Recently, to ring in the new year and new decade, Matthew Harffy stopped by for a virtual pint, and we got to talking about life and writing and family and all else that slips from the tongue during a night of good cheer. To learn more about the celebrated author Matthew Harffy, read on.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’m not really sure about that! I think when I believed that I was actually going to complete my first novel, The Serpent Sword. That was back in 2012 and I had left the manuscript languishing on my hard drive for years, after Bernard Cornwell released The Last Kingdom, which was thematically very similar to the book I was working on. But I had an epiphany of sorts on a camping trip, where I decided that Flemings’ James Bond novels didn’t stop other spy thrillers being published, so why should Uhtred stop me from publishing my own series about an Anglo-Saxon warrior. That was when I made the decision to complete The Serpent Sword and get it published.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I used to write whenever and wherever I could, but now that I write full-time, I write Monday to Friday and aim for 2,000 words a day when working on the first draft. I take the dog for a walk and have some breakfast, then get writing. I sometimes get all the words done by lunchtime, if not, I do a couple more hours after eating something and taking the dog out again. By that time our youngest daughter is back from school and I start cooking dinner and go back to family life.
How long does it take you to write a book?
A few weeks of preparation and research before writing. Then I write the first draft over about three or four months. Then I revise that first draft, adding details and doing more research to complete the historical gaps and plot holes. Once that is done, I print out the manuscript and carry out an edit on paper. That takes a couple of weeks and then, I am ready for beta readers. From beginning to end, each novel takes about six months.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t go back and edit as I write. I move on and write chronologically, not allowing myself to get bogged down. I only go back to edit after I’ve completed that first rough draft. I think this means I am able to get through each novel relatively quickly, and it is always better to have something to edit than a blank page!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I already have a lovely dog. Blue is half poodle and half border collie and he is a great writing companion.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Social media and the general state of politics recently! I find it very distracting when there are big news stories happening, such as elections! I have to force myself to set my phone aside for a couple of hours so that I can concentrate and just write! The internet is a blessing and a curse for modern writers.
What advice do you have for writers?
Read, read and read some more. Then write what you would like to read.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Just finish the first draft and go for it!
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I think it is important that each book is satisfying in its own right, but most of my books are part of a longer series, so there need to be links between each novel to paint the bigger picture. My latest novel, Wolf of Wessex, is not part of the Bernicia Chronicles series, but I have put in a couple of links to the other books for the eagle-eyed. So far, no reader has mentioned spotting the connections I have added…
What does literary success look like to you?
Being able to support yourself with your writing. It is not easy, I can tell you!
What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
I don’t subscribe to any magazines… so I don’t know!
How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
About seven years, with a few more before that with it more like a hobby than anything really serious.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I am currently writing my ninth novel and I have a novella published too. So I am working on my tenth book! It is impossible to pick a favourite, but as the novella gets so little love and attention, I will give it a mention here. It is a standalone prequel to the Bernicia Chronicles called Kin of Cain, and I really liked how easy it felt to write something shorter than a novel. It was great fun to write and everyone who has read it seems to enjoy it. But people prefer novels!
What book are you writing now?
I am writing a book set at the start of the Viking Age. It is tentatively titled A Time for Swords, but that may well change. It is a whole new cast of characters, so it is challenging, but there is light at the end of the writing tunnel and I should finish the first draft in the next couple of weeks.
What books are you reading now?
I am reading Lancelot by Giles Kristian. It is a great book and I had heard only good things about it. So far, everything I’d heard has proven to be true. When I have finished that, I am looking forward to reading the latest Lee Child novel that I was given for Christmas.
Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels that became THE BERNICIA CHRONICLES.
Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Besides historical fiction, he has also co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.
Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.
The Bernicia Chronicles
Wolf of Wessex
Novella – Kin of Cain
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 400,000+ followers