The interview I have for you today is the enigmatic M.J. Hearle who I knew very little about until recently. I was fortunate enough to have some questions answered and I hope you find the answers as enlightening as I did.
On that note I’ll leave you to sit and read, I need to race off and buy a new book or two, so kick back and have a read. I am sure you’ll get a giggle, I know I sure did – when I wasn’t drawing comparisons between tastes…
What made you decide to pursue a writing career?
I’ve always been interested in storytelling. When I was a kid, I used to draw these incredibly elaborate pictures – space battles, monsters stomping on buildings, vampires hunting people in graveyards etc – so even back then narrative was important to me. Writing came next, lots of short stories in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ mould, but then I took a detour into filmmaking. I spent my teens and twenties making short films and writing screenplays. It wasn’t until I hit thirty that I decided filmmaking might not be the best avenue to exorcise my storytelling impulse and I decided to write a novel. Winter’s Shadow was my first stab and I got lucky.
Can you tell us a little about why you chose to write this genre?
I’m a child of Stephen King. Not literally (unless my mum’s not telling me something) but King’s the person who has exerted the strongest influence over my creative development. I stumbled across The Shining when I was a kid and that pretty much kick-started my love of the horror genre. I didn’t choose to write a ‘paranormal’ young adult, novel – I wrote a horror story about teenagers. Stephen King – Lite if you will. It just so happened that the ‘horror’ label has fallen out of fashion so novels like mine are called Paranormals. Whatever I wrote was always going to be supernaturally flavoured but I didn’t know the shape my story would take until a fateful jog through Waverly Cemetery. It was just on sunset, and I’d decided to detour through the cemetery on my way home. While I was running, I noticed a teenage girl taking pictures of the tombstones. As I passed she snapped a picture of me and I immediately started wondering what would happen if there was something strange about the photograph she’d taken. Something otherworldly. By the time I got home, I had the opening the scene of the book figured out.
Please share with us a little bit about your new release Winter’s Light.
Winter’s Light is the sequel to my paranormal novel, Winter’s Shadow, which was released last year. It continues the story of Winter Adams, a teenage girl with a very special gift. She has the ability to open doorways to other worlds. Because of this gift, she’s being hunted by two warring factions – the Demori, shadow-jumping, soul-sucking creatures and The Bane, mortal enemies of the Demori who want to use Winter for their own nefarious ends. The first novel is a romance between Winter and a mysterious young man named Blake Duchamp, who is involved in the struggle between The Bane and Demori. The second novel is more of a thriller. Winter undertakes a perilous journey to save the soul of the man she loves from the dark forces that covet it. In Winter’s Light, the mythology of the Dead Lands I introduced in the first novel is expanded upon and we learn more about, Winter, and the strange power she possesses.
So, you’re a young man writing a largely female dominated genre, from the perspective of a teenage girl. Do you think this has affected your marketability?
I don’t think so. For one ‘M.J.’ is deliciously obtuse. I could be Mary-Jane Hearle to the casual observer (for the record my initials stand for Michael James). Even when readers find out I’m a man, I don’t think it affects their judgement. If anything they’re intrigued that I’m a guy writing in a female-dominated genre. It becomes a talking point. There have been a few suspicions raised over my gender though – readers accusing me of being a woman masquerading as a man – which I take as a compliment. It means I’m doing my job right.
How do you get inside the head of a teenaged female protagonist?
I’ve never been a shy, introspective teenage girl but I have been a shy, introspective teenage boy. While there are obvious plumbing differences, I’d argue the emotional terrain is remarkable similar. Probably more similar than teen boys and girls would suppose. At that age, everything’s heightened – especially love and the anxiety that surrounds it. There’s a reason Romeo and Juliet still resonates. I remember thinking having a girlfriend was the most important thing in the world. Much more important than my school work. I poured those feelings into Winter. I also took care to establish the close friendship between Jasmine and Winter. That was another way in. In my experiences, girls – especially teen girls – tend to have extremely intense friendships. Girls will cluster in small groups whereas men tend to have wider friendship circles. They travel in packs.
What can you tell us about the Demori and how were they conceived?
The Demori were born out of a desire to do something new. While I love vampires, werewolves and the other established creatures of the night, I feel like the paranormal genre has been over saturated with them to the point where these monsters simply aren’t mysterious or terribly scary anymore. I suppose you could say the Demori are distantly related to the vampire. Like vampires, they’re beautiful, immortal creatures that prey on mortals. Their wilder abilities – travelling through shadows, visiting the Dead Lands, seeing the Occuluma – were cultivated to reflect my interest in more esoteric fantasy stuff. Along with Stephen King, I’m a big fan of Clive Barker whose work in the dark fantasy genre is enormously innovative. He never relies on convention. Instead, Barker creates fresh supernatural mythologies with every story he writes. I wanted to do the same with the Winter novels. Part of the fun of being a writer is playing God – creating worlds, monsters, and the arcane rules that govern them.
You shot your own trailer for Winter’s Light, can you tell us a little about the experience?
I was an aspiring filmmaker in another life so when it came to pimp the release of Winter’s Light I decided to dust off the old camera. Rather than do one of those boring ‘author talks to the camera about his book’, I wanted to create something cinematic. Something that might pique the interest of a reader unfamiliar with the Winter books. I wrote a little scene, featuring Winter on the beach with the lodestone, cast a family friend in the role of Winter and used my mum, dad and fiancee as my crew. I edited the film on my computer, wrote the music and did all the special fx which was a massive challenge but lots of fun as well. I’ve actually written about it extensively on my blog mjhearle.com if readers are interested in the nitty gritty.
Like me, I hear you are addicted to books. Have you got an all time favourite book or author?
It’s gotta be Stephen King. As for my favourite book of his, maybe IT? Or The Stand? Actually, probably The Body is my favourite of all the pieces he’s written. It inspired the movie Stand By Me and is one of the only stories that has ever made me cry.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
The usual – hang out with my friends, watch movies, read books. I’m not terribly interesting unfortunately. My interior life is far more wild than my external one. Maybe I should lie? As a paranormal author, I should come up with a suitably creepy past time like exploring old cemeteries or investigating hauntings. That sounds pretty cool. I could be the author that hunts ghosts, rather than the author that sits on his butt watching Game of Thrones all weekend.
Are you working on something new that you can tell us a little about?
At the moment, I’m finishing a short story about Claudette (Blake’s sister in Winter’s Shadow) which will be a digital only download. She’s a character that seems to have caught readers imagination so I’m having a lot of fun exploring her backstory. Sometimes, I’m hamstrung by writing everything from Winter’s point of view so the opportunity to write from Claudette’s perspective is a welcome change.
What’s next for M.J. Hearle?
Once I finish the Claudette story, it’s on to the the third Winter novel. If I accomplish only half of what I want to it will be, in terms of scope, the biggest Winter novel yet. Consider the difference between The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings for an indication. Apart from that, I’m writing a TV pilot for a drama which hopefully might get produced. It’s the most adult thing I’ve written – lots of swearing, sex and violence. And monsters. I can’t seem to get away from monsters.
M.J. thank you so much for talking to us, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I sat back thinking ‘Really… me too’ more than once!
I devour books, vampires and supernatural creatures are my genre of choice but over the past couple of years, I have broadened my horizons considerably. In a nutshell – I love to write! I love interacting with a diverse range of artists to bring you interviews. Perhaps we were perfect before – I LOVE WORDS!