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Today we’re traveling to Bampton in west Oxfordshire to chat with Steve Sheppard about how bingo, prison, Yackandandah, and cricket come together as part of Steve’s past and current life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and brought up in Guildford in the heart of the Surrey stockbroker belt but, having failed to meet any stockbrokers, I moved to west Oxfordshire 23 years ago, where I now live with my wife, Anabel and the latest in a long series of recalcitrant cats in a quintessentially quirky, not-quite-Cotswold village called Bampton. This is of course the UK we’re talking about as nowhere else in the world can legally describe itself as not-quite-Cotswold. There used to be a son living here too, but apparently he moved out three months ago.
I have been many things in my time, including Bingo Manager, Estate Agent and Prison Officer, not forgetting many years selling unwanted goods and services to uninterested buyers. I now sit in the corner of an office four days a week making lots of coffee and trying to explain how offices used to function with just a Gestetner printer and one phone between ten people. I spend hours answering questions along the lines of: Was the whole world in black and white or was that just television? To which the answer is of course Yes.
I’m also on course to be the world’s oldest active cricketer, although active is an entirely relative term.
In which genre do you write?
Comedy fiction; in particular, as I have so far written just the one book, comedy spy thrillers, although I hope to branch out once I’ve written a couple more books in a series that has begun with A Very Important Teapot. The first draft of Book 2, as yet unnamed, although with a working title of Bored to Death in the Baltic, is almost finished. There may be some serious editing to go through, although hopefully I won’t have to knock 20% (20,000 words) off it like I did with Teapot.
How many published books do you have?
One, A Very Important Teapot, published by Claret Press, London in October 2019. Despite being older than Methuselah, I sincerely hope it won’t be the last (see above). I’d like to spend my life writing full-time but my bank manager does not currently think that is possible. Hopefully though, not too far hence.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I’ve always been a writer (probably inspired by my older brother) but it has taken me 45 years to actually turn that into an actual book. I had some poems published in an anthology back in 1972 but stopped writing poetry for good in my early 20s, advisedly as none of them were particularly good. Some weren’t awful though. My collected poetical works disappeared during a house move in the mid-nineties and the world is not a poorer place for their loss. Since then I have written short comic pieces, trivia, tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, for captive audiences (work mags, cricket clubs, drama groups, unfortunates like that). Over the years I’ve started several books that were intended to become full-length but always ended up 15 pages long. Good at starts, it’s the middles and ends that defeated me.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
It would look nothing like what it actually looks like, which is currently a small corner of the dining room with a wonderful view of a shed and the kitchen cooker. However, my son’s ex-room is being turned into a writing and music den. Somehow the room is smaller than it used to be, but at least I’ll have a bigger desk and a proper chair (and a view of the roof of the aforesaid shed).
What are you currently reading?
I only have about 20 books currently in my to-read pile. Mainly I’m reading Mick Herron. I only discovered him late last summer, so my research must be atrocious. I pride myself on my snappy dialogue but I am absolutely an amateur in that respect compared to Mick.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
I was on holiday in south eastern Australia in March 2017. Literally on the flight home, I said OK, I‘m going to write from now until the end of the year and see where I get to. Don’t worry about an A to Z plot (I always managed to convince myself I couldn’t come up with a full-length plot), just do it and see. The result was A Very Important Teapot and, surprise surprise, it is very largely set in south eastern Australia. I even went to Yackandandah (yes, it’s a real place) and its folk festival, which feature heavily.
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary?
No, although I did for many years through my 20s and into my my 30s. Think how many potential books those millions of wasted words equate to.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking? Or, what do you do to prepare yourself?
I wouldn’t listen to a song. I’d go to the toilet a lot instead.
How do you prepare yourself to discuss your book?
I’ll let you know. I have a library event coming up in Carterton, Oxfordshire on 24 July.
What do you miss about being a kid?
Not having to answer the phone. Who the heck had a phone back then? And I mean a landline. In a house. It was a novelty when we had one installed. All my mates came round to marvel at it.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
I already have. Dawson is me, well for the first few chapters anyway. Except that he has more hair.
A giraffe knocks on your door and is wearing a bowler hat. What does he say and why is he there?
If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?
1. How the heck do you manage to sleep so much?
2. How the heck do you manage to sleep so much?
3. How the heck do you manage to sleep so much?
What are you currently working on?
I am currently desperately working on a title for Book 2. I set the titular bar pretty high with A Very Important Teapot. I need to find one before it gets published. I never expected this to be a thing. I’d come up with A Very Important Teapot almost before the metaphorical ink was dry on the first page.
It was such fun learning more about you, Steve. Love your sense of humor and the fabulous short story you wrote about the giraffe. Wishing you all the best, with much success on this book and future books! –Camilla
Where to find the book:
A Very Important Teapot is available everywhere. Obviously on Mr Amazon (.co.uk and .com) and all other online retailers in the UK, including Waterstones, Foyles, WH Smith etc, as well as many abroad (that’s abroad from where I’m sitting, obviously). Any bookshop can get it for you although only those in my immediate part of Oxfordshire will actually have it siting on their shelves. You can get it, signed if you want a damaged copy, from me via www.stevesheppardauthor.com.
Dawson is going nowhere. Out of work and nearly out of money, he is forlornly pursuing the love of Rachel Whyte. But Rachel is engaged to Pat Bootle, an apparently successful local solicitor who has appeared from nowhere.
Then, out of the blue, Dawson receives a job offer from his best friend, Alan Flannery, which involves him jumping on a plane to Australia to “await further instructions”. But instructions about what?
This is the start of a frantic chase around south eastern Australia with half the local underworld, the police and the intelligence agencies of three countries trying to catch up with Dawson.