Who Let the Gods Out? 'Twas Maz Evans, on a road to publication only marginally less gruelling that her main character's own. As the last book in this hugely popular series launches this month, we look back on Maz's journey so far, and ahead to what's in store for us next.

Words & Pictures writer Sarah Broadley shares Maz's answers to her questions.

Welcome, Maz. Your voyage to publication has been a little different to most writers – self-published and then traditionally published with Chicken House. Can you give us an insight into the thought processes behind the decisions you made to get to where you are now?

Thanks for having me. And I’m flattered you think that there was any thought process at all. It’s been a long and winding road and one that has been dictated by luck as well as judgement. Originally, no-one would publish Who Let the Gods Out (WLTGO), so I let it sit in a drawer for five years. But then I started running creative writing workshops in schools and saw an opportunity, so I self-published. My agent then called up to see what I was doing, I told her and, next thing I knew, I had a book deal for the book everyone had rejected. The odd thing about having been self and traditionally published is not the differences, but the similarities. At the end of the day, a lot of it is down to you getting out there and hawking your wares.

Some say the key to success is to work hard, keep trying and one day it will happen. What was your reaction when you found out there was interest from one of the biggest publishers in the UK? 

I literally screamed. I was at the Hay Festival with the self-published WLTGO and I was in a restaurant with my family. My eldest daughter was being a pain and I was just shouting at her when I got the email. She was very confused. One minute, Mummy was going puce, the next, buying everyone ice-cream. There have been so many pinch-myself moments, I’m covered in bruises. I still can’t believe it’s all happened, and I’m still waiting to get found out as a total imposter…

Given the chance, would you change any of the characters in your series? Did you mould them on people you know? Were they influenced by characters you have read?

The weird thing is not that my characters are based on real people, but that people have become like my characters. My son was a baby when I first wrote Elliot, but he has grown up into him – right down to the quiffy hair. I meet a lot of Patricia Porshley-Plums – she was based on someone who queue-barged me at the cheese counter in a posh supermarket. As for changing characters, although he’s been very popular, upon reflection my depiction of Sisyphus is problematic. He can’t pronounce the letter ‘s’, but I recently had a teacher contact me to say this made it really difficult to read in her class as she had a child with a speech impediment. The conversations around inclusion have made me reflect a lot on my defaults and this was not my finest hour. Lesson learned.

What is your novel planning process? Do you have one? Or do you just start writing and see where it takes you?

So, like everything, I am a mass of contradiction. I plan and plan and plan … then completely ignore it and write what I want anyway. But the planning is vital, even just to ferment the idea. I’m not someone who can just wing it – I write myself down dark alleyways and can’t get out. So much of it is just about time. Ideas need to grow – if you pick them at the wrong time, they are simply not ripe enough.

The titles of your books in this series are a play on words for popular music titles, was that deliberate with Who Let The Gods Out?

Ha – now there’s something I wish I hadn’t started. Yes, it was deliberate – but trying to find three more has been a total headache!

Can you tell us about a book that changed your life, either as a child or as an adult?

I remember reading 1001 Arabian Nights over and over and over. I loved the fantastical world of these stories, but that they were all rooted in relatable things. As an adult, East of Eden by John Steinbeck continues to blow me away. If ever I want to stoke my inadequacy complex, I give it a quick read.

'Only three pages of Simply the Quest exist from the first draft'    

Book two syndrome – some writers struggle with getting book two of a series down. Did you have any issues with this when you started Simply the Quest

Oh my days – Simply the Quest was a total nightmare! Part of it was that I’d already written it as a sequel to the self-published WLTGO. When that changed for Chicken House, much of what I had done was redundant. That book was three completely different novels before it became the published one. I was also moving my family from London to Dorset while writing it, so that was a total nightmare too. But I got there in the end and lots of people think it is better than WLTGO, which is what you want.

The last book in the series Against All Gods launched this month. How do you feel about that? Will Elliot make a return in the future? What's next for Maz Evans and your followers, GodsSquad?

I was incredibly emotional writing Against all Gods – this series has changed my life and seen some big changes in my life and when I finished it, I had a good old cry. I wouldn’t rule out returning to the universe again, although I feel Elliot’s story is told. I now have two new stand-alone novels to write for Chicken House and I hope my beloved GodsSquad will come with me on those new adventures…

Now that Elliot's adventure is coming to an end, what would you say to him now if you met him in real life way back at the start? Any words of wisdom for the battle ahead?

I think the only thing I can say to Elliot is “sorry”! I’ve put him through so much – and as my son has come to more closely resemble him, that has made me deeply emotional at times. There’s a scene in Against all Gods that I can’t get through without crying. At the time of writing, I’m shortly off to record the audiobook and I don’t know how I’ll read it. But the lovely thing was that when my son read it, he came to me in tears. “That made me think of you and me” he said. So he felt it too.

'Hitting on the right cover for the series was really tricky because 
it’s such a mish-mash of adventure, comedy and mythology' 

Your books have fabulous covers, can you tell us who designed them? Is there a certain illustration process required for a series?

I am blessed with two creative geniuses – Aleksei Bitskoff who draws the illustrations and Helen Crawford-White who does the design. ... I’m thrilled with them – and having recently received my final book baby, they look great together if I do say so myself…

Your name is Mary – is Maz a nickname or did you have a pen name in mind all along?

Practically no-one calls me Mary. I’ve always been Maz to my friends. I had intended to publish as Mary Evans, but my American publishers already had one. We discussed some very odd pen names, which I didn’t want to do at all – but then I mentioned Maz, which I don’t think of as a nickname as it is so commonly used. And that was that… What is important is that I did not do it to disguise the fact I’m a girl. I have massive issues, personally, with trying to disguise female gender for sales. How can we raise a generation of egalitarians if we have to pretend female writers are men? A number of schools have mentioned that they are really glad I’m a woman writing books that appeal equally to boys and girls – they like that example to their boys. Let’s own it, ladies. We got this.

Maz Evans began her writing career in journalism as a TV critic and feature writer and has also been a university lecturer. Most recently Maz founded Story Stew, a creative writing programme that visits primary schools and literary festivals around the UK. The Who Let the Gods Out? series grew from Maz’s experiences with Story Stew, and her daily interactions with young people: their connection to and creativity and spontaneity with storytelling. Maz has spoken to thousands of children and has never heard the same story twice.

Feature photo: Maz Evans. Photo credit: @chickenhouse


Sarah Broadley (left) lives in Edinburgh with her family and two cats. She is a member of SCBWI Scotland.
Follow her on Twitter.

Carry de la Harpe is features editor for Words & Pictures.
Carry on Twitter.
Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.