An Interview with Mike Russell, author of 3 short story collections and 1 novella (and a novel – shhhh)
Mike Russell was born in 1973. He grew up in the small village of Pulborough in the south of England. As a child, he enjoyed daydreaming, art and writing strange stories. As an adult, he enjoys daydreaming, art and writing strange stories.
Mike has a master’s degree in fine art and is a qualified art tutor.
I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?
I don’t have a favourite. It wouldn’t be fair to the others. I like them all for different reasons. My latest book ‘Strange Secrets’ contains some very mysterious and magical imagery. Those are the aspects of my stories that I like the best. They are the active ingredients.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
I attempted to write my first novel when I was 12 years old. It was called ‘Imagine Infinity.’ I wouldn’t try to resurrect it but its essence is probably in all of my stories. I seemed to know what I wanted to do back then. I just didn’t have the means to do it.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
Thankfully I only started publishing my books after I improved my ability to step out of myself and read my own stories from a different perspective. This came from performing my stories for many years in clubs and bars and theatres and art galleries. You learn quickly in front of an audience. The stories in my first book ‘Nothing Is Strange’ were all performed live many times and honed over a long period of time. Performing my stories helped me to develop a way of writing that is very clear and vivid, creating a vision in the reader’s mind. Once that is established it is possible to take the reader to unusual places.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
Ideas do need time to connect with other ideas and to reveal themselves completely. I work on many projects at once, all at different stages of development. Otherwise I would need ten lives to get anything written. I plan to only be a writer in this life.
My published books are three short story collections and a novella:
- ‘Nothing Is Strange’ : 20 mind-expanding stories.
- ‘Strange Medicine’ : Weird and wonderful stories for all that ails you.
- ‘Strungballs’ : A surreal, science-fiction/fantasy novella.
- ‘Strange Secrets’ Discover the mystery of the two-headed rose and many more Strange Secrets.
I also have a novel completed. It should be published later this year with a bit of luck. That’s a scoop.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
I used to need to be in a hermetically sealed space to write. Doors and windows closed, no interruptions. Now I can write pretty much anywhere. That change came I think from myself becoming more mentally flexible, a result of meditation and greater peace of mind. I write initial inspirations on post-it notes. I have pads and pens in every room and every pocket. Last week I awoke in the night with some ideas and couldn’t find the pad that is usually by my bedside so I wrote on my arms and legs. There is always a way.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
Jay the StrangeBooks secretary helps with every book in the final stages. I call her the StrangeBooks receiver and transmitter maintainer. If you imagine a machine that magically receives stories from the ether, then transmits them to people all around the world, Jay ensures that machine keeps working. I also have a friend, John Zonn, who has read each of my books before publication. His input has also been invaluable. No one person really creates a book. I didn’t invent the English language or paper, nor did I physically make any of my books. So an author is really just one part of a book’s creation.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I love the smell of books too but I’d rather read a scentless good book than a beautifully smelling bad book. In fact I’d rather read a badly smelling good book than a beautifully smelling good book. I buy a lot of second hand books and enjoy searching second hand bookshops. I can imagine what my favourite bookshop would be like but I haven’t found it yet.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
I would be happy if genres didn’t exist really. For something to be generic means it is in some way conforming to a stereotype. I like books that cross genre boundaries the best. My books tend to be squeezed into the fantasy genre, which is fine. They can sit comfortably on that shelf but when no one is looking they float up into the air and fly around.
As a child I read a lot of science fiction. I loved HG Wells. Later I moved on to Philip K Dick, who is science fiction on the surface but something else beneath. I like Angela Carter who is termed fantasy, though her twisted fairy tales are almost like anthropology, investigating our society’s myths. I love Kafka, who could be put in any genre: fantasy, horror, comedy, detective… My tastes have broadened over the years but the essence of what interests me in literature is still the same as when I was 5 years old. I search for wonder.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
I joined facebook and twitter and the rest to promote my books. I wasn’t interested in it before then. If you keep your wits about you and remember why you are using it, social media can be a wonderful tool. It is an extraordinary thing to be able to communicate with people all over the world. We shouldn’t take that for granted. Not so long ago it would have seemed unbelievable. I have met some great friends through social media and many more people have discovered my books. Both myself and Jay manage our online presence every day. It’s fun. We host free to enter competitions on our Facebook page. Come and see what we’re up to.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
No, Rose! I would never do that.