I first came across Mat Coward in a CWA anthology. He is a first-rate short story writer, but he also writes across a wide range of other genre: sci-fi, crime, children’s books (including Dr Who adventures), as well as being a gardening columnist for the Morning Star and a researcher on QI.
I began by asking him ‘What’s your writing routine?’
God, I wish I knew! If I’d ever worked that out, I might have ended up a lot more productive than I am. I stumble into my office in the garage after breakfast, stagger out again around teatime, and just hope that whatever happens in-between is sufficient to keep me in tobacco and cat biscuits.
What comes first for you: a theme, plot, characters – even a genre?
You’re supposed to say “character,” aren’t you? Personally, as a reader, what I’m looking for above all is a story – I think the obsession with character and theme is what makes most contemporary “non-genre” fiction unreadable and pointless. As a writer, however, I start with whatever works. As often as not, I write down a bit of funny dialogue and just keep going from there. I find plot very hard work, so frankly I tend to put that off until last.
You write across an unusually wide range. What was your first love? How did you come to start writing fiction?
I don’t know that I have such a wide range so much as that I am an old-fashioned freelance writer: I write whatever comes up – whatever I’m asked to do next, or whatever I’ve got an idea for – and that includes fiction. I don’t think I could ever have made a living specialising in one type of writing, and even if I had, I’d have died of boredom. When I started out, I mainly wanted to write radio comedy, but, disappointingly, I was never very good at that.
You don’t sell your books on Amazon? Would you like to tell us more about that? I don’t buy from Amazon, ever, and I try not to sell through them as far as I’m able; I don’t pretend I can control that process 100%. Around the world, Amazon is notorious for vicious union-busting; Google “Amazon union busting,” and your jaw will drop. There’s no need to buy from Amazon – it’s pure laziness, there are plenty of alternatives – and to put it bluntly, I despise anyone who is that lazy.
I think you’re right about Amazon. I have been returning to bookshops recently. Speaking of which, do you have a favourite bookshop? I’m a book reviewer – I spend more time getting rid of books than I do buying them! But where I live there’s an independent bookshop in the high street, and I generally put in a big Xmas order there. The books arrive the next day, incidentally, which is quicker than mail order.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m about to start a four-month contract researching for the TV show, QI. This’ll be my 11th series. I write a column on modern myths for Fortean Times magazine, and the QI bosses saw that and thought I might be useful to them. In freelancing, small jobs can lead to big ones, sometimes years later. QI has been very handy; it’s extremely rare for a freelance to get regular work on proper wages, over a long period. As soon as that’s finished, I hope to get on with a non-fiction, history book, that I’ve been trying to start for several years. I couldn’t figure out a format for it until just a few weeks ago. After that, I hope someone will ask me to write another Doctor Who audio play (but they never do), or another children’s book (but they never do). So instead I’ll get on with some short stories (crime and sf), because I’ve hardly written any over the last few years. But my fantasy year would consist of all reading, and no writing …
Thank you! To find out more about Mat and to buy his books, go to http://www.matcoward.com