Michael Miller graduated from the University in 2014 with a first class degree in History. Now, at the age of 23, he has published his first novel – a fantasy entitled The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King. The Saint sat down with him to talk about the book, his advice for student writers and his future plans.
The Saint: How long have you wanted to be a writer?
Michael Miller: Looking back, it was the only thing I ever really wanted to do. I just didn’t have the guts to admit it for a long time. There were signs early on though. Tucked away somewhere back home there might be a folder of poorly hand written stories from when I was nine years old. I think one might have been about mice who were also gangsters, because why not? There might even be extremely early bits of The Dragon’s Blade hidden there.
TS: Have you always been interested in fantasy as a genre?
MM: Absolutely. I’ve never been into general fiction. I seem to need some form of escapism, be that in real history or in fantasy. I reckon that if you are going to need good characters and plot for any story, then why not also have all the cool things as well? Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter were definitely what got me into it all.
TS: What were your inspirations for the world in which your book is set?
MM: My history degree helped me out a lot here. I loved studying the Roman Republic and Empire, and I used some Roman history as inspiration for my race of humanoid dragons. I also love Scottish history and studied a lot of it at St Andrews, from Bannockburn (shout out to Dr Michael Brown) to the Union (shout out to Dr Roger Mason) to the notion of modern nationalism (shout out to Professor Colin Kidd). Also I am Scottish so it makes sense that the world has a more northern, Scottishslash-Scandinavian-slashCanadian feel to it. There are snowcapped mountain ranges, rugged highlands, big fat rain clouds, lochs and smoke houses. The odd character even has a light Scottish accent, which is always fun. For my main character, Darnuir, I was also inspired by a random first year philosophy module I took. In one lecture, a question was asked along the lines of ‘what would happen if you inserted part of the brain from one person into another?’ It is a rather philosophical question, as we can’t do such things in real life. But we can in fantasy! With Darnuir I played more along the ideas of memories from one life carrying over into another. If Darnuir is anything to go by then the answer would be ‘you would get a very confused person with a massive identity issue.’
TS: Who is your favourite character and who is your least favourite?
MM: Within The Dragon’s Blade? I suppose my personal favourite character would have to be Dukoona. He’s a demon lord who has some serious issues with authority. He’s complicated, oddly alluring and has the potential to end up doing some extremely cool things in the future. He is probably one of my most original creations. But trying to have me pick a favourite is like asking a parent to choose between their kids. I have a soft spot for all my major characters. I’ve had to work hard to understand them, I know how they tick and this means I can understand why they do the things they do. It is therefore very hard to pick my least favourite. You’ll have to read it yourself and decide on that one!
TS: How easy was it entering into the world of publishing?
MM: There are many avenues out there now from shooting for a big traditional publisher, a smaller press, a hybrid press and full on self-publishing. What’s important is to decide which one will work best for you or which one you would be happiest pursuing. I ended up taking a hybrid route. I met a director of my publisher (Acorn Independent Press) at an event as part of my writing group in London and we got to talking. We agreed I’d send in the first five chapters and I heard back from them within a few weeks. That is lightning speed compared to a major house, where you generally need an agent to even submit to them these days, and getting an agent can take a very long time too. If anyone out there is interested in writing and publishing, the best thing I can say is don’t ignore smaller presses, or hybrids like Acorn. The quality control check is still there, after all they are putting their name and logo on your book. They are backing you and they won’t just publish any old thing otherwise it looks terrible for them. Small presses may not have the prestige or the marketing money to throw around, but as a debut author you are unlikely to receive much attention from those departments at a major house. They will be focused on the big names. Any route you take is viable however, just don’t assume one is going to be automatically better than the other.
TS: That sounds like good advice. Do you have any more for aspiring young writers in St Andrews?
MM: Don’t worry if what you write at first isn’t very good. One day things will just click. I think that moment for me came when I was about two months into writing seriously. Even then, it was nowhere near good enough, just a lot better than it had been. I’ve had many more moments where I’ve felt like this; where suddenly I just understood what I was doing, and cringed a little at chapters I loved studying the Roman Republic and Empire, and I used some Roman history as inspiration The best thing is to write every day if you can. It’s a well-worn phrase, but it’s true. I hadn’t revisited for a while. The best thing is to write every day if you can. It’s a well-worn phrase, but it’s true. If you’re a student you are usually writing in some way everyday anyway.
TS: So did you take any formal creative writing classes or did you teach yourself?
MM: I essentially self-taught. What helped me greatly was watching interviews with authors I admire. Search around for interviews or advice on writing from them and you are likely to take it more seriously because you know how good they are. The writer who helped me the most was Brandon Sanderson. He is a huge fantasy writer who actually has years’ worth of lectures free online at Write About Dragons. I must have watched each one of those videos a dozen times over. So whilst I didn’t attend any formal classes, I had some teaching, from afar.
TS: Lastly, do you have plans for a sequel?
MM: I have plans for a trilogy!
The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King is available to buy now on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.