Originally from London, Mike Shackle has wandered the world before settling in Vancouver, with his wife and two children. His other constant traveling companions around the globe have been his comic books, his favorite fantasy novels and an army of super-hero statues. He more often than not can be found daydreaming over a cup of tea.
Welcome to the Asylum, Mike! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
Hey! Thanks for inviting me over to the Asylum! I’ll have a nice cup of tea while we chat, please. For those that don’t know me, I’m Mike Shackle, author of We Are the Dead, book 1 in the Last War Saga. I’m a well-travelled Brit who now lives in Vancouver with my family.
Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
When I was a kid, I was constantly designing extravagant hideaways with secret chambers, underground tunnels and escape hatches but now? I think I’d like a nice big castle with a moat and drawbridge, a well-stocked kitchen, and room for everyone to run around in and stay safe. It’ll be overlooking the sea with a nice forest behind. Maybe that’s just a sign of the times we’re in right now though…
A castle sounds good. Just make sure it has good heating and plumbing. And a dungeon. That’s important.
Right. Sure. Whatever you say. (Shifts seat back a bit further while wondering what that strange taste is in the tea.)
Nah, you are just paranoid. Let’s just talk about you, shall we? How did you become an author? Was it a childhood dream or something you realised you wanted to do in later years? What is the hardest part of being one?
I’ve always loved reading, even from a young age. I grew up on Marvel Comics and Enid Blyton, then my grandmother introduced me to John Carter of Mars, just before Star Wars blew my mind away. I spent most of my youth wanting to be a comic book artist, but I wasn’t that great at drawing. Then life happened, I went off travelling the world and having fun and working hard.
The story itch remained though, and I’d often fall asleep thinking about a lone swordsman fighting vampire-like creatures.
Eventually I tried writing. My first attempt was a semi-autobiographical tale about a man who was always in disastrous relationships (basically ripping off Nick Hornby), then I attempted a spy story, before realising that vampire killer really needed his story to be told. We Are the Dead is the fourth book I wrote and, right from the start, it felt like I had something special.
I love writing and it consumes probably far too much of my time/thoughts. My wife recognises now when I’m off in another land in my mind and is, luckily for me, quite forgiving when I disappear like that.
But it is hard. You have to love writing to put yourself through it. You need that discipline to sit and write when really you’d rather sit on the sofa and watch Netflix. You need that hunger to keep going when you get that hundredth rejection letter. And you need that desire to write when doubt niggles away at the back of your mind, telling you that you don’t know what you’re doing.
But writing, when it all goes right, is the best thing in the world. I love it when the story just tells itself and I’m lucky enough to be there, experiencing it as much as writing it down.
You mentioned travelling. What was the most exotic place you visited, or a place that affected you most as a person? Was there something you’ve learned during your travels?
I moved to Hong Kong when I was twenty-three and didn’t return ‘home’ (apart from the odd holiday) for another twenty years. In that time, I lived and worked on every continent bar the north and south poles! Even when I did return to the UK, I didn’t stay that long! I’m now living in Vancouver.
I basically love being a foreigner somewhere. I get to see the world with fresh eyes as it’s all new to me. When you grow up somewhere, it’s very easy to take everything for granted and not notice the wonder around you.
Now I have children, it’s different. They need roots and stability, so the wanderlust needs to be curtailed to a certain extent but I’m lucky that Vancouver is just an incredible place to be. Watching a sunrise over the mountains alone satisfies my soul for days on end.
But I’ve loved every city, every country, I’ve lived in, making incredible friends along the way, experiencing the most intense moments.
It’s certainly changed me in big ways and small. It was strange actually because I actually felt more a fish out of water in the UK than anywhere else in the world I’d been. It felt like the adventure was over and I didn’t enjoy that sensation.
That sounds fantastic. I always loved travelling myself and always feel that wanderlust… What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
Ha! I do all of the above. Music is the big thing for me, often acting as white noise to cancel out the world. I listen to soundtracks or records I know so well my mind doesn’t actively pay attention to it. Weirdly enough, I wrote a lot of We Are the Dead listening to U2’s Joshua Tree. I had just started writing the book, and I put it on for some unknown reason. I hadn’t listened to it in probably twenty years and yet something compelled me to hit play. From that point on, I had it on endless repeat. There are some scenes in particular that owe a lot to Bullet The Blue Sky. Even now, I use that album as a quick way to get back to Jia, the land where the story takes place.
I’m delighted to know you love music. That’s my go to as well when I attempt to write.
Which one of your characters would you like to switch with and live in Jia (or Egril, for that matter) in their place? And which of them would you like to live with in an Asylum?
