Spotlight 19: Stephen R. Marriott
Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing, one book at a time.
Tom Ashford: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.
My name is Tom Ashford and I’m part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your Self-publishing Resource Kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
This week’s guest is Steven Marriott. He’s written two books in the literary fiction genre and he lives in the UK. Welcome Steven.
Stephen Marrriott: Hi Tom, great to be here.
Tom Ashford: It’s great to have you on. Now obviously, I know a little bit about the background of your book.
We’re going to dive straight into the first question, which is why do you write?
Stephen Marrriott: That’s a good question and I guess it’s one of those things where I kind of, I don’t know, I sort of … It took me a while to realize that I had something to say, but as soon as I discovered I had something to say, I guess you could say I feel this obligation to be true to my inner voice in a sense and verbalize it and kind of written form.
And as I say, I always felt that I had this inner voice, but I didn’t really discover that inner voice until when I quit my corporate job in the investment world, stockbroking around five years ago. And I guess there was a nagging sort of anxiety, I mean that I want to do something different, I want to be creative, but I didn’t quite know how.
And eventually I went through a few life changes and quit this job in stockbroking and did what a lot of people tend to do after working for a long time in a career. I went traveling and how do I put it? Those travels were great. It took me to South America, it took me to Asia.
But when I came back from those travels to London, I’d been blogging and enjoyed blogging aspect of writing, but I still didn’t really have a clear vision of what I really wanted to do. But what I did know is I didn’t want to get back to working permanently, full-time in financial services.
And then somehow I heard about this walk, which I’d been told about 10 years ago, but had forgotten about it, called the Camino de Santiago. And I’m sure some people have heard of this pilgrimage across Northern Spain, which starts in a little Basque village on the French side of the Pyrenees. And then basically about four or five weeks later, depending on how fast you walk, you arrive in Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain, Galicia.
And I went on this walk and kind of as I’d been doing on my previous travels with lots of other journals, just taking notes, and just writing about my experience. And it was just a very simple walk, no more simpler than just literally walking about 25 kilometers a day, talking to people, hearing about their lives, eating, having a bit of merriment and drinks at the end of the day in the pilgrim hostels, and then repeating the same exercise the next day, the walk.
Slowly, but surely that simplicity of walking and being in nature just I think just took me back to sort of grassroots, some of the things I’m interested in. And a lot of the noise, et cetera that was in my mind began to clear. It’s a bit like meditation in a way, walking like that so regularly.
And so 800 kilometers later when I arrived at Santiago, I started to blog about the experience. I wanted to share it with people. And to cut a long story short, my travel blog experiencing seemed to morph into a story about a young flamenco guitarist looking to find his way in life. And he’s forced to busk and walk to Santiago and during that walk he starts to build faith and belief in his ability to play the flamenco guitar.
And so the story or the series as it’s become known as, the Reluctant Pilgrim series, follows his journey of trying to realize his ambition of being a professional flamenco guitarist. So the first book takes place on the Camino de Santiago.
The second book we join him just towards the end of that journey. Then that’s when the journey really starts because he goes to Madrid and when he tries to find his place within the flamenco circuit, but it doesn’t quite sort of work.
But this is a long way of answering your sort of question of why do I write? But I think there was a creative voice in there, but it wasn’t until I gave myself the space to let that inner voice come out that I realized that yes, I’ve got things to say and I want to share them in story form.
Tom Ashford: Yeah.
Stephen Marrriott: Does that makes sense?
Tom Ashford: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. It’s definitely a more, I’d say, epic and inspired reason for becoming a writer and writing a book than most people get, which is, it’s quite reasonable, not a lot of people will sit down and just sort of go, “I’d like to write a book and I’ve got a story in mind.” But be inspired by an actual sort of a well quite epic life event, you know?
I’ve never walked in anywhere near that, I probably haven’t walked that much in my life, let alone in one session.
