MIKE SCANTLEBURY - author of ‘Scanti-Noir’, the best romantic suspense stories in the UK
Please tell us about your latest book.
I am Mike Scantlebury and I’ve never been shy about jumping on the latest bandwagon, such as
last year, when my novel was about the dangers of allowing a foreign power to supply
computers and chips into our Western markets. What could possibly go wrong? (It does.)
Meanwhile, my new book is going to be called ‘Co-Vid 2020’. You might suppose that such a
novel would be about disease. Not so. MY ‘Co-Vid’ stands for ‘Co-operative Videographers’ and
follows on from my 2013 novel, ‘The Golden Chip’, including some of the same characters. Still,
‘Co-Vid’? It got your attention, didn’t it?
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m always open to new ideas. I specialise in nail-biting thrillers but, as someone said to me last
year, ‘You’ve never done a cliff-hanger ending’. Right, so my last two Mickey and Melia books
were split in two and included our heroes hanging by their finger nails, literally, at the end of
Part One. (Luckily, they both managed to escape and proceed into their respective Part Twos).
This led me to the idea of splitting ‘normal’ sized novels into parts, three parts. You might call
each one a Trilogy. However, since I’ve started my ‘Rewards’ mailing list, I’ve taken the
opportunity to with-hold the last part of each novel and only make that section available to
people who have signed up. So, as far as regular members of the public are concerned, they will
be faced with Trilogies that only have 2 parts! (As an extra treat, I am using National Novel
Writing Month this year (NaNoWriMo) to add Part 4 to Mickey’s latest Trilogy. That’s one of my
new ideas. uNUSAL, Isn’t it?)
How do we find out about you and your books?
I remember when I started self-publishing, many years ago, that people kept saying to me,
‘Great, you’ve written a book, where can I find it?’ My promise, then, as now, is to reply that,
‘You can find my books where you find every other book’. In other words, I WILL be on Amazon,
Kobo, Nook, Apple, Google, and every other bookshop, online or off. In fact, try it. Go into your
local bookshop, on the High Street, and ask for the new Mike Scantlebury. Their answer is likely
to be, ‘We haven’t got it in stock, but we can order it for you’. Exactly. You can get my books
everywhere. (Failling that, try out my website: www.Salford.me)
How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?
My regular hero, Mickey, is big, tough, strong and not bossed about by anyone. In other words,
the complete opposite of me! As I said, when I was a teenager, ‘I might look like Stan Laurel,
but inside, I feel like John Wayne’. (Sorry, guys. Look up them people on Google!)
Secondly, I always base my stories around the local area where I live, Salford and Manchester,
in North West England. But that’s only the beginning. You see, some Creative Writing teachers
say, ‘Write about what you know’. But I don’t subscribe to that. It wouldn’t be very interesting.
I’m not a spy or a Secret Agent! No, my philosophy is, ‘Write about what you know, and make
that your starting point’. In other words, it’s fine to begin in your own back-yard, but then let
your imagination soar, and get your characters out there, into the wider world (and Universe).
When did you first think about writing and what prompted you to submit your first ms?
I wrote some poetry in my teens, some stories, and a few songs, but the idea of writing a novel
seemed like having to climb Mount Everest. To make it easier, I decided to write about
something I knew, folk singing, and write about my own experiences as a budding singer-
songwriter. Then all I had to do is add in my dreams about achieving fame and fortune, and
come up with an ending. It just proceeded in a very logical fashion.
The finished manuscript sat on my table while I wrote enquiry letters to publishers. I wrote 66
letters and submitted the full thing to 9. They all turned it down, one saying that ‘folk singing
isn’t popular’. Later, I tried kitchen sink realism, science fiction, then turned to detective stories.
Do you have a set schedule for writing or do you just go with the flow?
My annual schedule revolves around the month of November, which is National Novel Writing
Month. Their challenge is to produce a 50,000 novel in that month, which I do, but only after
several months of previous planning. That gives me the first half of the year to work on another
book, and since Britain has elections in May, I’ve often started a political story in January, and
then my writing can include actual events through to June. It’s an odd timetable, but it gives me
a lot of structure.
As for a daily routine, NaNoWriMo requires a daily output of 1,750 words, which I mostly
achieve by doing an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. When not constrained by
these targets, I can aim for about half that figure in the first half of the year.
What about your family, do they know not to bother you when you are writing - or are there
Things were difficult when the kids were little, but now the children have moved out, I find the
house much quieter and my hours more free. I often work with my missus on joint writing, and
we have books we’ve done together. We also write songs and perform together, in a folk style.
What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?
The last few months have been completely different, with our local COVID Lock-down and not
being able to go out. Usually, me and my missus like to walk in the countryside, then stop for a
nice Cream Tea or a meal out. Having that prevented, we spend more time in our garden. It’s
not large but we’re keen to grow stuff we can eat, fruit and veg. We like to eat healthily, and
we make use of all the space we have, with Raised Beds and climbing plants. I’d recommend it.
It’s great, connecting with Nature, and with most people at home and little traffic, it’s a chance
to listen to the birds singing.
Where do your ideas come from?
When I’m thinking about a new novel, I like to collect ideas. I know some Teachers will tell you,
‘Don’t forget the Sub-Plot’. Right, so you need a Main Plot - maybe a murder, kidnapping, bank
robbery and so on - and then there needs to be something else, like the main character going
through a divorce, or having drink problems, or losing their pet. No, I don’t subscribe to that. I
like several plots going on at once - a bit like Soap Operas, maybe. I use a cast of characters, not
just Mickey and Melia, but their boss, Melia’s cousin, Mickey’s pal the policeman, and so on,
and I like to have each of them having a story happening, all at once. It can be confusing for the
readers, sometimes, but, as a writer, it’s great to swap the focus, move the spotlight regularly,
and have a break from the key protagonist’s problems. (The only trouble for me is to make sure
that all the ‘loose ends’ get tied up at the end. Sorry, folks, sometimes I forget something - but
Hey, that gives me an idea for the next book in the series!)
