Interview with Neil Mach

What's the story behind your latest book?
I was imagining a world in which there was no music. When I read about how Islamist Extremists were trying to stop music being played in the African country of Mali (music is an intrinsic part of the culture in places such as Timbuktu) I began to wonder - could that really happen? Could organised religion stamp-out music altogether?

So I re-imagined a world where music was banned by the supreme authority. And I thought of Britain in the Middle Ages. Around 900AD in the British Isles - the rule of law came from Rome. Regional Kings were not omnipotent, they had to take their lead from the Holy Empire. All power and all influence came from the church - much of this power was exercised by secretive monastic communities.

Nowadays, those brotherhoods (monks and friars) are largely remembered as benign and beneficial. Our perception is slightly defective, however, perhaps blurred by the representation of a Friar Tuck - that fat and happy monastic character seen in Hollywood movies.

Although these communities of monks were invaluable - they also had a cruel and dangerous side. Some were involved in hunting down and eradicating heretics. But a lot of good came out of the cloistered fraternities ... with monks preserving the word of God by creating wonderful manuscripts, or keeping alive the sciences by protecting valuable techniques, or by feeding the local people through their innovations in husbandry (fisheries, bee-hives and dove-cotes) or providing local ‘medical care’ through their apothecary gardens .... yet there was a price to pay for all this. The common man had to comply. The Church was all-powerful. Europe was a place of fundamentalist idealism during this period.

Once I had created a world that was a powerful religious state - and that state hated the idea of music - I then tried to imagine how some people might try to preserve the art of making songs. What would be their motivation? I decided that they would not risk their lives just so that they could play a couple of dance-songs at a wedding! No, their incentive would have to be to protect and preserve life. And music can do it! There is a lot of evidence that musical interventions can help maintain and restore mental and emotional ‘balance’. So my Bearers Music came into my imaginary world to bring harmony to those in need.

Once I had created the good-guys in this story - I had to create their opponents. These Black Hounds - who were opposed to the Music Bearers - were not evil. It’s just that they had a distorted and very literal idea about how others should observe their overbearing doctrines and their strict church-rules. Some of these ‘bad-boys’ enjoyed their work more than others - they relished a bit of torture. Others, though, were less capable as holy-detectives and they started to become satisfied with their role in the ‘religious police’ of the period.

That's when I started to imagine the conflicts that might arise.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wrote The Last Music Bearers in a single month. During the National Novel Writing Month in 2014. During that experience (it was wonderful) I began to ‘meet’ and become encouraged by a whole load of inspiring indie writers. Some of these were writing two novels in a month back-to-back! Others were writing a full novel each and every month of the year! And I was collecting their tips and tricks all the way through the Na No Wri Mo.

As soon as you start writing, you start to think about your ‘finished product’ - it is necessary to envisage it on the shelves.

But, of course, you also start to worry about how you will market the book. The convenience of being an independent author is that you can change your plans quickly. You can respond to new ideas or trends or go in new directions at the drop-of-a-hat. When something does not work, you can choose another path. So, with marketing in mind, I have changed my synopsis, my blurb, my titles and also my Cover Art many times. Being an indie author has also meant that I was able to take control over my product every step of the way. Yes it has been a lot of work (and I needed to develop a range of new skills), but the feeling of control has been worth it.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Working with Smashwords has been incredible! The entire organization is professionally managed and slick. Publishing with Smashwords means that my books are available at B & N, and also on Kobo, Sony, Diesel, and at the Apple store. They ‘only’ publish electronic files, so it means that there are no upfront costs. But you must do the promotion yourself if you want to make a splash (and this is where other authors might be letting themselves down.)
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I am a very imaginative. Since childhood I have created imaginary worlds (in my mind) and then tested them out on paper. Once, when I was 12 years old, in school assembly, one of my poetic descriptions (of an autumn day) was read to the entire school. People listened with pleasure. I was amazed that they seemed charmed by my words! At that moment I understood that I could write for an audience. After that, I wrote pieces for my university course - and they caught the attention of other students who would be eager to read them. Then I started writing journalistic pieces which were published all around the world.

As I write, I feel that I am releasing my innermost concerns and anxieties - I feel that I have to set free all that pent-up imaginative energy that builds inside my brain. It is not quite like the release of demons - but the draining of emotions is exciting, nonetheless.

When you begin to develop a character on paper, it is fascinating to see how that character grows. How it accepts the challenges you have set. Finally, your character learns how to act and think independently. Isn't that amazing?
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on an episodic novel about a girl who wants to take charge of her own love life. The novel explores how she has to build connections with potential sexual partners in a self-centred and egocentric world...

She finally discover a man mature enough for her.

But in her journey, she discovers how a girl can measure things like intimacy and love in an increasingly technological world — and also finds spiritual and physical meaning in a world obsessed with instant gratification.

"Slutting the Globe" will be published this spring.
Who are your favorite authors?
Currently: @erinmorgenstern @nathanfiler @jesskatbee @ECHealey @SJMaas @rainbowrowell @naturallysteph
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I am so excited to see where my characters are taking me. Plus I need to write between 6 to 10 music reviews each day. Just to put some food on the table. My blue cat named Leo is crying. That means he is hungry. (As usual.) So I will need to feed him and work hard for some more little fishies.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I like to cook. That gives me peace and cooking allows my hands to do something fairly crafty. (But I am useless at DIY and all other handicraft.) I like to walk and to explore - rambling allows my heart to wander and my eyes to catch new shapes and record new images. As a music journalist I go and see a whole load of new music. And, naturally, I drink a fair bit of beer when I am attending shows! For total relaxation... nothing is better than a warm bath.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
To be fair most of my discoveries are made on Kindle eBooks. But I have recently discovered the delights of browsing through the "Most Viewed Authors" list on Smashwords - and dropping in to make exciting new discoveries: https://www.smashwords.com/100/authors
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote a little story about a boy abandoned in a ditch by Gypsies when I was about 8 years old. It was called "Left By The Wayside".
What is your writing process?
Just getting on with it — that is the most important skill to develop. And the most difficult habit to adopt.