Stephen Marrriott: You live in London. You probably walk a lot longer on daily basis than you realize.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, but certainly I have not ever done an 800 kilometer, was it a kilometer or a mile?
Stephen Marrriott: Eight hundred kilometers. Well, it’s actually you finish at Santiago, but you have the option if you wish to continue to a place called Finisterre, which as far as you can go before you get to the sea in that back region of Northwest Spain. And so all in all it’s about a thousand kilometer walk.
But it’s interesting that you say that sort of inspired, but don’t get me wrong. I’ve obviously always loved books. I’ve read from a very early age and I was reading sort of the Tolkien and things like that as a 12 year old. But I think I’ve always liked those kind of stories where there’s a kind of a quest. Sort of like small Hobbits on a quest trying to sort of cross dangerous lands and having these challenges.
I read the Narnia books and and I liked thrillers and so read truly variety, but I think it was the books where there was journey aspect, often coming of age or on a journey of discovery that I’ve always loved.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Well that’s fantastic.
You wrote that book and it’s now part of a series, is it not?
Stephen Marrriott: That’s right. So the first book is called Candyfloss Guitar. And do you know what? I wrote this, it was quite awhile ago now in terms of I guess the journey of indie publishing, I wrote this book about, I don’t know, four or five years ago now. Didn’t know much about, and like a lot of people, Amazon, KDP, Et cetera. But just wrote this book for myself. The first one’s just a novella. I sent it off to a couple of publishers.
One I didn’t hear from. One came back to me and said, “We like your style of writing, but can you write a crime thriller?” And that’s great because obviously that was one of those genres that they worked with, but I didn’t have a crime story.
But someone said to me about Amazon. And so then I decided to get it professionally edited, proof-read, the normal professional things you need to do. Put it on Amazon. And I think not long after that I discovered SPF and some of the ways to sort of get your market your book. This isn’t a genre which is sci-fi, historical fiction so it’s a bit more difficult to market. But I was building and I started building a mailing list, getting some followers and I did start to get reviews. And to my surprise, they were nice reviews.
I think the worst I’ve had to say far is a three star, averaging sort of nearly five stars across the board. So that’s what encouraged me to write a second book because maybe about a third of the reviews are saying, you know, I thought I completed this little novella, but people wanted to know more about the character and what happens next.
And so at the start of this year, the second book came out. It was a full size novel. Again, I’m not prolific. It took me with the research and writing about two years to get it out and see for me the research actually involved work in another camino because there’s different ways to get to Santiago because people start in different parts of Europe. And so I walked one in Andalusia, which would have been natural for my flamenco guitarist to go down to Andalusia to try and on his journey of becoming a flamenco guitarist.
Now there’s a third book and I’ve just come back literally yesterday from Portugal where there’s a Camino that runs up the spine of Portugal, called the Camino Portuguese, which takes you up to Santiago again. And my character after many years of making it as a guitarist, finds himself a little bit lost and finds himself on the road again on a sort of seeking some answers about himself.
I’ve just walked for another week, which was about 120 kilometers just to get a feel. And the thing is when you go on these walks, and these other pilgrims, as we call ourselves, and because the camaraderie of it and you all have the same purpose, to get the Santiago. It’s not long before you open up about your life and your stories and the different people that you intersect very much inspired me with the stories and the sort of ideas which go into the book.
Tom Ashford: Awesome. That sounds fantastic.
Question number two is how do you write? Are you the sort of person who plots out your story once you’ve got back from one of these walks or do you sort of just start with an idea and see where it takes you?
Stephen Marrriott: I love this term people are saying, pantsing it when it comes to writing. And then I have been in that category so far for the first two, but I kind of know where the story will end up, but I just don’t know how it’s going to get there.
And so really with the last book I knew where I wanted to take my character, but I just started writing. Of course I’ve got my background notes and ideas and the ideas that come with that journey. But, no, I’ve written it and I’ve been happy to let the story evolve. Of course what that has meant is it slows the process down in many ways because I have a story on paper and but it’s very inspired and it’s raw and it’s come through me. At the same time, I think it probably needs a lot more editing than maybe the average kind of book.
