Steven is an accomplished author of The Forest Lord Series as well as the new Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles and others. We are most fortunate to have Steven take the time to talk about his work and kindly share an excerpt from Book 1 of the Warrior Druid Series.
Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, "Wolf's Head", came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. "The Abbey of Death” is the final book in the Forest Lord series which has over 130,000 sales so far.
Steven's new book, "The Druid" is the first in a series set in post-Roman Britain and was published on November 1st 2018, holding the number 1 spot in the UK "Celtic Myths and Legends" chart for the next three months.
His first novel written exclusively for audio, "Lucia", will be produced by Audible in 2019 and tells the tale of a Roman slave in second-century Britannia.
Steven plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.
4Q: When I visited your website – stevenamckay.com – I was pleasantly surprised by the subject matter you’ve chosen to write about. How did this come about?
SM: My first books, the ones in the Forest Lord series were inspired by, believe it or not, the name of a house. I was working my day job in a lovely part of Scotland and, on a break, was reading one of Bernard Cornwell’s novels. I decided there and then to try writing my own book, but who should be the hero? I wanted to set my tale in Britain hundreds of years in the past, with the backdrop of the forest and rivers and so on. Anyway, I couldn’t come up with much at that point, and I went back to work. Literally, the next house I drove up to had a name: SHERWOOD, and that was it! The gods had sent me a message, and from then on I started researching Robin Hood, a character I really didn’t know much about.
As for my new Warrior Druid of Britain series, that was inspired by the old 80’s kids TV show we had in the UK – KNIGHTMARE. I was watching a rerun of that and there was an actor playing Merlin. I thought it would be good to write a story about a druid, and my imagination went from there. Not an old, white-bearded man like Gandalf, what about a young, huge guy who was as much a warrior as a druid? Unlike my Robin Hood books this gave me the chance to create a cast of characters all of my own (although Arthur and Merlin do make the odd appearance).
4Q: Tell us about the new series and what readers can expect.
SM: It’s set in fifth-century Britain, when the Romans haven’t long left the island. The hero is a young druid named Bellicus who is enormous, shaven-headed and fights like a demon. He has two great dogs and they travel around Britain having adventures. The first book, The Druid, sees Bellicus travelling nearly the full-length of the country tracking a Saxon warband who have kidnapped a young girl. That’s been out for a few months now and has lots of great reviews and sold really well. The sequel, Song of the Centurion, is about two-thirds finished and most of that takes place in Northern Britain although hopefully it’s just as action-packed and exciting as the first novel.
4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.
SM: I always liked to use my imagination, even as a little boy. I would be out playing amongst the trees pretending to be a fantasy hero, like Caramon from the Dragonlance books, or one of the Ghostbusters (Venkman of course). I used to sneak down into the dark basements beneath the Glasgow tenements, hunting for spooks with my friends. Once, we were convinced we found one and all ran out into the sunshine screaming – I still remember that glowing figure, it really scared me, although now I think it was probably just torchlight burnt onto my retina!
As a child I wasn’t content just to watch TV or read books – I wanted to be part of the stories, to be one of the heroes. Writing my own novels gives me that chance in a way I find really fulfilling.
4Q: Every author or artist has that special “place” where they are most creative. Where would we find you when you are writing? Tell us about your writing habits.
|Photo credit: Wallpaper Abyss|
SM: Most of my ideas come when I’m at work, either walking around or driving. I like to plan scenes in my head the day before I sit down to write them, that way I can make the most of my valuable time, and don’t end up sitting, staring blankly at the screen. I used to write wherever, at the kitchen table or even sitting on the couch, but I have a little study now and that’s where my books are crafted these days. I always listen to some black metal, like Enslaved or Behemoth, as it helps me tune out real life and lose myself in the world I’m creating – that’s probably the most important thing for setting the scene for me. As long as I have my harsh music – almost white-noise in effect – I can write anywhere!
4Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
SM: Thanks for having me Allan, I enjoyed your questions which were a little different from the usual Q&A. My next book will probably be a standalone novel, Lucia, which has been bought by Audible – they are producing it exclusively for audio which is really exciting for me. It’s a bit different to my usual books, as the protagonist is not a great warrior, but a slave-girl, captured by the Romans and brought to spend her life working in a villa in Britain. I am very hopeful it will be great new step for my writing career, so look out for it.
An excerpt from a feast in The Druid, as a local lord has asked our hero to sing for the gathering…
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
Bellicus considered the request. The Romans had tried to obliterate the druids and their teachings but those in the north, far from Imperial rule, carried on their traditions. Specially chosen young men like Bellicus still learned the lore and skills of ages long past from their elders. So, of course he could carry a tune, but he didn’t particularly welcome the chance to do it this night.
Singing was a talent he’d neglected while practising others— perfecting his unnerving stare for example. He’d spent many hours over the years glaring at his own reflection in a bronze mirror looted from some ruined Roman villa in the southern lands. As a result, he could put the fear of the gods into most men in Alt Clota and beyond with little more than a look. But singing? Bellicus hadn’t sung much recently as Coroticus had other, dedicated musicians, and he racked his brain now, trying to recall the words and melodies to some of his favourite songs.
“Do we have any instruments, or musicians, in the hall?” he demanded, at last, into the expectant silence.
“Aye,” a man nodded, raising a wooden flute while another, beside him, showed a drum, and another a simple horn. Clearly these men had been expecting to provide some entertainment for the evening in return for goods or favour from their lord.
