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Frequently Asked Questions


Here are the most common questions Michael's asked. Click on them to see his response …

Is 'Meanwell' your real surname?

Yes and, surprisingly, it was my father's and his father's and his father's before him!

Seriously, it's an Anglo-Saxon name that dates back to the Viking era in north-eastern England. When Danish invaders settled there, the local people gave them names that either described their occupation (eg Butcher, Butler, Baker, Mason and Smith), their ability (eg Armstrong, Drinkwater, Makepeace and Markwell) or their appearance (Brown, Green, Grey and White).

Other Vikings were named according to their nature ... that's where we got surnames like Fairbrother, Toogood and Meanwell.

No doubt the first Meanwell had good intentions ~ and that tradition continues today. I have to say my surname used to be a little embarrassing when I was a kid but it has served me well. The first time people hear it, it generally engenders a raised eyebrow or sometimes a smirk, but it's not something that people easily forget.

My British-born father was the first Meanwell to appear in Australian telephone directories when he arrived here in December 1957. Now we have a number of distant relatives scattered across the continent.

My immediate family did, however, have 'exclusive rights' in Australia for the first 20 years of my life ~ and that's why, when I was looking for jobs in my early years, I would always take along a copy of my birth certificate as 'proof' ... most people couldn't believe I was born with a name like that.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Unlike some, I didn’t flit from wanting to be a fireman or any other occupation; I always wanted to be a writer ~ from the age of about seven.

I always enjoyed writing letters to family and friends as a young child and kept a journal for years. In primary school I began recording my thoughts in poetry, and in high school I tried my hand at essays, short stories, a play, and then I began writing my first novel at 17. It was never published, but that didn’t matter. It confirmed what kind of writer I wanted to be. And, because it wasn’t published, it confirmed that I needed to develop my literary skills. I also needed to earn a living, so the natural course for me was to head into journalism. Many of the great novelists honed their skills as journalists. If it was good enough for Hemingway, Dickens and Poe (and countless others), why not me?

How did you become a writer?

I decided against going to university after school (I could have done a business degree, but thought it would be a waste of time … so much for 20-20 hindsight). At the time, I was just eager to make a splash in newspapers. The fact that I had been published in school magazines and in the ‘real world’ didn’t help me get a cadetship (a journalism apprenticeship) when I left school. So, I took a few sales jobs and wrote at night and on weekends. I sold some material to local newspapers on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where I was living, as well as to a couple of national magazines. The pay wasn’t great but, like all aspiring writers, just seeing my words in print was reward enough. I continued to freelance, work in sales and spent all my free time doing courses and reading a stack of how-to books on writing.

By 19, I had a fair bit of ink to my name and that’s when I got my cadetship at a regional daily newspaper on the Queensland / News South Wales border. That was my real break into the business, and it was a real eye-opener. Because it was a small paper covering a large area, each of the journalists had to cover a wide range of tasks and areas of reporting. In the four years I was there I got a good grounding in everything from general news and sport to police rounds and court reporting, features and advertorials as well as sub-editing. I also had a couple of columns reviewing the latest movies and music and interviewing the stars. That’s a lifetime ago, but I still have fond memories. The skills I learned there laid the foundation for what I still do today.

Where do you get your ideas from?

That’s the most-asked question but not that easy to answer. The germ for a book, a character or even a sub-plot can come from anywhere ~ an off-hand remark by myself or someone else, a news item or documentary, or something I see, experience or am told about. That's when the imagination kicks in. Sometimes the idea can strike like lightning; other times it needs to percolate in my head and, after asking a series of 'what ifs', I usually have something I can use. That, of course, is just the beginning. Ideas are dynamic creatures. They rarely stay in one spot or in one shape, but go with the flow of the story (and the mood of the wordsmith).

Also, there’s no stopping when they’ll come. I may get a brilliant idea for something that I’m not working on. I’ve learned not to ignore it, but to stop what I’m doing and give it my full attention. This has happened to me so many times while I was writing the first novel in my new spiritual adventure series. I could be up to my neck in an action scene or a heated argument between characters, but when the muse appears with something that’s perfect for another book ... That’s it. I’ll stop mid-sentence and get the idea down as quickly and as completely as I can, otherwise I know it’ll be gone. As the late great Earl Nightingale put it: “Ideas are elusive, slippery things. Best to keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, so you can stab them during the night before they get away.”. Good advice. And, it’s helped me immensely. I may only have the one novel completed, but I have some fully-formed scenes and dialogue for all the other books in the series ~ all thanks to my demanding muse.

It's important to remember that the muse can strike at any time, so it pays to be prepared. I find the best time for ideas is generally at the beginning of the day (usually they'll taunt me through the night or wake me early) and also at the end of a long day ~ when my body has had enough but my brain keeps ticking over. That's usually when I'm taking a shower; then it's a race to get back to the desk before the idea's gone.

