Wednesday, 27 January 2021

A Slice of Cake With... M T McGuire

This week I am having a slice of cake with author M T McGuire.

M T McGuire enjoys the real world but wouldn't want to live there full time. That's why she writes books. She grew up, or at least got bigger, halfway up a windy down in Sussex. Her home was also the first location choice for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, so maybe it's not so strange that she's ended up writing spec-fic. Perhaps there's something in the water up there, apart from chalk.

After a short stint as a stand-up comedienne, M T sat down, got married and moved to East Anglia. She now lives in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, with a McOther, a McMini, a McCat and a selection of very silly cars. She hasn't found a way to make any of the cars fly, and none of them is fitted with ordnance, but she and her team of evil scientists are working on that.

M T would like to be able to tell you she's an NY Times best selling author but that would be lying. Some of her books have won Wishing Shelf Awards though, a bronze and a silver.

Despite being over fifty now and supposedly an adult, M T checks all unfamiliar wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia. She hasn't found one so far but lives in hope.

What kind of stories do you write?

Well, mostly I aim for funny. But to answer this question more comprehensively I cheated and looked up my reviews on Amazon to find out which authors the punters compared me to. The answer: Pratchett, Adams, Fforde, Rowling and the Stainless Steel Rat series. Well, that’s no help. Extremely flattering: yes, but helpful? No, not really.

Where next then? Ah yes, influences. If people know what goes in to make my weird writing come out that might help. MTM rubs hands together. Right; off we go then. A lot comes from the kinds of books I read as a kid. My parents read the Narnia books to us, so for me, all books should be set in a parallel reality if they’re going to be really interesting. Ideally, they should also contain, at the least, a talking cat. I also love it when there’s some kind of secret also-world coexisting with this one. 

Other influences include – try not to laugh – historical novels. Yep, stuff like The Scarlet Pimpernel books, The Children of the New Forest and The Adventures of Robin Hood which my parents also read to me, or Moonfleet, and The Three Musketeers, of course. Because big hats, frilly shirts, thigh boots and sword fights! What’s not to like? I also read a lot of weird Victoriana like the Five Children and It. I grew up in a house full of books and some of them had been in the family for, literally, hundreds of years. I got bored, and there was no internet back then, so I read them all, even if they were first published in the 1800s, Stanley Weyman anyone? So I have this odd old-fashioned prose style with smatterings of modern slang. 

The way the bad guys in my KBarthan books talk owes more than a nod to the plays of Richard Brinsley Sheridan – although no-one actually says ‘Zounds!’ Not yet, anyway, although it’s probably only a matter of time. And then you throw in 1960s cult TV on the BBC; stuff like The Prisoner, The Persuaders, The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) the original Star Trek, Dr Who, James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Add a dash of Red Dwarf, any comedy sketch shows the BBC has taken a chance on since about 1968, a full-on embracing of Punk plus a love of The Beatles and psychedelic 1960s music (minus the drugs because trust me, I really, really don’t need to expand my mind) and you get ... um ... K’Barth, or the Huurg Quadrant, or the other worlds I’m building which aren’t published yet – U Station and its surrounding space. So for example, in K’Barth there’s a sword fight but they also have laser pistols and drive flying cars, while in my non-K’Barthan stand alone, we have slime-covered lobster-shaped aliens who breathe through their coating of ectoplasm and find the idea of lungs repulsive. I’m also a dab hand at making up religions so my characters can use convincing amounts of invective to be credible without actually offending anyone.

As a kid, I ‘wrote’ my first book when I was five. It was called Charles the Dragonslayer, although to be honest it was mostly pictures and writing words was hard work. Charles was a taciturn man and because my drawing skills weren’t much better than my writing we only ever saw him in profile. Even my dolls had a space-base like the one in the volcano in You Only Live Twice. Can you imagine how overjoyed my mother was when she happened on her little darling – plus friend – playing with The Space Base, only to discover that the master control panel was made from a used contraceptive pill packet? Nice round buttons, all labelled. I’d painted the insides different colours so that when you turned it over and put it on the stand I’d made, it looked properly Star Wars-like with the labels and everything. (Except the Star Wars ones were more like strips of throat sweets weren’t they?) She never threw anything like that away in the bathroom bin again (I know because I continued to check extremely carefully). After my friend had gone home, she took her ten-year-old spawn of Satan darling aside. Her only comment; 

‘Sweetheart, is that essential?’
‘Yes. It’s the master control panel.’
‘I see. Well ... could you please ensure the control panel stays at home.’
‘The master control panel.’
‘Yes, that: the master control panel. Could it please stay here?’
‘Oh ...well ... um ... I took it to Lottie’s last week.’
‘I see. Probably best it doesn’t leave the house again then don’t you think?’
‘It just ... shouldn’t,’ a beat, ‘After all, you wouldn’t want to lose it.’
‘Good point Mum.’

What a pleasure it must have been to raise; such a lovely child but Mum was a master manipulator and knew how to wrangle logic and reason to achieve her will with meltdown-free results. The control panel never left the house again. Hang on! Sorry I’ve wandered off the point. When it comes to what I’m aiming at, well yes, I can’t lie, I do aspire to be as funny as Adams, Pratchett, Wodehouse and Bryson – I can aim high. But I actually write like M T McGuire.

Can you describe your writing why?

I write because I have to. Seriously, there is zero choice here. I’m an authorholic. If I wasn’t, I’d probably stop because Real Life is quite emotionally draining right now in some respects. My father died of Alzheimer’s last year. It took him 14 years and it spared him, and us, nothing. Now my mother has dementia too; same shit, different parent. I also have a 12 year old son and a husband who keep me sane but also quite busy. And I suffer quite badly from chronic arthritic pain and brain fog (I’m 52 so ... you know ... time of life although pain fogs you up a bit, too).

