An interview with Robin John Morgan, By Jo Lane. Prepared for VCP in December 2009.
It is a few days before Christmas, and the snow is five inches deep and untouched, as it covers our path and all the trees around us. I am walking down one of Robin John Morgan’s favourite woodland paths close to his home besides him, as his son runs in front in the snow and his daughter smiles from his arms. Its cold, but dressed up warm with his long multi violet coloured scarf, and familiar baseball hat, together we admire the trees and the falling snow, in complete peace and quiet.
Robin has managed to publish two books this year to begin his Heirs to the Kingdom series of stories, both of which have been self published, and he has played a very involved role in their promotion. I think he looks paler and tired since our last meeting in mid summer, although as I watch him admiring the trees, heavily laden with snow, I can see the familiar twinkle of life in his eyes, as he absorbs the world he loves so much. I comment on his tiredness and ask about his first year as a self-published author. “How have the books gone to date?”
He gives a faint smile as he considers his answer. “For a complete unknown author, I suppose they have both sold well, although I think that I can see how naive I was back in May when I began to promote the first book. I think my perception of the publishing world was a million miles away from the reality of the industry, I have felt very much out of my depth at times, and I have had to learn a great deal in order to understand and actually get the word about the books out there, people have no idea at all of how fierce and competitive it is out there, its also very closed to self publishers. This is not like Horticulture, and I am no expert in this field, I really have had to start on the floor and fight my way up to gain recognition.”
He stops on the path as he raises his camera to take a photo, something he does to use as inspiration when he is writing. But his tone is still one of optimism. “Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining, it has been a year of long hard working hours to get the website built, and promote the book, but at the end of the day, there is nothing more thrilling than knowing that out there are bookshelves in peoples homes with my books on them. I think that alone is a huge reward, and it gives me a thrill to know it.”
“Is self publishing really a lot harder than traditional publishing?” I have to admit that as a fellow writer looking to publish in the future, I was interested in getting the thoughts of someone who was a little further ahead of myself. Robin spent two years trying to get his first book published, but found that the fantasy adventure genre was not one that traditional publisher’s were particularly keen on. Like so many other authors today, he had been rejected so many times that eventually because he had such strong support from readers for his work, he turned to self-publishing.
We move onwards across a small almost frozen stream, as he elaborates on his experiences. “I worry about the way traditional publishing is going. They use to create their own celebrities; today they seem to be more interested in using names that are already well known, lets face it if you are an actor or TV personality, then you can pretty much guarantee a publishing deal backed with thousands of pounds of advertising. New writers to fill the void of those who have passed on really have no option but to self publish, the biggest draw back is, that out there are thousands of talented hopefuls all trying to get their book in the mainstream. Doing all the promotion like I am with a small team, takes up two thirds of my day, and then the chances are that it will generate few sales. The traditional publishers are at the heart of the game, but they are spending their money on recognised celebrities, as they are a safe bet, although I must admit I find it hard to understand why there are so many books on Micheal Jackson or Jordan, I would have thought one good well written book on both of them, would have done the job nicely. David Eddings passed away recently, but there is no one new to replace him, and even if there was, it looks like the traditional publishers would refuse to publish them. I have spent six months stacking one brick on top of the other to build a firm foundation and get myself a small corner dedicated to HTTK in hope of pulling a few fans together, now I need them to read the book and start talking about it, word of mouth on the internet really has become a self publishers advertising hope.”
I have known Robin for some time, and I understand how having a challenge appeals to him, in his life he has faced many, one in particular reminds me greatly of his writing, although its not often he will speak of his experience fighting to save his business two years ago, which indeed lead him into trying to publish his first book. I decided to raise the subject as we made our way out of the trees and up a steep bank onto an old disused railway. “Robbie and the group face some very testing situations in the second book, and the writing comes across as being very intuitive, is that a result of writing it towards the end of your campaign in Denton to save the market and your business? Do you think much of the struggle you felt at that time is reflected back on the pages?”
We walk slowly through the untouched snow, which is half way up our boots as he thinks for a moment. “I suppose the hardship and the feelings of desperation do rise a little from the pages. There are instances in both books that remind me of moments when I felt I was fighting impossible odds. In life things just come out of nowhere and knock you flat, I hope that the way the book twists and turns does reflect real life. It would be nice to know that something so hard and heart breaking as that time in Denton, could at least have a positive on my work by giving it greater depth. I hope so, for myself, I have always wanted the series to feel like the reader was looking in on a real life, if they are carried along through the story because it does indeed feel very real that would be a big plus, I have tried very hard to give it that sense of time and motion.”
Listening to Robin talk about the story, you sense how much he has invested in creating the realm of the woodsman set in the future, for him in many ways this is simply one story of a life shared by a small group of friends and family, to myself and everyone else in the world, it is a series of books that inter connect and follow the progress of Robbie and Runestone as they approach their life, and the destiny laid out before them. One thing that has left me thinking is the endings of the two books, and I wanted very much to hear Robin’s take on them. “The ending of book one felt very much like I sensed a great relief in Robbie to have survived, and yet with book two I did feel a sense of sadness mixed with happiness. Book two does have quite an emotional roller coaster effect, and I must admit it did not have the big happy ending I expected, was it part of the plan to create an ending that would leave the reader wanting more?”
