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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Matthew Donald talks about his writing career and the inspiration behind his YA steampunk book, Teslanauts.

the best creativity magazine in the UK, the best book magazine in the UK, the best arts magazine in the UK, the best entertainment magazine in the UK, the best celebrity magazine in the UK, book marketing UK, book promotion UK, music marketing UK, music promotion UK, film marketing UK, film promotion UK, arts and entertainment magazine, online magazine uk, creativity magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed Matthew Donald about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the story of his new YA steampunk book, Teslanauts.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Hi, my name is Matthew Donald and I’m an author, creator, and funny guy I guess. I currently have five books published with no plans of stopping anytime soon. I’ve always been a creative guy since I was a kid, making books with photographs of my toys, making stop-motion LEGO films, and writing all the ideas that came to my head.

I also have two podcasts, The Writ Wit and Paleo Bites, about writing and prehistoric creatures respectively, that each have over a hundred episodes and, at least in the latter’s case, still very much ongoing.

I love reading young adult fantasy and sci-fi, watching movies, playing video games, and listening to other people’s podcasts, particularly funny ones. Also, I looooove dinosaurs. I feel like I should remind all of you that I’m a grown thirty-something man, because it’s easy to forget sometimes.

Matthew Donald on The Table Read
Matthew Donald, photo credit: Malle Malia Zablan of Hawaii

When did you first WANT to write a book?

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When I was six years old, I won a writing competition where you had to complete the sentence “It would be great if…” and I said “It would be great if I were an author,” with a nice little poem afterwards that showcased my potential. I still have that trophy in my apartment. I’ve been writing books ever since, most of which are buried deep in the hard drives of my old computers where nobody else will ever dare to see them.

When did you take a step to start writing?

I started seriously writing when I was thirteen, and managed to finish books in the thirty-thousand, fifty-thousand, and eventually one-hundred-sixty-thousand word range when I was older, with plans to keep writing longer and longer works. I had this fantasy, and I still kind of do, of writing one of those giant door-stopper novels with tiny text across nearly a thousand pages, in a book so heavy it could legitimately be used as a weapon.

Now that I think about it, that feels like wanting to compensate for some perceived emasculation. Freud was right sometimes. Eventually though, I learned that it’s not the size of the book that counts, but how you use it. A good story can be any length, and a giant brick of a book might potentially scare people off before they’ve even opened it.

So now my books are usually anywhere between eighty-thousand and one-hundred-ten-thousand words, so still pretty long, but not like Stephen King’s It long or anything.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

This is tricky to answer, as most of my books are based on ideas I came up with when I was much younger. My first published book was Megazoic, a young adult sci-fi about dinosaurs in a technologically advanced civilization, and I first came up with that idea when I was ten. I was twenty-five when it was finally published, and that was after writing four different versions of it over the years, including some in completely different genres.

So, in that instance, it took me fifteen years. If we’re talking about when I first came up with the idea of that version until its eventual publication, that took me roughly two and a half years.

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How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Again, I first came up with the idea of my latest book Teslanauts when I was much younger, although this time I was twenty rather than ten. In that case, it only took me about eleven years between the inception of the idea versus the release.

I didn’t finish my first attempt at the book however, and I didn’t officially start writing the draft that eventually became the released version until I finished writing my Megazoic books. Measuring that way, it took me roughly three years.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Teslanauts?

My latest release is Teslanauts, the first of a planned five-part young adult steampunk series about a world where Nikola Tesla managed to create his wildest inventions and founded a clandestine organization for the government to aid the world using this technology in the shadows.

I’ve always been fascinated by Nikola Tesla and his insane ideas lightyears ahead of his time, but then again, who isn’t? Many stories have been written with this concept, but they all tend to be flat-out alternate universes, with Tesla’s inventions reshaping the timeline and rewriting history. I decided it might be more interesting to treat this story not as alternate history, but as a hidden part of our real history that’s been covered up and only known by a select few people.

It would still have all the bonkers sci-fi technology of a good Tesla steampunk tale, but coalescing with actual historical events and figures. I’ve always enjoyed blending fiction and reality, where you can have a good time and yet still learn something.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Teslanauts?

Definitely researching the time period and locations that I’ve never visited in real life. My Megazoic books took place in the Late Cretaceous, and so I had to do some research about the world back then for sure, but the rest of it I could pretty much completely fabricate however I wanted, with fully invented culture, history, politics, and technology of a civilization lost to human knowledge. Not so for something like Teslanauts. This was a very real time in history, and I wanted to portray it accurately while also adding my usual sci-fi gimmicks. Also, and this is a bit silly admittedly, after writing a whole story about anthropomorphized dinosaurs there was one facet of writing humans that I had very little experience with, and that was clothes.

Teslanauts by Matthew Donald

Having to describe what a character is wearing wasn’t second nature for me yet, and what’s more, I had to research the apparel of the time so I described the clothing accurately. Other than that, it was more the usual challenges, such as starting the book, plotting everything out, coming to a satisfying conclusion; that sort of thing.

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Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

Right from the start I knew I did not want my protagonist to be Nikola Tesla himself, but a fictional character who views Tesla more as a mentor or leader. I created the character of Raymond Calvert, a seventeen-year-old boy from Brooklyn who learns of the Teslanauts and joins their ranks.