I’ve then gone back quite a bit backwards and forwards with my editor and other people who I’ve brought into my team as proofreaders. Having said that now I think to the third book, I will probably plot this, because I think it will give it a much better polish and probably speed up the process.
And like a lot of people I have come up cross the book Save The Cat! for example, which is giving a lot of good ideas and techniques for plotting. And then a long time ago, I read the book, I don’t know if you’ve come across it, Story by Robert McKee, which talks about plotting film scripts?
Tom Ashford: I haven’t.
Stephen Marrriott: And that’s similar in many ways to sort of Save the Cat!, which was based on film scripts.
Story has a bit more of the hero’s journey, which I think relates more to my book. So I think, I don’t want to be too rigid with plotting, but I think it might just give my book an extra kind of polish and because that could be the third book and it might turn out to be a trilogy. So I think it will just help me steer me on that way. But so far I’ve been writing, as a say pantsing it, but when I tend to get writing, it’s normally sort of five, six days a week, four to five hours a day on the manuscript.
Tom Ashford: Fair enough.
Question number three is, are you a full-time author? Obviously you spend a few days plotting the manuscript. Is that because you work full-time on the writing or is that just sort of three days over a longer period of time because you have a job that you have to hold down as well?
Stephen Marrriott: I’d like to be a full-time author, but I haven’t quite made it there yet. Well, financially I couldn’t justify it and so when I left my corporate job, as I say about five years ago, I never went back to working permanently within financial services. I did some consultancy work and I’ve been working part-time in that area. I’ve been lucky that I still had connections to that old world and been using them just to sort of pay the basic bills.
Typically I work three days a week on that part-time consultancy basis in the financial world. And then it would be two to three days a week on the writing. But because I’ve been researching this book recently, as I say, I’ve just come back from Portugal.
It’s not like I was writing in big blocks, then do the marketing and then come back to the writing. I’ve probably had about nine months since my book, the last book came out and I haven’t been writing. I’ve been doing this research, working, but within the next couple of months I’ll be back down to the writing yet.
But yes, no I’m not in a financial situation to justify that quite yet. And I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned there because we all see in the community some people who are all full-time writers and doing very well. But I think what we don’t all see is that probably they, like Mark for example, he struggled before he found a formula for his style of writing and just didn’t madly sort of say, “Okay, tomorrow I’m going to give up my job and I’m going to write a best seller.”
I think you have to transition and I think that’s the wise thing to do. Once you get some momentum behind your writing and you see that building, I think that’s probably the time to make the jump.
And I don’t just see myself strictly as an author. I think one of the things I think you learn when you leave that sort of corporate world full-time, and going for a long walk, but we all have several aspects to us and I kind of see the writing connects to other aspects of myself and I’ve given some public speeches relating to going for a long walk across Spain and how that led me to my creative side.
So I kind of see myself as in a … if there’s different sides to me and I think again, as indie authors, the one thing that we all learn, that to be a success, we’ve got to be a business person as well. So I think yeah, as a long way of saying that, yes, I’m a part-time writer still.
Tom Ashford: Yeah. Okay. Question number four is one that we’ve all got plenty of answers for.
What mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?
Stephen Marrriott: Good question. I’ll start with the positives. I think what I’ve got right is actually being open to sharing my writing with other people for feedback. People who are ahead of me, people who I really value in terms of their sort of grammar skills and not being sort of introvert about sharing writing.
As soon as I wrote the first book I shared it with people I respected and hopefully got some very good honest feedback. And with the second book, I did exactly the same and it meant that again, that I had to sort of give it, the draft, some much more extra polishes. But I think that the only way we can improve and learn is obviously one, by doing the craft and writing continuously, but second is being open to sharing your work with people and getting the feedback and not being too protective about it. As long as it’s constructive criticism.
