An interview with William MacMillan Jones


Today I’m talking to William MacMillan Jones, author of the outrageously popular Banned Underground Books, and highly acclaimed children’s novel, Snort and Wobbles. In Will’s own words:


Bass Instinct is the fourth book in The Banned Underground collection of comic fantasy books.  Each is a stand-alone novel, needing no previous acquaintance with the characters.

The Banned Underground are a dwarf rhythm-and-blues band, led by a luminous green, saxophone playing bog troll with a passion for mushrooms, beer and pizza … and more beer … and for playing jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll, of course.  The latest addition to the group is a bright red Welsh dragon that plays bass guitar.  But he’s in trouble.

Dai the Drinking Dragon has been kidnapped by the Dark Lord for nefarious purposes, and by the Dark Lord’s dragon receptionist for even less reputable reasons. Without their bass player, the Banned Underground are now in deep trouble with their record label. They have to produce a set of recordings for an album, and someone has stolen the tapes from the last gig. Can they make some more recordings, or will Freya, the renegade dwarf bass player hired by the Dark Lord, distract the boys whilst the Dark Lord’s evil schemes come to fruition?

The Dark Lord has found some thugs to help him in his latest plan to invade the underground Dwarf Mansion he would like to own (as an alternative to his garden shed as a place to hide from his wife), but they have other things on their minds – like looting and pillaging the locals – and it’s all going wrong for him again.

Described on The Guardian newspaper’s book review pages as ‘Lord of The Rings as written by stand-up comic Milton Jones to the soundtrack of Led Zeppelin IV’, The Banned Underground series is an underground hit, full of both crackling one-liners and more subtle jokes.
Q. Welcome Will, and thanks for agreeing to talk to us. Let’s begin by you telling us where you got the idea for the highly hilarious Banned Underground series?
A. Hi Kate, thanks for having me. You’ve decorated this place well since I was last here. Sorry about the smoke damage, next time I’ll leave my dragon at home. The Banned Underground is a collection, rather than a series, I think. All the books are stand alone, and can be read in any order, although as there is quite a bit of character development happening now ( almost sound like a real writer there, don’t I?) going from a later book to an earlier book might jar a little. Anyway, the first book started as an homage to Alan Garner’s quite amazingly brilliant YA fantasy, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. But the first draft was awful, I mean really awful. I could type the word awful for two whole pages of your blog, and that would not start to cover how awful it really was: so after acquiring a collection of rejection slips it sat under my bed for thirty years. Then one day, lying in the sunshine on top of High Street Fell in the Lake District, the characters rose out of the ground and started telling jokes. I promptly rewrote the book with their jokes in it, and now it’s a sort of underground hit.
Q. You live in Wales. Do your surroundings give you inspiration?
A. What really works for me is taking my notebook out onto the high hills of our two countries. I like solo hill walking, and getting into wild places, quite alone (except for the Moleskine notebook and an annoying profusion of other walkers) is great for any writer. There’s no distractions, no Facebook, just you, your imagination and a notebook.
Q. Where do your ideas come from? For instance, does inspiration strike out of the blue, or are you constantly on the lookout for people and places to use in your work?
A. Cheese. I eat cheese at night, often with a cheery glass of Merlot, and then dream a lot. Now if you wanted to be pedantic, you could say that I have a vivid imagination, but really it’s the cheese.
Q. The Banned Underground are a rock group, are you a fan of heavy metal?
A. Yes. I still class Led Zeppelin as the greatest group ever, and I listen to a lot of rock. But I also play a lot of blues and jazz whilst I’m writing. Now, because I write about musicians, I need to do a lot of research. Which means making tax deductible trips to noisy bars in order to listen carefully to loud bands and drink lots of beer. It’s hard work being a writer, you know.
Q. Have you always had the desire to become a writer?
A. Not really, but I’ve written all my life. I was encouraged to write stories by my English teachers at school, and just never stopped. Sadly I’ve lost most of the stuff I’ve written down the years, but now I’m careful about keeping things. Notebooks, Dropbox, USB storage devices, I have all these things.
Q. How long did it take for you to become a published writer?
A. Thirty years. Honest. Of course, I wasn’t trying for all that time, for a lot of it I was just marking time with getting my work rewritten and published very much at the back of my mind. But when I’d rewritten the first book three times, and was reasonably satisfied with it (I’d give a lot to be able to rewrite it again with what I know now!) I’d say a year of constantly submitting the book to agents and small publishers.
Q. How did it feel when you received a copy of your first book?
A. I cannot describe the feeling. I was alone in the house when the delivery arrived, and I just sat there on the couch with a copy in my hands and cried. It was a very emotional experience, and therefore well outside of my normal comfort zone as a bloke. And you know something, Kate? It’s the same for me with every book. The first time I see a copy is overwhelming.
Q. Who is your absolute favourite author, and why?
A. Has to be Sir Terry Pratchett. Not only has he become an inspirational writer, but he is an astonishing person as well. His reaction to his illness has won him a lot of respect, and deservedly so; and he has created such a legacy of work. It’s a form of immortality, isn’t it? If any writer wants a role model, Sir Terry is a perfect example in every way. And never forget he had written seven published books before he started to make a name for himself…
Q. What are your hopes for your writing future?
A. I’ve got an ambition, Kate: one day I want to write a joke that’s so good that someone writes to me and tells me I made them fall off a chair laughing. That’s not too much to ask, is it? One day…
Q. Finally, what one piece of advice would you give new writers?
A. Never, ever, throw anything away. It might not fit the book you are writing now; it might be unutterable rubbish; you might hate the passage, but one day in the future it will spark a whole new book, or just fit perfectly into another work, or be able to be reworked into something you will be proud to have written. Throw it away, and you’ll never have that chance, will you? Keep everything.
Thanks again, Will, for sharing thoughts with us, and it just remains for me to wish you all the very best for you and your books.
Thanks for having me along, Kate.

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14 Responses to “An interview with William MacMillan Jones”

  1. Well done, Kate and Will. Very enjoyable interview. I love The Banned Underground. The books really have evolved. As a reader, I would recommend reading the books in order. Though it is certainly okay to read them as stand-alones, you get the full experience by reading them in the proper order. (Just my opinion as a fan.) Kate, you ask such wonderful questions, I love reading your author interviews!


  2. A super interview with our resident cheeky chappy and all star author, Mr Jones! Well done, highly entertaining! 😀


  3. That’s a lovely interview from our Will. And I think if I’d actually managed to persuade someone else to publish my book, I’d cry when the first copy arrived, too.




  4. kimatsafkhet Says:

    Reblogged this on Safkhet Publishing and commented:
    Thank you Kate for the interview with Will!


  5. What an imagination. My hat is off to you.


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