I tend to write in “episodes” like a film director might shoot his movie. Sometimes these scenes are not written in any strictly logical order — so I need to ‘lace things’ up later.

Sometimes I imagine that my story is like a mosaic. With different squares of similar shape that must be matched to each other and then fastened together.

When I arrive at a difficult part, I normally leave the character to sort things out for me. It’s amazing how a character can fix things up. If you let him (or her).
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
When I was a small child the first stories that you read yourself were always stories from the Bible. They were printed on small cards (to keep safe in your prayer book) — on one side of the card was a coloured image and on the other side of the card was the short story to accompany the image. I liked the story of Lazarus. And I remember vividly the story of Jesus in the Temple. He seemed very annoyed. I think I must have liked the drama. And that uncharacteristic anger.

The first book that I ever owned was a reading book that my Hungarian aunt gave me for Christmas. It was a book about the Beasts of the Black Forest. I was about four years old. I still remember that I was very afraid of the Boar.
How do you approach cover design?
I ask designers to work on my cover image. I set up a competition, write out my brief - then allow the magic to begin!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
1: Tolstoy: War and Peace. It has everything. Drama, costumes, intrigues and big, big battles. Fantastic!

2: Harrison: West of Eden. I re-read this every year. Such good ideas.

3: Asimov: The Foundation Series - I like where this takes me. It is a huge journey with so many surprises.

4: Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four - Still the best sci-fi book. A fully immersing and thoroughly real nightmarish vision.

5: A Clockwork Orange: Burgess - Like 1984 but with even more adult spices. I enjoyed learning the language. And I re-read this every year too!
What do you read for pleasure?
Normally, I read non-fiction for pleasure! Currently I am reading Henrietta Leyser's Medieval Women!
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use a SONY Xperia tablet
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Amazon. I probably flick over to the amazon site 3-4 times daily. And I admit that I purchase 2-3 books a week. The emails that they send start the initiating process.
Describe your desk
Hard drive, skype phone, two skype cameras, keyboard, Sony tablet, various bits of half-wriiten-upon papers. All accessories are black. Romance Writers Phrase Book casually leaning on my house keys. It's the only pinky thing here.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Surrey UK in a respectable middle-class home. With lots of sisters. My parents encouraged reading and other artistic pursuits. As long as things didn't cost any money ... they were happy.

My mother was a tailor and she turned her hand to lots of other crafts. We all joined the local library as soon as we could. We attended as a whole family (once a week) - and we borrowed as many books as we could managed to carry. My father would sit by the boiler and read history books. My sisters and I would curl up on the sofa and read novels. Once read, they would be shared. There was no television or other distraction in our home (radio was played on Saturday morning) - we didn't have a set until the late 1960's. Even then, it was not the favourite way to pass time. Reading always came first.

My sisters and I would often make up stories to tell each other. My father was imaginative and I think he fuelled our imaginations - for example he told fairy stories and ghost stories. Then we tried to emulate him.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing little tales 'of the unexpected' for my sisters on a daft old typewriter when I was about ten years old. I wrote some letters that were printed in magazines when I was 12 years old. I liked seeing my name in print. That's how I got hooked!
What do your fans mean to you?
I listen to the good feedback and the bad feedback. And I love getting something back. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that when people say that my writing is ‘poor’ or even ‘appalling’ (I have had both comments this month) at least I have created a reaction! And these people have taken the time to write to me about it! Luckily, most of my feedback is positive - and that helps me to think about things harder, try to be neater and try to give readers the things they clearly want.
Published 2015-02-28.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Blayz the Bryte Scheiner
Price: $5.26 USD. Words: 47,500. Language: English. Published: July 29, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Literary, Fiction » Literature » Literary
Blayz Scheiner is a young Saint and a happy adult. Blayz does not say much... Yet his older brother, Russell, says that Blayz can hear and understand much more than he can express in words. Blayz has many friends and acquaintanceships — even if others often struggle to understand that simple truth. All life is an adventure for Blayz. Every day he is at his best.
Slutting The Globe
Price: $5.77 USD. Words: 65,770. Language: British English. Published: May 28, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Contemporary, Fiction » Humor & comedy » General
Slutting the Globe is a modern romantic comedy. Kim-Kim is a single girl based in London. She recently disposed of her narcissistic boyfriend. Now she yearns for a man who can satisfy her needs. She embarks on a crazy self-imposed challenge. Actively seeking connections with potential sexual partners from all over the world. Follow her crazy journey to find intimacy. And discover her true nature.
The Last Music Bearer
Price: $5.95 USD. Words: 76,120. Language: English. Published: March 23, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Historical, Fiction » Historical » Medieval
In this medieval world — singing and music is illegal. A secret group of wandering monks brings harmony to those in need. Their movements are constantly watched by a fearsome Order — whose opposing ministry is to eradicate music. A boy named Elis was saved by the minstrel monks. He was trained to be a Music-Bearer. He must complete his mission, while those sworn to hunt him, must destroy him.