Do you feel humor is important in books and why?
Well, I can’t help humour creeping in. After all, Crime Fiction is all about murder and mayhem,
isn’t it? But it isn’t Real. It’s Fiction. It’s made-up. So, with the best will in the world, it’s
sometimes hard to take it seriously. The plot twists in my books can be so unexpected and
outrageous, you just have to laugh. And sure, I know that there’s serious stuff going on in the
world, but that’s out there. When you’re engrossed in my world, I’m going to ensure you have a
few laughs in here.
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Mike Scantlebury. As someone said to me last year, ‘That’s a fine old Lancastrian
name’, Well, it may be, but though I live in Lancashire now, in the North West of England, I was
born and grew up in South West England, in the city of Bristol. And, according to my Dad, the
family comes from Cornwall, even further souther, further wester. Still, I’ve loved living in the
exciting northern city that is Manchester - full of life, music, football, innovation, science and
industry - and now living across the river in the even more historic centre that is Salford. The
people are wonderful, you can get to know your local politicians, nobody is too proud to talk to
you and there’s alway help available. There’s music here too, and me and the missus comprise
The Jane and Mike Band (you can find us on YouTube and iTunes). It’s a bit smaller than
Manchester and the countryside is not far away. Also, we have the River Irwell just down the
road, and the old Docks to wander around - new shops, new cafes, and the BBC has set up its
Regional Centre here. (That gives me plenty to write about in my crime novels. Oh, lots of Crime
What do you think of critique groups in general?
Sorry, people. I started running a Creative Wiriting workshop in 2010 and I soon learned that
‘critiques’ can get you nowhere. I think writers flourish with encouragement, so I’m always
looking for good points to praise and good writing to build on. The idea that someone else has
written stuff that is somehow ‘wrong’ is, I believe, based on the mistaken belief that there are
‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ that we can all agree on. Really? So how come a book that left out all
punctuation won the Nobel Prize?
Now, I’m not saying you can’t have opinions - of course you can - but please try and
acknowledge that they are mostly based on your own personal preferences. Okay, you don’t
like something. Say so, but don’t try and justify it by calling in high-falutin’ talk of ‘standards’, as
though we all know what they are.
As I said in my blog, ‘The 3 levels of Criticism’, most critics start with Information. That’s fine.
You’re sharing what the writing is about, where the story goes and who the characters are. We
can all use that information. Thanks for sharing.
The next level is ‘Opinion’. Sure, tell us. You like it, you don’t like it. It’s too fast, too slow, too
long, too short, too wordy, not wordy enough - FOR YOU. All those ‘bad’ things are things that
you don’t want to read, and you’re entitled to say so. Everyone has preferences, of course.
State yours. Say what you like to read. The writer didn’t give you what you want? Sure, you’d be
foolish to bother with them again. But then -
You slip into the third level, that of ‘Action’. That’s when you start telling the author what to do
- Change the ending, Have less chat and more descripton, Less description and more action -
Hey, stop! All you’re really saying is that you would prefer reading something that met your
needs. Okay. But wait - other people might prefer it the way it is. Just like in a restaurant, some
people eat fish and some steak. That doesn’t mean the fish is ‘bad’ if you don’t eat it. It just
means you like the taste of beef. Okay, but don’t tell me, as a fellow diner, that I should NOT
eat the fish, just because you don’t like it, and certainly do NOT tell the chef he should stop
cooking fish, for those who do like it - that’s just arrogant.
But don’t get me wrong. I can take advice. Many years ago, someone suggested I try writing in
the Third Person and give up ‘all that First Person ego stuff’. I tried it, and I haven’t looked back.
Great. But I took that as a positive suggestion, that’s why I listened. I’m afraid that I just don’t
listen to negative. Life’s too short.
Are there any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?
My words to all writers is just ‘Write, Write, Write’. That way, you’ll have a body of work that
people can sample, and most of them will find something they like in there. Don’t get hung up
on a single book or story. Nobody is ever going to like everything you do, so there’s no point in
believing you will ‘please all the people, all of the time’. The most you can hope for is to
develop a small following who enjoy your writing, and then you can forget everyone else and
focus on what you know you are good at, writing the stuff that pleases you.
Then, when you’ve got something you’re pleased with and feel is publishable, don’t hesitate -
publish it yourself. I wasted many long years waiting for a traditional publisher to notice me. So,
what did I have? Drawers full of manuscripts and not a book in sight! Then I discovered Lulu dot
com and started publishing myself. Soon I had a pile of books to hand out and share with
friends, and their appreciative comments just spurred me on.
Whatever you do, don’t believe that thing that ‘real publishers don’t want books that have
been self-published before’. Really? Like ’50 Shades’, maybe? Don’t worry. If you publish
yourself and get some sales online, traditional publishers will beat a path to your door. The
important thing is that having a shelf of your own books in your own home might finally
convince you - Hey, I really am a writer - and if you can take yourself and your work seriously,
then you’re nearly all the way there to getting other people to accept you.
Above all, never believe anyone telling you, ‘You’ve tried. That’s enough’. Really? J K Rowling
got a manuscript accepted by the 17 th publisher she sent it to. What if she’d stopped at
Publisher No 10? What if she’d stopped at Number 16? No, keep going. That breakthrough that
we’re all waiting for could be anywhere in the future, true. Or just around the corner.