Since the book takes place in 1922, having Raymond be seventeen years old meant that he would have been just barely too young to get drafted in WW1, meaning he hasn’t been broken by the horrors of war like many others had at the time. This means he’s still idealistic, with a sense of wonder when exploring the world and learning of new technologies. This also meant he would have been a good age to have a father who did have war experience, and naively assume his father was going on grand adventures while protecting his country and family, and therefore not understand when someone tells him his father won’t be coming back home.

All this creates the exact type of character I wanted when writing this story: he’s curious, friendly, determined, still able to fight, but also perfectly ripe for breaking emotionally should his arc in the narrative call for it. He’s got a lot of growing to do, and since I’m planning five books in this series, we’ve only just begun to see his journey.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

After WW1, the Central Powers were left with nothing, as the Allies feared they would seek vengeance and wanted them to remain broken. As everyone who knows early 20th century history remembers though, it was this exact thing that began igniting the sparks leading to WW2. While that war didn’t start until a decade and a half after my book Teslanauts takes place, that resentment and fury still very much burned in the hearts of the people of the former Central Powers back then.

However, I wanted to show readers that they were still people, and people are not defined by where they come from but by what they do. I make sure to show that these people were more desperate than villainous, wanting their country to regain their glory by whatever means necessary.

That’s why the true villain of the book isn’t German, Hungarian, or anyone else from the former Central Powers, but an American, who acts as their benefactor in hopes of enriching himself. He uses technology similar to that of Nikola Tesla’s to give them the resources needed to enact their vengeance, and it’s up to the Teslanauts and Raymond to stop him.

What is the inciting incident of Teslanauts?

The main character Raymond finally has a clue about his missing father, something that has been nagging at him for years. He confronts the New York city hall about papers on his desk about a secret organization, at which point they forcibly recruit him since he knows too much. This sends him down a path of trying to find the answers about what happened to his father, a path that happens to involve mechs, lasers, mechanical automatons, and other steampunk goodness.

What is the main conflict of Teslanauts?

Like any good action-based narrative there are two big conflicts, one global and one personal. The global conflict involves the formation of the Oberschock Federation and their benefactor’s desire to restart the Great War to line his own pockets, something that requires a lot of gunfire and explosions to resolve.

The personal conflict, however, is why we care about the gunfire and explosions, in particular those firing the guns and causing the explosions. Raymond is so focused on trying to find his father that he ends up losing his own path, and whether or not he’s able to get back on it remains to be seen. Or not, since, you know, it’s all in the book. Have you checked out the book? Check out the book, it’s on Amazon, Teslanauts by Matthew Donald.

Did you plot Teslanauts in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

For most of my books I plan the beginning and the end before I start writing, and then I figure out the middle as I’m going. That way I always know where I’m going and can foreshadow and build up to certain events accordingly, but I can be flexible with the events in the middle and potentially come up with new ways to strengthen the events of the plot I know will come later. This is true of both individual books and entire series.

My Teslanauts series is currently planned to be five books, and I already know how the final book is going to end, but the three books in the middle I’m still planning out the finer details.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Teslanauts need?

Yes, I very much get support from editing. As well as a professional editor, I have my friends and family read through the draft and give feedback. At least a dozen people read through my book before it even gets printed, and I’ve looked over it meticulously many times by that point as well. Naturally, after all those look-throughs and edits, I’ll show the completed book to someone and they’ll find a typo on the first page. That’s always how it goes!

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Don’t give up. So many people have ideas for books but never put a single word on a page, or maybe they get a few pages in and quit. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. It’s okay if your initial parts are garbage; that’s what editing is for. Just power through it and finish the draft. It may take a while, but you can do it.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

The first book of my Teslanauts series takes place in 1922, and like I said, I’m planning this to be a five-book series. Without giving too much away, here are some things I can reveal about the upcoming installments.

First, the second book will involve the newly-formed Soviet Union and conflict between them and the remaining Imperialists, including a somehow still-living Grigori Rasputin. Second, the books will span across a few decades. Third, if you know anything about Nikola Tesla, particularly how his story ended, you might be able to figure out what major events my books have been building up toward.

Ooooooh… Also, don’t tell anyone I said this, but this series and my earlier series Megazoic are totally set in the same universe. But that’s just a fun tidbit.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Nah, this job blows, I’m gonna become an actuary instead. In all seriousness, of course I’m proud of my accomplishments. I’ve always wanted to be an author, and here I am, five books into my hopefully lifelong career.

Seeing these books in physical form and turning the pages of a story I remember writing in a coffee shop months back is always so rewarding. It’s one thing to see your book on a screen. It’s another to literally smell the dust on its pages. I hope to have books that’ll last long enough to have that old book smell. You know that smell? It makes books seem so important. I want my books to have that smell!

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Sure thing. My books are Megazoic, Megazoic: The Primeval Power, Megazoic: The Hunted Ones, Megazoic: An Era’s End, and Teslanauts.

They’re all available on my website,, or on Amazon for both print and ebook readers. My Facebook is @MatthewDonaldCreator, my Twitter is @MatthewDonald64, and my Instagram is matthewdonald64. I’ve also finally fallen into the TikTok well and have a TikTok at matthewdonald64. Fun stuff to be found in all those places!

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