I used to live in Kent, but moved to Belfast last year, where my wife’s family are from. I have four daughters. I teach science and read a lot of history. Much as I enjoy listening to music – especially sad songs by female soloists – my family won’t let me sing at home, so don’t expect any X-factor appearances any time soon.
If T.O. were to sum you up – what would it stand for?
T.O. Hmm well I picked the initials in tribute to my daughter and beta reader who is the original T.O. It’s an association that she only realised a year and a half later when her school friends pointed it out to her. If it had to stand for something about me? Tough one to call. My children suggested “tremendously outstanding” when they wanted something from me, and “tall old” after they’d got it.
When did you start writing and what are you currently working on?
I started writing when I was 13 with a naval novel that was all of 68 pages, perhaps 20,000 words long in the “tradition” of Hornblower. In my teens I completed another two books getting progressively longer before writing and I parted company for a little while.
At the moment I’m working on the first book in a duology. I’d finished what was an accidental trilogy with Master of the Planes, and one of the reviewers ended his review (5 stars, did I mention that?) with the observation “PS I hope to see more of the characters that last appear in the epilogue.” So I’ve taken him up on that, with a sequel story that branches out in a new direction from the same root.
How did you come across Mark’s books and what did you think of them?
I used to haunt bookshops – such lovely places of enticing treasures – and I picked King of Thorns off the shelf in Waterstones in Chatham. I remember being intrigued but confused by the blurb on the back – the story was about someone who wasn’t the good guy – in fact seemed to be in direct opposition to the obvious good guy. I didn’t buy it then, but a few months later, drawn to it again by an eye catching cover and that puzzling blurb I took the plunge and went and bought the first book in the trilogy. That would have been early in 2013. I must have gone back and bought King of Thorns soon after and had the relief of not having to wait long for Emperor which I downloaded to my kindle on holiday in France. A bit of a whirlwind infatuation with a new author. The wait for Prince of Fools was agony.
For me, it was always the writing and characterisation over the plot. I wasn’t that bothered as to where the story was going, I just wanted to follow along and watch the characters and read the words and wallow in it.
As a headmaster have you abused your power to get his books as mandatory reading in not only the English but Physics and French courses?
I couldn’t be so dictatorial with my Heads of Department, but I have referred to many authors in assemblies. Promoting reading is an important part of what I do. It builds such different skills to video gaming or TV watching. For example, readers must develop empathy in order to immerse themselves in a story, and that’s a vital skill for people and for civilisation. I’m sure I have referred to Mark on those occasions, but it is GRRM who I quote most often with “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies a non-reader lives but one.” That said, A Song of Fire and Ice has used up pretty much all of those thousand lives single handed!
Do you have any favourite authors or books?
Favourites? Hmm I couldn’t possibly say it might make the other books/authors jealous. There is such variety in every book and authorial style it gives so many different reasons for liking them. It may depend on my mood which books I like best at a particular time.
There are stand-alone books that I have loved, The Book Thief, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Before I Die, Pretty Little Dead Girls, The Girl With all the Gifts, Miserere, all books with a power to challenge my thinking and my emotions.
There are authors I admire for their cleverness and wit – Terry Pratchett, Mark Lawrence, even the acerbic Low Town tales by Daniel Polansky. I also adore Bernard Cornwell’s sagas – The Winter King is one of the few books that could move me to tears with its opening paragraphs. But I know there are so many great authors I haven’t read yet, I need more weekends and evenings.
Powerful but economical writing and something that stands out. Originality is precious so a writer who lets the brief lead them in a different direction to everyone else will have an advantage over an equally well written but more orthodox response.
Do you have any advice for the contestants? Thank you!
It’s a short word count and yet it is possible to do a lot with it. But you do have to grab the attention early and to be economical wherever you can, so that you put the weight of your words where you want them to have most effect. It might be in dialogue, it might be in description, or in action, but make sure you write to your strengths. And I think it helps to have a kink in the storyline (I mean a twist, not a Fifty Shades of Grey reference) a moment of revelation where the reader finds they have been led in an unexpected and original direction – and you can fit that into surprisingly few words.
For example, to quote Hemingway “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”
by Agnes Meszaros
You can also find T.o. Munro on his blog
and on Twitter