Ideas have no sense of timing. That's why it doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing, I always have a notepad, so I can get the ideas down before they disappear. When I'm not working, I like to unwind with a walk. I always take a tape recorder as well as my iPod (I don't listen to music, I generally listen to writers' interviews ~ some of the best are from the 1980s and 90s with Don Swaim at CBS New York). It doesn't matter how interesting the interview, the muse soon interrupts, and I'm ready to take down the dictation. Often, I'll come home with the solution to some problem I had been wrestling with or perhaps a new sub-plot or something else entirely ... it's a rare day when I don't return with something worthwhile.

I also keep a notepad and a tape recorder in the car, just in case.

The only time I can recall getting caught empty-handed was a few years ago ... thankfully I found a pay phone. I left a lengthy message on my home answering machine ... any port in a storm, right?

Do you have any ideas for novels in different genres?

Yes. I’ve developed outlines for novels in a number of genres. In fact, before I began on this series, I was working on a political thriller trilogy. I had invested years of research and writing but ultimately abandoned it. The timing wasn’t right. Perhaps I’ll go back to it at a later time, but it’s unlikely. I’m very excited about this series and it has ‘legs’, as they say in the biz. I have outlines for several books and there's potential for at least one spin-off series after that. All of which has been dutifully recorded, courtesy of Mr Muse.

There’s other ideas that are still embryonic and all are in the same genre, for want of a better term. That tells me that I’ve found my niche. I never thought I’d settle for one, but I’m happy I have. Besides, I like to think this novel series traverses a number of genres ~ everything from action, adventure, thriller, drama, romance, science fiction and, not to mention, metaphysical fantasy. Why try a different field ~ I’m already doing that.

Do you accept ideas from outsiders?

No. As you can see, I have enough going on in my brain to keep me busy. Writers write. So, if you have a great idea, write it down, refine it and then share it ... who knows where it will lead.

How much research goes into your books?

A lot. Research can mean many things. From reading copious amounts of material and doing specialist courses to interviewing experts in various fields. A lot of writers don't enjoy research ~ they'd prefer to knuckle down and write. But I enjoy research. I guess it comes from my journalist background. For me, it's an integral part of the writing process and it actually helps me work through issues before I begin writing (and often, while I'm writing and even editing). Also, both with my fiction and non-fiction, there have been many cases where research has led me in places I never intended going and, consequently, the books are better for those sojourns.

I also try to ensure that what I present ~ be it fiction or non-fiction ~ is accurate. So, needless to say, research can often involve checking facts with those who know.

How can I contact you?

You can email specific questions and requests.

Who are your favorite authors?

Like most writers, I have fairly eclectic tastes. I enjoy a variety of fiction from authors including:

• Douglas Adams
• Isaac Asimov
• Richard Bach
• Ray Bradbury
• Tom Clancy
• Michael Crichton
• Clive Cussler
• Stephen King
• Dean Koontz
• Robert Ludlum
• Norman Mailler
• David Morrell
• Matthew Reilly
• Wilbur Smith

I also read a lot of reference material relating to my work. But, when I'm not on the job, I enjoy non-fiction from authors including:

• Deepak Chopra
• Michel Desmarquet
• Wayne Dyer
• The Dalai Lama

Will you read my book?

I'm sorry, I simply haven't got the time to read, review or proof other people's work. The best thing you can do is join a writers' group.

Do you have any writing quirks?

Only one, as far as I know.

I still type with two fingers.

I got my first typewriter when I was a teenager and learned to touch type when I started high school but, ironically, journalism was my undoing. When I got my first newspaper job, I was given a clunky Underwood manual that was twice as old as me and twice as unforgiving. I found the only way to bash out a story was to literally bash away at the keys ~ and that was only possible with two index fingers ~ my pinkies couldn't take the punishment. So, after four years of hard labor, I stuck with two-fingered typing. Well, that's my excuse for not touch-typing for 30 years ... pathetic, I know, but it's the only excuse I have (feel free to send in suggestions ~ I'm always on the lookout for a good one).

Anyone who has seen me type will tell you I'm pretty fast and pretty accurate for a double-digit Typosaurus. I'm also pretty unforgiving, just like that old clunker. I tend to wear out a Mac keyboard almost every year (that's one of the reasons why I use an external keyboard with my MacBook ~ they're a lot cheaper to replace than the laptop keyboards ... besides, I've already ruined the keys on the MacBook).

What are you working on now?

Having put to bed the first novel in the series, I am now researching the second one. These are big books in length and in depth, and they require a great deal of thinking (and more than a little soul-searching), even before I begin writing. And that's what I'm currently doing ~ refining the outline and plot points, and learning more about the topics I want to address. As I said, I love all this preliminary work, so this isn't a chore, it's a fun process. I'll let you know on my blog how the new book is progressing.

But don’t hold your breath. I’m not one of those book-a-year novelists. I think I’m more of a book-every-three-years novelist. I need a lot of time to think things through and, you guessed it, research. These novels are not straight-forward, action adventures; there’s a lot of metaphysical facts and philosophy that I need to present correctly and simply, and that requires considerable time. I’d rather not rush the process. When you see the books in print, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Other FAQs

Not yet, but I plan to develop other FAQs relating to:

  • Commercial Writing
  • My novel series
  • Spirituality