Interview with Malcolm Macdonald

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I used to buy houses, do them up, and sell them (usually at a loss). I used to create gardens on bare field sites - though my younger daughter (who IS a gardener) says I was never more than a plant collector. For 20 years I mentored the county writers' group but gave up when it became an effort to walk from the car to the meetings. But most days for the past 50yrs I've spent 10 to 12hrs writing, and I can still manage that: emails, web pages, letters to editors, and even some fiction (in which I include my autobiography, on which I'm still working).
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Alas, I prefer traditional books - of which I still have too many, despite having sold off 4,600 of them since 2001.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I tended to write plays rather than stories.My two younger brothers and I performed them for our parents (who were skilled at hiding their boredom) every Sunday. They were based on the cowboy and Flash Gordon movies we saw in the Saturday shows for children. I turned to stories around the age of 15 - gruesome, curdle-your-blood tales for the entertainment of friends. One described an accident in a meat factory, where a man got entangled in a drive belt that hung from a wheel on a drive shaft in the roof. He not only got battered to death against a rafter but got snagged on a hook on the way down. The hook was travelling in the opposite direction so it started to dismember him – and continued to do so on every pass. The dismemberment was not crudely handled, for I took care to get the anatomy right; for instance, the Latissimus dorsi and Teres major were ripped out before the hook caught the Os scapula. A medical student could have passed 1st MB in anatomy after a single reading of that story.
What is your writing process?
It begins with a contract from a publisher: I write an outline; the publisher agrees; we sign a contract; I start on Chapter One. By Ch3 I can usually throw the outline away because the characters have started to develop in unpredictable ways and they are always more interesting than anything I might have planned for them. I write for between 8 and 12hrs a day but can always stop for shopping, home maintenance, entertainments, visiting friends, etc. The writing goes on somewhere out of sight even when I'm not at the keyboard.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first story I remember reading was Robinson Crusoe in an illustrated edition for children. There was a picture that showed Crusoe entering a cave, holding aloft a glowing firebrand, only to discover that the puzzling noise he heard was a dying goat. The drawing terrified me, with an enormous goat-shadow cast upon the cave wall, and I always turned over two pages at that point.
How do you approach cover design?
I was four years at art school, two more at the Slade, and taught graphic design at Hornsey College of Art in the 1960s. I also worked as editor of heavily illustrated books. So, of course, I hated most of the covers my publishers chose ... full of unconvincing young ladies in crinolines, suggesting nothing but empty minds and idle days. (I except those by Gordon Crabb, a superb artist in his own right.) I look for one telling image, preferably photographic and an interesting background related to the story.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
The actual five favourites? That would vary with the moon and season but they would most likely be from: The novels of Joyce Cary, the master of the English Liberal Nonconformist conscience. Or Evelyn Waugh, the master of satire who showed me the value of the delayed time bomb in a novel - the clue laid down around Ch3 and left festering until near the end of the story. Or Nathaniel West, who raised despair and disgust to a high art. Or Hemingway, who showed that the simplest prose could be more subtle than the most ingenious and flowery offerings. Or Steinbeck, for his ability to preach through telling details from life rather than by persuasive arguments from his head.
What do you read for pleasure?
[See the previous answer] Also nonfiction about science, evolution, genetics, economics, language, historical scandals ...
What does your wife think of your work?
From the very beginning her attitude was: "I'm no help at all if all I can say is that I love it and keep going as you are." So she will say, "This bit of the story doesn't work." And I'll say, "It does." And we'll have a "discussion" about it. And I'll say, "Well, I'm going to leave it as it is." And then next day I'll sit down at the computer and change it. Mostly along the lines she suggested. I used to ask my editor, "Which one of us is right?" But she answered "Your wife!" so many times that I threw in the towel. My two daughters were pretty good at it, too.
Will you ever give up writing?
Yes. At precisely the same hour, minute, and second that I give up breathing.
Published 2014-09-01.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Life and Life of Felix Breit
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 281,520. Language: British English. Published: January 3, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
In the mid-1940s seven families rent an elegant country house 30 miles from London. Most fought in the war. Two survived the Nazi death camps. Between them they produce two dozen children (The Tribe) whose growing-up is a large part of the story. This is an intimate picture of all their lives in which the Swinging Sixties, Carnaby Street etc hardly intrude. *Real* social history, in fact.
