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Interview – Steve Conoboy, author of Macadamian Pliers

Steve Conoboy E1397594526187

Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Steve Conoboy, author of Macadamian Pliers and his new release Lead Astray. Welcome to the Showcase, Steve.

Steve Conoboy: Glad to be here!

SPS: For any of our readers that haven’t come across your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself?

SC: I’m a family man with a self-publishing plan. Been writing forever, and I love horror so much that I really, really hate it, and decided that I spend so much time moaning about everything I watch and half of what I read that it’s time I put my work out for others to judge.  Although I hope people aren’t half as judgemental as I am.

SPS:  What are your perfect writing conditions, and how often do you write?

SC: I write whenever I can. I make this easy to achieve by writing first drafts on notepads, then the rest of the work is done on laptop. Portability is key for me, because the perfect writing conditions don’t happen often. This is not a bad thing – it gets a bit lively at home with two girls and two cats, and there’s always something going on. I don’t like the idea of being locked away without distraction to write, hate the idea of being unapproachable, so I’ve developed an adaptive style. It’s kind of like having a dual-core brain (oh yeah, latest technology, me). I can leave one core ticking over the sentence I’m in the middle of doing while core two deals with a spelling test. The ideal conditions (don’t happen often) are those rare days when myself and my partner are both off, it’s a quiet morning/afternoon, there’s music on, and we’re both busy (she’s a writer of wonderful children’s stories).

SPS: Can you put your finger on the moment where you decided that you wanted to publish your work?

SC: Been writing too long to remember when that was. I started sending out submissions years ago for an apocalyptic sci-fi adventure called Dog’s Dinner (awful title, I know), and I got a bite which came to nothing, and I’ve tried off and on since then. It’s such a long process, though. And it really sucks the life of you when, three months down the line, you’re back at the start. It was at the back end of last year when I got pig-sick and decided, sod it, I’m going for it on my own. Bollocks to what the agents think, I’ll let people make their own minds up whether I’m crap or not.

SPS: Why do you think it is that you have decided to write the novels that you have, and do you see yourself ever writing in other genres?

SC: The things I write are most definitely the babies of everything I read and watched as a kid/young fella. Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Clive Barker, Hammer Horror, Far East cinema, Fantasy novels, Red Dwarf, all of these things are responsible for where I’m at. As a result, I could write in pretty much any genre a year from now. I make no promises.

Macadamian Pliers

SPS: Before we talk about your new release, we like to take a moment to talk about your debut novel Macadamian Pliers. Can you tell us about what a reader could expect?

SC: Haunted house horror with a lop-sided twist. I’ve slotted some eighties lenses on this little tale, but it holds onto its modern sensibilities. The Raine family pull up their roots and plant themselves in Emmet’s Peak, their daughter Cherry in a fragile state after the accident, their son Frank an easily-led energy-ball. They hope to settle in smoothly, and their hopes are smashed as the disturbances begin. The kids have got a pretty good idea what’s up – that horrible looking man, Macadamian Pliers, is responsible. Mum and Dad tell the kids not to judge someone by their looks. And so the fun begins. Fast-paced. Plenty of scares. Twists. An unhinged villain (or two). A good hard look at death and what it means. We’re working on different levels here.

SPS: Mr. Pliers sounds like a fantastic antagonist. Where did you draw inspiration from for his character?

SC: Daydreaming on the bus home from work. It was the usual combo of odd thoughts pushing together at a particular moment in time. The bus stopped outside a new apartment building, and it occurred to me that, as it was new, there would be no ghosts. But why would I think such a thing? Because it’s just been built, and I know for a fact we’ve got a lack of Native American burial sites in North East England, so the chances against hauntings are high. There must be more ways for a building to become haunted, though? (Conversations run a bit like this in my head. The questions even have a different voice.) Surely all ghosts aren’t ye olde lords and ladies?

