Serial salted-caramel Kitkat eater and self-proclaimed fan of ‘My Dinner With Andre’, Michael Cobley always has a Plan B.
After a few years writing short stories, his first novel, ‘Shadowkings’ (pt 1 of an epic fantasy trilogy), was published in 2001 by Earthlight-Simon & Schuster. In 2009, ‘Seeds Of Earth’, pt 1 of his space opera trilogy, was published by Orbit UK/US; his most recent novel, ‘Splintered Suns’, a standalone novel set in the same fictive universe as the trilogy, was published in December 2018 by Orbit UK/US.
Mike chills to a wide variety of music, with sidetracks into building model tanks and playing FPS vidgames along the lines of Skyrim & Fallout 4 (and keeping a keen eye out for the forthcoming ‘The Outer Worlds’).
Other Boggling Mikey Facts
Once had a finger crushed by a quarter-ton of PA outside Strathclyde Students Union at two in the morning back in 1981. Luckily I`d prepared myself by drinking several cans of anaesthetic in the hours leading up to the get-out, which reduced the agony to merely hellishly painful. Fun times.
Discovered the 1st Black Sabbath album and the works of HP Lovecraft at roughly the same time in 1975, since when they are inextricably linked in the swirly lavalamp of my backbrain thought processes.
I still harbour such crazy ambitions as the need to one day sit down and write a digicyber, europunk novel in the truenoir Gibsonian mode. Or an out&out political novel set in an alternative Britain, or….
GJ: Can we start by describing your journey to publishing your first novel, including securing your agent?
MC: I began writing short stories in 1985, had my first published short story in 1986, in one of the small semi-pro magazines we had in the UK back then. My first professional sale was to the Other Edens 2 anthology in 1988, a brief but sparky tale of time travel on the Glasgow Underground. Prior to that, in the mid-80s, I’d published a broadsheet of comment and criticism called Shark Tactics, which I mailed out free to as many people in British SF whose addresses I could get hold of, which gave me a little bit of notoriety and name recognition. It also led to a number of great friendships which remain extant to the present day, one of which led to an introduction to an agent in 2000, when I was trying to sell my fantasy novel, Shadowkings. The rest is history (heheh, always wanted to write that)
GJ: Was the experience as you expected it to be?
MC: Well, the first short story sale in 1988 was a milestone moment, but selling my first novel was a peak experience – I really felt as if I’d arrived, finally. Of course, I had arrived – at the start of a new chapter of my life. Clive Barker once told me that he felt as if every novel was a new beginning, as if he had to start from scratch with every one. Now, having written eight of the buggers, I can confirm that there was a lot of truth in that.
GJ: If you were to start your author career in 2019 would you do anything differently?
MC: The landscape of SF and fantasy has changed greatly since I started, and authors are now expected to do a lot more with regard to manuscript preparation and online promotion via the author’s own social media interface(s). Of course, there are far more outlets for SF and Fantasy narratives than 20-30 years ago, film, radio, TV, vidgames, as well as commercial publishing – oh, and self-publishing too, of course. Depending on your own abilities, income sources, family dependents and situation, someone starting now might want to opt for self-publishing which offers personal artistic freedom and control, whereas writing for the big publishing companies involves contractual obligations. Also, sadly, advances and remuneration have not kept pace with other professions so new writers need to keep that front and centre in their minds too.
GJ: You alluded to the need for traditional authors to undertake more of their own promotion, something which I hear a lot about from other authors. Are you a natural at this, or is it an aspect of your career you’d prefer left to others?
MC: In terms of self-promotion, I can come up with some visual materials (using basic skills in Windows Paint and a cutdown photoshop clone called Paint.net) but the only conduits open to me is pretty much just my blog and my facebook page, well, and a few other pages where I can get away with crossposting. In the past I’ve had bookmarks and keyfobs made for giveaways at signings, some posters of book covers too, though positive fallout from these activities must be happening somewhere else other than my own purview. Oh, I also got a couple of short animated book trailers done for Ascendant Stars and Ancestral Machines and posted up on my youtube channel, yet despite trying to publicise their existence there was just zero interest. Each one was done by a professional animator (at his cutprice rates) and cost several hundred quid each – so this time around with Splintered Suns I decided I couldn’t justify that kind of outlay.
Kudos to Orbit UK for the release of Splintered Suns – the issue of SFX that came out in early December 2018 had a great review of the book in it, along with a short piece I wrote about memes in SF too. All down to the Orbit people’s interaction with the SFX folk.
GJ: Have you always written about the fantastic or have you written in the mainstream genres?
MC: Nearly everything I’ve written has been in a fantastic genre of some kind or another, yes. I do enjoy other kinds of fiction – crime, intrigue, historical – but SF/Fantasy is what really moves me to write, and stirs my imagination most intensely.
GJ: I know it’s like picking a favourite child, but which of your novels are you most proud of?
MC: Shadowkings was my first novel, so the event of its publication was the most significant as a personal watershed. I’m quite pleased with all my books, but I think that so far Ancestral Machines is the one that I think I’m close to feeling sad about. I first had the ideas for it years before, back in the mid 1980s, and when I finally sat down to create it and do some real megastructures-in-space prose imagineering, I felt that this was going to be the breakout book, the one that would really establish me as a force to be reckoned with. As far as I knew, no-one else had come up with these ideas, which is what you’re supposed to do – write the books and stories that no-one else is writing, cast your mind out further than anyone else, reach for visionary intensity….which is what I thought I was doing. Unfortunately, certain reviews failed to materialise, and sales slumped, as if I’d tripped on an unseen obstacle and faceplanted myself into the ground. It was also the first of my books to be released in hardback, which can be pricey for the austerity age.
GJ: If you hadn’t gone into a career in writing, what do you think you would be doing now?
MC: I can’t imagine not ever writing, I have to say, even just something for my own pleasure, for those close to me. As for an alternative career – entirely possible that I might have tried to make it as a rock vocalist – oh yes! I did have a decent voice and range at one point. Or – I might have tried to make it as a DJ, seriously and professionally, though thats always a crowded scene. Or I might have tried to get into the civil service, which one of my oldest buddies managed.
GJ: What can we expect from you in 2019?
MC: I have a short story with Newcon Press for a rock music-associated anthology due out this year, possibly – it’s a kind of a homage to the band, the Blue Oyster Cult, and their sadly deceased manager, Sandy Pearlman. On the novel front, I’m working on some dynamite new material set in a new space opera universe, so if all the launch windows line up properly I should make a big splash landing with new stuff sometime next year.
GJ: A question I always ask, what would your advice be to aspiring writers / authors?
MC: Assuming these aspirants are orientated towards SF and Fantasy, read as much as you can, current and recent and classic and back into the roots of the genre. Familiarise yourself with all the tropes and all the shared furniture of the genres because whats really time-wasting is to find that you’re unknowingly toying with a concept that was old-hat in the 1950s. There’s nothing wrong with using old concepts and tropes etc, but the key is to find your own twist on it, an aspect or a flavour or hint or hue that is all your own. There’s an old writer saying – if you can’t be original, that’s when the author gotta get weird.
It just leaves me to thank Mike for taking the time to talk with me and to wish him all the best with his continued career. Mike’s books are available from Amazon and you can keep in touch with him via Facebook and his website, www.michaelcobley.com.
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