Matthew Stenning Interview

Author bio – Matthew Stenning

I’m interested in reading books that change my perception of the world. I don’t care if it’s fantasy, literary fiction, or sci-fi. I can go from reading a book about dragons to a book about the struggle of women in 1700 Italy. It doesn’t matter, so long as it says something about the world.

To that end, I’m interested in writing books which say something too. It doesn’t matter how long it takes me to write a novel, so long as I feel I’ve completed it to the best of my ability, and that the work is engaging and challenging.

I’ve studied up to and including a doctorate in literature, and it’s funny to see how many of the ideas I have studied throughout my education crop up in my own writing.


About (Who, why, when, where, what)

Tell us something about your books, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.

I’ve only written one novel at the moment. It’s called Immortal, a fantasy about characters in a computer game (think of World of Warcraft or similar MMO) who come to consciousness of themselves as characters controlled by users, who possess and exploit them. As the characters come to learn of themselves as having value, they attempt to resist their users and discover they are more than a match. It’s a book about consciousness, about freedom, and how the two are interdependent—you cannot be free if you are not self-aware. The book asks the question of whether it is better to live in slavish ignorance of truth but enjoy a type of blissful happiness which only ignorance can provide, or to live acknowledging the truth of things, yet suffer in the mind because you recognise your own impotence to affect change.


Where are you based?

The south of England.


Latest releases and upcoming titles?

After writing Immortal, I began working on a different book, whose working title is The Nekromika. It is based around the Greek myth of Tithonus, a man who was granted immortality but not eternal youth. He descended into madness, his body failed, but he was unable to die. The Nekromika examines the implications of a world in which death has been banished, and the competing pressures that such a situation would place upon the world in terms of overpopulation, wars for resources, illnesses, pestilence. You know, cheery stuff like that.


What inspires you to write?

It’s good for me. If I’m not writing, I get depressed. I never knew that about myself until a few years back, when, overworked teaching in schools, I had a sort of mental collapse and just had to step away. Writing helped me focus and expurgate some of the fears and anxieties I’d allowed to build up inside over a period of twenty years. It saved me, to be honest.


When and why did you get into writing fantasy?

I can’t say I’m an exclusive fan of fantasy. I love stories. Stories I can learn something from, that move me or cause me to think in different ways. To that end, I read all sorts of things, not just fantasy. I recently finished The Name of the Wind, by Pat Rothfuss, which was great, but then I discovered an Italian writer called Dacia Maraini, whose book The Silent Duchess blew my mind in terms of its poetry, its insight into Sicilian life in the 1700s, and the status of women at that time. I believe in reading as widely as one can, because there is always something to learn and draw inspiration from.


Who are your favourite fantasy writers/ fantasy authors?

Again, I love many fantasy writers, but there’s fantastical elements in literary fiction too. I really enjoyed The Broken Earth trilogy, by N. K Jemisin, who taught me that you can write fantasy and do so in a literary way. I think that has to be my favourite fantasy trilogy of the last decade.


Do you follow any fantasy entertainment outside of books? 

Oh, I’m a depraved gamer. I’ve played games pretty much all my life, and I’m drawn most to fantasy. So, besides World of Warcraft, I’ve enjoyed other MMOs like Guild Wars and the Elder Scrolls online. I’m looking forward to Lost Arc when it hits European servers in the next couple of months. In terms of RPGs, I think I’m the biggest fan of Dark Souls I’ve ever met. The makers of that game have recently teamed up with George R Martin to make Elden Ring, which looks amazing and is coming out at the end of the year. I can’t wait.


What’s going on in the next few months? Anything on the Horizon?

I hope to have The Nekromika finished by Christmas. I planned on writing it as a trilogy, but I will query the first book with agents to see if there’s any appetite for a book about the agony of existence, the impossibility of death, and civil disorder. You never know…


Was your upbringing pretty geeky?

Up until 16, I was pretty bad. I didn’t listen to my parents, my teachers, and got into trouble a fair bit with the police. Then I started to read, and all that stuff just went away. I read and read, fell in love with literature, and studied it all the way up till doctoral level; I was awarded my PhD in 2003. So, I’m most certainly a nerd these days, but at school, I was a bit of a runaway.


Why should anyone read your book?

If you find it interesting to think about things like the nature of reality, the struggle of freedom and the responsibility it demands, and a discussion about where consciousness comes from (how we come to awareness of ourselves as selves), all discussed within a novel in which a simulated world is being overtaken by a mad engine, against whose colonial impulses characters within that game must resist, then have a crack at Immortal! Tell me what you think.


The writing process ( Inspiration, discipline, planning, software, editing) 


Do you have a process, do you plan or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

When I started writing, I tried to follow Iain M Banks’ approach: three months thinking, three months planning, three months writing. He used to have a spreadsheet which he would fill out in amazing detail, so that when he came to write the book, he knew exactly what he was doing, what he needed to include, and where he needed to go. 

It didn’t work for me, partly because I’m rather frenetic by nature, but also because I honestly don’t know my characters until I start writing them. They come alive through the process of writing; I can’t think about them as living people before I’ve embodied them on the page. But everyone works in different ways, because everyone has a mind peculiarly their own, so whatever works for you, keep doing that. 


How long does it normally take you to write a fantasy novel, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?

Immortal took two years to write. I tried to plan it, then gave up and winged it, and then spent a long time going back over it and expanding, eradicating problems, improving the fluency of style. I hope to write the Nekromika in half that time, but I don’t know. The more I write it, the more questions keep surfacing that I have to deal with and which I have not considered. So, it’s one step forwards and two back. But that’s fine. That’s how it has to be for me. I think a rough timeline would be: one year to think about and develop the world, a couple of months to loosely plan the beginning, middle and end points, and another year to write it. 


What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I think writing a chapter and looking back at it and realising that I have just written something good. I have learnt that I do not feel this right away. I need to edit it, reread it twenty times, work on the phrasing, conjure the right images. But when I’ve finally done it and read it back and it works, yes, that’s the best feeling. 


Have your previous vocations influenced your writing?

Definitely. I’ve been a literature teacher at university, Sixth Form college and school for twenty years. The questions I ask students are often the same questions I ask of myself when I’m writing. Sometimes, a passage in a book we are working through in class will move me to think about my own writing and how I could do something similar. So, yes, teaching has had a massive impact.


Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?

I have a very good friend who reads all my stuff. She’s a kind critic, offers advice, tells me where I have lost her, and rereads it all when I’ve made changes. She’s been an absolute star. 


How do you overcome blank writing spells?

I don’t really have them. At least, not yet. I think everyone goes through those moments at some point. I do have moments when I can’t get things right, so I walk away and do something else. Even when you’re not thinking about your writing, your book, your characters, you really are—you just don’t know it. And slowly it comes to you. It could be a day, a week, a month, but your unconscious mind will always figure a way through, and when it does, it will invite the conscious part to join the party. Don’t sweat it—your mind is the most amazing instrument, and can find a solution to most things.


Publishing (formatting, cover design, formats, marketing)

Describe the road you took to publishing your first novel? And how that has changed.

I tried to find an agent for Immortal. It was a scattergun approach really. Although they said they were fantasy agents, when I looked at the books they were working with, they only very loosely had connections with my own work. But I sent it to them anyway and was rejected. So, rather than having Immortal stay on my hard drive, I decided to publish it myself, because I think it’s a good book with some interesting ideas.


Will your next book be traditional or indie published? 

That’s not really up to me. I would love very much for an agent to read my work and want to work with me, but until that happens, if indeed it ever does, I will continue to put works out by myself, and hope that whoever reads them finds them interesting. 


Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional path?

I’m new to this whole thing myself, so I don’t feel equipped to give any advice. It’s important to me to be published, but that might not be what others want, nor what motivates them to open up a word document and start tapping away. There is no right answer here. Just ask yourself, what is it you want? Do you want to sell a lot of books? You might have to simplify your ideas to make your novel as widely attractive as possible. Do you want to write the next Brothers Karamazov? Then don’t rush your writing, just for the sake of getting something out there. I’ve been told my writing is too dense, too complicated, so if I want to sell a lot, then I need to simplify the language and the ideas. But the writers who have had the biggest impact on me—writers like Grossman, Dostoevsky, Maraini, Ferrante—they never compromised. They wrote the books they wanted to write. And that’s important to me. If I never get published or sell very little, I don’t care. At least I can feel proud of the work I’ve produced.


Advice on making an impact in today busy Scifi and Fantasy markets. 

No idea. There’s so much white noise on Twitter and Facebook that it’s very hard to cut through. So maybe don’t try. The quality of your book should be all the marketing you need. I have to believe that, anyway, even if it is delusional. I don’t have any other options right now! I need to believe that people will find my book somehow and recommend it, because it’s worth reading. 

I am utterly clueless in terms of marketing, and truth be told, it bores me to death. I just want to write. It’s where I feel comfortable and happy.


Must Read Fantasy novels?

The Fifth Season, by Jemison

Anything by the Strugatsky brothers, but in particular, The Doomed City. It’s an insanely good ride.


Must read non-fantasy novels?

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman—it’s a life changer.


What are some encouraging words you’d give to another author/writer?

Remember why you’re doing it. For me, writing is a medicine. Sure, I’d love to make it a full-time job, but deep down, it’s a way for me to engage with the world and orientate myself in it. A way for me to make sense of it. Nothing comes close to distilling your thoughts and opinions about things than writing about them. 

If you forget why you’re writing, then you’ll lose motivation. So, as the oracle at Delphi once said…know yourself!


Get in touch 

Social Channels?




Book links?



Any final words for the readers? (Anything, open platform)

If you read Immortal, I’d love to hear your opinions about it. Good or bad, it’s all useful to me, and gives me things to work on so that the next book will be better!


Thanks so much for reading. Stay safe, and be well.



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