Interview with Mick Harney

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I’m British and was born in the city of Bradford in the part of Yorkshire known in those days as the West Riding. Latterly, we moved a little further north to live in Skipton on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. As you’ll see from the introduction to 'Contour Lines', both places deeply influenced my character and my writing. Skipton in particular is very much defined by the landscape within which it is set: it is a town of only about 20,000 people and there is no place within its boundaries where you cannot see the hills and the moors.
When did you first start writing?
Not so very long ago, I discovered an exercise book from my primary school that contained a short story I’d written about a spy landing from a submarine. We were encouraged to express ourselves at school so that wasn’t so much of a departure. However, I suppose the first concrete sign of identifying writing as an activity that was my own was when I began a notebook to record ideas in my late teens. There was a drive underneath that caught me by surprise: at university I took to participating in poetry open nights with my work and found I enjoyed it.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
A combination of opportunity and the lack of it. I suspect a lot of current indie authors travelled through the same paradox. Of course, the lack of opportunity was that found when attempting to get published through the conventional agent-publisher route. The opportunity was when technology emerged that offered us an alternative: our own route to genuinely independent publishing. I pursued the conventional route for several years and had hopes raised but never fulfilled. As in music, ‘indie’ captures the flavour of creativity and unconventionality that is characteristic of interesting and innovative work. ‘Indie author’ is a badge of honour.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
In terms of numbers of books sold, my success is modest. However, what I count as success as an author is the great reach that Smashwords gives me: my work can be accessed across multiple platforms and geographies, the audience is vast and various. I never fail to be thrilled by the accumulation of page hits and 20% downloads each month – each one is the sign of someone somewhere participating in my writing.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Discovery. As a non-fiction writer, I go through a great deal of research to dig up the sources of information that underpin my writing. That is a truly rewarding activity. Then, writing itself is a process of discovery because I have to find a way to knit information and description together to communicate accurately and entertainingly to my readers. Achieving that synthesis is a great satisfaction.
What do your fans mean to you?
I’m a fan myself of the topics I write about so I enjoy the idea that people like me are reading and hopefully finding something rewarding in my work. As you can see in my books, I’m very aware and very proud of being part of the community that loves to walk hills and climb mountains. I express the feelings and experiences I have had in that pursuit and aim thereby to touch those shared by all of that community.
What are you working on next?
It’s early days on my next major project but my basic intent is to complete my ‘Points’ trilogy. So, I’m just starting to accumulate new ideas and research the material I will need. Simultaneously, poetry makes its own journey of fits and starts.
Who are your favorite authors?
I remember Hemingway’s answer to a similar question in his Paris Review interview was to quote a very long list of author’s names. I think he was trying to make the point that we all have and draw on a great reservoir of the reading we’ve done over many years. Early on as writers, I think everyone consciously apes the style of a favourite author in the hope of achieving the same art. Nonsense, of course: the art comes from being yourself. Nevertheless, it seems a necessity to go through that impersonation first; it’s a necessary stage to pass through. In my case, as you’ll have gathered, my model was Hemingway – despite appearances, quite the most impossible style to impersonate (only parody). However, I would add that there are books that liberated my thinking about how varied and resonant landscape writing could be: David Craig’s 'Native Stones', Muriel Grays’s 'The First Fifty', Bruce Chatwin’s 'The Songlines', Tim Robinson’s 'Setting Foot on the Shores of Connemara', Rebecca Solnit’s 'Wanderlust'.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
‘Inspires’ is rather a noble term for the reluctant reality. I can only truly claim to share one thing with the great explorer and mountaineer, Eric Shipton, and that is a slothful approach to exiting bed.
What is your writing process?
I’m not very productive but when I’m in mid-project I am consistent. I write every day of the working week but not at weekends. My writing time is always in the afternoons and, though it varies, usually lasts for 3 to 4 hours. The regime is not so very different from Raymond Chandler’s: sit at your desk for 4 hours during which time you are not allowed to do anything else but write. This doesn’t mean that all the time is spent writing: some thinking is occasionally involved as is additional research. I write a first draft straight into the laptop, with some correcting as I go. When I have a full draft I go back over and rewrite as necessary – as this is several months after writing, objectivity is enhanced. Putting the book together is like editing a movie: I shuffle my copy around to make a running order where pieces are complementary and have a narrative or relationship that streams logically.
How do you approach cover design?
In my ‘other’ life, I have experience with professional graphics tools and with fonts and page layouts. My photography goes literally in step with my fell walking so I have a large portfolio of images to call on. In other words, by putting those two together I create my own cover designs. I also find this a very enjoyable task – I just hope that shows...
What do you read for pleasure?
A lot of military history, politics (especially diaries), biography and autobiography, but very little fiction these days.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
It’s very difficult to answer that as I have little or no evidence to go on. But, judging by page hits and the 20% downloads (that is, someone has decided to open my book) I have to conclude it’s a combination of well-chosen search tags and a compelling description. It’s worth adding that one technique that didn’t pay off for me was using Google AdWords: I wouldn’t have gone down that path but Google had a promotion where I was offered some free ads – these achieved 100 page hits but I detected no additional sales.
Describe your desk
Disgustingly well-ordered I’m afraid, albeit cluttered. I write on a small dining table rather than an office desk. Front and centre is the laptop. I’ve a row of books sitting at the opposite side of the table, mostly of poetry: the spine of the book in the middle has a photo of Seamus Heaney staring at me encouragingly – now that he’s gone, I feel even stronger that this is a look of impatience at my slow progress. I also have a full-face picture of Gary Snyder attached at eye-level to the wall to my left – more encouragement (or sad disapproval). There are a number of items of memorabilia arranged to one side: a reminder of other people, events, and inspirations. I look out onto our back garden: this doesn’t distract me, but it does mean I can keep an eye out to assess the weather – for a fell walker, this is an urgent skill to keep honed.
Published 2013-11-01.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Neither Amundsen Nor Scott: Who Was Really First to the South Pole?
Price: $5.70 USD. Words: 78,330. Language: British English. Published: June 29, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » History » Polar regions
Who was first to the South Pole? Does the question seem banal? Far from it. Of his own accomplishment, Roald Amundsen stated unequivocally: “we were not standing on the absolute spot”. Captain Robert Scott thought he had reached the Pole, but was misled by a Norwegian marker intended for another purpose. If it wasn’t Amundsen or Scott, just who was first? This book exclusively reveals the name.
Contour Lines: On the Path to a Thousand Mountains
Price: $4.70 USD. Words: 75,090. Language: English. Published: July 15, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Mountaineering, Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Hiking
Mick Harney returns with more unique perspectives on fell and hill walking in Scotland and the English Lake District. He offers a fresh crop of new and compelling insights, including many detailed descriptions of individual mountains, the paths we take to them, and what they reveal to and about us.
Points of Contact: On the Practice, Philosophy, and Pleasures of Fell Walking
Price: $4.70 USD. Words: 59,530. Language: English. Published: July 11, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Mountaineering, Nonfiction » Sports & outdoor recreation » Hiking
Are you passionate about walking and climbing, perhaps in areas such as Scotland and the English Lake District? Or do you simply have a curiosity about those activities and those places? Points of Contact is the book for you. Knitting geology, history, and meteorology into an illuminating exploration of the world of fell and hill walking, it is by turns descriptive, humorous, and poetic.