As for the man himself, I wanted someone who would look iconic. I was thinking about the way all the villains in the films I grew up watching were easily identifiable – unlike now, where they all look like a copy of something from a seventies or eighties horror flick, and yes, that’s usually because these days they’re always poxy bloody remakes. I wanted him to look monstrous and for him to use that look to his own advantage. The stitched-shut eye was perfect. It’s an old injury, and automatically there’s some kind of story there. What on earth happened to this man? And why would he decide to wear this injury so openly?

SPS: Cherry has already gone through a great ordeal with a car crash; she’s not having the best of luck is she?

SC: Nope, and it gets worse. Then it gets really, really bad. Cherry is a slightly nervous, beaten-down girl when we meet her. She thinks she’s at the absolute bottom. Turns out, however, that there’s much lower to go, and that’s the fun part for me, the evil writer. Will Macadamian break her will? How much can she take before she crumbles? It turns out, of course, that there’s a little bit of spirit left in Cherry…

SPS: Who else should readers be on the lookout for?

SC:  My personal favourite character is Jack, a boy that Cherry and her brother Frank meet on their first walk to school. He’s known locally as the firebug, a boy with serious behavioural issues. New kids in town is an opportunity for him to show who he really is, that his background doesn’t define him. His baggage, however, causes problems for the Raine siblings as they’re already face an uphill struggle to settle into a new school.

SPS:  Was it always the plan to create a trilogy?

SC: Not initially, but it became the plan after about 50 pages. I realised that the situation I’d set up involving this characters gave me a lot of ideas to explore. Once I had Mac’s back story in my head, I knew he had a long way to go. He is certainly an evil man, but he’s got a long way to go before he reaches his ultimate potential. Cherry has a lot of self-discovery to go through as well, and one novel was not enough to do this justice. She can’t go from fragile girl to confident victor in a couple of hundred pages. She’s also got a lot of ground to cover.

SPS:  Before we move on to your new release, can you tell us about the cover to Macadamian Pliers came about?

SC: I had nothing, no idea how to do it, no money to spend on getting it done. Good job my beautiful partner’s got a few skills when it comes to the visual arts! She put together an image that really captures the cold atmosphere that confronts the characters.

Lead Astray

SPS: Your second novel Lead Astray came out this April, it looks like quite a departure from your debut?

SC: It was written quite a few years ago, then sat itself quietly in a corner and was forgotten about. It’s had a dusting off and a fairly brutal re-write to bring it up to scratch. Lead Astray is a comic-fantasy for (im)mature readers, and is very much an attempt to reach out to a different readership. It’s still very much me, just a much weirder me.

SPS: How different was it writing a dark comedy compared to the horror-based Macadamian Pliers?

 SC: They’re radically different. Lead Astray was written with the leash off. Outside of the basic set-up and the two main characters, there were no boundaries, no rules. If there was half a chance a scene or line would be funny, it went in, even if it threw the story off in a completely different direction. In fact, especially if it changed the whole story. That was part of the fun, having literally no idea where I was going with any of it. Macadamian Pliers was a different kind of fun to write. The systems and rules that are in place in that world are very strict. If I broke one, then the whole story would fall apart. Everything that Mac and Cherry and the ghosts do is dictated by those systems. Also, it’s the difference between my two joys in storytelling – comedy and horror. I’ve got one of each now. And no matter what anyone says, they don’t combine well. The film Evil Dead II managed it – barely. They’re better off separated.

SPS: Can you tell us about Gerald and Louisa?

 SC: Lunatics. That’s the ultra-simple description. They both believe themselves to be masters of their chosen fields, and they are definitely egotists of the most extraordinary degree. He is a thief, she is a showgirl. There is a lot between them, and most of it is hate. She is made of tough stuff, and he is liable to fall apart pretty easily. When he does, though, it’s a descent into madness.

SPS: Is the story told from Gerald’s point of view or do you flip between characters?

