The following interviews were conducted after the release of The Alcoholic Mercenary.
This interview was conducted by EJ from BusyWords:
My guest today is Phil Hughes, who published his 17th historical novel last month, The Alcoholic Mercenary. I was interested to meet him because he achieved what many of us dream of in vain, he gave up his day job and became an author and made a success of it. So Phil, how did you do it?
EJ: First of all, could you tell us about your career before you became an author?
I was always going to be a writer. I worked briefly for the MoD in London before I became a technical specification writer and from there a writer in the IT industry. I was contracting for the first twenty-odd years and ended up employed by an Israeli company back in Ireland for the last ten years, predominantly editing documentation written by Subject Matter Experts. During the contracting phase, I worked all over Europe, including a lengthy period in Italy, where I was based in Naples for the most part, despite contracts in Rome and Modena (Ferrari country). My career came to a premature end in 2016 when I was made redundant and found it impossible to get a new job (a graduate cost about a third of what I was paid). With an understanding wife, I turned to novel writing.
EJ: Clearly being a technical writer honed your writing skills, but did it give you inspiration for your novels?
I spent the best part of sixteen years living in the village of Lucrino, which features heavily in my writing. (At least my historical crime fiction. I also write Historical Fantasy under the pseudonym Micheál Cladáin.) Much of what goes in my Naples-based books was experienced first-hand.
EJ: Did you have a Moment of Truth when you decided to be a full-time author or did the ambition develop slowly?
I was always going to be a writer. I had a passion for creative writing from a very young age. After my first MS was rejected countless times, I shelved it for a while (about thirty years, truth be told). Becoming a full-time writer was more an accident of fate than anything with the aforementioned redundancy. That said, it was destined to be.
EJ: I see that you set up your own publishing house, PerchedCrowPress in Ireland. Was this always your ambition or did you try the traditional route with an established publisher?
I had a colleague who informed me about the fundamental change to the publishing world after they published their first book. I am a person who takes pride in my work and from what I can tell, modern publishing houses no longer put in the time and effort to ensure quality (in fact, all the bad quality books I have read over the last year were traditionally published). When I talk about bad quality, I am fundamentally talking about editing issues and not packaging. There are also problems of time to market, in that once accepted it takes what seems like forever before a writer sees their book on the shelves. I decided to start my own publishing house because of these reasons. PerchedCrowPress is moving forward, and we expect to sign new and exciting writers in 2022.
EJ: What writers have influenced you?
This is a huge list. I could start with C. S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien, move through Henry Treece and Mary Renault, on to Patricia and Bernard Cornwell (no relation). I have always been an avid reader and I suppose all the writers – the good ones – have had some sort of influence over my writing. On second thought, I guess the bad ones have influenced my decisions on how not to write, too. My favourite authors have changed as I’ve grown. I am not sure whether it is because I’ve matured or some of my early favourites haven’t dated well. Authors who have remained are J.R.R Tolkien, John Le Carré, and Henry Treece.
EJ: Could you tell us something about your latest book?
The Alcoholic Mercenary is a historical crime thriller set in the hinterlands of Naples, Italy. It is the story of a Naval Investigator who is stationed there in the late 1970s. She has to deal with corrupt local officials, as well as chauvinistic cops and senior Navy ranks. The antagonist (more antihero than antagonist) is an ex special forces mercenary who is trying to save his young brother from the local mafia.
EJ: How can we find out more about your work?
The best place would be to check out our webpage at www.philhughespublishing.com, which should provide everyone with all they might like to know. I also have author profiles on Amazon and Goodreads.
This interview was conducted by Jamie from The Whispering Bookworm:
Jamie: What inspired you to start writing?
I was always going to be a writer. I began writing seriously in my teens and finished my first full manuscript in my early twenties. It was a tome of some 200k+ words for which I received countless rejections. At the time I was quite hurt, and I shelved the book and vowed never again to lift my pen in anger. It was many years later when I found an old dusty copy of the manuscript in the attic of our family home. I dusted it off and sat down to read. Suffice it to say, I still can’t believe just how awful the book was. In the end, it was fate (and redundancy) that got me back to the keyboard. After being laid off in 2016 I found it impossible to get another job.
Jamie: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
For me, the hardest part of writing any book is editing. I find the actual story creation and the writing to be fairly straightforward. I suppose 35 years as a professional writer and editor in the IT world gives me a good base from which to work, in that I find a blank page less daunting than I otherwise would. Because I spent so long in that disciplined world of technical writing, planning is an essential part of my process, which also eases the writing aspect of being a novelist, at least for me. Despite being an editor for the latter part of my career, I find editing my own work nigh impossible. Of course, another professional editor is a must, but I like to submit an MS that is as near perfect as I can get it. I know my editor likes it that way too.
Jamie: Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
All of my characters have a special place in my heart. Aren’t we told our characters are our babies? As such it would be unjust to show favouritism. But seriously, a good deal of work goes into creating the characters, and I am not sure showing preference would be a good idea. Putting that extra effort into one over the other is likely to cause an imbalance, and today’s readers are totally unforgiving in my experience.
Jamie: If your book was to be made into a movie, who are the celebrities that would star in it?
I always picture Angelina Jolie in The Bone Collector when I am imagining Rachel in the book scenes. I think, aside from her looks, it is that determined quality she exudes that fits the part of Rachel so well. For Boccone, I like to picture Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in season 8 of 24. He would need to be of a darker complexion and with darker hair, but it is his cruel streak and leaning towards a sociopathic character after his love interest is murdered, which draws me to him.
Jamie: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Does a book need a message? I know many literature experts who would say it does, but I am not a great fan of moralising. Messages can be so one-sided – don’t do that because of this, and probably belongs firmly in the Literary Fiction genre (now there’s a misnomer – aren’t all books literary?). Some of the novels I’ve enjoyed the most are those without any real message, like Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher book. As such, I want my readers to immerse themselves in the story and enjoy it for what it is: a tale about life with the odd murder, corrupt officialdom, and solid characters (good and bad) thrown in for good measure. Mostly, what I want them to take from The Alcoholic Mercenary is about 350 pages of distraction and a sense of satisfaction at the end. When I read reviews that say, “that’s X number of hours I will never get back” or similar, I cringe and hope I never see such a review for one of my books.