In early 2019 when Dad was dying and Mum was beginning to get very muddled things were so tough that I nearly went under. I thought it would be nice to give myself some slack and that I should, maybe, stop writing. I coudn’t. I literally had to re-learn how I write because I need to do it so badly even when I have no time and no brain capacity.

It’s more than an addiction, and interestingly, I was talking to the lovely guy who is doing my audiobooks at the moment about the whys and wherefores of doing anything ‘arts’. He’s an actor and he described it as feeling more like a calling. That actually sums it up perfectly. Something in me has to do this. Writing is my calling: my vocation. Writing is what I’m for. 

It does my head in sometimes, but at the same time, now I’ve learned how to set things up so I always can, it’s become less of a frustration and more of a total godsend. I still have to concentrate very hard on not looking at other people’s output and just follow my own slow path. Even though the emotional turbulence means I can’t always make things as complex and textured – or funny – as I want to. That’s why the current series is called ‘shorts’. They had to be about characters and a world I already knew and they had to be simple. They’re really novellas but they’re also, sort of, episodes. Well ... except for the current one. I thought that was finished but it’s ballooned into a 70k novel on the second edit. Another slight cock up on the series naming front there then. I knew I should have called it K’Barthan Extras, just as I should have called the four book ‘trilogy’ a series from the get go. Amazon still won’t change that so it’s a Trilogy on Amazon and a series everywhere else ... I feel a similar scenario approaching. Never mind.

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

This is tricky. The worlds I create are a bit complicated so it’s hard to find a short extract to share that’ll make sense to the uninitiated. But I think this one might work ... possibly. To set it up: the male lead of most of my books, or at least most of the ones in the public domain, is a bloke called, The Pan of Hamgee. He is a self-confessed coward and until a few hours before this excerpt, he was an outlaw on death row. In this bit, he has been released and given a business and amnesty for a year while he adjusts to legal existence. He’s also found the K’Barthan ring of state, in a bag in the cellar. He doesn’t know the why to his situation and I can’t tell you either because ... spoilers but he is now wearing it because he has to. All our hero’s close friends are still in police custody held by the Grongles, who are mostly the baddies.

The business turns out to be The Pan of Hamgee’s local pub and the bad guy – Lord Vernon – has set him up so it looks as if he won his freedom by informing on his friends, two of whom were the original publicans. For want of anything better to do, The Pan opens the pub but when the punters arrive, things are tense and it looks as if they might fall for Lord Vernon’s plan and lynch him. This bit demonstrates my style quite well and also the comedic technique. That is to have lots of words that sound funny together, coupled with mildly amusing half-jokes and silly names that build up over time spent reading. Hopefully producing a laugh at the end of it.

When The Pan of Hamgee walked back out of the kitchen, into the bar, he was alarmed to find just about every one of the regulars waiting in silence. There were a lot of them and, as they gathered round him, he couldn’t help noticing that nearly all the hardest male regulars were at the front – along with Pub Quiz Alan. As the defending trivia quiz champion for Upper Left Central Ning Dang Po, Pub Quiz Alan was the nearest to ‘the brains’ for their enterprise that the Parrot’s regulars would have access to. Another thing The Pan couldn’t help noticing was that everyone was armed; conspicuously and mostly bluntly. Lord Vernon’s plan was working but at the same time, if they were here to beat him to a pulp, at least it looked as if they were going to speak to him first. He prayed to The Prophet that he could persuade them to enter into an actual dialogue rather than a statement like, ‘You’re going to die, scumbag,’ followed by swift execution – The Pan eyed some of the weapons – or probably not so swift. Yikes.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a squeaky voice. He cleared his throat and attempted to sound more manly when he added, “What’ll it be?”
“We’ll buy nothing from you, traitor,” said Psycho Dave, who was rumoured to be a professional henchman and was one of the largest and most violent-looking of the Parrot’s regulars. Unfortunately, at the same time somebody else ruined the effect by saying,
“I’ll have a packet of beef rubbings.”

Tell us about your latest project

I’ve written a new series about K’Barth. I’m an idiot. Things K’Barthan are about as popular as a fart in a space suit, or at least, until someone reads one. Then a good 90% read all the others. The readers who like K’Barth ... they really like it so I know a small band of folks are happy about this. On the other hand, writing something a bit more straightforward for the normals is now top of my agenda ... Not to mention all the legions of people on my mailing list who send me chatty replies to my mailings and have been supporting me for years but who haven’t actually read any of my books at this point, as far as I’m aware. I’m working on something that I hope will be more commercial but at the moment K’Barthan stuff is about all I can manage. I think the other stuff may have to wait until I’m in calmer emotional waters.

What is your favourite cake?

I love fatless sponge. You just get two eggs, weigh them and then put them in a bowl with the same weight of sugar and beat it until it goes thick and a bit gloopy. At this point, you fold in the same weight of plain flour (or the weight in plain flour and two tablespoons of cocoa powder, combined if you like chocolate cake). Then you cook it in a three-quarters hot oven (180 fan) until you can stick a skewer in and it comes out clean. I usually put them in muffin cases and make buns. They are lovely with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee. Otherwise, it’s two 9” tins and butter icing in the middle. Om nom nom.

You can connect with M T McGuire:

Join me next week when I have a slice of cake with Marjorie King.

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

You can also support my writing endeavours and buy me tea & cake - it's what makes the world go round!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find out more about her books on her website Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop.


  1. Charming! And a bonus recipe! Thanks to Claire Buss and MTM!


    In case you were interested? ��