He gives a small laugh. “Do want me to tell the truth, or should I lie?” Robin’s smile widens. “To be honest the ending was never planned that way. I do want the books to carry the reader along at a good pace that draws them deeper into it; it is the one thing I love about reading. I love that feeling where you are completely lost in the story, and do not want to put the book down, I know from those who I have spoken to that has been the experience for a lot of people, which delights me, as I really love this book. If you think about it, sometimes we get what we want in life, but its not always the huge thrill we expected, life has that way of just taking the edge off an experience or task. Book two was a very fluid and natural process; the writing did come quicker and was to a degree more instinctive than book one. I do think that knowing I could write a full-length book helped, having set one out and established the characters and the story. I had the space to just get in the detail and bring the story more to life, there is a lot in book two I never planned, it just came to me as I wrote it, and it felt very natural, I really had a lot of fun writing this book, it was a very enjoyable experience, and I hope that those who read it will want to continue with the next book.”
Having spent a great deal of time walking through the falling snow, another very relevant aspic of Robin’s work is apparent as we return to the warm surroundings of his home in the form of his family. Apart from publishing two books this year, Robin also became a father for a second time, with the birth of his daughter Iona shortly before The Bowman of Loxley was released. Iona carries the name of very important character who appears for the first time in book two, and I wonder if his own sense of family is what bonds the family of Lox so closely. Robin’s father was separated from his life from the age of four, and he was reunited at the age of 30, it’s a large gap, and yet today they seem as close as any other father and son. “Is the bond between Robbie and his father a reflection of that of your own father and yourself?”
“It is, very much so. I think both of us have worked very hard to repair the vast span of time we missed out on, and although it has not been easy, I think we are very like Robbie and his father in the books today. Growing up without knowing whom your father is, does give you a strong inner sense of independence, but there is always something lacking. We don’t always agree on things, but I think we are as close now as could be.”
“Is it true it was his love of book one that convinced you to publish?”
“Very much so. I never expected him to like it to be honest, there are parts of the story that are just pure fantasy, and my dad is a very grounded person. I am not sure to be honest why I thought he wouldn’t enjoy it; it was a massive boost and a nice surprise when he did. It is true I had no intention of publishing it; writing was just my way of expressing the creativity that builds inside me, it was my dad who convinced me to try and get it published. He really has played a massive role in supporting me through this, I think he certainly has a lot of Lox in him.”
One of the main characters from book one is of course Billy, who plays a very devious and dirty role behind the scenes, at the mention of his name it obvious from Robin’s partner he is not a popular character. “What made you write the role of Billy as the villain? He really is quite devious in this book, where does that come from?”
Robins gives a hearty laugh. “I love writing Billy, he is such a wonderful and rich character. It’s so easy to hate him, yet there is so much more to him than first meets the eye. Billy comes from a lot of places; there have been one or two people who have passed through my life who are very like him. I think people are too hard on him, but it’s been interesting to listen to those who have read the books and absolutely hate him with a passion. I don’t think this book will help endear him to the readers much more, but like everything with HTTK he has his place, and of course his own destiny to fulfil.”
It is true that I have not spoken to a single reader who shares any sympathy at all towards the ex brother of our hero Robbie, yet listening to Robin talk, I have to admit I am a little intrigued. Book two in the series of Heirs to the Kingdom does without doubt grip you hard and leave you with many unanswered questions, so the most obvious question to ask at this point would be about the third in the series. “The Lost Sword of Carnac has been out now for almost two months, it was released just six months after the first book, does that mean we have only four months to go until the next book?”
“I am not sure at the moment, I do want to keep the momentum going with the series, but I have a lot planned for the start of this year, so I will sit back and watch what happens with Carnac. There is no doubt it will be released next year (2010) Its just that no specific date has been set for it, the manuscript is pretty much done, I just want to have another read through and see if it needs a little tweak before I put it through its final proof read. Once I am 100% with it I will look at the calendar and make a decision.”
“Can I ask what you have in store for us all with book three?”
He gives a happy chuckle. “You can ask, although it will not get you very far. (More chuckles) as the web site states ‘beware the darkness’ book three will take you all in another direction, and it is a slightly darker book than the first two, I think it will surprise and delight the readers, and as with all the books, it will increase the depth of the story and show more insight into each of the characters. It will be out as soon as I think its right.”
Once again Robin plays his cards close to his chest, yet it’s been a very interesting and enlightening day out in the snow. Again I have far more notes than this space allows, but its been nice to see Robin so relaxed and sharing a little more of the man behind the books. Since he began writing this series back in early 2007, he has not stopped, and I am sure we still have the very best of this story to come. I am encouraged by his remarks of increasing the depth, and I am looking forward to the third part of his beautifully depicted story at some point in this coming year. The adventure will continue, and I am sure I will have more opportunities to write about HTTK and its author in the future for VCP, until then I will sit back and give the books another reading, and try to work out more of what I think future books will hold. Heirs to the kingdom part three entitled, The Darkness of Dunnottar will be with us at some point, so cross your fingers and hope its sooner rather than later. If you have not had a chance to read these books, then you have the time to catch up with the rest of us, for now I say a hearty thanks to VCP for the invite to write here, and to Robin, who I know hates interviews, for such a pleasant afternoon in the snow with his family.