Interview with Sean McMahon
8th March 2018
Good evening Sean. I know you must be very busy with your book about to be published so thanks for giving up your time for an interview.
Not at all Mike, the pleasure is all mine. You’ve actually caught me at the perfect time. I’m at the centre of the tornado at the moment, the eye of the storm, getting all the finishing touches together prior to launch.
Given that much of the plot of the hotly-anticipated first part of the Restarter series – Fir Lodge - is still under wraps prior to launch, how much can you tell us about it?
That is a very generous prefix for you to add <laughs> Fir Lodge is a time travel adventure set amidst the unlikely backdrop of Norfolk. My goal was to take a situation that would feel more at home in an American setting, and place it in a relentlessly British environment.
I wanted to revel in the inherent ridiculousness of that. Whilst having my characters react to an insane scenario in (what I hope turned out to be) a believably authentic way.
Damn it. Okay...no spoilers then. Can you sum it up in six words?
Haha, yeah sort of dodged that one didn’t I. Eighty thousand words summed up in six…Okay, I’ve got this. Which is usually something I say seconds before realising I don’t got this.
It’s a story about life, death, tequila…and time travel.
How did you come up with the idea for Fir Lodge?
You know, it was the silliest thing. My friends and I experienced a situation, one which I can't really speak about in great detail because it features heavily in the book. I guess you could say it's based on a true story <laughs>
But I couldn't put that on the cover obviously. Not without being disingenuously liberal with the term "loosely."
And then a friend of mine uttered the immortal statement: “That would make a good story!”
9.9 times out of ten, any rational human being would dismiss that notion. But 24 hours later, the idea was still there, lodged (pardon the pun) in my brain. This is what happens when you don’t dismiss that notion, follow through on an idea, and take it all the way…
I've always been a huge fan of time travel. And I've always felt like there should be more time travel stories set in England. Hopefully I've added something to the genre that people will enjoy.
Do you have a particular favourite book or film about time travel?
Oh man, you’ve opened the floodgates now. How long do we have?...
Alex Scarrow ran a masterclass on the sort of time travel story I wanted to tell. His Time Riders stories really blew me away. His characters really moved me. My dream would be to do a collaboration together one day. I've actually mapped out that story already. Call me, Mr Scarrow!
I need to mention Audrey Niffenegger as well. Author of 'The Time Traveler’s Wife'. That novel melted my frost-covered heart.
A story that also really resonated with me was 'A Sound of Thunder', a short story by Ray Bradbury.
As for movies? Something about H G Well’s 'The Time Machine' always stuck with me. Not so much the Morlocks and the futuristic utopia that, spoiler for a movie that was released in 1960, wasn’t all that utopian. The thing that always gets me about that movie? The thing that makes me sit through the whole thing every time? When he moves the machine in the past, so that it’s in a different location in the future. That was the first time as a kid that I remember actively thinking fourth dimensionally. Not that I knew it at the time of course! I was just like “yay,time travel!”
Then there’s 'Groundhog Day', which goes without saying. What a movie. More recently, there’s a movie called 'ARQ', directed by Tony Elliott. That really played with audience expectation. I also enjoyed 'Happy Death Day'. You always know you’re in for a good time with a Blumhouse production.
There are countless more I could mention, but perhaps the most influential to me is a small, Indie movie that nobody has really heard of. 'Back To The Future' I think it was called? I’ll have to fact-check that one….
Do you outline books ahead of time or are you more of a 'by the seat of your pants' writer?
A combination of both I think. I had no prior experience with writing, so every single step was a huge learning curve for me. This whole crazy idea started with a single page. That evolved into a paragraph. And before I knew it I had a chapter! It was disconnected from what would eventually become the larger narrative of course. It was then that I mapped out my story fully. Just chapter points to start with.
Although I edited that first chapter to the point that it became unrecognisable, it was crucial for me in terms of determining who Kara and Hal were as characters. It was just them on a bench, talking to each other. That chapter eventually made the final cut, and would later become The Flutterby Effect. It will always hold a dear place in my heart.
And then there was the time travel component. I quickly realised it wasn't enough to map out my story. I had to map out 166 versions of the book. Or rather, 166 timelines. And it all had to interconnect and make sense in accordance with the rules I had made.
Wow – that must've been challenging!
It was as agonising as it was exhilarating! But I realised I had made a mistake early on; setting their time-loop over a 33 hour period! <laughs> many nights I found myself cursing my past-self. "Why didn't you just set it over a 24 hour period!" I would say.
In my mind, Kara would tell me to get over it. So I did in the end. The story required it.
Once I had my beginning, middle and end all figured out, I would usually write freely. Seeing where the characters would lead me. They backed me into some realcorners! Hal loved backing me into a plot-hole and watching me squirm as I tried to get myself out of it in a way that drove the story forward. He was the voice in my head that would call BS if I relied on a plot-contrivance that made no sense. To some degree, he even questions the narrator in that regard.
What makes you get up in the morning and write?
It's funny, I mean this is my first novel. When I started, I had no idea if it was something I could sustain. But now I can't imagine my life without it. I feel like everything I've ever learnt about all manner of things has directly led to the creation of this book. What I discovered, as I stumbled my way into the world of writing, is that it wasn’t as shrouded in quite so much mystery as I assumed it would be. You definitely have to put the work in, but mostly? You just write. As often as you can.
