So you want to be an author? Awesome! Keith McArdle, author of SPFBO4 entrant Fallen Empire, the first book of the Ironstone Saga – find an excerpt at the bottom of this article – and a few other books besides has some advice for you!
Keith McArdle was born in Sydney, Australia, in the winter of 1978. Joining the Army as an infantryman at seventeen, he soon learned what the real world was like. It was a very different place. He has had short stories published in the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force newspapers, the Australian Army magazine, ‘Incoming!’, as well as The Townsville Bulletin.
Being an author requires a thick skin, not only from possible scathing reviews online, but from people in your life. However, hand in hand with that, comes a veritable army of people who believe in you, support your work and want to see you succeed.
In my view, the first important ingredient is self-belief. Believe in your ability to write the words. But also be humble enough to take the constructive criticism that will aid only in improving your understanding of the craft. No one else will believe in you (especially at the very beginning), unless you’re extremely lucky. So the first step before anything else, is self-belief. Some say not to worry about it, that it will come later. True, it might, but if you don’t have that solid base of believing in what you can do and how you’re going to do it, it will be much easier for your critics (not the constructive ones) and doubters to sway your opinion of your own ability. And believe me, you will have critics. Unfortunately, these critics will also be arrayed amongst groups of people you would have thought would be by your side by default.
Probably the only person in my entire life who believed in me from the word go, is my wife Simone. She’s been my rock (and always will be). If you’re not sure if someone is a supporter, it’s pretty easy to find out. Next time you’re chatting with them on the phone, e-mail or messenger, simply neglect to mention anything to do with your current piece of work and see if they mention it even one time. If they don’t mention it, even in passing and unless they have Alzheimer’s Disease, you can bet your bottom dollar that they aren’t a supporter.
Pick your supporters, steel yourself and surround yourself with the people who are going to help you punch through some of the walls standing in your way. Leave the doubters by the way side, they will play no part in your journey, in fact they may even try to hinder it. If you’re in the unfortunate case of having family members doubting you, then if you can’t leave them by the way side, at least keep them at arm’s length. If you’re going to take this seriously, the toxicity of people who doubt you should play no part in your life or your journey towards your goal. If you allow it in, eventually, it will wear you down and you’ll probably fail.
“See, I told you so!” will be the catch-cry of the doubters and the critics.
Being aware of the people standing shoulder to shoulder with you and facing the challenges in your path is just as important as the energy you’ll put into your endeavour itself. Both go hand in hand.
When I first met Simone and introduced her to my family for the first time, I was sat down by a family member and told there was no future in writing, I could never make a career out of it and that I should give up. This lecture took place in front of my girlfriend (now wife) and was embarrassing and humiliating to say the least. However, it also gave me a gritty determination to continue with my profession. To my surprise, my girlfriend was infuriated on my behalf and that’s when I knew that even during those early days of our relationship, she had my back and believed in my end goal.
Another bloke I know asked me what formal qualifications I have to be an author. Half way through the first sentence of my reply, he talked over the top of me and explained how his daughter recently completed a formal certificate in creative writing and won an award at TAFE (a tertiary school if you’re not sure what that is). Good for her, that is a massive achievement. Although, I also note neither he nor his daughter have written anything for public consumption (or scrutiny). More than likely, they never will.
You don’t need a qualification to be a great author. Look at J. K. Rowling, does she possess any qualifications? I’ll answer that for you. No she doesn’t. Don’t misunderstand me, you certainly require a good understanding of the English language in both spelling and grammar.
But if you’re lucky, these spiteful people will be hugely outnumbered by those who genuinely care about your work and want to support you in your journey. There is a bloke I work with who asks, “where’s my book McArdle?” – every time he sees me. When I finally released the novel in question, his eyes lit up like those of a child.
One of the stories that inspires me most, is the Rocky movies and the story of Sylvester Stallone himself. A man whom came from nothing and broke his way onto the big time, simply by believing in himself and his ability and never taking no for an answer. If you’re unfamiliar with Stallone’s story into the movie industry, look it up. It’s such an incredible struggle. The man literally came from nothing.
One of the most inspirational scenes in those movies is when Rocky is talking to his son:
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world aint all sunshine and rainbows, it’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it aint about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward! That’s how winnin’ is done!”
Did you notice the language he used there? He said that life will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it. You have a choice. You have a say so as to whether you remain on your knees or not. So when you’ve copped a few punches and body blows, that’s when your steely self-belief and those of your supporters come in. Pick your ass up, dust yourself off and push forward. You’ve got this! You can do it, and more than that, you are doing it.
If you notice, almost all of this article is encompassing the topic of self-belief. That is how hugely important it is at the very beginning. If you don’t believe you can do it, then no one else will either. You must, must, believe in yourself, who you are and for that which you stand.
So no matter what your passion is, or your long term goal, start walking towards it. Keep your supporters close and leave the doubters behind.
For one last bout of inspiration, this is a video clip which always refuels my motivation when the tank is beginning yo run on the low side. It’s not just the imagery which inspires me it’s the way it is narrated and in particular the words used to drive the message.
Excerpt from Fallen Empire
King George, ruler of the kingdom of Wendurlund stood at one of the huge windows facing east, hands clasped behind his back.