How to Start Writing Your Novel
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 121,510. Language: English. Published: July 5, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Reference » Writing skills, Nonfiction » Self-improvement » Creativity
A guide to aspiring novelists who know they have a story to tell but just somehow can't get it going. Using examples from his own 33 novels he shows how your intentions should shape your output - and, although there can be no rigid rules, there are principles that lead to success and practices than usually mean failure. Plus an appendix on grammar and presentation to maximise success.
Resident Visitor
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 198,400. Language: English. Published: April 13, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction » History » Modern / 20th Century
A chequered life in Britain, South Africa, Sweden, Ireland. The Slade. The army. Teaching in Sweden. Publishing. Freelancing. Novels. Radio plays. Teaching graphics, Journalism. The jackpot novel worth(?) $500k. Flight to Ireland. The money pit. Decreasingly-best sellers. The overdraft. Things turning pear-shaped. And the great marriage that survived it all and gave the world two fine daughters.
Oliver Twist - After the Edit
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 175,770. Language: English. Published: September 1, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian, Essay » Literature
Dickens's original story contains 26 Incredible Coincidences, 21 Unanswered Questions, and 5 Plain Impossibilities. "Oliver Twist - After the Edit" sticks as close to the original as possible while getting rid of them all. It is both a serious piece of literary criticism and an even more enjoyable story. Includes the sort of critical notes a modern editor would make on the original ms today.
The Dukes
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 191,110. Language: English. Published: June 12, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian, Fiction » Historical » Victorian
"The Dukes" is the story of a disputed inheritance, a national institution, a great family of soldiers of fortune, heroes, beauties, scoundrels, eccentrics, adventurers, an unbroken line of blue-blooded fascination that covers a hundred years of English (and American) history and social life, an intimate glimpse into the life of a great aristocratic family.
Tomorrow's Tide
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 135,910. Language: British English. Published: February 16, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian, Fiction » Romance » Historical
An abandoned baby leads a teenage girl to a brilliant career. In 1910 young teenager Jennifer Owen discovers an abandoned baby in a field, wrapped up with a penny for luck. Years later, with the help of society hostess Millicent Colston-Smart, she decides to track the child down. The trail (and that exact penny) leads to some startling discoveries for all concerned.
To the End of Her Days
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 164,150. Language: British English. Published: January 16, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian, Fiction » Romance » Historical
Lay aside your present sorrows; others will deserve them more. When Jessica Lanyon's husband finally dies in 1920, of wounds from the Great War, she finds herself in charge of her own destiny for the first time ever. She does not lack for friendly and not-so-friendly advice but has no real ally until Lorna Sancreed, also widowed, arrives one day. But can the supposedly vulnerable Lorna be trusted?
The Carringtons of Helston
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 154,100. Language: British English. Published: January 9, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian, Fiction » Romance » Historical
An old feud or a new love – which will prove the more deadly? In 1914 widower John Carrington returns from America to Cornwall, his ancestral homeland, with his grown-up children in tow. They hope to settle comfortably but an ancient feud with the neighbouring Liddicoats resurfaces – only to be complicated by love affairs across the feud lines.
On a Far Wild Shore
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 163,440. Language: British English. Published: December 20, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Victorian
Inheriting a great estate? How wonderful! And the people who go with it? In 1889, young, beautiful, and newly widowed, Elizabeth Troy travels to her late husband's Cornish estate, hoping to find comfort among its fertile hills and valleys. But to her horror she finds the vast, decaying acreage of Pallas is now her sole responsibility – and that Morwenna Troy, her sister-in-law, is her sworn enemy.
A Woman Alone
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 142,140. Language: British English. Published: December 20, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
When all the good men are flawed, what’s a good woman to do? Village girl Roseanne Kitto is destined to be farmer Mark Bodilly's wife – until a chance encounter with Stephen Morvah, the squire's son, presents her with a dilemma. Eventually she makes the socially scandalous (in the 1870s) decision to live alone – a “sin” she compounds by adopting a baby boy after his mother is murdered.
Tamsin Harte
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 125,220. Language: British English. Published: December 19, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Come down in the world? Welcome to the solid ground! The mother, Harriet Harte, feels disgraced when left only a modest inheritance when her husband dies. But Tamsin, the daughter, finds it a liberation from upper class stiffness and boredom - and a chance to pursue her dream: to progress from running a seaside boarding house to owning a premier hotel overlooking the bay in Penzance.
