Who’d be a Beta Tester? Interview with Michael Marshall

You can start work immediately. Later you’ll realise how powerful it really is.

With the launch of Scrivener for iOS just around the corner, we thought you might like an insight into the world of some of our beta testers, all of who use Scrivener in different ways and have various stories to tell. 

Amongst them is suspense novelist Michael Marshall (who also writes as his horror and science fiction alter ego Michael Marshall Smith). His first novel, ‘Only Forward’, won both the August Derleth Award for Best Novel and the Philip K. Dick Award. Other accolades include the International Horror Guild Award, and the British Fantasy Award for best short story – which he has won more than any other author in history. On the screen, his book ‘The Intruders’ became the drama series ‘Intruders’ starring John Simm and Mira Sorvino, while ‘Unbelief’, a film based on his short story, has won 9 awards and 21 nominations to date.

Michael Marshall Smith

You’ve been a long-time user of Scrivener’s desktop version. How does the iOS version compare?

I’m amazed at how well all the essential features (and more) have been layered into an app that’s still straightforward to get around, and to use. You can’t do everything in iOS that you can in Mac OS, but that’s not surprising — and also, not what you want. Apps need to be appropriately pitched toward the platform on which they run. Keith’s done his usual masterful job of thinking about the practicalities of what writers need, and what’s feasible and dependable on a given device, and making that work smoothly.

Did it take you long to find your way around it?

No time at all. I was making and syncing notes within five minutes of installing the first beta. As always with Scrivener, however, there’s great value in experimenting, trying things, and reading the damned manual. I can’t count the number of times I’ve emailed Keith over the years with some cool new thing Scrivener could do, and had him patiently explain that it already can. The iOS version is the same.  You can start work immediately. Later you’ll realise how powerful it really is.

Which features proved most useful for your way of working?

The ability to faultlessly sync with the desktop version has to be the most useful. That for me is the game-changer. It’s actually sightly spooky to see quite a complex novel structure and 100,000 words perfectly mirrored onto your phone, to be able to make changes, and find it all back on the desktop, too. I love being able to share styles between the two. I really like the fact that meta changes you make on one — like the specific way in which you’re viewing and working with your structure — are mirrored onto the other platforms.

And to be honest, one of the very best features is reliability. The one thing that you cannot afford is losing work. During the beta I made a couple of suggestions which were considered but then gently rejected, on the grounds that — in some bizarre and unlikely combination of circumstances — there might be a risk. That’s what I need most – the reassurance that everything is safe.

How do you see yourself using the iOS version in future – tell us how you plan to use it alongside your desktop computer.

The iOS version has already changed the way I work. In the past, I’ve had to run separate apps for my current writing project (whatever I’m hammering out large quantities of words for), anything I’m planning (either sporadic notes, or large collections of files and reference material), and general jottings. Now I’ve switched to iOS Scrivener for all of those.

It’s reassuring and useful to have all that stuff with me, wherever I go, and several times I’ve sat outside a cafe and edited or even added new material to the current novel on my phone, which is something I never thought I’d do. After nearly thirty years of defaulting to Word for at least some of the writing process, I don’t think I’ve even opened it in months.

Michael Marshall Smith's Binder
What would you say to someone who might be nervous of giving Scrivener’s iOS version a go?

Just try it! I’ve long believed that Mac OS Scrivener is the writer’s best tool. Adding the iOS version makes it an absolute no-brainer. Suddenly your work — your real work, all of it, not some lite or compromised version — is with you, wherever you go. Whether you’re writing prose, planning a TV series, making notes, or putting together an eBook, it’s all there. The first beta was as feature-ful and solid as most people’s final release candidate. Now it’s like it’s already on version 2.4.

Your story The Seventeenth Kind has just reached the big screen – what are you working on now, and when might it be available?

Right at this moment I’m about there quarters of the way through a novel, which has been wholly written in Scrivener. I’m starting to plan out a feature script, and am tweaking a couple of TV  proposals. Out of habit I was originally maintaining a kind of “inbox” for each in their Scrivener files, to drop new ideas and edits into, but increasingly I’m working straight on the core material itself. It’s like having a teeny little Mac with me wherever I go… I’d been waiting a long time to be able to do this kind of thing: thank God it’s finally here.