“Lisfort is beautiful this time of morning.”
Jad, the king’s most senior adviser, untied the leather bound scroll and unrolled it. “It is, sire.” He ironed the paper flat with his palms.
The monarch glanced at him, the rising sun painting the skin of his face a deep orange. “Anything of interest there for me, Jad?”
Boring as dog shit. Not a skerrick of anything interesting really.
“Not a lot, my lord, no. Only one item that’s noteworthy. Reports suggest an altercation occurred overnight at one of the taverns, involving the foresters. But, the foresters have returned to town. The lopping season is at an end.” He spread his hands. “It’s to be expected.”
“Any of them known to the Watch?”
“Yes, my lord. One forester by the name of Brokk. He was causing trouble last season as well.”
“Have the Watch find him, put him on trial and if he’s found guilty, hang him from the balcony of the city hall. You shall run the trial, Jad.”
“Is that all you have for me?”
Jad removed his hands from the scroll, allowing it to roll itself back into its original shape. He tied the leather thong in place. “Yes, sire. An uneventful evening.”
He stood, but paused. “Sire?”
King George looked at him, eyebrows rising to meet his hairline. “What is it, Jad?”
“Sire.” Jad pursed his lips. “Following our discussion yesterday, do you think it prudent to have a highlander sent on such a high profile mission?”
“You have doubts?”
The king gestured at the chair behind him. Jad sat again. “Sire, he’s not a professional soldier, and to put it bluntly, he’s not of Wendurlund stock. He’s highland born, a man of Shadolia, a kingdom which has, in the past, been at war with us.”
King George sat beside him. “He is all you say, Jad. But he is an assassin and one that comes very highly recommended. If someone is going to creep into the heart of the enemy stronghold to free my son and bring him safely home, then it is a man whose profession is to carry out a task undetected.”
“I understand, sire. However, the soldiers of your King’s Own are the finest warriors in this world. Can one of their subunits be tasked?”
“No Jad, my household troops are, as you say, very skilled, but even they couldn’t go undetected into the heart of the Huronian capital.”
“With all respect due, I think you underestimate them, my liege.”
“One assassin is more difficult to trace than five King’s Own soldiers. And as you said, Vyder Ironstone is a Shadolian Highlander.”
Jad’s eyebrows drew together. “I don’t take your meaning, sire.”
“The highlanders are a warrior race. They are born to fight. Their children bred to the sword and spear not long after they can walk. I’ve not ever seen a highlander who was a coward. My mind is made, Jad. Vyder Ironstone is the man for this mission.”
“Aye, my lord. And if he fails?”
“I’ll tell you what I told the highlander when I tasked him with the mission. If he fails, I invade Huron, burn their kingdom to the ground and take my son back by force.”
* * *
“We got unfinished business, Shadolian.” Brokk’s lips peeled apart to reveal yellowed teeth.
Vyder Ironstone seemed unconcerned, returning the man’s glare. “Aye.” The assassin smiled. He dismounted, tying Storm to a lemon tree growing near the house. He stroked her neck, talking gently to the horse before turning back to Brokk. “We do.”
There were about fifteen men stood before him, all foresters judging by their garb. And as at the tavern, Brokk appeared to be the leader of the group. Three at the rear looked nervous, constantly licking their lips, eyes wide. The others seemed grim and determined, but the two closest to Brokk were killers. He could see it in their eyes. They were the ones to drop first if the fight became out of hand.
Brokk reached down to his belt, his fingers curling around the haft of a knife. He drew the blade. “Knives only.”
Vyder left his shield, blunderbuss, and sword on the ground near Storm before unsheathing his knife. Grinning, he advanced towards the foresters. They were all armed.
Watching the group, the highlander approached slowly. One of the assailants mistook his hesitance for fear and darted forward, feigning a blow, hoping it would scare the Shadolian. But before he could withdraw to the safety of his comrades, Vyder had a hold of his shirt. Pulling the forester to him, he slashed open the man’s throat and threw him to the cobbled road before him.
“Careful, lads,” muttered Brokk. “This one’s dangerous.”
Within moments, the man’s gurgling breaths were rendered silent as the last of his life-blood glistened upon the cobbled road.
Vyder held his hands out. “We can re-schedule? I am rather busy at the moment. What say you?”
Another two ran forward, one either side of him. He kicked the knee out from the one on the right and blocked a blow from the forester on the left. Twisting the man’s arm savagely, he allowed his opponent’s knife to clatter uselessly upon the ground. Kicking the weapon behind him, Vyder slammed his knife deep into the man’s back, then pushed him towards the diminishing group of foresters from which he charged.
The forester with the wounded knee remained on the ground, holding his leg and howling like a hurt animal.
Vyder smiled at the injured man. “Keep your teeth together. It isn’t that bad, surely?”
The group charged towards him as one. Vyder had expected the move but hoped honour might have prevailed. He should have known better.
Slamming an elbow into another man’s face, the highlander backed away. Blocking a blow, he disarmed another before slamming his knife deep into his bowels, leaving the forester screaming and writhing upon the street, dying, clothes wet with his own blood and shit.
If this article and excerpt was interesting to you, feel free to follow Keith on the following sites, or get his #SPFBO entrant book by clicking on the cover: