Exclusive Interview with

Michael Rothery

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When did you start writing?

I've been a scribbler all my life, but only began creating novels when I retired in 2014. My first attempts were rather mediocre: six novels that I self-published quickly taken up by friends and family then petered out. Since completing a creative writing module with the Open University in 2019 I've re-invented myself as an author. Hence, I consider 'To Run Before the Sea' my first quality work.

Michael Rothery
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What makes writing your passion?

For me, it's all about the Characters. I feel I know them intimately and get a real fillip when I create stories around them. There are times when the stories seem to write themselves, and when that happens I get a sense of disembodiment, as if I've handed over my soul to an external force - I guess that's what tradition calls the Muses. This is hugely motivating and drives me on at the keyboard for many hours: often forgetting to eat and sleep.

Michael Rothery
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How long have you been writing?

Well, I'm 70 now, and as I said in answer to the first question: all my life - at least, since I was in my early teens.

Michael Rothery
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What was the feeling when you published your first book?

Strangely, after writing 'The End' I felt empty, washed out; as if I'd come to the end of a Great Adventure. I knew of course that self-publishing a novel, especially a first one, was rarely successful without a costly promotion campaign. So I took a realistic view and pressed on with my second.

Michael Rothery
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What’s the story behind your choice of characters?

Primarily, there is always a maritime connection. I spent my first twenty-five years of working life in the Royal Navy, and although afterwards I went into a career in computing, the hankering for the sea and all things nautical stayed with me. So my first novel, 'Return to Africa' was about a naval petty officer who got himself into all sorts of trouble during his ship's visit to Mombasa. When I retired in 2014 I bought an old yacht and began sailing around the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Caribbean, and that began to inform my later choice of characters. At some stage I was drawn to novels about strong female leads, and so Rosie Winterbourne came into my writing. With all her flaws and qualities, Rosie epitomizes my choice of character types.

Michael Rothery
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What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?

I wouldn't say anything really annoys me. I get frustrated at not being able to find an agent to help get my work into the commercial mainstream, and get irritated by the amount of time I spend on (mostly fruitless) self-promotion. And of course, the enormous number of independent authors out there make discovery of my books just about impossible. That makes me sad, but not annoyed.

Michael Rothery
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How do you get over the “writer’s block”?

I have a simple solution to what some writers call 'writer's block'. I read a good novel. At some point during that reading, I generally get an idea that drives me back to the keyboard. If, however, I really don't know how to begin, or where the story is going, I just write - anything, rubbish, if you like. Because a writer should always remember two things: 1. the act of writing itself is what sparks the creative electricity, and 2. what you write first can always be deleted later. Consider the garbage you wrote first merely a springboard to creativity. Works for me.

Michael Rothery
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We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?

If you want to be a writer - I mean REALLY want to be a writer, then write. All the time. Write what you see, what you hear, smell and touch. And write about how those sensations make you feel. When you get an idea for a story, don't wait until you know the ending, because, and this is important, you rarely know where your story is going to end until the moment you get there. This is what makes the craft so exciting. And when you know the ending, you need to write the beginning again. As Neil Gaiman once said, (and I paraphrase) the art of editing your story is to make the reader think you know what you're doing.

Michael Rothery
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If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?

Keep a diary, or journal, and write in it every day - not just what you did and what happened, but how it made you feel and how others acted and spoke. Keep your journals safe because these are your toolbox for the future. That last part is important, because, for reasons I won't go into, I lost everything I wrote before the age of forty.

Michael Rothery
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Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?

Yes, always. I hate to say it, but I've never had a bad one... yet. I'm sure it will happen. Harsh criticism I can take, if it is accompanied by suggestions for improvement. Bad-mouthing for its own sake is another matter which my instinct tells me I should just ignore and move on. If there are many bad reviews, however, I think I would look to improving my craft or doing something else.

Michael Rothery
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What is the feeling when you get a good review?

Obviously, good reviews leave me with a warm glow. But on a different level, one can't help feeling aggrieved that if this person liked it so much, why aren't sales going through the roof? Sometimes I want to shout 'Don't tell me, tell the World!'.

Michael Rothery
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Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

I do it all the time. 'Write what you know' is the age old mantra. My stories are about the sea and sailing, and I'm an experienced yachtsman with many hair-raising incidents to call on. For example, in 'To Run Before the Sea' Rosie encounters a sperm whale in mid-Atlantic that nearly capsizes her boat. This happened to me while sailing alone from Bermuda to Azores.

Michael Rothery
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Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?

My first novel, 'Return to Africa' was partly biographical, I guess. Though, I must confess, Patrick Redman was far braver - and willing to greater risks - that ever I was in my thirties. So perhaps he is a somewhat idealized version of me.

Michael Rothery
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What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?

No, certainly not. A stunning cover will certainly help sell the book, as will a good blurb. But once the story is underway, who cares? The only important parts of a book is what's inside: characters the reader cares about and and a story that engages the imagination.

Michael Rothery
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Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?

I often talk to people I know that have read my books, frequently for feedback from First Readers. I do however, prefer to express myself in writing, as you put it. When I listen to authors being interviewed on BBC Radio 4, I'm constantly amazed at how fluently they talk about their work. I'm sure I could never be so articulate in a live audio interview. No, I value time to give a considered response and ensure my reply is coherent, as in this interview.

Michael Rothery
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How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?

I'll let you know when it happens (a wry grin).

Michael Rothery
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Who is your favorite author? Why?

I'm a prolific reader and have had many different favorite authors over the years. The writer that has perhaps engaged me most is the late Terry Pratchett. I've read the Discworld series many times over, and even now dip back into them when I want a ripping yarn with plenty of lighthearted philosophy and satire. I have had the pleasure of meeting Terry on two occasions.

Michael Rothery
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What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?

Realistically, I started writing novels too late in life to be huge. I think Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) and his Strike series would be a good model for the Rosie Winterbourne series.

Michael Rothery