“Do you know ‘Rhydderch The Red’”?
“Aye,” the flautist repeated, while the horn player cried, “Everyone knows that, don’t they?” to shouts of agreement throughout the hall. It was a simple song about rebirth with parts everyone could sing—or shout—along with, and it always went down well at a feast.
“Then we’ll do that,” Bellicus said, coming around to the front of the long table and leaning his backside against it comfortably, facing out towards the crowd, a small smile on lips he licked now to moisten. “If you’d like to start?”
The drummer nodded, glanced at his companions to make sure they were ready, then slowly began to beat out the rhythm.
The people joined in, stamping their feet on the rush-strewn floor, before the horn player came in, adding his hypnotic droning bass sound and then the sweet piping of the flute filled the room with its familiar melody.
Bellicus waited until the flute ended its refrain before he began singing the first verse in a low voice, the people hushing to listen while their feet continued tapping the infectious beat.
“Rhydderch the Red went walking one day,
But ‘ere long the sky turned to grey,
And he met with a man who took him away,
To a place where the sun could nevermore stray.
Come the snow! And the rain!
And the flowers all die and the tracks wash away,
Come the frost! And the hail!
And the light left the sky and the crops they all failed.”
The revellers joined in with the chorus and Bellicus raised his own voice to be heard.
The drummer held the beat and the flute joined in again, a trilling little melody which soared above the other instruments as the horn’s drone became a staccato that matched the drum’s faster rhythm.
Bel grinned, enjoying the music and his own part within it, and his eyes scanned the room as people formed into small, swirling pockets of dancers. Even children were there, and the druid saw the little blonde-headed figure of Princess Catia darting in and out between the adults, a joyous smile on her face.
King Coroticus had wished for a child for a long, long time before, at last, Queen Narina gave birth to Catia eight years ago. The king was naturally disappointed that his wife hadn’t borne him a son and heir but as the babe grew he had found himself softening towards her.
And who wouldn’t? Bellicus wondered as he continued into the second verse, climbing nimbly on top of the lord’s table and leading the singing from that lofty position. Slaves darted to remove the trenchers of food and mugs of ale before they were destroyed by the druid’s stamping feet while his muscular pet dog, Cai, placed its forepaws up on the wood and watched proceedings like a sentry.
Eolas was content to remain lying beneath the table, tail moving gently from side to side.
|Photo Credit: David Gifford www.davidgifford.co.uk|
The young princess, Catia, was a ray of sunshine in the dark winter nights with her mischievous smile, endearingly earnest conversations, and uncanny ability to make even the gloomiest of people cheerful. Right now, she was dancing with an older lady, holding the matron’s chubby hands and squealing in delight as she was lifted off her feet in the spinning dance which, somehow, hadn’t yet ended in a drunken mess of sprawling bodies.
“And Rhydderch did cry for the life left behind,
And the woman he’d left, for she’d been so fine.
And so he resolved to leave this strange land,
And he reached out and took up his sword in his hand.
Come the spring! And the sun!
And the lady at home who knew he’d return,
Come the light, in the black!
As the land came to life and the hero went back.”
Bellicus’s voice rose in power now as the musicians went into the final section of the chorus and the druid could see, from the corner of his eye, the queen, disapproving frown on her face, gesturing for her lady-in-waiting to return the princess to her seat. His smile widened as Catia evaded the woman’s grasping hands and skipped off into the crowd nearer the back of the hall.
“Come the spring! And the sun!
As the light-bringer stretched out his unshakeable hand.”
Come the light, in the black!
Spring returned to the land,
Once Rhydderch came back…”
The melody slowed and everyone in the room, even the queen, joined in with the final lines of the song, their voices loud and joyous in the dark, smoky hall and then the place fell into a breathless silence as all eyes turned to Bellicus who seemed huge and magnificent atop the table.
“Aye, sing us another!”
The calls became a chant, so loud that, at first, no one heard the doors being smashed open or the harsh sound of metal meeting metal as the guards stationed there were attacked by half-a-dozen armed men.
Bellicus saw it all unfolding though and knew the best way to capture everyone’s attention in an instant.
His powerful voice split the audience’s happy chanting, penetrating to the very core of their being like few other words could.
“Fire!” Bellicus roared again, pointing at the fighting men by the doorway. By now the unknown attackers had been joined by reinforcements and it seemed like they’d have an easy task rampaging through the hall, killing anyone that stood before them.
The druid, not surrendering his raised position on top of the table, turned to Coroticus, looking for his lord’s orders.
The king had drawn his sword and pushed the queen behind him but there was uncertainty in the man’s eyes and no wonder. This attack had come from nowhere and the noise and strong drink made everyone’s reflexes sluggish.
Coroticus looked up at Bellicus, then back into the smoky hall, squinting into the confusing mass of people, uncertainty giving way at last to a murderous rage.
“Kill them!” the king screamed, eyes wide and red-rimmed. “Kill the bastards!”
Thank you so much Steven for being our guest this week.
Thank you dear readers for joining us. For those wanting more information about Steven and his stories, please follow these links.
FACEBOOK – https://www.facebook.com/StevenAMcKay/
TWITTER - @SA_McKay
BOOKBUB - https://www.bookbub.com/authors/steven-a-mckay
**If readers would like to try my writing for free they can sign-up to my newsletter and get a Forest Lord short ebook sent directly to their email.
LINK - https://stevenamckay.com/free-forest-lord-story/