MA: I am pleased to welcome the newest guest to my blog, M J Webb. M J is a 43 year old Civil Servant from Walsall, England. He is married with two small children who were the inspiration for his first novel, Jake West – The Keeper of the Stones. He was educated at St John’s C of E primary school and Shire Oak Comprehensive School in Walsall Wood before trying his hand at several vocations, finally settling on a career in the Civil Service where he has worked for almost twenty years. As a boy his favourite subjects were always history and English. He enjoyed reading and occasionally writing poetry. He was also an enthusiastic member of the school football and rugby teams, captaining both occasionally to moderate success. These days his spare time is spent writing or with his children. He enjoys most sports and generally keeping fit if circumstances allow, though he always seems to be fighting a perpetual battle against time, the free version of which continues to elude him. But, the challenge is part of the thrill, and writing this novel has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Welcome, M J! Please tell us about some of your other career experiences. I understand you’ve had a few other vocations in the past.
MJ: I had numerous jobs including a brief stint in the UK Armed Forces, cocktail barman, production controller and buyer in a factory, telesales and student. I’m used to dealing with people of all backgrounds and my varied professional life has given me a well rounded perspective on life.
MA: What inspired you to write novels?
MJ: To be totally honest, and I know how much of a cliché it is, I wrote my first novel for my two children. I wanted to do something for them, to give them a piece of my soul if you will, something I’d put a lot of hard work into, and something that no one could ever take away from them. I also believe that subconsciously my work was no longer stimulating me and I needed something else in my life to engage the grey matter. Whatever the true reason, it has unleashed a passion in me that I never knew existed and it has been like a drug that I can’t seem to get enough of. I never set out to write an epic. The original concept was small, but it kept on growing and growing and it shows no sign of stopping.
MA: Give your varied professional background, are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?
MJ: No and yes. I chose to write a fantasy novel so the people, creatures and places contained within are totally out of my imagination. However, my main hero is loosely based on my son (or rather, the boy he may become, as he’s only five now) and Princess Zephany is loosely based upon my daughter (again, the girl she may grow into). There are of course facets of some characters that are influenced by people I know, but the two mentioned above are the only ones that were written with anyone else in mind. I’m hoping they will inspire my children and others as they have many of the traits I’d like my kids to develop i.e. courage, honour, loyalty etc.
MA: Tell us about Jake West – the Keeper of the Stones.
MJ: It’s a fantasy epic and an introductory novel which is intended to be the first of a series of books. It has been described as a blend of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (not by me I hasten to add), though I prefer to think that it has its own merits and it was certainly not influenced by either. I think personally that the fantasy tag is a bit misleading and believe that many agents and publishers are put off by the word. It is more of an adventure.
The story tells of an ordinary young boy and his best mate who discover a strange box in Jake’s grandfather’s attic. When the box is opened it sparks an epic journey into another world which triggers a catastrophic chain reaction on that world and countless others. From the moment the box is opened, the boys have alerted everyone to its existence, and now they are being hunted. Forced to flee to the mystical land of Rhuaddan, leaving his grandfather to the mercy of a Thargw warrior, Jake learns of some strange family secrets. He becomes a ‘Keeper’. He is the latest in a long line of such guardians, the last great hope of millions, and he has to fulfil his destiny, or he and Ben will never make it home. The box of stones is broken, without it the Ruddite Rebellion is doomed, the dark forces begin to amass their armies in the west in preparation for the battle which will end the Ruddite wars. This world and every other stands on the very brink of destruction…
Everything now depends on an ordinary fifteen year old schoolboy. If he can’t protect the stones…???
MA: I suppose crafting your protagonist was simple, since he’s a snapshot of who you hope your son will be. Is he the only hero?
MJ: My novel has many heroes and villains. The main two heroes are Jake and his best friend, Ben. Jake was easy to create as he is the boy we all wanted to be when we were young. Ben is far more complex and in my mind he’s the bravest. He possesses none of the powers or abilities of his best friend, and yet he faces the same dangers (almost). He’s had a hard life and his character was inspired by a blend of certain people I know, though no one individual in particular. Actually, external influences were very few. The vast majority of characters came directly from within the confines of my mind. I just tried to picture them on the big screen and played around with that notion until I was happy.
MA: Tell us more about Jake and Ben.
MJ: Jake is strong, fit, courageous and easy going. His life is not far from idyllic and the only thing holding him back is his own apathy towards life. He doesn’t take life too seriously and he loves a joke. He’s pretty level headed and has an enormous capacity for inspiring and giving loyalty. He is decisive and trustworthy. But, he’s also young, unsure of himself and knows nothing of combat or what it takes to be a leader. Luckily for him, that is all about to change!
Ben has had a very tough start in life. He’s a fighter from a family of fighters, and his temper often gets the better of him. He’s hot headed and he often engages his mouth several seconds before his brain. He has adopted Jake and his family as his own and he is fiercely loyal to his best friend. He has many weaknesses, but he has a huge heart and he would take a bullet for Jake.
Between them, they make a formidable team.
MA: And antagonists?
MJ: There are many ‘bad guys’ in my novel. Chief amongst them are the Thargw warrior, Sawdon, and his master, King Vantrax. Sawdon is quite simply the most awesome warrior to ever wield a battlesword, a living legend to his race, and the most fearsome of adversaries in a world full of soldiers, warriors and mercenaries. Vantrax is an evil wizard King who is intent on conquering the entire continent of Estia, destroying the Ruddite Rebellion and killing his brother, King Artrex, and killing or capturing Jake, so that he may obtain the stones and replace his own reolite stone, the Lichtus. He is cunning, possesses a complete absence of morals and is obsessed with power and attaining the throne.
With two continents and three vast armies, there are many characters and plots in which evil has the chance to thrive. Try fighting against the Falorian Spearmen, the Taskan warriors or the Pralon. Or take on the Dzorag and King Vantrax’ Personal Guard. Lock horns with Melissa and the Sebantah, or fight against the many traitors and hired mercenaries in the Northern and Southern armies. Jake West has to take on them all.
MA: You told me before the interview that you are planning a sequel. Tell us about that.
MJ: I have penned 24 chapters of the sequel which I believe puts it about two thirds of the way towards completion. After that, there is one more book to complete the original concept with the possibility of adventures to follow in different worlds, times etc. There’s also a great prequel in there and spin off’s, so the possibilities are endless, though all will depend on the success of the first series. I have a full time job and two small children so writing time I’m afraid is severely limited at present. As for the future, I’m just going with the flow.
MA: Any final thoughts?
MJ: I self published my first novel and I’ve made mistakes from which I will learn. I was distraught when I found out the cost of the book, but it was set by the publishers and I could not persuade them to lower it. I have been amazed that so many have purchased it and by the excellent reviews it has received. I could not afford a professional edit and that would be the first thing I would do if I had the time again/money to pay for it. Progress has been seriously hampered by lack of finance and marketing opportunities. Self publishing is fine, but you are very much out on your own in a highly competitive world. It’s easy to spend mega bucks trying to promote your work and there are so many pitfalls to be wary of. Still, if you believe in your work, my advice would be to go for it. Only, do so with your eyes wide open after having researched the industry thoroughly, and only when you are one hundred per cent happy with your finished manuscript.
For information on my book, as well as an art competition being run at present and progress on the sequel, please log on to http://www.jakewest.co.uk
MA: Thanks, M J, for being my guest today.