydiver and instructor was an ex-Bulgarian policeman, and when he said to do something you did. He told me that when I was about to jump (from 12,000 feet) to act like a banana and bend. Is that really what’s on your mind when you’re about to take possibly the last step of your life? Well, it was such an experience, made all the more memorable by my instructor that I wrote a story about it, as you would. And I got First Timer published in an Australian magazine called 21D Journey in December 2010.
Finally, Mr. Fletcher, would you be so kind as to share an excerpt from Kings of Under-Castle?
Excerpt from Kings of Under-Castle – Long Odds:
Courtier Bland who has it in for Pickel and Weasle once more tries to get the better of them at the castle dog races by arranging a bet on what he thinks is a foregone conclusion.
“How would you like a small side bet, just between you and me?”
“What side bet?” said Pickel, jingling the golds in his pocket.
“Well, to show there’s no hard feelings, I’m going give you a good chance to make some coin,” Bland murmured, tentatively putting an arm across Pickel’s shoulders. “I’ll let you bet against me and that old white dog of the King’s. Good odds for you?”
“Mmmm,” said Pickel, looking sideways at the courtier,” I suppose so. But what are the odds?”
“How many golds have you got?”
“Fine, I’ll give you five golds against your five, if the white dog, Snowball, doesn’t win. Easy money for you.”
“So, Bland, if Snowball does win I have to give you…my five? I don’t know,” Pickel shook his head slowly.
“Are you thick or something?” growled the courtier. “I’ll, I’ll give you two to one then!”
“Two to one. So that’s…”
“Ten golds if Snowball doesn’t win, but five to me if it does.”
“Yes,” said Pickel, nodding slowly, “seems fair.”
“Fair? It’s bloody good odds, you, you simpleton. Now come to the betting table and we’ll get Penman to witness it.”
Mr. Penman wrote out the bet and gave a copy to Pickel, and handed the other to the courtier. “I don’t know about this.” he said. “Have you told Mr. Pickel that the dog’s a certainty?”
“Shush, Penman,” hissed the courtier. “None of your business.”
“What’s he, ah, saying?” asked Pickel.
“Nothing to worry your thick head about,” said the courtier, pushing him away from the table. “Why don’t you watch the races and then we’ll see what happens to your golds?”
***You’ll have to read the full story to find out what does happen to his golds.
Thanks so much for letting me drag you all the way from Taz, Michael. I wish you much success!!