I just hope people enjoy it! The main reason I stuck with it was because I wanted to create a world that people would enjoy. I can't speak for other writers, but I know that's what drives me personally.
What does your writing space look like?
I've heard on the wind that you should always have a dedicated space for writing. I stuck to that ethos for the most part, occasionally setting up shop wherever there was space for my laptop to sit.
And I’m afraid to say my primary writing space is not very glamorous at all. Like, you want to have that rich, deep-mahogany desk, right? With sick Victorianesque lighting around it? You want it to look like Sherlock Holmes did your decor. But the truth is, it's my dining table, with my laptop plugged in by an extension lead I bought from B&Q that I also use for my ironing. I clear the whole table, grab a fresh cup of coffee, angle my screen, and I'm there. I'm standing next to The Restarters, and it's go time.
When I'm not at home, my writing space is on the nearest pad of paper I can find, as I frantically try to put down into words an idea I've had, knowing full well I won't be able to understand my own handwriting later.
Actually, that sounds more author-y doesn't it? Maybe I should try and maintain the illusion? Something like "The world is my writing space, Mike. And I am but a mere conduit for when the words present themselves to me." Do you have a pipe? I should be puffing on a pipe. And swirling some recently decanted whisky in my angular Blade Runner glass. Make this happen Mike!
I'm afraid the interview budget won't stretch to cover a packet of mints. There is a Sainsburys nearby with lax security, though.
How lax are we talking?...
Would you like a mint?
I see what you did there.
Which authors inspire you?
I will never forget how Richard Matheson's 'I Am Legend' made me feel. He did so much with a surprisingly short amount of pages. His work definitely inspires me.
Which do you think is better – the film or the book?
Eesh. I mean, I hate to be that guy, but the book obviously. In fairness, the movie nailed so much in the early scenes but, in my opinion, the entire point of the title of the book got lost in translation. I don’t want to spoil it, because I feel everyone should read the book. But the title is crucial to the pay off at the end of the story. Leaving that out just felt so…you know, I don’t like to rip on things too much these days. After putting this book together, you know what I’ve learnt? Making stuff is hard. Like really hard. I don’t think any creator sets out to make something bad. What was the question? Oh right. Yeah, the book.
Yeah, the film completely missed the core idea of the book. Who else?
Another author that left a mark on me is Ben Aaronovitch. Notably, his novel 'Rivers of London'. His world building is phenomenal. As I hone my craft that's something I want to strive for; successfully creating a sense of space and adapting the familiar to make it feel extraordinary.
I feel like it would be remiss of me not to mention Tom Holt too. Have you read 'The Portable Door?' Please read it! And then there’s Robert Rankin. That man knows how to create a sentence that can be laced with sarcasm, be soulful, introspective and utterly preposterous all at once. I don't know how he does it.
Oh and Geoff John’s run on Green Lantern! And Jeff Lemir’s 'The Underwater Welder'! You did ask for a top ten right? Oh. I’ll shut up.
So reading's definitely one of your pastimes. What else do you do when you're not writing?
Oh, you know, the usual. I like to place my book on a shelf in Tesco, just stand there, and if someone picks it up sort of wink at them until I get asked to leave by Jeffrey the security guard. Sup Jeff! He’s shaking his head right now, but he gets me really.
Although I do have to bring my own book with me, I can't select the expanded channels on Createspace just yet, if I did it would make hard copies of my book even more expensive. But you know how that can be.
I love to read man! Now Book One is finished I can't wait to get stuck in to some indie stuff. I've got an advance copy of 'The Unfortunate Expiration Of Mr. David S. Sparks', by William F. Aicher. I can't wait to get stuck into that. I also want to check out some genres I wouldn’t usually read, so I can get out of my comfort zone and hopefully become a better writer. I got my copy of 'Anxiety Girl', by Lacey London, that I want to check out. And I NEED to read 'Ready Player One'. My pull list is crazy huge right now.
As for other stuff, the usual suspects; I love movies. Not that you would guess that from reading my book. I'm fairly confident I’ve hidden it well. It's hidden deep in subtext <laughs> said no one who has read my book ever. I’m also trying to expand my music library. Music really helps me when attempting to set a tone for a chapter or plot beat. So, I’ve been stepping out beyond my usual playlists, searching for the perfect track to compliment the moment when the vampire-aliens descend on Fir Lodge in Book Two...
And then there’s my first love; video games. Though admittedly that was the first thing I had to give up in order to hit my brutally unfair, self-imposed deadline for this book. My Injustice 2 characters look like trash right now, they haven't been levelled up in nearly seven months. Sorry Firestorm.
I feel your pain. Well...I'm looking forward to Fir Lodge's imminent release. Last chance to spoil something...
I really hope you enjoy it.
Okay, just between you and me, I can give you a spoiler or two.
Five will die.
And keep your eye on the pink flamingo…
Thanks very much for your time. Where can people find you on the internet?
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me! As for my little corner of the internet? There are links to the holy trinity of social media platforms on my site, which you can find at www.restarterlodge.com. Like all writers who should actually be writing, my eyes are affixed to the black mirror more than they should be.
'Fir Lodge' - the first book in the Restarter Series - will be releasing later this month, though Sean is offering exclusive early access. Simply complete a contact form on his site, quoting “Mike sent me” in the subject box for the opportunity to get a copy a week before launch.