I think that was one thing I felt really helped, was sharing it with people who I knew were readers and just different types of people who read different types of books and just getting their reactions and that really helps. I think that’s one thing I think which that has been a positive thing to do.
In terms of mistakes, well I tell you something recently that I’ve done, I think you have to, I’m learning, I think to begin with at least you have to write what you feel. What you feel really passionate about. And as is probably coming through, I felt passionate about this Reluctant Pilgrim’s series, about a flamenco guitarist on his journey of self discovery.
However, it’s a lot harder sort of story to market. It’s not sci-fi, it’s not historical fiction, it’s not a thriller, it’s not fantasy, et cetera. It’s probably is sort of within travel fiction or within literary fiction as a whole. So it has been harder to market. But slowly, but surely I’ve been building mailing list. I’m up to about 2,000 people now and I’ve probably had about 5,000 sales of downloads.
But more recently I thought, “Okay, I want to go full-time. How do I make some money from this?” So I decided to write a thriller. A financial thriller combining my background in stockbroking with, I was always one of these kids who grew up with James Bond, Roger Moore. I love those sorts of spy-thriller the stories. And I used to read some of the Frederick Forsyth’s, the Lynn Dayton’s and some of the well-known thriller writers.
And I thought, “You know if I can do this because I love this kind of story as well,” page turners in that sense. And so I spent some of the summer before I went, I decided to research the next Reluctant Pilgrim series, plotting out very carefully a financial thriller series. And then suddenly just as I finished plotting out, I suddenly thought, “Do you know what? I’m not ready to sit down and write this. I’m not really feeling the passion to write this.”
And I think I’ve come up with quite a good character and a good series. But I think the mistake here is stick with what you’ve got a really burning desire to do. And so be clear as to why you’re writing. Maybe once I’ve got it out of my system, this Reluctant Pilgrim series, I might be sort of in a position or willing to write something which is perhaps more commercially or at least better market viable.
So I think really write your own personal story and something you feel passionate about. Because I think if you don’t, you’ll lose momentum and you’ll probably burn out.
Tom Ashford: That answers question five a little bit.
What’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing? Have you got any other advice for authors?
Stephen Marrriott: I think you’re right in a way. Yes. I think or like just probably extend that point I touched on. It’s just just be really clear about what you want to get out of being an author. If you want to write literary fiction, I think be aware that it’s probably going to take the long time to build a following. You probably need to get quite a few books out because obviously they won’t have a common theme that, your themes, you’re style of writing.
So if you’re going to go down that route, I think you just have to fix that, that you’re doing it yourself and be willing to really play sort of the long game with it. But I think if however you say it, “I want to write because I like writing, but I want to make money from it.” Just be really clear as to, or be honest with yourself. Is that really going to work for me?
I think now I notice a lot of copycat approaches within certain genres. And I think people still like originality, they like original characters. And so you’ve got to be true to yourself and say, “Okay, what if I want to make a commercial living from this? Do I really like books? Am I really passionate about sci-fi or do I just think this seems like a sort of shortcut to making a very good living?”
And I think, so my advice is just be clear about why you want to write. If you just want to write because you enjoy writing? Do it, but just do it as well as you can.
Tom Ashford: I think that’s good advice. And that’s your five questions up. We should probably point out that you’re calling in from the London Southbank Centre in case any of the noise doesn’t get removed in a postproduction. It’s been generally fine, but just so people know that you don’t live in a train station or something anymore.
Stephen Marrriott: Yes. Well, that’s pretty good I think. That went so quick, Tom. Thank you so much for those questions. I hope they all made sense.
Tom Ashford: Yeah, absolutely fantastic. And thank you very much for coming on the show.
Stephen Marrriott: Cheers, Tom. Much appreciated.
Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week’s Self-publishing Spotlight.
Don’t forget that you can get your free Self-publishing Resource Kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
And if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest. I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.
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