Rose of Nancemellin
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 199,090. Language: English. Published: December 19, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
If she LOOKS upper class and TALKS upper class … it’s SHOWTIME! Rose’s gift of mimicry was both her undoing and her liberation. One day she pretends to be the daughter of the house and is sacked. She joins a down-at-heel strolling theatre but is quickly propelled toward the London stage, which she takes by storm. But the long road back to Nancemellin, and revenge, is beset with many an adventure.
A Notorious Woman
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 262,010. Language: British English. Published: December 19, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Let sleeping dogs lie—one of them may have a bite like a tiger. In 1847 the young, orphaned Johanna Rosewarne is treated as little better than a servant by her uncle and aunt. But when she catches the eye of the suitor intended for the daughter of the house, they cast her out with nothing. 700-odd action-packed pages later, all's well again.
Like a Diamond
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 137,390. Language: British English. Published: December 19, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Same house, same family, same forbidden love - will history repeat itself? It is 1910 and young Peter de Vivian, arriving at his new family home in Falmouth, is instantly smitten by Gemma Penhallow, a senior housemaid. But Gemma has more reasons than most to keep her distance. In a long campaign to win her heart, Peter underestimates his family's opposition and Gemma's stubbornness"
Kernow & Daughter
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 167,680. Language: British English. Published: December 18, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
A disobedient daughter is sharper than a serpent’s tooth—and often more successful. Jessica Kernow, a daughter among three brothers, has always had to fight her corner – especially when, in 1900, she wants to go into the family business, against her father's desire for her to marry. But when she and Cornwallis Trelawney concoct a fake engagement, they both get more than they bargained for.
An Innocent Woman
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 204,210. Language: British English. Published: December 18, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Innocence? Ignorance? Sometimes it’s hard to know which is more dangerous. When young heiress Jane Hervey arrives in Cornwall in 1861 she is completely ignorant of the double standards that governed Victorian public and private life. This is the story of her unwitting discovery of the facts of life – and love – and how it changes everything and everyone in her circle.
Hell Hath No Fury
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 169,020. Language: English. Published: December 18, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Revenge is sweet—bitter sweet. When Lady Lyndon-Fury snubs Daily O'Lindon on the station platform one soft day in 1885 she has no idea of the whirlwind she is sowing. For Daisy, bent on a minor revenge, becomes embroiled in a tit-for-tat that ends in the destruction of one family and a bitter-sweet triumph for another.
For I Have Sinned
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 171,040. Language: British English. Published: December 17, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
One brief, careless moment is still long enough for all the world to change. It is 1913 and the McKennas are emigrating from Cork to South Africa. Through a tragic misunderstanding, they leave 7-year-old Salome behind on the quay ... and so begins an extraordinary tale of intrigue as, time and again, the growing girl finds herself loved and betrayed, inspired and abandoned.
Crissy's Family
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 200,630. Language: British English. Published: December 17, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
The Powers That Be can beat anything except one determined woman. When both parents die in the same week in 1890, their family of five is split up and sent to various institutions. But Crissy, the second eldest, is determined to get them all back under one roof again despite the implacable opposition of her grandmother, who had disinherited her daughter, Crissy's mother, many years earlier.
All Desires Known
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 167,990. Language: British English. Published: December 17, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Be careful what you wish for ... someone may give it you! Lucy and Michael Raven are in deep trouble. The cost of being the most talked-about couple in Dublin in 1904 is high. But their troubles really begin when a wily old moneylender suggests a most bizarre solution to all their woes.
A Woman Scorned
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 176,680. Language: British English. Published: December 14, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
"The past may be another country but many still live there." In 1886, five years after the tragedy that ruined her 15th birthday, Judith Carty returns to Castle Moore and resumes her flirtation with its heir, young Rick Bellingham. But Rick's best friend, Fergal, has reasons to see their love thwarted. So does Fergal's sister, Sally, who wants Rick for herself.
A Woman Possessed
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 168,320. Language: British English. Published: December 14, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
Beware the return of ex-lovers. “Dormant” is not the same as “dead.” They all thought Laura had got over her childhood love for ne'er-do-well Maurice Pettifer when she married solid, dependable Giles Curnow. They all thought Maurice died in South Africa, too – until, one evening in 1902, he turns up again, rich, unmarried, and determined to buy the neighbouring property to the Curnows.