Eeek. That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I’d want to live in Jia at the time We Are the Dead takes place. It’s a very difficult time for everyone, living under occupation with a very blood-thirsty enemy wandering around.
In Book 2, we see Egril for the first time and that is even worse!
If I could go anywhere, I’d like to go to Jia a thousand years earlier than the events of We Are the Dead, when magic was everywhere and you could see miracles happen on every street corner. That would definitely be fun …
Ha, yes, I see your reasoning. Also, yay for seeing Egril in the next book! For some twisted reason, my favourite parts of We Are the Dead were the ones written from the POV of Darus. He definitely demands a certain headspace to be written. I’m curious how it felt for you working on his parts. Was he the hardest to write?
Darus. Dear Darus. He really belongs in the Asylum doesn’t he?
Yes, yes, he does.
I loved writing him to be honest. The crazies are always the most fun to be around in life and in fiction. I love how he has quite possibly the nicest magical power (to heal any wound) and uses it to torture people so horribly. The only difficult scene with Darus was late on in the book (you know – THAT scene). Originally it wasn’t quite so extreme, but my editor pushed for more and that led to some strange Googling in order for me to get things right. Like “How easy is it to chop through a human leg?”
Oh, I know which scene we are talking about. I kinda had the feeling that you enjoyed writing Darus. I believe I mentioned it too in my review. Talking about it. I also noted in it that the Egril rule felt a bit like the way communists rule their countries. Was this a model you used as inspiration?
I had read a book on France during the German occupation in World War II and that really set the old mind bombs off. I think we’re all used to reading fantasy books about the Dark Lord who wants to conquer the world and our plucky heroes rise up to stop him. But I couldn’t remember reading any books where the Dark Lord wins. And, if he did win, what would life be like for the conquered? How would they survive? Would they even fight back? Suddenly I realised I had a very interesting concept for a book.
I hear you. I think that’s a really interesting concept indeed.
You are a pretty creative person in general – I’ve seen your daily drawings as well as your character bookplates (which are awesome, by the way). Was drawing always a passion for you? How does it relate to your writing – do you have a clear picture of your characters/places before you start writing or the pictures come with the writing?
As I mentioned, I grew up wanting to be a comic book artist, and I love looking at illustrations of all sorts. I stopped drawing for a long time but recently got back into it and find it a great way of relaxing now. I do sketches of my characters as they come to life in my mind as it helps me make them real.
The daily drawings are a new thing since we got stuck in lockdown mode. I wanted to document this surreal yet scary situation we find ourselves in. They started off as a quick ten minutes thing but have got more complicated and time consuming!
I bet. If that’s any consolation, it always makes me smile when I see those drawings.
How would you persuade those who haven’t read We Are the Dead yet to get to it?
We Are the Dead is a heart-warming tale about what happens when the bad guys win, all the heroes are dead and it’s up to ordinary people to take up the fight. Join a coward, a teenage psychopath, a crippled soldier and a single mother who’ll do anything for her son, over an epic 8 days of blood, magic and mayhem.
*snort* Heart-warming. Yep. Absolutely.
What are you working on now and what can we expect from you in the future?
Book 2, A Fool’s Hope is in the last stages of being ready for print. It comes out on October 15th (all being well) and picks up exactly one minute after the end of We Are the Dead. In that, we see life in Egril for the first time as well as travel to the safe haven of Meigore, an island nation that has, so far, escaped the war. Old favourites are back, new favourites are introduced, and old enemies return. There’s more blood, more magic and, by the Gods, more mayhem.
And I’m writing book 3, the conclusion to the Last War saga. Will good win out? Will our heroes survive to enjoy some tea and cake? Will there be a song and dance routine at the end? Who knows… J
I honestly can’t wait to find out the answer to all of those questions. You have yet to deliver that tea and cookies. I’M WAITING!
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
One book? One? That’s so cruel. It would drive me mad just trying to decide! I can’t pick The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie or The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett or Red Rising by Pierce Brown because I’d need the whole series of those great authors to take with me. Can I cheat? How about an omnibus collection? Er… I’m getting nervous now. This is too much pressure. Aaaaargh! Maybe my collection of the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Or Calvin and Hobbes. Or …
The Asylum has a library, you can always exchange books with the other tenants, but shh, you don’t know this from me. Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
You can’t do this. Let me out please. I promise I won’t kill off (REDACTED) in A Fool’s Hope. Please let me out. Or at least give me three books. Not one. One book is cruel…
If you’d like to get in contact with Mike Shackle, you can find him on social media:
Read my review of We Are the Dead, then go and grab a copy of it by clicking on its covers, which will lead you to your local Amazon page.