SC: There’s a lot of flipping. It’s great fun writing from Gerald’s perspective because he’s so ridiculously egotistical, but I had a handful of other mentalists that I wanted to explore, and I wanted a broader scope for the story, which would allow me to go as mad as I wanted in creating wild set-ups.  We spend a lot of time in Louisa’s head (where things get particularly odd), and we have the great pleasure of meeting Radley and Momo, brothers who operate without letting brains get in the way.

SPS: How have you managed to make dreadful characters likeable?

 SC: Well, hopefully I have actually managed it. The important distinction is that they’re not evil, they’re just incredibly self-serving. And their antics get them into all kinds of tight spots – it’s always their own fault, and that’s what keeps their plight interesting. The dynamic between them changes quite a lot over the course of the story as well. We have all the fun of them verbally sniping at each other during the opening chapters, but pretty soon they’re in a position where one cannot get what they want without close contact with the other.

SPS: Did you find the writing, editing, publishing process any easier second time around?

SC: Infinitely. I made all kinds of mistakes while uploading Mac Pliers on KDP, particularly with the formatting. I learned a lot of lessons from simple trial and error, which made getting Lead Astray online a super short job. As for editing, in the last couple of years I’ve become particularly brutal when it comes to what should stay in the story. Snappier is better. If it doesn’t drive the story forward now or later, it goes. Lead Astray can be a little looser for the sake of comedy, but Mac Pliers is a particularly lean story. Every last word is there for a reason.

SPS: What can we expect next from the pen/keyboard of Steve Conoboy, a sequel in either series or something completely different?

 SC: Both series will see sequels in the very near future. Mac Pliers 2 is up first, just finished doing the final edit for that, and Cherry and the boys are in for a rough ride. It’s set three months after the first, with Christmas approaching and the bad man himself about to get free. Then will come Lead Astray 2, wherein Gerald and Louisa get themselves into deeper and more ludicrous troubles. After that? I’ve recently finished ‘Make Your Own Monster’, which is a modern smash up (not mash up) of The Monkey’s Paw and Frankenstein (Or, The Very Modern Prometheus), and also ‘Maddie’, which concerns the very start of a mad scientist’s career. I mean the very, very start. Back in school. Back when she was a kid.

SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?

SC: It had never crossed my mind until two weeks before Macadamian’s release. I’d had a look at KDP once, and thought I couldn’t really do it. Putting together my own cover, doing all the promotion, it put me off. The more I looked at it, however, and the more I heard, the more it sounded like a genuinely exciting thing to do. It wasn’t like I was getting anywhere down the traditional route, and it’s very exciting to see how reading is changing with the introduction of new technology (without the predicted death of print, thank God), so I felt confident that it was way past time for me to jump in.

SPS: Has the experience so far been all that you thought it would be?

SC: It’s been a lot of fun! And it’s excellent to know that my books are out there and available from now until the internet dies.

SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?

SC: Get on with it. And by get on with it, I mean sit yourself down with pen and paper (much more satisfying than a screen, trust me), stop over-thinking it, and see what comes out. Don’t read all the advice that people think they’re important enough to give you. Rubbish like ‘write what you know’ and ‘don’t start a sentence with because’. Because it’s all crap. All of it. I hate rules. What’s the point? How can you be creative with rules? Yes, I know I said earlier that Macadamian Pliers contains strict systems and ‘rules’, but that’s within the story itself, and I allowed myself the freedom to make those systems and rules. You see?

SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…

SC: If you’ve got young kids, look up Karen Emma Hall’s Teeny Pheeny. Beautiful illustrations, lovely story with a Winnie the Pooh vibe. It’s brand new out and deserves attention.

SPS: Thank you for joining us today Steve, and all the best for the future.

SC: Big thanks for the opportunity to talk about my work! The cats are sick of listening to me.

SPS: For more information on Steve and his novels, please do visit his Author page here.

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