Lydhia Marie - Author

So unique and different!


Interview with author M. J. A. Watney

Posted by Lydhia Marie on May 6, 2015 at 11:25 AM

For those of you who like a good mystery/ thriller read, you are going to love Kybernos by M J A Watney. It was acclaimed a "Great suspensful book," "An intriguing world of alternate takes," and a "Fantastic Thrill Ride!"

The Willderschen, a shadowy alliance of some of the most powerful people on the planet, are dead, killed in an explosion. But why should that matter to Bertram, a lonely middle-aged Physics teacher, to Anita, an overweight schoolgirl escaping her bullies, or to Charles, a toff with more money than sense who thought he was just out on a boozy stag-week with his mates? And who exactly are the Kybernos? And why do they need the help of this motley trio so desperately? Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated incident, a tiny space capsule, returning from a three-year mission to Mars and back, overshoots its landing ground in the deserts of Kazakhstan, arcs low across the Polish sky and hits crowded Kazimierz market in the Old Jewish quarter of Krakow, unleashing a cataclysm that nobody could have predicted. As two groups of people unknown to each other and a hundred miles apart struggle to bring the growing catastrophe under control, Bertram Anita and Charles finally come to understand the true nature of the Kybernos and, more importantly, the power within all of us to control our destinies, if only we can learn how to harness it. For, truly, there is no such thing as a coincidence. Sparsely written to maintain pace, and told by a sometimes acerbic narrator, this story has no chapters but shifts rapidly from focus to focus as if a movie. Set primarily in and around the Polish cities of Krakow, Lublin and Zakopane, and featuring American, British and Polish protagonists, the book’s themes explore chance, intuition, manipulation, unrequited love and the pleasure to be found in Polish beer.

Eleven Questions

Title of most recent book:



What inspired you to write this book?:

I had the fundamental idea in my mind for ten or fifteen years, but I lacked a McGuffin and a setting. The McGuffin came to me when I learnt about a particular space mission that was causing concern to some scientists. I found my setting when I visited Lublin for the first time in 2009 and again in 2010: it’s an exciting vibrant city because it has a very large student population. See here


I have always been fond of Poland. I first went there in 1987 in the last years of communism. I was an official guest of the youth organisation ZSMP. My hosts were incredibly generous to me: the situation in Poland then was appalling yet the people were somehow surviving thanks to a spirit of nationalism and quiet rebellion. In 1987 I spent time in Warsaw, Krakow and Zielona Gora.


In 2009 and 2010 as well as visiting Lublin I also returned to Krakow which was by then a thriving bustling metropolis. I was very struck by the market in Kazimierz, the Old Jewish Quarter, so I decided to use that as a secondary setting. By my return in 2010, I knew I was going to set Kybernos in this region, so from Krakow I took a day-trip to Zakopane specifically for research. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to get into the Tatra Mountains themselves (looking forward to it greatly) so that part of the book had to be researched on the internet.


The great tragedy of our existence is that we spend decades gradually acquiring experience and then, just at the moment that finally we understand life, the universe and everything, we die ... leaving the next generation to struggle forward repeating all the mistakes we made. An author’s most important responsibility is to try to bridge the gap between generations, so that at least some of the things we older types have learned over the years are passed across the divide, before we too shuffle off this mortal coil. So I wrote the book primarily because there were certain cautionary things I wanted to say to young people (for example: beware the acorns). Of course, nobody is going to spend money to be lectured at, so authors camouflage their messages behind entertaining adventures. Look deeper however, and the reader will see that Kybernos does contain some very serious thoughts beneath the sugar-coating of derring-do.


One young reviewer has written “The best way to sum up how I felt about this book is mind blown.” That was precisely my intention.



Why did you choose the path of self-publication?

I didn’t. It chose me.


To publish traditionally, you need an agent. I have had two agents in my time. The first ran a two-person agency and she was brilliant; the second headed up a major agency and was useless (I had to sack her).


With Kybernos I spent more time looking for an agent than I spent writing the book. Only four were willing to read the manuscript, and in the end none of those wanted to go forward. Exasperated, I decided to self-publish, mainly so as to be able to move on and get back to writing. It is important not to obsess over one particular project but to know when to draw a line under it and start the next.


How much of your main characters is biographical?

The three main characters are entirely fictitious but include autobiographical elements. Some secondary characters are broadly based on a mixture of people I have known, and towards the end I give an affectionate shout-out to some friends (but suitably disguised so that only they will recognise themselves). Gonzalez-Watson, long dead now, is the only real person in the book: he was a Chilean fascist my father knew in 1940 and appears in his memoir He Also Served.



What do you like the most/least about writing?

What I like most is the catharsis. What I like least is the loss of privacy that publication brings.


Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?

I rarely experience writer’s block because I am totally opposed to the regimentation that so many writers these days inflict on themselves: the idea of writing a particular number of words each day is anathema to me. I write when I feel inspired to write, and if I don’t feel inspired to write I simply get on with all the other demanding responsibilities that make up the rest of my life.


When I was younger and less self-confident, my solution to writer’s block was simple: I would write two books simultaneously, so when one became stale I could switch to the other. I don’t feel the need to do that any more.


What kind of music inspires you the most?

Music doesn’t inspire my writing, but it may complement my writing afterwards. For example Daughter’s Youth seems to sum up exactly the predicament of one of my secondary characters: “Setting fire to our insides for fun, to distract out hearts from ever missing them”. Click here


Throughout my life, one particular singer-songwriter has articulated my feelings and beliefs with disarming accuracy. Towards the end of the book you will find a thinly-disguised homage to this person.


How important are the names in your book?

Utterly unimportant, except to pander to readers’ prejudices (so wealthy characters tend to have sophisticated names like Benedict).


I have given the main Polish character the name of a friend who helped very much with the research, and have told him so. Authors are uniquely privileged to be able to thank people in this way, and it is always appreciated. We should do so more often.


I have lost contact with one of my generous hosts in 1987, so I have given two minor characters his surname and that of his boss at ZSMP as a signal to him to get in touch (one he might mistake for a coincidence: two he will not).


What kind of books do you read?

Literature. Favourite authors are Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hermann Hesse, J D Salinger, Arthur Koestler, John Fowles, Gogol, Vladimir Nabokov and quite a few more. My favourite living author is Julian Barnes.


I am very impressed by Eimear McBride who lived with rejection for nine years before a tiny publisher in Norwich finally dared to take a gamble with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (she wrote it at age 27: it was published at age 36). Take a bow the Galley Beggar Press, for it went on to win the £30,000 Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction 2014 (previously known as the Orange Prize). . “She didn't compromise and make it like every other book. She kept on with her conviction that her own voice and originality was the way to go - and that paid off.” – Helen Fraser. It’s an incredibly difficult book to read as Eimear McBride ignores all rules of grammar, and it is so unremittingly bleak it makes Jude the Obscure look like a rom-com (so definitely not holiday-reading), but it is still an immensely worthy book.


I am presently reading H is for Hawk, the winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction by Helen Macdonald. “You can’t tame grief”.


If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Of course not. It went through four drafts plus several passes within each draft. Today it goes where I always intended it to go. I wouldn’t have published until it did.


Anyway, the wonderful thing about self-publishing is that you can unpublish and then issue a new edition any time you want.



Can you share a little of your current work with us?

No. I never reveal anything about work-in-progress in case it comes to nothing.


You can find out more about Kybernos on Amazon.

Thanks for reading!

Categories: Eleven Questions

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